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Home > Media

Upmarket Agony

5 August 2005

You may have noticed a recent addition to broadsheet newspapers - the upmarket agony column that allows readers to give advice on other readers' problems. Where this style of problem page originated is unclear, although we suspect it may have been the Guardian's G2 section. What's for sure is that the problems are invariably more convoluted than the Sun's 'I shagged me best mate's bird while he was in Basra and now his mates are gonna do me'-type problems.

If anything, the problems demonstrate the emotional knots that nice middle-class people tie themselves up in over relationships. A disturbingly typical example could be found in The Independent this week:

Max and his partner have split after five years but still sometimes [chastely] share a bed, and are going on holiday. She says it's because they're not with anyone else, but he wants her back. What should he do?'

Good question. Fortunately readers of The Independent are on hand to offer their two cents. And, bless, they do try to do the right thing:

'If you want to get back together for goodness sake say so....'
Talk to her and find out what her intentions are....'
'If a counsellor were present to facilitate objective self-revelation and discovery of your real selves as partners rather than simply as friends.... [Continues in same vein for some time]'

Our take on Max's dilemma is a bit simpler, if somewhat brutal:


But then we had second thoughts.

We don't know Max. Maybe Max is hideously deformed or has a repellent personality. Perhaps Max has an almost zero chance of meeting someone else - in which case doggedly clinging to the slim chance of getting back with his ex is basically the most logical thing to do.

Or maybe we've misread the situation in a different way. Maybe Max and his ex are coping in their own way with a difficult break-up. Maybe remaining in this limbo will give them both a gentle come-down as they contemplate new relationships. It's not great, but it's better than getting pissed every night for three months and making abusive phone calls to your ex at 3am that eventually culminate in an injunction against you.

The more you think about the situation the more confused it gets. Who's to say Max won't meet someone else tomorrow and get a totally different perspective on things? For that matter, who is Max? Is he a hopeless emotional wreck who can't see when a relationship is finally over, or is he a perfectly normal guy who
happens to be deeply in love?

And who is his ex? Someone who glibly assumes that a five year relationship can painlessly become a friendship? Or is she having equal difficulty coping with the situation? Above all, who's to say they won't just get back together? In which case all of this speculation has been completely pointless.

Which is kind of the point. It's hard enough to get good advice from friends and family when you've got a problem, so the chances of getting any real insight from total strangers is even less likely - except perhaps if they tell you what you know in your heart to be true (in this case 'It's probably over') but which
you haven't been able to confront or accept.

However, never ones to miss a bandwagon, TFT has decided we should have our own reader's advice column. Please let us know by email if you have a solution to the following problematic situation:

'Poppy and Quentin have been together for six years. Although they love each dearly, Quentin is troubled by Poppy's reluctance to discuss having children, and her habit of bringing complete strangers home to have sex with while he is forced to watch, weeping. That and her 17 attempts to stab him with a kitchen knife. Now Quentin has struck up a close friendship with someone at work. Unfortunately Quentin is a psychiatrist at HM Broadmoor Prison, and that person is Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. Should Quentin try to come to terms with Poppy's compulsive promiscuity and murderous tendencies, or overcome his heterosexual feelings and embark on a gay relationship with Britain's most notorious serial killer?'

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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