Dilemmas: Just get a dog and take it hang-gliding, George: Responding generously to the desperate pleas of a man who believes that no one likes him, our readers counselled courage and advocated action

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POOR George. If you remember, we left him wringing his hands because, although reasonably successful, he found it very difficult to maintain friendships. His wife, whom he had met through a dating agency, had vanished without a word; his colleagues kept him at arm's length and even his cousin never rang back when he invited her round. Taking stock of his life, he had asked a colleague what was wrong with him, but the colleague was too embarrassed to say. To confuse him even more, the ladies at the old people's home where he worked at weekends thought he was the bee's knees. How, he asked, could he find out what the problem was?

From the answers you sent, he could chose from a variety of approaches. He could look inwards to find out what made himself tick; he could look to others for guidance. He could think positively - problem, what problem? - or he could live with himself but risk putting himself in some new situations.

But to get the obvious out of the way first: Anita Daniels, of Rolleston on Dove, Staffordshire, spoke for many when she wondered if it could be one of the evident 'drawbacks to social success such as body odour, obesity, eccentric clothing or bad teeth'?

One reader suggested asking the colleague to write down his shortcomings rather than deliver them face-to-face, and Susie Halliday, of Harpenden, Hertfordshire, thought the best person to approach for information would be the very colleague who had asked for a transfer from his department. I wondered if hiring a video camera for a day and making a video diary might help. Two readers thought getting a dog would make him more spontaneous and easier to approach. 'He could leave it in the elderly people's home each morning. It could be a 'pat dog' during the day and be with him in the evenings,' wrote Christine McGeoch of Kilmacolm, Strathclyde.

Even better, he should meet more people his own age. 'Voluntary work in his own age- group would help,' wrote Ann Crocker, of Bath. 'He has to take some risk away from the security of his day job and his motherly pensioners if he is really intent on dealing with his dissatisfaction. To remain on the outside looking in will lead to more discouraging rebuffs.' Jo Grigg, of Hove, East Sussex, agreed. Singles activities without the goal of romance, such as 'football, pottery, hang-gliding, French conversation - in fact, anything that teaches him the one thing his grandparents couldn't - would help. He could even try driving aid lorries to our European cousins.' I can't quite see George hang-gliding myself, but you never know.

Many argued that he needed to sort himself out first. Richard Schiadas, of Leeds, rightly pointed out that, 'Faults will disappear when he combines genuine self-appraisal with self- discovery. He does not need friends to point out 'faults' because faults are just symptoms of an undisclosed personality.'

But how does he disclose the 'undisclosed'? Like Mary Blackford, of Southborough, Kent, whose 'heart went out to him', quite a few people suggested counselling, but it is easy to suggest and not so easy to get. Good counsellors are not thick on the ground; they cost money. Perhaps, suggested Paula Wiltshire, of Wanstead, London, he could take a 'course of counselling from Vanessa Dunmore'.

Over to Vanessa. Unfortunately, her five-point plan - a package of therapy, assertion classes, outside interests, self- determination and self-analysis - would fill a whole edition of the Independent, but one of her points was crucial, and ignored by everyone else. What, she asked, had happened to George's real parents? Did they die - or abandon him? Why was he brought up by his grandparents? Was there a clue here to his personality?

I thought group therapy would be useful, because groups aren't backward in coming forward with people's faults; but Patricia Ridley, of Haltwhistle, Northumberland, had a less daunting idea: 'Go on a good management course working in small groups with role playing. I did this recently and while I don't think it helped my particular work problem it was very good in making me think about myself.'

So we're back to where we started. If George can't discover his owns faults, someone must point them out. Listen to Kevin Marman, from Herne Bay, Kent. He lives with his mother, who recently contracted rheumatoid arthritis. He thought he was looking after her rather well until a visiting aunt took him to task, pointing out where he had been 'negligent, insensitive and just plain bloody irresponsible; I shouldn't have needed telling, but I did.

'Unfortunately, though, my aunt went much further in her attack than she needed to, with an all-out personal assault. Apparently her views are shared by my brother, his wife and a close aunt and uncle, with all of whom I've always been on the best of terms.' He will have to discuss it with them, but what he asks himself is: 'Why, if they all do feel the same about me as my aunt does, didn't they take it upon themselves to speak to me long ago? Why did they stay silent and allow the situation to get worse? And why have they remained friendly towards me when they were obviously seething about me behind my back?'

This is the heart of George's dilemma, he feels 'the understandable but ultimately irrational fear of causing offence, of creating ill-feeling.

'George hasn't really got a problem, it's those around him who refuse to help him who have got the problem. Indeed, it is because of their behaviour that George is like he is.' He suggests that families, or close friends, should set aside a few hours once a month and discuss each other's shortcomings. 'Perhaps it sounds a bit masochistic, but a lot of good could come of it.'

Of course, it could be that the reason no one tells George of his faults is because of fear - he may emanate a kind of repressed aggression that makes him difficult to approach.

Finally, positive thinking. Could it all be down to self-esteem? Anne Innes, of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, writes: 'The world is full of Georges who think they are unique in finding it difficult to make lasting relationships.' His self-esteem is so low that 'he sees trivial snubs as ostracism, and the casual forgetfulness of his cousin as evidence of some terrible flaw in himself.'

So look on the bright side, advised Anita Daniels: 'He did have a good friend once; he has achieved a managerial position at work; he was married once; his subordinate at work has sniped at him but doesn't seem to have dislodged him; his cousin has simply failed to respond to one invitation, which is her bad manners, not his fault. . . . He doesn't need someone to tell him his faults; nobody needs that and people who sieze the opportunity to do some 'plain speaking' are dangerous.'

Adrian Steiner, of Bristol, agreed and went further, urging, in the splendid style of a US self- help best seller: 'Remember, it's no crime to be a loner. . . . OK, make friends with yourself, George, and together you'll go far]'

Faced with such an avalanche of kindness and concern, it was difficult to select any answer that shone out more than the rest. It would really be up to George to select which avenue he wished to pursue - though there is no reason why he shouldn't try all of them. Taking a dog hang-gliding might be a problem, I know, but it is possible to accept constructive criticism, after all, while still thinking positively. Courage is what George needs most of all - to face some change in lifestyle, the comments of the outside world and, of course, himself.

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