“My Girlfriend Won’t Cover Her Gray!”

The love of my life for the past twenty-plus years, “Irene,” has gray hair coming in on both sides of her head. I have asked her to color her hair and take the gray out. She has accommodated me at times in the past, but recently she stopped doing it and said she was upset with how I feel about it and about my asking her to get rid of it.

While I have never been anything but nice about it and I get how women differ from men on looks and weight and dress, I don’t get why it’s a big deal and the few other women I asked about the subject acted the same way. I’ve never come close to insulting her, and I always compliment her, especially on her body since she has body image issues. She has a hard time taking compliments, and I understand that and try to be as sensitive as possible, but I’m not sure why I am the villain now.

Before we ever dated, she knew my thoughts on gray hair. It came up in conversation about a good friend of mine who was dating a girl who added a “gray streak” to her hair. I told her I don’t find it attractive, and I told her in the WAY past that it was a turn-off.

OF COURSE I don’t bring that up now and never would again, at this point.

I just don’t get why she is upset. Again, I don’t badger her about it, I don’t insult her, and I don’t withhold affection or anything close; I simply state a preference, every now and again.

She likes my hair when it is super short. I like it to grow out more, but since she finds the super buzz cut more attractive on me, I keep it super short all the time. I don’t understand why this can’t be reciprocated and why I’m a bad guy for casually asking. She also finds facial hair unattractive,so I stay clean shaven for her.

I’m not looking to force her, obviously, and I don’t need a lecture on women and how they can be “insecure” with their looks; as I stated above, I am more than sensitive to that with her and act accordingly. I simply want to know how to approach this again with her, to ask once again, without being made to feel like I insulted her on any level. — Wash That Gray Out Guy

Has it occurred to you that the love of your life, Irene, isn’t insecure about her gray hair? Have you considered that maybe she actually likes the way she looks, that the gray hair makes her feel confident and sexy, and that she enjoys the ease and convenience and budget-friendliness of going natural? Have you thought that maybe, when it comes to her hair, her own feelings are more important than yours? Has it occurred to you that, by asking her again and again and again to color her hair — by not taking “no” for an answer and even writing to an advice columnist to ask how you can ask her AGAIN without being made to feel like you’ve insulted her on any level, you are, essentially, trying to coerce her or force her to make this change? But, like, without feeling as though you’re a bad person doing so, right?

Certainly, you wouldn’t want to insult her (or be made to feel like you have) by telling her over and over and over that you don’t like her natural hair and she should cover it up as per your preference. No, no, your comfort — your feelings — must be accommodated here, even when you push and push about something Irene has made her stance clear about. (She’s made her stance clear, right?)

I’m not completely unsympathetic to you even though it sounds like I might be. You accommodate Irene’s preferences about your physical appearance, and it’s natural that you would want that reciprocated. But… that’s not really the way it works. Adjusting physical appearances for a partner is not a tit-for-tat thing. All things are not created equal when it comes to adjusting or maintaining physical appearances.

Now, if you REALLY did not want to keep your hair short and you felt strongly about having facial hair and Irene kept bugging you about it and you made a deal that you would accommodate her if she accommodated your preferences, you’d have a leg to stand on here. But that’s not what has happened. I suspect if you told her that you were going to let your hair grow because that’s how you prefer it, she’d probably say, “Ok.” Because she knows what it feels like to want to wear your hair a certain way and to feel pressured to change it.

You know, maybe that’s a conversation you should have with Irene. Tell her that you keep your hair short and your face clean-shaven for her benefit, and ask her one more time if she would be willing to make a similar accommodation for you by coloring her hair. The thing is, you have to accept her answer and stop bugging her once and for all. She might very well tell you she has no intention of coloring her hair, so get off her back, and grow out your own hair if it’s so important to you. And since that’s basically your leverage here in arguing why she should color her hair, your bluff will be called. Can you handle that? (I’m also very curious if you dye your own hair and if you would on the regular if Irene wanted you to?)

I am upset because of the gift my boyfriend got me for my birthday. We have been together for over a year, and I guess I was expecting something romantic from him to show he cares. A movie recently came out around the time of my birthday that I wanted to see, so I asked him if he wanted to see it with me. I was low on money, so the night before we planned to see it I asked him if he could buy the tickets (originally it was planned for me to buy them). He said sure.

