Dear Prudence

Sexy and I Know It

I’m engaged to a great guy. One problem: I’m way too pretty for him.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I’m recently engaged to the most honest, thoughtful, and loving man I’ve ever met. He has supported me through many hard times, including losing my job and being assaulted. Here’s the but about him: He makes no money. He has ambitions, and he’s smart, but will likely only bring a middle-class income at best. I have an OK job and I’m self-sufficient. Now here’s the but about me: I’m really, really pretty. My whole life people have told me I could get any man I want, meaning a rich man, and are shocked that I’m engaged to my fiancé, nice though he is. I’ve never dated a rich man, but it does make me curious. So part of me thinks I’m squandering my good looks on this poor man, and the other part of me thinks that I’m so shallow that I don’t even deserve him or anyone else. Am I a fool for thinking that a poor man can make me happy, or an idiot for believing a sexist fantasy?

—Sincerely Shallow

Dear Sincerely,
It’s a delicate thing to sing “I Feel Pretty” and keep the audience charmed. Many people will be repelled by your acknowledged superficiality and wish that a string of rich men use you, then dump you when you start to lose your looks. But surely your fiancé delights in the fact—and surely his friends have noted—that he’s nabbed one the prettiest girls in the room. When considering possible life partners, people should bluntly assess each other’s intangible and tangible qualities. Of course character is central, but if the person you’re dating is a wholly admirable person who doesn’t attract you physically, that’s a serious problem. So, too, is being with someone who gives you pleasure in and out of bed, but who’s hiding from creditors. You have asked an unattractive question about monetizing your beauty. But I think there’s a more accurate way to look at what’s troubling you.

You’re really wondering whether you can be happy in the long run with a guy who treats you great, but who’ll never satisfy you financially. “Middle class” is a very elastic term, but I assume you mean that while you and your fiancé will be able to meet your basic needs, you’ll mostly be living paycheck to paycheck. You say he’s smart and ambitious, and I’m assuming you both are young, so you haven’t made it clear why these two qualities can’t propel him further professionally. Maybe he’s prone to pipe dreams the marketplace rewards with minimum wage. It’s fair to want a fully contributing partner in life, but if you think the bulk of a couple’s earning should come from the man, you either need to re-examine your assumptions, or clue in your fiancé. You and he need to discuss what kind of life you’d both like to lead and how each of you can map out career choices that will make this possible. Of course there are no guarantees of financial success, just as there are no guarantees that good looks will lure a guy with a bulging wallet (or that he’ll stick with you into middle-age). But if you’re filled with dread over the certainty that marrying your boyfriend will consign you to forever dreading when the bills come, this will tarnish your perception of his sterling qualities. You’re not a shallow fool for thinking that a life of scraping by won’t be so pretty.


Dear Prudence: Pining for Mr. Wrong

Dear Prudence,
I feel like a complete oddity, but I am a male who hates sex. I feel dirty and gross during and after the process. When I’m with a partner I do my best to help satisfy their needs and desires, but I almost always have to rush to the shower afterward. Some times I simply can’t even be touched without jerking away and having a panic attack. But I do love going on dates, making dinner together, snuggling while watching movies. I’ve tried therapy and anti-anxiety meds, but two years of seeing a psychiatrist hasn’t helped much and the meds just make me feel even more disconnected. Help!

—Asexual Romantic

Dear Asexual,
About half the husbands who write to me with marital problems would say their wives are looking for a guy just like you. Someone who wants to help in the kitchen! Someone who wants to get cozy during a movie! Someone who wants to get into bed in order to read and fall asleep! It’s interesting that while you recoil from the sex act, and sometimes even from another’s touch, at other times you are happy to cuddle. Given your distress about your situation, of course I would have suggested therapy. But you’ve been in it for two years with no improvement. You went to your doctor with a specific goal, and when it became clear no progress was being made the plug should have been pulled. Not every problem can be fixed, but it might be worth it to at least try a therapist with a different approach, one who will agree to a treatment timeline. But let’s say that whatever you do, you remain repelled by the physical act, yet desirous of a warm, loving partnership. I think you should take a look at the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network and see if it speaks to you. Humans are infinitely variable, and you may simply be someone who for whatever reason falls on the far end of the sexuality spectrum. AVEN even has a Meetup Mart, for people to connect (within limits!) to others who share their perspective. It may be a relief to you to no longer have to please partners whose needs so profoundly conflict with your own.


