QUESTION: I met my partner through mutual friends after my divorce and we’ve been together for almost a year. My teenage children like him and we are well matched in most ways, as we share a lot of interests and both run our own companies. However, I am unsettled by some of the things he asks me to do. He has suggested on a couple of occasions that I “wear no undies” to a party we’re both attending, and when we’re on the phone he likes me to describe what underwear I’m wearing. I feel uncomfortable with his requests, but don’t want to come across as a spoilsport.

ANSWER: I understand your anxiety: your new man has clearly taken you out of your comfort zone. You were married for some time and presumably became used to living with a man who expressed no overt interest in your lingerie or lack of it.

When you start dating after a long while in a stable relationship, any unfamiliarity in courtship style can trigger alarm. I had one friend who was even suspicious of a new boyfriend who gave her a rose on every date (her former husband had never given her flowers). She said to me: “Isn’t that a bit creepy and stalker-ish?”

If your partner’s risque behaviour is limited to this fixation on the state of your underpinnings, then I don’t think you need panic. It sounds as if he’s just bolder than most men about stating a commonly-held fantasy. I would say that about 80 percent of straight men get hot under the collar when thinking of a woman - particularly an ostensibly prim one - going out without her knickers.

It’s hard for women to grasp the lure of this fantasy because we don’t want men to tell us about their underpants; nor do we fantasise about them going commando underneath their pin-striped suit.

What you must understand about men is that their erotic imagination is transfixed by the notion of a woman wearing nothing beneath a skirt or dress (believe you me, this fantasy does not work with trousers) because it suggests a tantalising frisson of availability.

Then there’s the thrilling thought for your partner that in a busy social setting you and he share a very intimate secret.

Lastly, I expect he hopes that your knicker-less state will increase the likelihood that you’ll have sex after the party.

His telephone inquiries about your lingerie spring from a similarly widespread male fantasy. For some reason, many men like to think that women tend to lounge around the house in black suspenders, silk stockings and push-up brassieres.

I see no reason to disillusion them on this matter. All’s fair in love and war, so there’s nothing dishonourable about describing your La Perla silk slip over the phone, while actually sitting watching TV in thermal pyjamas.

What you have to remember is that your boyfriend’s query about your undies is a happy daydream, rather than an instruction. It’s a flirty conversation, not an exercise in truth-telling.

How comfortable you feel in playing along will depend on whether you are a fictionalist or a literalist. Few arty types have problems engaging in this kind of imaginative exchange, but those of a more rational, scientific bent can find it hard to indulge in fantasy.

I have one friend - a writer in her 40s - whose partner of a year is always phoning her to ask: “Are you wearing stockings?” She always says “Yes”, as she wants to maintain the illusion of being a stockings- and no-knickers girl for him, but since she lives in a house with no central heating, she’s usually in woolly tights.

She says that the small deception is harmless: “It’s like telling a child there is a tooth fairy. Why break the spell if it makes them so happy? Everyone crashes into grim reality eventually.”

As she rightly point outs, this is the kind of fantasy that couples enjoy in the early years, and it’s generally dependent on living apart. Once you’re in the same house, the magnetic allure of your underwear drawer will be diminished.

If it really is beyond your ken to play along with your partner’s fantasies, then you will simply have to tell him how uncomfortable you feel. You could, perhaps, compare your ordeal to that of your typical British man being asked to talk about his feelings. Most of the males I know find it as gruelling to talk about their emotions as many women find it to talk about sex.

That doesn’t mean that both genders can’t strive a little to open up and be tolerant of each other’s proclivities. In the best relationships, both partners are kind about each other’s needs - within reason.

If this man shares your interests and is liked by your children, you already have an abundance of riches; a minor obsession with your undies seems like a small irritation.

Asking your lover about her lingerie is well within the bounds of normal fantasy: you need only panic if he asks strangers about their knickers. - Daily Mail