Counselling; Auntie Ag and Uncle Ony

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DANGEROUS LIAISONS

A friend of ours has started inviting our girlfriends to private evening soirees - just him and the girls. He seems to want our girlfriends, who work together, and their young female boss, all to himself. We may be paranoid, but if he is after them, we know we couldn't compete with his rugby-champion physique and PhD intellect. Should we be concerned and if so, what do we do?

Two worried boyfriends, Ipswich

UNCLE ONY: I am quite sure there is an innocent explanation for these evenings, because your friend can hardly be after all three young women at once, now can he? Most men find it hard enough to cope with one girlfriend at a time, let alone trying to bag three simultaneously. He is probably just lonely. Have you been leaving him out lately or excluding him? Invite him round to dinner, with all of you present, and set the precedent that in future you all have fun together.

AUNTIE AG: What a mystery, angels. It certainly does seem strange, especially if he is your friend, to invite your girlfriends and not you. Have you tried asking them what goes on when they meet him? If there is any hanky- panky or flirtation in the air, they will know very well - naughty intentions are very hard to disguise. But I would suggest that surrounding oneself with women who are already spoken-for suggests that in fact one is more concerned with the macho image of being a girl-magnet rather than actually seeking out any kind of relationship... perhaps he is in fact feeling rather sexually confused at the moment, poor thing.

NO SIR, HE CAN'T BOOGIE

My friend suffers dreadfully from shyness. You will always find him in the kitchen at parties, just like in the song, and at the last party he went to, he ended up in floods of tears in the conservatory. I feel dreadfully sorry for the poor thing. Is there anything I can do to help him be more socially confident?

FR, Chelsea

UNCLE ONY: Your friend is suffering from acute low self-esteem, and the best thing you can do is bolster him. Bolster, bolster, bolster! Stick at his side at parties, introduce him to others, laugh uproariously at his jokes, hang on his every word. Persuade your other friends to do the same, if you can. Other people will be intrigued, and will join in quite naturally, and your friend will find he is the life and soul of the evening.

AUNTIE AG: You can certainly help, angel, by not bloody well dragging him off to parties in the first place. To people who don't like them, such gatherings are excruciating: it's cruelty on a level the same as making someone who is scared of heights go abseiling, or coercing an arachnophobe into baby-sitting your pet tarantula. Invite him to lovely little suppers with mutual friends to help him find his feet socially - probably much more fun for all concerned.

SHE'S GOTTA HAVE FAITH

My partner - who I have only been seeing for two months - refuses to believe that I will be faithful to her, and insists that a forthcoming trip abroad will be my "big chance". I admit that I have had a chequered past - in fact, we both have - but what can I do to convince her that this time I have no desire to stray?

MS, Ealing

UNCLE ONY: Evidently you have both been playing some ridiculous games of confessions about your "chequered pasts" and of course this has put her off. Why people want to be candid about their past failures is really beyond me: you should preserve the mystery and freshness of a new romance as long as possible, rather than falling over each other to boast about past misdeeds. Obviously it's too late for you this time round to keep your mouth firmly shut, but if the relationship should founder in your absence, you would do well to bear it in mind for next time.

AUNTIE AG: Sadly, darling, you can't convince her in advance; this evidently isn't something that can be achieved with simple assurances. Be sure to keep in touch while you're abroad, send frequent postcards, phone if you can. And on your return, be ardent. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. Something rather more sinister occurs to me, however, angel: do you think she could actually be trying to tell you something about her own intentions while you are away? Just a thought.

THERE MAY BE TROUBLE AHEAD

I work for a large corporation that is undergoing a period of great change. At the moment, it is changing staff like one changes one's underwear; there is a new announcement every five minutes and everyone is terribly worried about keeping their jobs. I am finding the stress intolerable and can neither eat nor sleep. Please can you suggest some strategies for keeping sane?

Anonymous, by e-mail

UNCLE ONY: It is perhaps time for you to turn to wisdoms like those of Buddha and the other more ancient beliefs of the world. Embrace your fate, whatever it may be, with an open mind. If you can't influence the upheavals in your workplace, go with the flow and accept whatever may happen with a joyous heart. Whatever happens, you are your own person, your own individual being and soul - don't make the mistake of equating your work with your whole life, or your self-esteem will take a dreadful bruising. On a more practical level, erm, yoga might help.

AUNTIE AG: Brace up, darling, it's only a bloody job.

You are invited to send your problems to: Auntie Ag and Uncle Ony, Real Life, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Auntie Ag and Uncle Ony regret that they are unable to enter into any personal correspondence

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