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I've fallen in love with my flatmate

Jenny's a student who is living in shared accommodation with one girl and two men. A month ago she slept with one of them, Simon, but since then he's treated her like a sister, and she knows he is seeing other girls. She dreams about him all the time and thinks she loves him, and it's affecting her work. Should she tell him how she feels?

Living together in mixed-sex accommodation is a comparatively recent set of affairs, if you'll excuse the unintentional pun. It was so unusual when I was 20 that a tabloid paper once even asked me to write about what it felt like having a male lodger. The headline ran, screamingly, "I'm a GIRL and I've Got a LODGER. And He's a MAN!" My contemporaries were quite OK about it - it was the Sixties, after all - but I could never convince my grandmother that we weren't having an affair. "I understand, darling," she said, tapping her nose in an irritatingly knowing way. "How I wish I'd had the freedom that you have these days. When can I meet him? When's the wedding?"

The problem is that if you're pottering about in a mixed flat feeling rather sexy and lonely in your nightie, T-shirt or jim-jams, and don't we all sometimes, there's almost always someone of the opposite sex, someone probably with whom you feel comfortable, cosy and relaxed, lying in bed next door reading his/her book. And it only a takes a knock on the door and an "I saw your light on, can I make you a cup of tea?" and before you know it you've got involved. Wherever you get close contiguity and availability of the sexes, there's always slight danger of sex itself.

However much people say that living in a mixed house is good fun, and that everyone just rubs along like brothers and sisters, it's true that if you stick a girl into an all-male household the blokes tend to change their behaviour and become better behaved. Similarly, a man will change the behaviour of an all-girl household. A member of the opposite sex can have a civilising effect on the rather claustrophobic atmosphere of a one-sex set-up, but she or he sexualises, too. The same goes, apparently, for rats.

Jenny made a huge mistake by having a one-night stand with Simon. Or what Simon clearly regards as a one-night stand; Jenny seems to imagine it signified the beginning of a beautiful relationship. To live in a mixed- sex house, everyone needs to have proper ground-rules, and not having sex with each other - along with doing your own washing-up, replacing the empty loo roll with a full one, and not eating sausages in the fridge marked "Mine, do not eat" - would seem to be one of the top 10.

Now she's got herself into this fix, yes, Jenny should probably tell Simon how she feels, and perhaps tick him off for not making his unintentions clear before he got into bed with her. And since, for her, familiarity breeds intent, maybe she should start scouring the pages of the university paper for the "Extra girl wanted in all-girl flat" ads.

It's sometimes difficult enough getting over a broken relationship, even a one-night-stand, without the added misery of having the object of your desires sail past you, day and night, with an ever-so-brotherly and ever- so-un-lover-like "Hi" on his lips. How can Jenny blot out the memories when he's always around, in the loo or in the kitchen (probably, knowing Simon, not putting a full loo roll in when one runs out, or not doing his washing-up)? In order for Jenny to get over it all, one of them has to leave, and since Jenny's the one who's suffering, it has to be hern

What readers say

Make an excuse, and leave the flat

I have been in a similar situation, abandoning my daily life for one person, and though homosexually based, it was much the same as Jenny's situation. I yearned for his company, putting my life on hold for whatever of his time I could get. When it all came to a climax last May, I cried for days and there was much self-flagellation.

I advise Jenny to make some sort of an excuse to leave the house and move elsewhere, and to reconsider her priorities in life. In time.

Colin AB Dunne

Glasgow

Tell Simon you love him

As a student I also shared a house with, in my case, one other girl and three blokes. It was an exciting and liberating experience but it can also be confusing and painful. I do feel for Jenny, being in love with Simon and not knowing how he feels about her.

It may be that he does not know himself, but the pain and uncertainty will probably continue unless Jenny makes her feelings known to him.

Otherwise he may well assume that she is happy with the situation, which she is not.

Even if it turns out that Simon is not in love with Jenny and does view her more as a sister than a lover it will be better for Jenny's peace of mind, health and wealth to know that, and maybe even to find alternative accommodation, if necessary.

However, being in love is part of student life, albeit potentially painful.

I sincerely hope that this relationship will develop positively for Jenny.

Anon

Men and women are different

Propinquity of any kind is the number one circumstance for falling in love; and sexual activity is more bonding on women. I think Jenny is on a hiding to nothing.

Before, during, and long after student days most women fall in love several times. And, even in these liberated days, often without revealing their hurt when it isn't reciprocated.

If Jenny cannot contain her feelings, she should tell this chap that she's moving out of the house share at the end of this term because it is too painful to endure.

But she should have her next year's pad lined up, and actually remove herself.

It is so trite to say that men seek sex and women seek security; but all the cliches are true.

Anon

Keep him as a friend

We are both students and feel that it could be disastrous to get involved with your flatmate no matter how much you care for him. Numerous friends of ours have been in this situation, and disaster has invariably followed a few months down the line. Tell him that you care for him like a sister, and perhaps when you stop sharing a flat you might get together. Until then, at least you'll have an excellent friend and confidante.

Kate McEwen and Jane Rose

Next week's problem: my wife has turned my daughter against me

Dear Virginia,

My 15-year-old daughter has become a vegetarian. This has made life really difficult, as despite a hectic workload I've had to put myself out to provide her with healthy, balanced meals. I don't like to ask her to make her own because she's studying for GCSEs, and anyway left to herself she just eats bread and butter and jam. She won't go out with me if I wear leather of any kind, even shoes, and either won't eat with us if we're having meat, or makes endless remarks about the cruelty of factory farming. I sort of admire her for her strong stand but it's all having an effect on the family. Don't suggest we follow suit - my husband refuses to change his diet.

Yours sincerely, Zoe

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. 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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