Working Life: What's your problem?

INDISPENSABLE ADVICE FROM REAL LIFE'S AGONY AUNT AND UNCLE
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MARRY-GO-ROUND

I constantly make wrong choices because I doubt my own judgement. As a result I married for security simply because I could not support myself. I have left this marriage twice and returned twice because I could not afford to support myself. I avoid former friends because I am so embarrassed that, having struck out for a second time on my own, during which time I managed quite well socially and emotionally, I went back when things got financially tough. I know what I really want to do with my life but I don't seem to be able to sustain this ambition in a practical way.

Second Time Mrs

He says: My heart goes out to you because it is evident that your self- esteem, that vital essence, is at rock bottom. All your sense of value is focused outside of yourself: it's not so much that you are attached to this chap that is the nub of the problem, but that you believe everything rides on having money and financial clout. This is simply not the case. Lots of utterly worthwhile people have more money than they know what to do with, and lots of very nice ones have hardly any. You say you know what you want to do with your life: well, what do you want to do? If your ambitions are goals like having a new car every year or shopping at Chanel each season, then you should take a long hard look at them. If not, then break them down into attainable stages. I suspect that the problem with getting where you want to be in your life is that you are focused on the end result without trying to work out in any detail how to get there. It's okay to start with small steps: they will still get you there in the end.

She says: Why keep going back to this particular husband when it's obvious he doesn't suit? There are plenty of fish in the sea, not to mention plenty of pebbles on the beach. Latch on to a sufficiently rich man who (and this is the clever bit) is also very nice and whom you'd like to live with permanently.

GET STUFFED

I have got a friend coming to stay this weekend who is great in almost all ways but one - his fussiness over food. He calls himself a vegetarian, hence no meat or fish, but also he doesn't like fresh vegetables very much, so no luscious greens or delicious salads either. I am always at my wits' end about what to feed him, but this weekend, to make matters worse, I have other friends coming too who are enthusiastic "foodies" and probably will feel short-changed if they don't get lovely meals. Is it acceptable to cook one boring dish for him and something else delicious for the rest of us?

Marianne, Bath

He says: Sharing food is one of the greatest and most convivial human pleasures and it does seem rather mean to make your friend feel he is "second best" by pouring your efforts into making an elaborate dish for your other guests and giving him a token vegetarian-but-with-no-vegetables meal. I feel that you have rather lost the spirit of what this weekend with all your friends is about; it is about interacting with each other, enjoying each other's company. Don't let the food issue overshadow the more important aspects of welcoming your friends into your home.

She says: What a pain. I always think fussy eaters should bring their own sandwiches or stay home. I don't think there would be any problem with making something like a pasta or a risotto dish that Mr Faddy could eat, while adding some extra delicious meat or fish element for your other guests. One thing that might be helpful: I have recently noticed a spate of posh macaroni cheese recipes in various newspapers and magazines. You have to make it with obscure varieties of cheese and add flourishes like sherry in the sauce, and this apparently elevates it to gourmet status. Of course you must emphasise persistently but casually to your foodie friends that this is no ordinary macaroni cheese but a tour de force found in all the best restaurants. I have found that this tactic has worked for years with sausage and mash, fish and chips, etc.

WRONG COLOUR, DEAR

I have this friend who is a tad confused. A few weeks back, he bought his sweetheart a range of expensive cosmetics and some lovely perfume for Christmas. She said she was pleased with them, but did not appear exactly thrilled and the gift did not have the desired effect of making her more glossily turned out. One evening, the pair of them got drunk at home, as one does. "I know," quipped his lover, "let's paint you up!" So she did his fingernails a bright, glossy red, and carefully applied eyeliner and a subtle mauve lipstick. When she was done, she looked at him then kissed him with an intense passion unseen for years. There followed a night of extraordinary gymnastics in the bedroom. Now, not only does she refuse to make love with him unless he is made up, but he has to wear her perfume too. Is this odd? Is he being oppressed?

Richard, Ipswich

He says: It always brings a wry smile to my lips when people write in on behalf of their "friends". Yes, this is odd, but most of what we do is odd when you sit down and think about it. I don't think he is being oppressed, as long as he is enjoying it and does not feel threatened or intimidated. Quite frankly, wearing a bit of nail polish and perfume sounds a small price to pay.

She says: "More glossily turned out?" For heaven's sake. He gave this poor girl a completely hideous set of revolting makeup (mauve lipstick indeed, oh please) and a bottle of naff, stinky perfume and she has hit on a brilliant way of using it all up as fast as possible. It is a method that involves a certain amount of fun (hopefully for both of them) and means she neither hurts his feelings or has to wear the horrid stuff herself. He should enjoy himself while the supply of face paint lasts.

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