My birthday came and he didn’t show up at my house with a gift. I was upset. Call me anything you want, but I was. We’ve been together for over a year and I already have several gifts planned for his birthday in a month. Later that evening I told him I was upset and why; he said the movie tickets were my present. It just doesn’t seem very thoughtful and my feelings were hurt. He is currently mad at me and won’t speak to me. I don’t know what to do. Please help? — A Movie is Not a Gift

You need to read this book and understand that people have different ways of expressing that they care for one another. You choose to use gifts to show your love. Your boyfriend, apparently, does not. Hopefully, you know your boyfriend cares about you through other ways he expresses that. Does he do special things for you? Show physical affection? Spend lots of time with you? Show interest in your interests? Great! Then you know he cares.

Maybe he isn’t good at picking out gifts. Maybe it gives him anxiety because he suspects it means a lot to you and he doesn’t want to disappoint you, and so he ends up just shutting down because it’s too stressful for him. Or he takes you to the movies, spending time with you and sharing in an interest of yours, and THAT really is his gift to you. So, you’re not OK with that and you’ve let him know that and now he’s mad. Doesn’t it all seem kind of silly? When all you wanted was a token of his love for you?

What about, instead of telling him he didn’t do it right, you let him show you he loves you in a way that comes more naturally to him? Instead of testing him by the gifts his gives (or doesn’t give) you look at the whole picture of how he expresses his feelings for and to you. If there are really no signs that he cares about you, absent of a thoughtful gift, you probably should move on. After a year with someone, you should have a clear idea how he feels about you.

If you really need a gift to know, then you aren’t a match and you need to MOA. If you decide to stay with him, the next time there’s a gift-giving occasion, give him some hints as to what you might like. Remove some of the anxiety of the guessing game and make it easier for him to satisfy you. Love isn’t — or shouldn’t be — a test. You aren’t on opposing sides. You’re on the same team, so share the playbook with him so you work better together.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.


  1. dinoceros says:

    LW1: Human beings get gray hair as they get older. If you don’t like that, then I suggest not dating them. You don’t have to accommodate her preferences. Doing so doesn’t give you the right to harass her about yours. I’m sure she’d rather you grow out your hair if it meant this conflict would go away. The fact that you care enough about this to write an entire letter to an advice columnist about it makes it clear that you probably DO badger her because your reaction is over the top.

    LW2: I guess my question would be IF he shows his love in other ways. It’s OK for him to not buy a gift, I suppose, if you live in a city where movie tickets are expensive. (But they are like $8 here, so I don’t think that really makes sense somewhere like my city.) And IF he does other things. But the fact that is giving her the silent treatment after she expressed her feelings make me wonder.

  2. LW1, there’s a big, big difference between keeping your hair cut short and spending an hour or two every month, maybe in an expensive salon, with chemicals on your scalp to cover up the natural aging process. Every. Month. For the rest of her life. Or else….what? You’ll stop having sex wth her? You’ll leave?

    Let’s revisit that aging process thing. All human females will get gray hair at some point in their lives. You’ve made it clear that you find gray hair highly unattractive. Now, I don’t know if that’s because you find the signs of age unattractive, you find older women unattractive in general, or it’s just a specific thing about gray hair.

    But what she’s hearing is, “She’s getting old, and I’m not attracted to her because she looks old, so I want her to hide the fact that she’s aging.” Now, you may not mean it exactly that way, but you ARE asking her to hide the signs of aging.

    Now…does it stop with gray hair? Let’s say she gives in and colors her hair. At some point, she’s going to get wrinkles, probably. Age spots, maybe. Things will start sagging. Are you going to want her to get plastic surgery?

  3. wobster109 says:

    LW1 – But you aren’t stating a preference. She already knows your preference. What you are doing is asking repeatedly i.e. badgering.

    Stating a preference is “I like X”. Asking is “I want you to do X.” You want her to buy the hair dye and use it and maintain it. This is a lot of actions that you’re asking her to do. Badgering is “if you say no, then I’ll keep repeating myself.” You’re badgering.

    You’re not a bad guy for “casually asking”. You’re a bad guy for refusing to take her answer. We all have the right to ask for favors, but we are not entitled to an answer we like. If I asked you to help me paint my house, well it’s not rude to ask, but it’s also fine if you said no. Should I keep on asking you “every now and again”? Then I’d be pressuring you.

  4. LW1: you sound insane, you know? What a fixation on grey hair, my goodness. We all age, will you dye your hair?
    LW2: with this kind of guy, a bit clueless, the best is to do what you did with the movie tickets. Just ask him explicitely what you would like as a birthday gift, on your birthday, in a reasonable budget. And organise a birthday party or birthday dinner with him. Don’t hint or expect or dream. Say it out loud and set up a birthday date. I would also downsize the many gifts you prepared for his birthday. He will be embarrassed. Offer one and store the others for the years to come. Exert your romanticism on girlfriends, family, or on yourself.
    It is not grave in itself, anyway.

