Dear Prudence

Losing Face

If I get a nose job, will my daughter think she’s not beautiful?

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg

Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
I’m a married 33-year-old mother of three young kids, and I think I want a nose job. I am Italian and have a very prominent nose. It never really bothered me before, but after the weight gain and loss that came with having three kids my face is gaunt and my nose is more pronounced than ever. My only hesitation is how this will make the other Italian women in my life feel. What if my daughter grows up to have the same nose as me? Will she worry that I don’t think she is beautiful? I think my sisters are absolutely gorgeous, but will this make them self-conscious or make them feel like I’m critical of their noses? Should I even be worried about these things? I really wish I had just done this in my 20s before these types of questions would occur to me, but now that I’m more mature and economically able to make this choice, I’m worried it might impact other people.

—Keep My Nose for Others?

Something worth bearing in mind is that if you had gotten this procedure as a twentysomething, all your concerns would still be true now, even if you might have cared less about the opinions of other people at the time. There is no magical point in your life when getting a nose job would have guaranteed an emotionally comfortable, social implication–free procedure. All elective surgeries come with certain risks, benefits, and cultural connotations, and part of the difficult work you have to do is figuring out what you can live with and what you can’t. You say that your nose has not bothered you until fairly recently, which suggests to me that you probably shouldn’t rush into getting a nose job right away. Consider recording some of your thoughts about your nose over the next six months to a year, and see if you notice anything changing or any persistent patterns.

The most important question you asked me, I think, is “Should I even be worried about these things?” My answer is: Of course you should. You absolutely should worry about how to foster your daughter’s sense of self-acceptance, how you feel about your distinguishing features when they’re on someone else’s face, how you want to make sure your sisters and the other members of your community feel celebrated and worthwhile, how your life is connected with others. That does not, however, mean you should allow the reactions (hypothetical or real) dictate your choices. Nor does it mean that if you get a nose job it therefore follows that your sister and daughter will feel personally scrutinized, criticized, or rejected. But if you’re contemplating cosmetic surgery, I think it’s an excellent sign that you want to spend some time first figuring out what you’re comfortable with, what outcomes you are and aren’t willing to accept, what you want to communicate to others, and what you’re looking to get out of it. Don’t think the decision will become easy by wishing the tough questions didn’t exist; spend some time trying to figure out how you want to answer them instead.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
Recently I had to visit a new doctor’s office to get a physical before starting a new job and had a horrible experience with the nurse on duty. I had to explain to her what an IUD is and that I do in fact “take it consistently” because it is in my uterus. I also had to explain the difference between not getting a period as a result of contraception and not getting a period because of early menopause.

Most egregious was a comment she made when she learned I have bipolar disorder (it’s been under control for years and I’m doing quite well). She said, “You don’t look bipolar,” which I found extremely offensive and hurtful. I was not going to say anything, however, because I do get these comments from time to time, although never before from a medical professional. My friends encouraged me to speak up in case she treats other patients, who may be less well-informed or able to advocate for themselves, the way she treated me. I could not find an email address for the doctor’s office so I left a comment through the third-party booking system I used to schedule the appointment. Did I do the right thing?

—Critical Treatment

Absolutely. The only thing I’d advise you to do is to find a phone number or even write a letter to the office and make sure that someone in management is aware of what the nurse said to you. A nurse who is not familiar with the basic mechanics of an IUD or menopause is dangerously incompetent and a marvel for even having made it out of her RN program. A nurse who would casually tell a patient they don’t “look bipolar”—as if one could offer psychiatric diagnoses from a quick visual scan—increases an unnecessary stigma that could potentially alienate patients from speaking up about their mental health concerns. A nurse who does both should be reprimanded, retrained, and quite possibly encouraged to look for a different line of work. She’s a danger to patients, and you’re looking out for the greater good by speaking up.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My husband recently learned for the first time as the result of genetic testing that he has an 18-year-old daughter. From what we’ve been able to gather, she was adopted as a baby and her biological mother identified a different father on her birth certificate. My husband has no idea who her mother is; he was not in a relationship during that time of his life and thinks it must have been a one-night stand. He was never contacted by the state she was born in or the adoption agency.

