Q. My husband and I have two single friends who we believe should be introduced. In days gone by, we would have held a dinner or drinks party in order to do so. But with all the lockdowns, it is proving hard to get them in the same room. To make matters more difficult, they are both conscientious types and have moved to their respective family homes in the countryside to offer support to their parents. How should we introduce them? A Zoom call seems so unromantic.
— Name and address withheld
A. Much better to ambush the couple by inviting them to attend Zoom drinks to celebrate some confected achievement of your own — e.g. ‘I’ve finally done my tax return.’ By directing the focus of attention on to your own mini-triumph, neither singleton will feel self-conscious or that their attractiveness is being judged, yet they can quietly observe each other. If you sense it went well, the next step is to start a Zoom book club with them as members, so they can get to know each other at a leisurely pace, blissfully free from any embarrassing pressure to make physical bids for intimacy. Of course the chemistry may not work when they eventually meet in real life, but if it does, they will be eternally grateful to you that the groundwork was achieved almost without their noticing it.
Q. My boyfriend is in lockdown with me. I adore him but didn’t realise, until he moved in, that he has an off-putting physical habit. This is to repeatedly attempt to clear his throat, as though he is trying to cough something up. Whenever I mention that I don’t like it, he smiles broadly and chuckles as though I am congratulating him. Apparently his mother advised him as a child that it was a very healthy thing to give your air passages a thorough clearing out like this, and I can only assume that this is why he expects I should be pleased about it. I don’t want to keep nagging so what do you suggest, Mary?
— W.S., London SW1
A. YouTube hosts a whole archive of disgusting biological sound effects. Download one onto your iPhone so it is ready to play each time your boyfriend begins the coughing. Make no comment as you use this Pavlov-style technique to reprogramme him.
Q. At Christmas I received many more cards than in previous years, some from people who had never sent them before. I very much welcomed the friendly gestures, but they arrived too late for me to reciprocate and I am not quite sure what to do. Can you help, Mary?
— B.A., London W8
A. Make contact with these senders by postcard, wishing them a happy new year and expressing the hope that you will be able to meet up again eventually. No need to mention your failure to return their card — cheery messages of friendship and goodwill go down well at this empty time of year.
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