dilemmas

This week: why is Sophie's boyfriend so superstitious?

Sophie's infuriated because her boyfriend, who doesn't earn a lot, spends so much on going to fortune-tellers or astrologers. He's always on about new diets and medications, buys talismen, and keeps a rabbit's foot in his pocket. He turned their bed round to clock into energy channels. She is maddened by his behaviour and can't understand why - or indeed, why he's so obsessed.

One of the sadder sights I've seen was the legendary snooker star Alex Higgins, genius of the green baize, setting out at a small table piled high with lucky paraphernalia. Rabbits' feet galore, funny bits of green ribbon, it seemed like a whole stack of superstition was collected there, and it was a tragedy. We all had faith in him, after all. Why didn't he have faith in himself?

This weakness was partly what made him attractive - it brought out the mum in most women. But Sophie clearly doesn't want to play mum to her boyfriend, and when she's trying to have an equal relationship with someone it's understandable she's infuriated when he behaves in such a weak, vulnerable way. Not that we shouldn't accept the weaknesses in our partners as they accept the weaknesses in ourselves, but this man's a low earner as it is, and perhaps she's wondering why he doesn't spend more time on his career than spending the little cash he has on crystals, pendants, lucky goblins, aura photographs, relaxation spectacles or whatever.

Or perhaps she's infuriated by his fickleness. Were he to take up just lucky goblins, say, and really look into them, she might feel happier. It's one thing to be a sincere seeker after truth and enlightenment by studying one subject in depth, quite another to be victim to every quick fix on offer, one minute into chakras, the next into spiritual healing, the next into feng shui, and the next into Buddhism. It's the sign of a very unquiet mind, and perhaps Sophie wonders, if he's so fickle in his search for meaning, might he not be equally fickle in his love for her?

Maybe she also sees his obsession as a threat. Women find their partners' preoccupations with football or motorbikes a threat, but at least they're controllable, usually taking place on the same day every week and unlikely to take over the inner man. But Sophie's boyfriend sounds quite unstable enough to be the kind to pop on a purple gown one day, lie down, bung a plastic bag over his head and announce he's going to join Sirius. Dangerous stuff.

Sophie could turn her bed around and say that if he wants to sleep along energy channels he can go to another room and do it; she could relentlessly tease him, cruelly (I once told a boyfriend who insisted on wearing a lucky jade elephant round his neck on a piece of black cotton that he looked like a rent boy; it was gone in a flash). But this isn't the answer. He'll feel resentful, and sulk in his room behind closed doors, probably burning joss-sticks and invoking creepy spirits.

But I can't help wondering if the problem isn't that while her boyfriend is looking for a meaning to life in all kinds of hocus-pocus, Sophie herself isn't trying to make her boyfriend her own reason for living, her own lucky goblin. He's only weak, after all, not cruel or unpleasant. It's only if you're trying to use someone as a substitute parent or higher power that their weaknesses become intolerable, and this theory would account for her extreme irritation and anxiety about her boyfriend's interests - which actually are, as he points out himself, harmless. It is perhaps only because I saw Alex Higgins as a kind of god that I found his superstition so upsetting. Perhaps Sophie should wonder if her own search for inner meaning has found a rather warped solution before criticising her mate.

What readers say

When respect goes, love dies

It's no surprise that Sophie's boyfriend doesn't earn much. He's into spiritualism because of a lack of control over his life - women and the poor are the greatest followers of fortune-tellers, and all the varieties of mysticism and spiritualism. Men are traditionally less passive about their lives.

Sophie is a conventional woman, so she expects her man to devote his energies to his career, or other achievements and goals in the real world, or even to her and their life together. She is irritated (and intolerant) because she has no respect for him. When respect goes, love dies. Sophie should turn their bed back round, turf her boyfriend out of it, and move on - they have grown apart. I suggest, for both their sakes, she does it before the summer solstice!

H Liebersohn, north London

'Smorgasbord spirituality' can be damaging

Sophie is registering a healthy infuriation with the "mind, body and spirit" industry, which is making a packet out of its smorgasbord spirituality, often with dubious credentials. People on low income, often with low self- worth, are attracted to the mystifying range of alternatives on offer in the psychic realm, little realising that what can look mildly amusing or intriguing can prove damaging to them emotionally and psychologically.

Sophie is right to be upset over spiritualism, because ultimately it can be very scary, however well-intentioned. Does she want to share her boyfriend with potential spooks or unfriendly discarnate spirits? Not a happy arrangement.

Her boyfriend is searching for meaning, for an authentic spirituality. He will not find it in the second-hand wares of a "psychic fair". If he keeps on his present course, his ego will probably take over and she will find herself living with a self-appointed shaman, which will do even less for her blood pressure. If she loves him, she should be honest about what all this is doing to their relationship, and should encourage him to talk through his basically healthy desire to discover his spirituality. But he'll need help to disentangle the bogus, the dangerous, the outright wacky.

Why not have a look at traditional "boring" old Christianity? It's the only spirituality that offers you protection from the addictive and frightening world of the spiritualists. God isn't boring, and would be an excellent ally for Sophie in making her home a crystal-free zone.

The Revd Dr M G Blyth, Chelmsford

Don't knock it till you've tried it

Your boyfriend must be searching for something he feels he is lacking in his life. You don't say what his job is, but maybe he's feeling exploited. He's unhappy with his daily life and feels out of control. If he doesn't jump off the conveyor belt and take time out to tend to his inner self. he will sink further into depression. He's a searcher of the truth. If it makes him feel good, no wonder he wants to bring it home with him, and share it with you.

But you need to look at yourself, too, in all this. Why does it enrage you so much? Do you, too, feel out of control with regards to your working life? Do work pressures make you so narrow-minded as to regard as mumbo- jumbo anything unrelated to money or power?

He is trying to redress the balance in his life. You may do this in other ways, through going to the gym, reading a good book, going on holiday. They all have therapeutic effects, to try and help you rediscover yourself, and get you away from a robotic lifestyle pursuing only material gain.

Educate yourself on what your boyfriend finds so fascinating. Read some of his books, go along to the exhibitions with him. Don't knock it till you've tried it.

D Lala, Upminster, Essex

Next week's problem: terrible truth about kindly neighbours

Dear Virginia,

I am in despair. New neighbours moved into a council flat next door two years ago. They're young, and not married and have a daughter of five. I've always been surprised at how well-off they are, considering neither of them are employed, and they seem to have endless young visitors to the house, often at night. He seems very fit and rides a bike, but they've always been a mystery. We've always been on good terms with them. They take in parcels. They even have a key to our house in case of emergency. When my son was in hospital they sent him a get-well card, and they always have a kind word. They have never been anything but kind and considerate to me.

But it now appears they are drug dealers. The whole street seems to know this, and finds it quite funny. Even my brother, who visits at weekends, said it was obvious. Apparently the man uses his bike to make deliveries, and my husband recently heard them clearly arguing about a drug deal in the middle of the night when I was away.

What should I do? Should I tell the police?

Yours sincerely, Pam

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. 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. If you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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