Help! Should I Offer To Pay for My Wife’s Plastic Surgery?

Advice on manners and morals.
March 22 2012 6:35 AM

Skin Deep

Should a husband tell his wife how he feels about her physical flaws?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I've been happily married for more than 10 years to a great woman, and we have two amazing kids. I still find my wife very attractive, and I enjoy our intimate sessions. There's one thing that I don't know how to address. My wife works out frequently and has a great body for a mom of two. However, she has a significant amount of cellulite in her thighs, mostly in the back and some on her buttocks. I know she's got an issue with it. If she's undressing in front of me or is in the bathroom naked, she always turns to make sure I'm not seeing her thighs. When swimming she wears a towel and takes it off just before she enters the water. We have never discussed this in all our years together. Her thighs are a bit of a turnoff, but not a deal killer. We can afford treatment to remove the cellulite, but I'm unsure how to best approach this option or create a space for her to come to the conclusion on her own. Or should I just ignore it?

—Unsure Husband

Dear Unsure,
You have come to the right place, because I have solved the problem of cellulite-ridden thighs and buttocks! My solution has been not to look at myself in a three-way mirror from behind for the past 10 years. I have no idea what’s going on back there. I’ll share another secret with you: Be grateful you’re not complaining to me that your wife has turned into an elephant seal, one who won’t have sex with you. Almost every woman has cellulite, the degree to which is partially genetic. I grew up near where the Boston Marathon is run, and one gratifying thing about going to cheer on the participants was seeing that even some women who run marathons have cellulite. It would be a relief for both of you if instead of covering herself in shame your wife could joke, “Do my thighs make you think of Pebble Beach?” But since she is uncomfortable about this, I think you should gently bring it up. Try not to mention the phrases “turnoff” and “deal killer.” Instead, say something like: “Sweetheart, I get the feeling you’re self-conscious about your thighs. You shouldn’t be. I hope you know you look incredible.” You’ll notice I skipped over your suggestion for getting her treatment for this totally normal condition. That’s because while there are plenty of treatments available, there is no guaranteed safe and effective one. In the years you and your wife have been together, perhaps your own hairline and waistline have shifted. But she’s probably done you the favor of accepting that while you’ve inevitably changed, you still look good to her. Instead of trying to fix her, embracing her, thighs and all, might make her feel more comfortable about her body, and that should turn both of you on.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Lying, Stinking Adulterer

Dear Prudie,
I'm a graduate student in evolutionary biology. I think science is the best way to understand the mechanisms by which the universe works. I also occasionally attend Catholic Mass and remain drawn to the story of Jesus. My problem is that the people I work with frequently say terribly insulting things about religion and religious people. Many members of my department seem to think that anyone who isn't a militant atheist must be a creationist. Usually, I just keep my mouth shut. Do you think I should continue to keep quiet when my co-workers insult religion, or is there something I could say to get them to stop, without making them dismiss me as a brainwashed idiot?

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—Praise the Lord and Pass The Origin of Species

Dear Praise,

Self-described “critical thinkers” can get mighty critical when someone thinks differently from the way they do. Every day they are at work trying to unravel the mechanisms of existence. You’d think they could accept without mockery that religion helps others get through their existence—and that turning to the comfort of religion doesn’t make one a creationist. Unfortunately, however, since you are just starting out in evolutionary biology, you don’t want to have your remarks twisted and office gossip turn you into a proselytizing defender of the faith. If you mostly keep quiet, don’t feel guilty. After all, this is just office chit-chat and your own faith is a private matter. But that doesn’t mean that when the moment seems right you shouldn’t speak up. Be ready to drop into a discussion the fact that a Pew Research Center poll of members of the American Association for Advancement of Science found that half of them believe in God or a higher power. Another time, you could mention that a successful scientific career and religious belief are not necessarily incompatible. Geneticist Francis Collins is a devout Christian and has written a book about being a believer and a scientist, The Language of God. That he’s also director of the National Institutes of Health should help clinch your case.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence:
I am in my late 20s, and I had a big fight with my adoptive mother. She and I have had a rocky relationship, which included verbal abuse during my teenage years. When I moved across the country to be with the man I eventually married, she said that I was an embarrassment and a disappointment to the family. I sent her an email saying she had hurt me, and she replied with more nasty comments and a demand that I not talk about her to anyone. I said I wanted an apology or I would cut off the relationship with her. I got an email back with information on my biological mother, information I neither asked for nor wanted. That was the last I heard from her. In the meantime, curiosity got the better of me and I have made an attempt to contact my biological mother. My question is twofold. If my biological mother decides to respond to my message and asks me about my adoptive family, what do I tell her without being disrespectful toward my mother? And what should I do about my adoptive mother? Should I cut her out of my life or try to explain again why I am looking for an apology?