Dear Prudence,
I am a happily married professional in my late 20s. I grew up with wonderful parents and an older brother who was bright but suffered from mental illness. When we were teenagers, he committed suicide in our home. It was a difficult time for me, full of the insensitivity of junior high school students. I moved out of state as an adult, so very few of the people I know now are aware that I had a brother. Often, when I meet new people or chat with co-workers, people talk about their families and someone asks if I am an only child. I tried answering yes, but it felt dishonest. Now I tell people that I had an older brother who died when we were younger. It makes other people feel awkward and brings the conversation to a standstill. I have no desire to disclose the details about what happened. Is there a way that I can answer this question in a way that does not invite probing, yet is polite and does not make others uncomfortable?

—Not an Only Child

Dear Not,
You do not want to erase the existence of your brother, yet you don’t want to create awkwardness or provoke questions. I agree with you that saying you’re an only child can feel disrespectful to your brother’s memory. So I think you should tell the truth. The truth indeed is painful, but with practice, you will be able to smooth over the silences. You could say, “I did have an older brother who unfortunately suffered from mental illness. Sadly, he died about 15 years ago.”I hope most people are able to summon up a simple, “I’m sorry to hear that.” But after you’ve explained this, then you say, “So do you have siblings?” Or, “Did you grow up in this area?” Your being able to confidently move the conversation along will alleviate the discomfort. As for those who go on to probe, you can reply, “It was a very painful time, so I’m sure you can understand I’d rather not talk about it.”


Dear Prudence,
I am a female graduating from college with an odd and difficult situation. I have never been comfortable wearing a bra. Whenever I put one on, I become dizzy, light-headed, and nauseated, and the discomfort is so great that I can’t even stand being in one for more than 15 minutes. I have tried many expensive bras that promise comfort and have even had multiple fittings done by professionals to make sure I get the right fit but nothing has worked. So far, I have had to resort to wearing camisoles with built-in shelf bras or tops that have some support structure. At college there have always been people who dress far more casually than I do. However, I will be joining the workforce and I realize not wearing a bra is very unprofessional and won’t be tolerated at job interviews, let alone real jobs. My “girls” are between a B-cup and C-cup. What should I do?

—Needing Support

Dear Support,
In this job market everyone is looking for a competitive advantage. But while you want to make an impression, a view of your unharnessed “girls” is not the one you’re seeking. So you’re right, you have to corral them, but you must do so without passing out in a pool of vomit during your interviews. It’s unlikely there’s anything physical about your inability to wear a bra. Instead, let’s take you back to your earliest bra experience. I venture that you were mortified at the idea of displaying yourself to your mother or a saleswoman and that while standing in cramped, hot dressing room, each time you snapped on a bra you felt more and more as if you were being chained to a torture device. It didn’t take long for you to associate wearing bras with feeling dizzy and weak. So if your bra phobia is a matter of conditioning, you can counter-condition yourself. First read about desensitization therapy. Then order the book and CD, Mindfulness for Beginners. Start doing meditation, and when you get comfortable with it, do it with your bra on for a just a few minutes at a time, and build up your endurance. Once you see you can wear it while relaxed, go on short trips encupped—a walk around the block, a trip to the grocery store. I’m betting that it won’t take too long for you to feel wearing a bra while going out is as essential as brushing your teeth. Sure, you may always be the kind of woman who comes home from work and flings her bra across the bedroom. But that’s OK because that will mean you’re a woman who has a job to come home from.


Discuss this column with Emily Yoffe on her Facebook page.

More Dear Prudence Columns

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My Funny-Looking Valentine: Prudie gives advice on mismatched couples, quickie weddings, and secret affairs just in time for V-Day.” Posted Feb. 9, 2012.
Empty Nest Wanted: We didn’t expect to be raising a grandchild at our age. Is it OK to ship her off?” Posted Feb. 2, 2012.

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