Dilemmas: Help] My man is turning into an alien nerd

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Gillian had a difficult problem. The man she was sharing her life with appeared to be turning into a computer nerd. Worse, he was doing his nerdy-work on her computer, a machine that she was glad to see the back of at the end of a long day working on it alone at home.

She was feeling left-out and resentful. In the evenings he had no time for her any more, and was staying up till all hours fiddling with programs and games. But to what extent can you curtail a partner's interesting hobby?

While Angela Grice of Norwich came to the conclusion that: 'Computers are, for men, the modern equivalent of the train-set,' Kimberly Wilson of Edinburgh thought the computer would actually help Gillian's partner to mature: 'She should allow him to use her computer because in denying him she's restricting his 'growth' and education . . . . Or is that what she'd prefer, a contented, slothful, TV couch potato rather than a mentally active partner?'

There were the stories of the destructive powers of computers on a relationship, illustrated sadly by Jennifer from Essex. 'Computers are addictive,' she wrote. 'My husband used to spend every evening and weekend glued to the thing, using our television as his screen - only breaking off to bolt (silently) the meals I prepared. Protests that I was fed up with sitting and looking at his back, and that his behaviour when we had guests (he would suddenly rise in the middle of a meal or conversation and, without explanation, or apology, go and work on the computer) met with anger. You won't be surprised to hear we are divorced.'

And a creature called Booter (her/his computer name is, apparently, Babe Out Orbiting the Earth Regularly) from San Francisco used e- mail to give his/her warning. Gillian might discover, said Booter, that if she doesn't get rid of her nerdy partner, she'll soon find that a modem replaces the antimacassar, a printer pushes out the floral arrangement and antique clock, and 'before long, the man will have brought home a helmet and gloves, which allow him to diddle strange and non-existent alien women in a scandalous amusement called 'virtual space' '.

All in all, wrote Anne Crocker of Bath, Gillian's partner's behaviour was not on. She asked Gillian: 'How would your partner like it if you, by yourself, set off in his car one evening and returned in the early hours? Or even if you simply tinkered with it? The car might well be his 'workhorse' and I think you have to make a stand about the computer, which is yours.'

Unfortunately, Gillian's partner had already threatened to get his own if she put hers out of bounds. So forbidding its use would only solve the problem short-term. But there was an up-side. Computers could, said some, enhance a relationship.

For instance, Liz Steadman of Canterbury became 'a willing slave to the intricacies of Dos, Ram, megabytes and all the other alien (and alienating) manifestations of computer literacy . . . . But my husband eventually bought his own and we're now as addicted as each other] Once the bug has bitten there is no antidote.

'It's all a very creative and satisfying experience. The monthly trip to Smith's to buy the computer magazines is exhilarating] My husband and I now spend the hours we used to waste watching Newsnight or Neighbours working through software tutorials or poring over the design of our fax transmission sheets.'

Similarly, Francois Hugo of Southampton, who wrote: 'I got heavily involved in computer games and playing at programming, which irritated my wife until she found out how useful a computer could be in her field of teaching. She now has an Archimedes on her side of the bedroom and I have a PC on mine, and we compute simultaneously, sharing experiences, and then go to bed to share other things.'

Anyone whose partner becomes obsessed with anything, from golf to drink, work, stamp-collecting or train-spotting, naturally feels extremely ignored and left out. Irrational it may be, but these hobbies can become just as hateful and threatening as another woman. A byte on the side is just as bad as a bit on the side. But while you'll find sympathy if you give an ultimatum about a partner's little black book, you won't find such understanding if you put your foot down about the fact that he never gets to bed because, say, he spends his life on the roof charting the stars.

It all comes down to intimacy, wrote Norma Heaton of Carnforth, Lancashire. 'Gillian presumably chose her partner because she valued and appreciated the intimacy they shared. Somehow she may feel that through the computer this has been eroded . . . Once intimacy leaves the relationship, it begins to feel not worth it.'

Another e-mail communicator, David Woolley of San Francisco, suggested getting another computer and communicating electronically. But rather than typed conversations, surely what Gillian is missing is just being together, pottering about a bit and sharing the odd joke.

Nicholas E Gough of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, has the solution. 'If Gillian's partner has the inclination to stay up until the early hours, there's plenty of time for him to be with Gillian and use the computer: three hours with each is feasible.'

Dear Virginia,

My husband has started to give our seven-year-old son money for helping with household chores such as cleaning the car or helping out in the garden. This is in addition to his pocket money. I don't agree with it and I'm worried that it may end in him not helping out at all unless we pay him. What do another readers think? How do they organise these things with their children?

Yours sincerely,

Catherine

Please send your comments and suggestions to me at the Features department, the Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB; fax 071-956 1739, by Tuesday morning.

If you have any dilemmas of your own that you would like to share with readers, let me know. I will report back next Thursday.

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