Today’s essay was written by guest contributor, Dennis Hong.
A few weeks ago, Wendy responded to a letter from a woman who was disgusted by her current boyfriend. As she put it, “He is grossly hairy EVERYWHERE, he is poorly educated, lacks common sense, is extremely clingy and he has halitosis.” Further complicating the situation was the fact that this woman was still in love with her ex.
Wendy’s advice was not to tell the current boyfriend how much he grossed her out and instead focus on the part about her not being over her ex. Pretty much everyone agreed with this advice. I mean, it’s the tactful and compassionate thing to do, right? He’s already going to be crushed. No reason to bludgeon him after reducing him to a whimpering pulp.
But then, over the next few days, I kept thinking back to this letter. And I kept wanting to put myself in the stinky boyfriend’s stinky shoes:
What if I was the one who smelled bad? What if I had a grotesque mop of hair on my back and had no idea? What if I latched on to the girls I was dating, cluelessly thinking that I was being endearing? What if I ain’t as smarts as I thunk?
If someone broke up with me for any of these reasons, wouldn’t I want to know? As much as they might sting, wouldn’t it be helpful to find out that I embodied some foul qualities that rendered me repulsive to women? After all, none of the traits the LW mentioned are unchangeable, and the fixes seem ridiculously simple: 1) Listerine; 2) Nair (painful as it might be for back use); 3) a therapist; 4) night classes at the local community college; 5) “Common Sense For Dummies”….
I’ve been dumped out of the blue before. I’ve gotten the “I’m not over my ex” line. I’ve been told, “It’s not you. It’s me,” and, “I’m sorry, I just don’t feel the chemistry.” Well, the one common denominator in all these lines is that there is absolute nothing I can do about them. (And sure, maybe that’s what these women wanted — to not give me false hope. I get that.)
Yet, I wonder if there was any harsh (but helpful) advice I never got because these women were trying to be nice — advice that I could have used to make myself less of a woman repellent. If there was, then I would certainly want to know.
Of course, the LW also has to consider the nature of the traits that bother her. If they’re superficial, then she’s probably just being callous by bringing them up. If the reason is, say… he has flaming red hair and she’s disgusted by redheads… or, if he has a superfluous third nipple, and she likes her men two-nippled… okay, she might want to keep her shallowness to herself.
But, the traits she mentioned aren’t necessarily shallow, nor are they hard to correct. And yet, this guy will likely go into his very next relationship with the same exact issues, potentially repeating the same exact mistakes which he has no idea of, but which he could easily correct if someone would just point him in the right direction. Not mentioning the harsh reasons for wanting to break up is the easier, less drama-inducing, more socially acceptable route. But when I think about the situation on a deeper level, I start wondering if the “socially acceptable” method is the exact opposite of compassionate.
That’s why, on seventieth thought, maybe the LW should tell the boyfriend why he disgusts her. I mean, she doesn’t have to use the actual word “disgust,” and there is definitely a tactful way to tell him. And maybe she should wait a few weeks, too, so the breakup can sink in first. But, in the long run, I do believe she’ll only be helping him by telling him the truth. I know if I were in his shoes, I’d want her to extend me the same courtesy.
So yeah, if you should ever dump me because my personal hygiene grosses you out… seriously, tell me. Or, if you’re too grossed out to get close enough to tell me, send me a text.