Dear Wendy: “My Boyfriend Doesn’t Brush His Teeth”

I have been with my boyfriend for almost a year now, and although we are both stubborn, there aren’t many things we haven’t been able to communicate with one another. The one problem I’ve run into is an aspect of my boyfriend’s hygiene. He hardly ever brushes/takes care of his teeth. This isn’t something I would ever end the relationship over, but I have a few issues with it. First off, I don’t know how to even begin to discuss it without sounding like his mother. Every time I have brought it up, he has explicitly told me that it is extremely damaging to his self-esteem. I’m not one who is overly concerned with the “appearance,” but he has had serious problems with his teeth already, and the fact that he gets defensive about it hurts me. I’m not expecting him to do this for me, but I know if he doesn’t do something about it it will get really bad for him down the line, and it is very hard for me to just sit back and watch. Is this something I should just let his mom nag him over, and I should remain silent? Or is there a better way to approach it without hurting his feelings (although I don’t even know that’s possible)? — Orally Fixated

Wow, I’m amazed that you’ve been able to stick it out with someone who doesn’t brush his teeth for almost a year! How do you stand kissing him? I’m guessing maybe you don’t? Or, if you do, it must be an unpleasant experience for you, and that isn’t fair. I know you don’t want to make this about you — that you want to focus on your boyfriend’s health, which should certainly be a concern — but, frankly, your boyfriend should be ashamed that he hasn’t shown you the respect to brush his damn teeth before he sees you. I mean, that’s just a courtesy of the very basic sense. And what I don’t understand is why he’s using this bogus “damaging his self-esteem” excuse when you point it out to him. Are you sure he’s actually not taking care of his teeth? Is there a possibility he’s lying about that to cover up some medical problem, like halitosis, for example? I don’t know why saying he doesn’t brush your teeth would be less embarrassing that just ‘fessing up to something like that, but you never know.

Assuming this really is a case of him being lazy on the oral hygiene front, it’s not like you’re not criticizing something he has no control over — like, say, a snaggle tooth or something — you’re telling him (I hope) that his breath is funky and he’s putting his oral health at risk when he skips regular brushing and flossing. For all that’s good and right in this world, don’t ease up on that message for fear of hurting his feelings. If anything, you need to be more clear and more focused is relaying the message. Stick post-it notes on his bathroom mirror reminding him to brush; buy him a snazzy new electric toothbrush, stick some floss in his jacket pockets; and finally, withhold physical intimacy from him until he shows you the respect of cleaning his mouth.

Recently, one of my best friends (who lives far away from me) and her boyfriend were on a road trip and stopped in my town to stay with me for a couple of days. They’ve been dating since December, have lived together since January, and haven’t spent much time apart. She and I haven’t seen each other since December so I was really looking forward to catching up (and also meeting the boyfriend), but while I was showing them around, they would ignore what I was saying and instead speak only to each other, walk around with their hands in each others’ back pockets, and make out in public. What really pushed me over the edge was the (unsolicited) relationship advice from her — telling me that if my boyfriend and I really loved each other, we’d be moving in together and insinuating that her relationship is undoubtedly more loving/committed/whatever than mine or any other friends’. For the record, my boyfriend and I have been together for almost two years and couldn’t be happier. My question is whether I should do anything – send her an email or call her and explain how I was hurt about not getting a chance to really catch up and that while I’m thrilled she’s so happy in her relationship, she doesn’t need to make comparisons or try to prove her relationship is the best. Or, should I just keep my mouth shut since I only see her once or twice a year when we’re both home for the holidays? — Old Friend

I totally understand your frustration and the temptation you might feel giving your friend a piece of your mind, but really, no good would come of it. She’s obviously in la-la couple land and when you’re in that place, everything becomes a sort of an “us against the world” mentality. She won’t hear what you’re saying. She’ll only hear that you’re against her relationship, which, of course, isn’t the case, and that will just give her more reason to latch onto her boyfriend. So, while it’s not a good idea to have words for with your friend — no matter how tempered you might make them — take some comfort in knowing she won’t be staying in her couple bubble forever. One of two things will likely happen in the next six months or so: her relationship will spontaneously combust once the lust wears off and the real work of maintaining a (live-in) relationship hits; or, she and her boyfriend will come back down to earth and start acting like real humans again once they hit a few hurdles (which are inevitable in any relationship, especially one that’s moved as quickly as theirs has).

Generally, when people try so hard to try to prove something — like their relationship being so fantastic, for example — there’s some underlying insecurity fueling them. I wouldn’t be surprised if, within the next year, your friend comes to you for advice in dealing with her relationship. If that happens, I hope you’ll be the bigger person and lend her the support she’ll need. And if I’m wrong, and that doesn’t happen and she and her boyfriend continue to be obnoxious, well, at least you only have to deal with it once or twice a year.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at {encode=”[email protected]” title=”[email protected]”}.