  5. Leslie Joan says:

    Wow, LW1, I feel kind of bad for you, because I can see you’re going to get your head handed to you today.

    The bottom line is that your partner is going to do what she pleases with her hair, and so should you. If you want to keep it shorter because she prefers it that way, that’s your choice. If you want to grow facial hair even though she’s expressed a preference for you to be clean shaven, then have at it. She’s made it clear that she’s not going to do something about her grays by her lack of action. This should be liberating to you, because it makes it clear that you each have free will, and you each still have independent choice in the context of your long term relationship. Don’t do something to “punish” her, but realize that you see things differently – and you are entitled to the same free choice that she has.

    I am sympathetic to you, because I’ve actually been on the opposite side of your situation: my husband didn’t see the need for me to color my grays, and he actually discouraged it and said it didn’t matter, and bugged me when I *did* color it. But I do it for ME, not him, and I know I would look like dishwater if I didn’t, because of my hair and skin tone. Some people can gray and look okay, while others would look like something the cat dragged in. I refuse to look like that, so I color.

    He’s dropped the comments over the years, but it did take awhile. Gotta say it annoyed the piss outta me to have to hear about it Every. Single. Friggen. Time. I would color it. Dude, I got the point, many moons ago. Now you need to get the point.

    Your logic may be fine as far as it goes, but it’s not what’s driving the bus. You will get through this, apart from the reaming you will get here. Hope this helps.

  6. LisforLeslie says:

    I know a few couples in which the wife will not change her hairstyle because of the husband’s opinion. That’s awfully controlling and a bit stifling.

    And now I’m thinking of poor Bob Ross who got a perm and had to commit to that damn perm until he died because that’s how people knew him… the lovely painter with the giant ‘fro. Bob, I would have loved you and your happy trees even if you were bald.

    1. artsygirl says:

      Adam Duritz, the lead singer of Counting Crows, is bald and the dreads are extensions – my teenage world view was shattered when I found out

    2. Yeah all the Duggar women had those awful curls because DimBoob liked it that way. Even that preference was handed down from that awful Gothard man.

  7. Ele4phant says:

    LW1 I don’t think you’re wrong for preferring that your wife color her hair. I don’t think it’s wrong that you asked her to consider coloring it. I do think you are wrong for continuing to nag about it after she said no.

    I know it seems like you keeping your hair short for her is a direct trade, but it’s not. They are independent requests you both made of each other. You agreeing to acquiesce to her request does not entitle you to the same from her.

  8. wobster109 says:

    LW2 – I agree with Wendy. You should re-examine your idea of a “gift”. People are all different, and gifts are as varied as people in the world. You say “a movie is not a gift”; I say “why not?” This is not a rhetorical question. Answer honestly.

    Is it because it’s not something you enjoy or appreciate? For example, my partner loves football and would love tickets to a game as a gift. I’m not into football, so if he gave me game tickets instead, I would consider it to be self-serving. Same action, but totally different outcome! (I’m guessing this isn’t it, since you were interested in the movie.)

    Is it because you think your friends will say “that’s cheap”? If the honest answer is you’re worried what others will think, don’t worry about that! Your friends aren’t the ones receiving it. Did you enjoy the movie?

    Is it because you think gifts have to be a surprise / cost a certain amount? There’s no “have to” here. If you want to be surprised, that’s not wrong either. Some people like surprises, and that’s fine. But tell him so he knows.

  9. Good unifying theme for today’s letters. Just because you demonstrate your love and regard for for your partner in a particular way doesn’t give you the right to demand it in return or take offense if they won’t do the same thing.

  10. Zombeyonce says:

    LW1 needs to stop being a nag. People get older and their hair turns grey. It’s inevitable. Your hair will probably start falling out pretty soon, LW; would you be offended if your girlfriend insisted you start using Rogaine or get hair plugs or something similar?

    Also, have you offered to pay for her hair dye if you’re really not going to give this nagging up? Dying your own hair is difficult, and covering up gray is especially so (it’s a lot tougher than just dying non-gray hair), so are you offering to pay for her salon visits? It’s likely more of an issue to her than “just dying her hair”, it’s a lot of money for upkeep, it’s a few hours of precious weekend time at the salon every 6 weeks, and it’s living with roots showing in between that.

    And I’ll bet you money she does not remember your mention in the “WAY past” about not liking some girl’s grey streak.