Now we’re not sure what to do. My husband replied courteously to his daughter’s email, providing a little background information and gently explaining that he can’t help identify her birth mother. He is not really interested in a relationship with her but does not want to be cruel. We both assume it means a lot to her to have found him, although she said in her last message that she has a great life and is very happy. What should he do, and how can I help?

—Not Interested but Not Heartless

No one can make you or your husband develop a relationship with his daughter if he’s certain he wants no contact, but I’d encourage both of you to at least consider the possibility of exchanging a few more friendly emails. His daughter says she’s very happy and has had a great life, so at least on the surface she may not have a laundry list of expectations. But you’re right that this search has likely been important to her and that she would value more of a connection than a single email exchange. She might also benefit from getting a relevant family medical history from your husband. If he’s absolutely certain he never wants to meet her or stay in regular contact, then I think the best thing he can do is be perfectly clear about it so he doesn’t mislead the girl. But if he’s open to taking it one careful email at a time, it’s possible that some light correspondence is all she needs. It’s also possible your husband may find some meaning or sense of connection out of occasional contact.

* * *

Dear Prudence: “The Gravity Is Mad at You” Edition

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Dear Prudence,
My fiancé and I want to have a small, intimate wedding for close family and friends only. We chose to get married where my grandparents live so they could attend, as they no longer travel. Some members of my extended family live there as well, and they are also invited. Other aunts and uncles who live out of state are not invited. How do we tactfully announce our upcoming wedding to the out-of-towners without inviting them? How do we stop the guilt trips? For what it’s worth, we are paying for the wedding and reception ourselves and are not asking for any gifts. Another reason we’re keeping it small is my family is much larger (and louder) than my fiancé’s, and he doesn’t want to feel overwhelmed at his own wedding! When I’ve explained that, it’s been dismissed as silly. Any sample dialogue would be much appreciated so we can stop feeling sneaky and defensive when the subject of invitations comes up!

—Outnumbered

Don’t be evasive or defensive: Be clear. Cheerfully refer to your limited budget and your desire for a small wedding that requires no travel on the part of guests, and make it clear the subject is closed. Don’t give your already-loud relatives a reason to argue about why you should make an exception for them by explaining your husband-to-be feels overwhelmed by them en famille. Just say: “We chose to keep it small and local to the grandparents, but I’m so looking forward to seeing you next month/holiday/funeral.”

Then for everyone else not already in the loop, send a wedding announcement as soon as the feat is complete. (Don’t send wedding announcements prior to the ceremony; this is unnecessarily confusing to people who might mistakenly think they’re invited, and there is no polite way to say, “Our wedding is next month; please don’t come.”) You can write and address the wedding announcements in advance of the ceremony, just don’t drop them off at the post office until the day of. The traditional announcement wording is pretty simple:

Mr(s). and Mr(s). Squeamish
are honored to announce the marriage of their son/daughter
Arboretum Stentworth
to Donald Friendship
Sunday, the first of June
Name of nondenominational botanical garden the ceremony was held in
City the nondenominational botanical garden is found in

Good luck!

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I have a friend, “Ally,” who was recently deployed out of the country. We met a couple years ago and have several mutual friends. This group is pretty tightknit, and everyone knows and loves Ally, who’s extremely outgoing. She’s told me several times that she doesn’t like to be alone, and over the last nine months I’ve felt her become more and more demanding of my time and attention. For example, if I wanted to take a break and be alone, she would ask me point-blank if I actually wanted to take a break, or if I were using an excuse to not hang out with her. She began getting upset every time it took me too long to answer text messages (I work about 20 hours a week, go to school full time, and volunteer) and calling me out if I failed to respond quickly enough in a group text. I try my best to respond to messages, but sometimes things fall through the cracks!

After she left for basic training she became even more demanding that everyone write her letters; however, she never responded to one that I wrote to her, and only replied to the group letter we all sent her. I’ve tried to bring my concerns up to other friends of mine (including the ones in the group text), but they don’t seem to be as concerned about it as I do and make excuses for her, such as “she’s sad she’s graduating sooner than all of her other friends,” or “maybe she’s just stressed,” etc. I’ve tried multiple times to give her the benefit of the doubt, but she keeps making these kinds of comments, and it’s making me resent her. What should I do?

