dilemmas

Isobel has wanted her kitchen to be redecorated for ages and would love to do it quickly herself. But her husband says a job worth doing is a job worth doing properly, and says it should be made good and relined. For two years he's said he'll do it when he has some free time. Should she risk his wrath and just slap on the paint in an afternoon?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Virginia Ironside

It's funny that men like Isobel's husband only seem to have the need for perfectionism and preparation in certain areas. When it comes to sex, most of them don't go in for anything like the caring foreplay they will expend on the living room walls. They will jump up and set to straight away, just like Isobel would do if she felt she were allowed to do the kitchen walls herself without a row. But when it comes to doing the walls - oh no. Unlike a woman's body, the walls have to be primed, smoothed, touched-up, and prepared before the big act can start ...

There are two issues here, loosely connected. One is Isobel's husband's prevarication, and one is his perfectionism. Firstly, he sees the task in a different light to Isobel. Like most women I suspect, she would actually quite enjoy painting the kitchen in her own haphazard way. It would indulge her nurturing nature and in itself be very satisfying. And yet a man doesn't feel like that. I know it's risky to start on the "men are from Mars, women from Venus" line, but the number of letters I got in response to this problem shows that it's a common syndrome.

I once had an allotment with a partner. He read the gardening books and insisted on double-digging the whole area. He was still battling with double-digging his second square yard while I had a huge crop of broad beans from seeds I had simply bunged into the ground. It was extremely annoying. I wanted to bring my babies to birth, any old way; my partner, since he wasn't as interested in this as I was, had to find another way of finding satisfaction from gardening.

Why is Isobel's husband delaying? Because to get any satisfaction out of the job he would have to spend three or four days on it, and because of this he is being honest when finding he hasn't the time. And why does he not want Isobel to do the job? Because that would make him feel bad. Like making salad dressing and carving the joint, painting the kitchen is seen as a man's role, and he's irritated and ashamed at seeing a woman doing something sloppily that he should be doing well. Isobel should get the paintbrush and just do it, preferably when he's out. The chances are, if she opens the windows to get rid of the smell, her husband won't even noticen

What readers say

Isobel's husband does not sound like a New Man, so she should simply tell him the kitchen is closed, pending redecoration. Faced with cooking for himself rather than decorating, paint stripper may leap into his hand rather faster than a saucepan.

Failing that - paint a vast, cheery reminder on the walls, along the lines of the "I am dusty" messages people write on filthy cars - and date it. This will be very effective if she has friends who pop in for a coffee from time to time.

Elizabeth Harrington, London SE8

Men? Perfectionists? Your husband stalls with words like "preparing" and "relining" because he wants you to cajole him into his ceremonial painting gear. He will then stand "umming" and "aahing" brush in hand, ask you for a mug (not a cup) of tea while he ruminates and most of all he will expect your most feminine applause at his result. Like the man who really suffers in bed with flu for a week while his similarly afflicted wife runs a house, meals and children without a word, all he really wants is for you to appreciate his emasculated Nineties male ego, like his mother did for his father before him.

I am, incidentally, or at least have been, the husband described above and would suggest you tell him, with a smile, that you are going to do it with or without him. I bet he helps you do a proper job first time round rather than clear up the obvious hash you'd end up with on your own.

Jamie Same, London SW12

We moved house four months ago and my husband is gradually working through each room, stripping floors, taking radiators off walls, building wardrobes, etc, and everything he does is wonderful. When I repainted our son's room, he was upset at first. However, slapping a tin of paint on the walls has not stopped him from doing the perfect job when he gets round to it. All that has been "wasted" is a tin of paint and my time - which I was happy to give.

April Beckerleg, Buckinghamshire

Next week's problem: An opportunity for romance or an unwise risk?

Dear Virginia,

I've been on my own for about a year and never seem to meet any interesting men. Last week I was in a shop and wondering what to buy when a man started talking to me.

He was Spanish, worked as an architect, and suddenly he asked if he could take me out, because he said he'd enjoyed talking to me. I gave him my phone number but now he's left a message on my answering machine asking me to call him to make a date I'm having second thoughts.

I'd love to go out with him, but would it be wise? You hear so many stories of people who get murdered or raped on these kinds of dates.

What precautions should I take, and have any other people had experiences like this? Yours, Gina

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, 'The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL; fax 0171-293-2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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