  11. LW#1 — I don’t see the relationship between telling your gf TWENTY years ago that you found it unattractive that a young woman deliberately colored a strip of her hair grey to the natural age-related hair color change your gf has experienced over 20 years. Your initial comment was a style comment, your second is a demand (yes, multiple repeats of a nagging request like this can’t be considered anything other than a demand that she change her appearance so that you can see her as ‘young enough’ for you — it’s a controlling putdown) that she help you pretend that the two of you haven’t aged over the course of two decades. You are being WAY superficial and she is recognizing that.

  12. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

    From the LW:

    Yes, I have an update.

    I wonder what kind of person and yes, this is directed at you, offers to give advice, to people wanting advice, but then turns around and uses their fairly, light hearted question as an excuse to make fun of them and then try to make them look like a total asshole on social media?

    Does it occur to you how this makes the person seeking advice feel?

    Does it occur to you to give actual advice and refrain from talking down to someone, especially when you were trusted to give advice and not expected to hurl insult after insult to make me out to be an over bearing asshole and yourself come off as the all knowing, perfect, wise one?

    I said I asked her to color her hair, notice I didn’t write, badger her or ask her every damn day! I DON’T! It was 4 times in the past 5 years!

    I even stated, “I don’t badger her and that I SIMPLY state a preference every now and again”.

    Part of your response, “Has it occurred to you by asking again and again…”


    I DIDN’T!!!

    Sorry MOM!

    Not only is reading FUNDAMENTAL, but so is READING COMPREHENSION!

    Why don’t you try it sometime before insulting people who trusted you in a public forum!

    Ask yourself something, did this make you feel better? Are you now proud of yourself and how your fan base will see you?

    I am so glad I came to you seeking advice and instead I’ve become your punching bag.

    Please remove this letter from you page.

    I am forever in debt to your priceless advice! Oh wise one!

    1. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

      You didn’t need my help looking like an asshole.

    2. ele4phant says:

      Well then.

      I think people, including Wendy, gave you advice. It just wasn’t the advice you wanted.

      And 4 times over the course of a few years isn’t incessant I guess, but it is, you know, continuing to push her on a point you already know where she stands. You asked her once, you got an answer. You asked her a second time, same answer. So what were you trying to accomplish asking times three or four, if not to apply some pressure and get her to change her mind?

      She knows your preference, but she doesn’t want to color her hair. Live with it or move on.

      1. ele4phant says:

        Sorry, you didn’t ask, you “stated your preference”. Which I don’t really see a distinction between “Please color your hair” and “I think you look better when you color your hair”. We all know (me, you, her, all of us) know the latter is a passive aggressive way to ask her to dye her hair.

        When my husband’s beard gets a little long for my liking, he understands “I like kissing you better when you are clean shaven” means, “Shave its starting to gross me out”.

        Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t. But there’s no ambiguity on either of our parts about what I’d prefer he do.

    3. Soooo… are you going to ask her again…?

    4. To me “I express a preference now and again” conveyed greater frequency than 4 times in 5 years — perhaps regional differences in word usage? In any case, your question was how you could ask her again “without being made to feel that you insulted her at any level.” Let’s unpack that, using my region’s use of language. You’ve asked her 4 times previously, it sounds like once she when along and since then she has said no and also, probably on your most recent request(s), not only said no, but told you that she found the repeated question insulting. That seems the clear meaning of your words. So… you are not merely expressing your preference — it’s clear that she knows your preference and prefers not to accommodate it. That’s her choice. So, to answer your direct question: there is NO WAY that you can express your preference yet again in a way that she will not take negatively, nor are there any magic words which will make her color her hair, as you prefer. She understands your preference. Why can’ t you understand what I am certain is her equally clear ‘no’.

      If it makes you feel better, grow your own hair longer.

      And what’s with polling several other women on your gf’s reaction to your request.? That’s not the done thing.

    5. Oh wow, I pity the woman who’s dealing with that personality on the daily. That gave me the shudders. whooooo! All these spooky things like “It” and Daron Aronofsky’s new movie and this guy are starting to come out of the woodwork to give us all the creeps as Fall approaches!

      1. PS, did /does your mom have gray hair? I picked up on a mommy-issues vibe there.

    6. I think I said this a few posts ago but I will say it again, it seems that these “advice seekers” just want to hear that they are right not hear actual advice. If that is the case, LW, just look in the mirror and keep saying to yourself how wonderful and right you are.

      FYI I would never leave my grey hair, I have a decent amount, but I cannot think of anything that would make me feel worse than hearing my BF bring it up. The only thing my BF should mention is if I have a booger or food in my teeth.

    7. Oh and PS, unless I am missing something, an advice column where you are not using your name is not social media.

    8. Wendy’s right that you didn’t need her help looking like an asshole. When I read your letter, I thought you sounded like *such* an asshole that I thought her response was a little too kind.