—Longing for Detachment

The two most important principles to bear in mind here are these: First, it is not your problem that Ally does not like to be alone; second, it is not incumbent upon your mutual friends to resolve the issue you have with Ally. None of you should be bearing one another’s burdens here. Now that Ally’s out of the country, some of your in-person dynamics are no longer at play, but in the future, if you say, “I’d like to be alone,” and someone challenges you on that, you should absolutely feel free to reiterate, “I want to be alone right now. Please respect that.” The desire for periodic solitude does not need to be justified.

When it comes to getting hounded in group texts, you have several responses available to you that will have a cumulative effect. One is to set the group chat to Do Not Disturb on your phone, so you don’t get multiple notifications all at once when Ally’s trying to embarrass you into responding on her time frame. The other is to tell her straight out, “I’m not always going to be able to read and respond to your texts immediately, because I’m working and in school right now.” If your mutual friends don’t seem to have the same problem with her, you cannot enlist them in help setting your own boundaries. Remember that when Ally grows frantic and desperate for you to reply it does not mean that you have actually done anything wrong or are required to drop what’s in front of you to manage her insatiable need for reassurance. If she continues to press you for more than you’re willing and able to give, say no to her, and stop engaging with her if that doesn’t work.

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Dear Prudence,
I’m a 27-year-old man in a friendship-turned-romance with a 26-year-old woman. We met as (platonic) housemates, then reconnected years later and started a (nonexclusive) long-distance relationship. About five months ago we moved in together as a couple. We’re first and foremost best friends and companions. I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her, we deeply respect and care for one another, and I can see myself spending the rest of my life with her.

We’re both sexually experienced with well-developed tastes, and our most glaring issue is that I am kinky and she is vanilla. I’ve always enjoyed exploring kink, and my past relationships have all involved healthy doses of fetish and fantasy. My girlfriend is much more traditional and likes her sex life to be private, monogamous, and primarily in the missionary position. We’ve both spoken pretty candidly about this but can’t seem to make much headway. She says she feels pressured to “meet my expectations” as well as feeling “sexually inadequate” compared with my previous kinky partners; meanwhile I feel neglected, unfulfilled, and restricted in our bedroom. She says she’s willing to explore things outside her comfort zone, but it seems like nearly every time I bring up an idea it is met with resistance or plain disgust. I’m not picky, I just like to spice things up! Meanwhile, if it were up to her we would continue through the same motions, ad infinitum. It’s gotten to the point where I am discouraged and reluctant to make suggestions at risk of reigniting conflict and hurting her feelings. I’m losing inspiration in my sex life, but I’m not ready to “swipe left” on someone who I care about so deeply. Help!

—Kinked

Oh, my friend, I do not have a better solution for you, I’m afraid. Sometimes—perhaps even often—two really honest, open, communicative, loving people can be maximally honest, open, communicative, and loving with one another and things still don’t work out between them. I don’t think there is another way you can frame your desires that will magically convince your girlfriend to get on board, nor do I think there is some heretofore-undiscovered fetish you could suggest that will unlock her secretly pervy side. You’ve both tried pretty hard to meet one another in the middle, and it doesn’t seem like either of you like the middle very much.

And as for your feelings, you can love her to death and have fantastic conversations all day long, but if you feel discouraged and neglected in your sex life, you’re eventually going to get frustrated and resentful, and whether you want to or not it will start to sabotage your relationship. If she’s committed to monogamy, would rather do it missionary-style 90 percent of the time, and considers even light kink to be off-putting, you two are fundamentally incompatible, and all the wishing in the world isn’t going to change that. For most people, sex is a significant part of a romantic relationship, and it sounds like what you want would make her miserable (and vice versa). You can admit that now and part ways, hopefully with an intact friendship (or at least mutual respect and affection). Otherwise there’s a good chance you two will put one another through years of sexual frustration until you’ve completely forgotten everything you ever liked about one another.

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