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dilemmas

When Gina was in a supermarket recently, an attractive Spanish architect picked her up. She gave him her phone number, but now that he's rung to ask her out, she's wondering if it would be wise to meet him after all.

Virginia Ironside

Every woman's so hot on stranger danger, so terrified of walking down scary alleys for fear a maniac may leap up and slit her throat, it's small wonder that Gina feels nervous about breaking her own code of ethics and doing the unthinkable.

I suspect that many more people pick up and are picked up than we think. Like getting immensely drunk and having a one-night stand with someone unsuitable, it's not something that anyone brags about, but it happens. I've certainly accepted pick-ups more than a couple of times, and though the results have never led to lifelong romance, or even romance, I'm still here, and had nothing more than a couple of small bruises to show from the worst of the encounters.

Gina should remember that it's highly unlikely that this is this man's first pick-up attempt. He'll know the ropes, if he's interested in her in any way other than as a passing fling (though that's almost certainly his priority), so he'll be happy to walk her to a light and airy restaurant surrounded by other people. She should also plan to ring a girlfriend half-way through the evening, to tell her where she is. She can explain all this in a laughing way to her new friend, saying she's just taking precautions in case he's an axe murderer.

She should remember he's Spanish, and that Continentals are just more picky-uppy than English people. (I always feel that English people who try to pick me up are rather creepy.) However, though picking up may be part of their culture, perhaps they expect more from women who allow themselves to be picked up. "You go out with me, a perfect stranger, now you saya no, what you theenk I wanta, you stupid beetch!" - excuse the cod-foreign accent - may be a perfectly reasonable response from a hot-blooded Continental picker-upper who's turned down after a date.

Though there's always the possibility that she'll be lured back to his flat, strangled, chopped in small slices and arranged in patterns on his mantelpiece like the victims of the notorious Haigh, the chances are so slight as to be negligible.

I'd say, good luck to her. He may be a fun date, he may be a great one- night stand, he may be a crashing bore, he may turn into a good friend ... but, as they say, you will never get anywhere unless you cross the roadn

What readers say

Gina should meet this man. I met my husband this way after being on my own for 10 years. We have now been happily married for a year. But we met in a public place. Go by your own transport. Tell someone where you are going and who with. Don't tell him where you live unless you are really sure of him. Good luck!

Jennifer Elsden (Mrs)

I was an undergraduate, 22, and looking for romance, when one day, in a central London bank, an attractive man in the adjoining queue caught my eye and started a conversation. He invited me to dinner that evening and I ended up at the Oxford and Cambridge University Club in Pall Mall amidst an awesome gathering of academics. My "date" was a visiting American lecturer. Sadly, I never found out much about him and never heard from him again. I've often taken up enjoyable opportunities like this and firmly believe in common sense, intuition and, most of all, safety in numbers. Trust your instinct, Gina, and go for it.

Julia Douglas, Bath

My advice would be to arrange to meet during the daytime, and only for a couple of hours. In this way you can cast your critical eyes over the man and check out his everyday mannerisms, such as how he behaves in public, how he eats his food and whether he makes an effort to impress when he's not out "on the town". I can't think of anything sexier than strolling around a museum or art gallery followed by a visit to a nice cafe. In my opinion, a lot of women and men start at the wrong end with a relationship: they immediately plan the mating ritual before checking out whether they belong to the same species. Take it a few steps at a time and remember, "interesting" is not always what it seems.

Harvey

Hell, Gina, no wonder you've been on your own for a year if you're too afraid to go out with anyone! The odds are that your Spanish architect is a perfectly normal man who's asked you out because he fancies you like mad. OK, there is a minuscule chance that he's not bona fide, so use your nous to find out if he is who he says he is, and if he works where he says he works.

These precautions also apply to any woman placing or answering an ad in the "personals".

Angela Fuller

Next week's problem: I'm desperate to be a grandmother. Should I tell my children?

Dear Virginia,

Does anyone have maternal longings like me? Perhaps maternal is the wrong word, because it's grandchildren I long for, not children. I have three children who are perfectly healthy, two of them married, but who show no signs of reproducing. I have naturally barely spoken a word about my feelings, since it's up to them when they have a family, but I feel so alone. All my friends have photos of grandchildren to show each other, and proudly show theirs off, and I feel so sad. My husband died four years ago, so it's not as if I have anyone to talk this over with. Am I alone? Yours sincerely, Barbara

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. And if you have a dilemma of your own that you would like to share, let me know.

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