Whatever you do, don't discuss Kafka on your first date

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The Independent Online
WELL, how far should you go on a date? This column has never shrunk from big topics, so we have hired an international agony aunt, Aunt Mildred, for some advice.

Dear Aunt Mildred,

I recently took a girl out for a meal and half-way through she said to me: 'Be honest - are your intentions honourable in asking me out for this meal?' And I said to her: 'I'll be honest with you - no, they are not honourable. I have every intention of making you pay for your half of the meal, and then scarpering off afterwards without so much as a goodnight kiss.' So we laughed at this, and it sort of broke the ice, and we got on well after that. One thing led to another and the bill came and I made her pay her half and then scarpered off into the night without so much as a goodnight kiss. Now she rings up constantly asking me out for another meal and has even offered to pay for me. What should I do?

Aunt Mildred writes: The trouble is that if you let her pay for the meal, she is going to expect something in return. The price you may have to pay is that of friendship. This is sometimes referred to as 'date companionship'. Once you have started letting her pay for things, you will find her ringing up at all hours to have long chats, coming round to clean your flat, cooking things for you and suggesting books you might read. Before you go on another date, go to a solicitor and have a form drawn up stating your intentions.

Dear Aunt Mildred,

How will this help?

Aunt Mildred writes: It won't, but if you tell her what you have done, she will not overstep the boundaries.

Dear Aunt Mildred,

Recently I was at a girl's flat for a cup of coffee and one thing led to another, and before we knew it we were discussing Kafka's novels, and I said it was most unfair of Kafka to expect his father to like his writing as almost everything he wrote was a disguised condemnation of his father; it was a bit like Freud getting upset because his mother didn't like his theories on the Oedipus complex, and we were having a really constructive debate, when suddenly she burst out in a temper and said: 'Friendship, friendship, friendship, friendship] That's all you men ever think about] What I want is excitement, and four white horses, and a bottle of bubbly at dawn, and men fighting duels over me, and a bit of hotcha- cha, and parachutes falling out of the sky with boxes of chocolates tied to the end]' and then she asked me to go home. What should I have done?

Aunt Mildred writes: Oh, dear. You have committed what is sometimes called 'date literary discussion'. This means that without asking a girl's permission, you have obliged her to think about the cosmic implications of some writer that you are keen on. Permissible with Roald Dahl or some such safe author, perhaps, but with Kafka we are getting on to intimate ground, and it is generally accepted that you should at all stages find out if the girl wants to talk about Kafka, or has read enough Kafka to warrant a conversation.

Dear Aunt Mildred,

I have been going steady with a boy for a year or two, but he has never asked me to his place for a meal till now; well, I have been there, and we've sort of had snacks, or a take-away, but we've never gone all the way, because I don't think it's right before marriage to let a boy do the cooking. Anyway, last week I finally let him cook me a meal, and half-way through he suddenly said he wanted to marry me and why didn't we have children together and his career at the bank was blossoming and what about it? And I stared down at my steak and broccoli and pommes lyonnaise and said, without thinking: 'This meat is too pink for my taste' and he went red and stormed off, and I haven't seen him since. Help]

Aunt Mildred writes: You are technically guilty of 'date criticism', which, when your opinion has not been asked for, can be highly offensive to the sensitive soul. I would now take him out to a restaurant, where you can talk things through without feeling threatened by the food.

Dear Aunt Mildred,

I first met my wife in 1949, in the days of rationing, and we used to do our courting in milk bars] After my National Service, we got married and had a lovely family of three children, and we now have nine grandchildren (and a great-grand-one on the way]) but our retirement days have been overshadowed by my wife suddenly announcing that she never intended to marry me and that she just got carried away by the glamour of going to milk bars. Now she is talking about a divorce. What should I do?

Aunt Mildred writes: Hmm. Sounds to me as if you are guilty of what we now call 'date marriage'. I suggest you get in touch with a good solicitor as soon as possible.