Dear Prudence

Help! I Constantly Tell My Girlfriend She’s Beautiful—but She’s Not.

Since she struggles with her confidence, it seemed like the right thing to do.

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns.

Dear Prudence,

I give a lot of positive feedback, compliments, and advice to family, friends, and my girlfriend. I’m considered a very positive person and was once told by my girlfriend that I was great for her ego and self-esteem. She has struggled with her confidence in the past because she is very skinny. Before we became a couple, I constantly complimented her on how beautiful she looks to lift her spirits. The problem is that I am more in love with who she is internally (she is smart, funny, caring, loving, and super supportive) and not particularly attracted to her externally—but she would never know that based on my many compliments.

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I feel so horrible lying to her about her beauty, but I can’t fathom breaking her heart and self-esteem in the process. Please help.

I am not sure why you got into a relationship with a person you are not attracted to, but if you’re happy with your situation, then I suppose I’ll leave that aside for the moment. Are you telling your girlfriend kind things that you believe to be true about her appearance, even though they’re not backed up by a powerful personal attraction on your part? (You can not be attracted to her and still think her hair looks great today or that she has a lovely smile; it’s not a lie to compliment something without finding the person you’re complimenting attractive.) Or are you saying things you yourself do not believe in order to “boost” her self-esteem? If it’s the latter—that sounds awful, and my advice to you is to spend some time in therapy exploring why you’ve sought out a woman whose greatest fear is that she is not attractive and pursued a relationship with her knowing that you were, in fact, her greatest fear realized. You say you’re “considered a very positive person,” but there’s nothing positive about bombarding someone with insincere flattery if it’s not genuinely meant.

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Let me add that I don’t think you should share any of this with your girlfriend, as it would be unnecessarily cruel. This is something that should be shared in confidence with your therapist. Whether or not you’re able to see your way through to a continued relationship, none of the information you’ve shared here could ever be helpful to her. It could only hurt. —Danny M. Lavery

From: “Help! I Keep Telling My Girlfriend She’s Attractive but She Isn’t.” (Oct. 11, 2017)

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Dear Prudence,

My best friend, “Kris,” and I are sophomores in high school. We’ve been best friends since grade school, and so I’m really in shock about what’s happening to my friend and how she’s dealing with it. Kris and I are in the same history class. There’s this really awkward boy in our class named “Herman.” Sometimes when the teacher goes out of the room, Herman covers his lap with his coat, puts his hands under the coat, and wiggles around a bit. No one ever says anything, but they make fun of him a lot out of class. Last week, Kris confessed to me that she’s pregnant. She says that when we were doing group work in class, she sat in Herman’s chair, and the chair was wet, but I don’t believe her. That’s not even possible, is it? I think she’s making this up because her parents are very religious and are going to flip out. Now I’m really confused. Should I just tell Kris I don’t believe her, and that what she’s saying is wrong, or should I go to the principal or counselor or someone? Kris says her parents don’t know yet.

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Kris needs to let go of the fantasies of Herman the sperminator and make some serious decisions, and soon, about this pregnancy. She needs to see a doctor, tell her parents, and identify the father. As a friend, you should encourage her to get the medical and emotional help she needs as soon as possible. If she won’t act, then tell her you are going to tell your own parents and the school counselor because every pregnant woman needs medical care. I suppose if this ends up being an immaculate conception, that fact should mollify her very religious parents. I also hope Kris is not spreading the story about Herman around school about Herman spreading his seed. It sounds as if he needs help, too, but no one should be the victim of false accusations. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Help! My Friend Says She Got Pregnant From Sitting on Sperm.” (March 12, 2012)

