Working Life: What's your problem?

INDISPENSABLE ADVICE FROM REAL LIFE'S AGONY AUNT AND UNCLE

LET HIM PLUMB TOILETS

My boyfriend, whom I love dearly, has just moved into my flat. As if by magic, the minute he did, the toilet blocked up. Normally, I'd have got a plumber, but my boyfriend insisted on clearing the blockage himself. It took gallons of soda crystals, gallons of boiling water, a demijohn of sulphuric acid (scary!) and some surgical action with a bent coat-hanger (ugh!), and it took him nearly a week. "Why won't you just let me pay for a plumber?" I asked. "It's man's work, I'm doing fine," he replied. In one sense, I'm quite happy to let him do all this "man's work" - but in another sense, I worry that I am exploiting him. He saves me money and he deals with things I don't like dealing with. But isn't it wrong to use/depend on a live-in boyfriend in this way?

Rachel, Milton Keynes

He says: The late twentieth century can be a terribly emasculating time to live. Men have a natural drive towards manual work and opportunities are few and far between to prove their practical skills. In fact it is doing your boyfriend the world of good to prove his masculine usefulness; calling in a professional will merely transmit the message that you do not think he is capable. To reassure him further, why not practise some traditionally female roles; perhaps while he is wielding the coat-hangers and sulphuric acid you could iron his shirts.

She says: Good heavens, darling, what a funny girl you are. When men want to make themselves useful they must be fulsomely encouraged. The only thing that is slightly worrying about this situation is the length of time you have been without sanitary facilities. Nearly a week is an awfully long time. Far from putting him off I would encourage him to hone his skills with some kind of evening class in plumbing.

TOP TOTTY GOING SPARE

I have got a spare room in my house that I want to let. Top candidate is a fantastic man: he came to stay last weekend, cooked and cleaned, sorted out all my bills, it was bliss. Trouble is, he's the separated husband of one of my friends and, although she doesn't mind him moving in, I can't help wondering: if we live together will we end up sleeping together?

Karron, Luton

He says: Oh, really. Just because someone rents your spare room does not mean that sleeping with him is obligatory. The only reason you are even mentioning sleeping with him is because it is lurking somewhere on your personal agenda. No one "ends up" sleeping with anyone else; if you make a deliberate decision to do so, then that is the decision that you make. Any rubbish along the lines of being swept away by passion is no more and no less than an excuse for bad behaviour.

She says: I can't help feeling that you are thinking of the notion of this chap moving in with something of a twinkle in your eye, darling. If he has really separated from your friend, that is not in principle such a sin, although it's true that friends' exes, however ex they may seem to be, are dangerous game. But: starting any kind of affair with someone who is permanently on the scene, as in paying you rent for a room in your house, is fraught in any case. After all, if things should go wrong after that first encounter (and let's face it, angel, sometimes they do) you will be faced with an embarrassing situation to untangle. If you really do fancy him, pursue that avenue separately to supplementing your mortgage payments.

WE'RE JUST TOO POPULAR

This may seem a trivial and self-inflicted problem but it is really getting me down (and my husband, too). We are both pretty busy during our working weeks and we very much value our weekends at home, pottering happily, catching up on chores, going out together, just the two of us. The trouble is that these occur so seldom. Once we have set aside four or five weekends a year for each of our sets of parents, and friends and other relations have been factored in, we can go for a month or six weeks without any real "free" time. We love seeing all these people and hate to refuse invitations or turn people down when they ring to arrange to meet, but we never get any time to ourselves! And going away for the weekend seems almost as strenuous as having people to stay; whereas you avoid all the cooking and washing there is still the packing and travelling to do. How can we sort this out?

Eleanor, Bristol

He says: It amazes me how many of our correspondents have such negative attitudes to situations that many others would welcome with open arms. Loneliness and fragmentation of the family are two of the greatest plagues of modern times. You should count your blessings - just think, when it all gets too much, of those poor souls sitting alone in bedsitters waiting, without hope, for the phone to ring.

She says: Poor man, he doesn't get out much. At the beginning of the year, darling, sit down with your husband and your brand new Filofax inserts and conspire together to block off certain weekends; as many as you feel you need. Colour them in red or blue or green and mentally ring-fence them. There's no need for churlish refusals; if anyone suggests anything for these sacred weekends, simply murmur something about being previously engaged. No one will think to question your supposed busyness, angel - after all it must often happen quite genuinely anyway - and you will achieve a balanced spread.

VICIOUS CYCLE

For reasons of health,stress management and time-saving, I'd like to start cycling to work. Only problem is, the traffic simply terrifies me. I like in London and would have to circumnavigate the Elephant and Castle daily: any tips?

Susan, London SE11

He says: Being frightened out of your wits on a daily basis will not do anything for your stress levels, while breathing in clouds of exhaust and quite possibly being squashed under a lorry will do very little for your health, and save you absolutely no time at all. Time-squeeze is a part of London living that is impossible to avoid; as for the stress and health issues, far better to join a gym.

She says: Hire a team of hunky motorbike outriders, darling, to sweep you through the traffic in safety and style.

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

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