      Because you seem to think that because you told your wife “WAY in the past” that grey hair is such a turn-off, she should know better. Because you somehow don’t realize that pointing out what you don’t like about your wife’s looks — even if it IS “just” once a year — may make her feel pretty lousy even when she’s told you bluntly it upset her that you continue to ask. (Seriously…?) Because you don’t seem to realize that maintaining a hairstyle your wife prefers isn’t some kind of tit-for-tat deal. Because you write a letter swearing you don’t want to force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do, except… you so clearly do.

      Then I read this, and you sound like an even bigger asshole! I feel so sorry for your wife that she has to put up with you! #SaveIrene

    9. I am proud of myself.

    10. Anon from LA says:

      What a pill. No wonder she won’t color her hair for him. I wouldn’t either.

  13. Northern Star says:

    I wonder what LW 1 expected from Wendy, exactly? Well, I guess I know the answer: Sympathy and support. Sadly, that’s not what is most helpful in this situation, even if it hurts his feelings, because his stated goal was to not insult his wife.

    And the only way to accomplish that goal is to accept her graying locks. Sorry, bud.

  14. Avatar photo Moneypenny says:

    Hahahaha, um, ok. I’d love to hear what exactly he considers an insult in Wendy’s response. Maybe Wendy needs a disclaimer at the top of the page: Don’t ask for advice here if you expect to be coddled. This dude sounds like a petulant child.

    1. One with mom issues, right?

      1. Avatar photo Moneypenny says:

        Either mom issues, or deep seated denial that he is getting old.

  15. I read a lot of advice columns so I always wonder what people expect when they write in asking for their GFs to shave their legs or lose some inconsequential amount of weight or wear heels (or not) or dye their greys.

    Like, being a woman in this world is different to being a man, ok? Dont think you are doing us a favour by letting us know we dont look like like a conventional model of beauty. We are aware. We are constantly told.

    I just dont think its the same as choosing to have a beard or not. To be clean shaven or bearded are both acceptable societal choices. There is a lot of baggage to be a woman aging in public with grey hairs and wrinkles. A little support and admiration from your partner in the face of the cold world expecting you to ‘maintain’ your youthful looks would be a little kindness that would go far.

  16. I want you to know, that I am not insulting you, I am “SIMPLY stat[ing] a preference” that you not be such a thin-skinned whiner.

  17. Let’s go back and pretend LW isn’t a total asshole. BIG PRETEND HERE. My ex used to like red nail polish. I didn’t love it but sine he liked it, and knowing I chip my nails in two days anyways, I would get red for him if say we had a date the night I got my nails done, or something like that. He liked it, it was no big deal for me and I changed it in two days to what I liked since it was then ruined anyway. That is accomodating a partners “like” or “preference”. I probably also painted them red for an anniversary or his bday. I can’t remember but I probably did.
    I like him with a beard (read: scruffy beard not long beard). He didn’t like it so he generally would shave. Sometimes, on a weekend, or if we were going on a vacation, for fun, for me, he would let it grow for a few days. It itched him but he knew I liked it.
    Those are little things you do that you know your partner likes. If she doesn’t want to dye her hair she doesn’t have to. If you don’t want to cut yours then do not cut it.

    You don’t like grey hair, maybe she doesn’t like assholes. Imagine that! I also cannot wait until you leave to find a younger woman only for her to leave you because she doesn’t like old men with grey hair.

  18. Morecoffeeplease says:

    LW, Did you know that there is a huge link to dying hair and cancer? It’s a very strong link and is documented in medical literature. If you start dying your hair it grows out each month, so you need to re-dye it monthly. That means each month for years and years you are putting strong carcinogens on your scalp and letting it sit for 45 minutes. The fumes are terribly strong. Some people who are sensitive can’t take it and get sick with headaches each time they dye their hair. For many women this process costs $150 or more each time they go to the salon…in some areas it is $200 or more. We are all brainwashed that women need to uphold this standard of beauty…women and men alike. It would be nice if we accepted each other as we are and did not care so much about struggling to look young for all our lives.

  19. Element_Girl says:

    Wendy says she’s not completely unsympathetic to LW1 but I sure as shit am

  20. Anonymous says:

    You know what is amazing here is everyone ca.ling this guy an ass or demanding. What ever happened to trying to please your spouse? Not in today’s world. Nooooo way can you ever even request something from a woman. The horror. Pathetic. It’s a give and take.

    1. Yeah, sorry it’s not as easy for men to command women around in today’s world. I agree: pathetic.

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