Dear Prudence,

My grandparents had three biological children and adopted two. One of their adopted sons, “John,” was 9 when they took him in, and had been seriously abused before being sent to a series of foster homes. As he got older, he suffered from depression and schizophrenia and tried to self-medicate with drugs. He eventually ended up in a care facility where he remains to this day. My grandmother speaks to him once a month or so and says he is doing well. I have never met John because my father and his other siblings do not understand mental health problems. They have written him off as if he doesn’t exist. My grandmother has been very sick lately and I brought up the question with the rest of my family: Who will tell John when she dies, and will anyone help him attend the funeral? According to my father, aunts, and uncles: no one. This seems cruel to me. I do not know his mental capacity, but I’ve worked with adults in long-term care like him, and I know he will at the very least notice when his mother no longer calls him. Should I try to get more information on his whereabouts so I can contact him myself? I am so angry at my family for not giving him the opportunity to say goodbye. It seems incredibly cruel.

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There are so many unknown factors here that I’m reluctant to counsel you to contact John yourself. Since you’ve never met John and the two of you have no relationship, I worry that it might be more difficult for him to hear this news from you than it would from one of his siblings or his father. But mostly, I am angry and indignant with you on John’s behalf, and from the way your father’s generation seems to have written him off completely. It is unbelievably cruel to simply never tell John that his mother has died. He absolutely will notice that she has stopped calling him, and he should not be left alone to wonder what became of his mother simply because his siblings have underestimated his ability to process the concept of death. I think you should consider contacting John yourself as a last resort, only after you put serious pressure on your father and his siblings to tell John about his mother’s condition and to see if they can at least try to make arrangements for John to attend the funeral. He has the right to know that his mother has died. It is, quite literally, the very least that they can do. —D.L.

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From: “Help! My Father Doesn’t Plan to Tell His Adoptive Brother When Their Mother Dies.” (Sept. 1, 2016)

Dear Prudence,

My 10-year-old niece owns two American Girl dolls. The dolls are a source of pride for her, because she “bought” them herself. My sister and her husband give her a weekly allowance in exchange for performing household chores. They require her to put a percentage in a savings account for college and donate another percentage to a local charity. My niece can spend the rest of her allowance on whatever she pleases. To my husband and me, who don’t make nearly as much as my sister or my brother-in-law, our niece receives a very large allowance for a young child. The allowance was large enough that she was able to purchase the two American Girl dolls over the course of 18 months. She enjoys bringing one or both of the dolls to family gatherings. My daughter, the same age as my niece, would love an American Girl doll, but my husband and I can’t afford it. I feel like my niece flaunts her dolls and doesn’t understand that she seems spoiled to others who aren’t as fortunate. Sometimes it’s difficult to spend time around my nieces and nephew because they have many more toys than my kids do, and my kids feel bad afterward. How can I address these issues with my sister without making her defensive and my niece without hurting her?

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You need to address these issue with yourself, then your children—not your sister. Your sister and her husband have more money than you do. That usually translates into having a bigger house, nicer cars, fancier vacations, more toys for the kids. Live with it. Unless they are constantly flaunting their wealth—which you don’t mention—you, and your children, need to understand that good and bad fortune is not distributed equally. Sure, their cousins may have more stuff than they do, but you need to remind them they have more stuff than their friends [fill in the blank]. Explain that’s life, and if the absence of an American Girl doll is one of their biggest heartaches, then that means all of you are lucky—even if seeing their cousin’s two, two, two American Girl dolls really can be annoying. Your sister’s children may get a generous allowance, but I love the lessons they are teaching their kids about it: They earn it through chores; they are putting some away for their own future; they are giving another percentage to those less fortunate; and if they save their money wisely over a long time (18 months for a little girl!) they can enjoy the result. I think you need to take a page from your sister’s parenting book and instill some worthy lessons in your own kids. —E.Y.

From: “Help! I Can’t Compete With the Expensive Toys My Niece Gets From Her Mother.” (July 2, 2012)

More Advice From Dear Prudence

I’m going to front-load this question, otherwise you’ll think my tone is unfair to my brother. For reasons known only to a 30-year-old man-child, he stored nearly 20 grand in $100 bills in an oversized teddy bear he won at a fair.

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