—Not Knowing

Dear Not,
Your mother just made an emotional drone attack on you, and I’m afraid someone capable of responding to a fight with her daughter by saying, “Here, go contact your ‘real’ mother!” cannot be induced to apologize, no matter how much it is deserved. What your mother did by forwarding your adoption information, and her whole attitude of belittlement and self-protection, speaks to someone with serious problems who cannot act decently, especially when under stress. Even though you’re a grown woman, of course you would still like to have a mother in your life. But you may have to accept that the one you have is a limited person who will have only a limited role, if that. Your relationship with her needs to be remade, with a ground rule of treating each other with respect. You are going through so much turmoil now that you could use some help before you take any next steps. If a meeting with your biological mother happens, you need to be better prepared. I suggest finding a support group (here's a place to start) for adult adoptees. You may even want to seek individual counseling, given how much you have to sort out. Don’t worry about what you say to your biological mother about your adoptive mother. You two will have a lot of other things to talk about, and when the conversation comes around to your adoptive mother, just tell the truth in a respectful way.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence:

My grandmother passed away several years ago. After she died, my grandfather distributed some of her jewelry among her daughters and granddaughters. He gave me a 1920s gold coin set with elaborate gold filigree and a heavy gold chain. When I was little I used to love it, but there’s no way I can wear it now. I would like to sell it, because I need a new computer and have student loans. The problem is: My aunt would freak out. Now that both of my grandparents have died, she constantly dissolves into tears and interprets any little thing as a "sign" that my grandparents are watching over us. But having a piece of valuable gold sitting in a safe deposit box seems wasteful. However, I don’t think I can sell it without my aunt’s blessing, because she’d have a nervous breakdown. How do I broach this subject with her? Or should I just leave my inheritance in a bank vault?

—Strapped for Cash

Dear Strapped,
Hold on, there’s some static coming through the speakers on my computer. Oh, my goodness, I’m hearing an older woman’s voice: “Darling, I never liked that necklace either. Your grandfather was so proud when he got it for me, but we can agree it’s god-awful ugly. I used to love watching you play with it, however, and I’m glad it’s yours. But please don’t spend money you don’t have keeping that thing in a vault! Of course you should sell it—but do some research and get the best price. I don’t know why you think you have to tell your Aunt Delores. I loved that child, but she was always way too sensitive. It’s none of her business what you do with your gift. Oh, I wish I could convince Delores to take her chill pills. I’m so proud of you for graduating from college, and it would make me happy if that crazy necklace helped get you an Apple computer. I bet you didn’t know Steve Jobs is here trying to convince us all to eat broccoli three meals a day. But I told him now that I’m dead, I’m done with that vegetable!”

—Prudie

More Dear Prudence Columns
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Loving Thy Neighbor: I have sex with the couple next door. Should I tell my kids about it?” Posted June 23, 2011.
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More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
All Dogs Go to Heaven: Dear Prudence advises a dying husband on whether to confess his infidelity—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 27, 2011.
Sloppy Stay-at-Home Mom: Prudie advises a man whose wife is great at everything except keeping the house neat—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 13, 2011.
The 40-Year-Old Mean Girl: Prudie advises a former bully whose kids are being mistreated by her victim's children—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 6, 2011.
The Accused: A young neighbor's unfounded claims put my family in danger. Should we allow the girl back into our lives?” Posted June 2, 2011.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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