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I'm a single woman in my 30s. I met a guy a couple of months ago through an online dating website, and we hit it off and are spending a lot of time together. He is funny, smart, articulate, sensitive, talented, and seems to adore me. The catch is that he is missing several of his teeth. In the front. This completely threw me off on our first date (his profile pictures all featured closed-mouth smiles, obviously). But I kept seeing him because we got along so well. Now we're on the brink of entering a committed relationship. He has already introduced me to many of his friends and family members. My parents and most of my friends live in another state and, frankly, I would be embarrassed to introduce him to them because of his dental situation. He is in college and works part time, so I assume he doesn't have health insurance. I would temporarily go into debt to fill in any holes in my mouth if I had them, but obviously this isn't a priority for him. I need some perspective on whether this is something worth feeling hesitant about. I don’t know if I should even broach the subject with him. How would I suggest he consider cosmetic dentistry? We've been very open and honest in our communication on other sticky matters, but I just don't know if I can go there. Please help!
—He’s Great Otherwise
Many people upon realizing a date was missing his front teeth would consider this a bridge too far. This guy must have some personality chops if you were won over by what came out of his mouth instead of being put off by what was missing from it. As wonderful as he is, I’m chewing over how you could consider a serious relationship when you’re too uncomfortable to bring up his dental condition and too embarrassed to have him meet your family. That’s quite a gap in what most people would feel is the kind of emotional intimacy necessary for commitment. You have to talk to him about his missing teeth, which will be awkward, but might also come as a relief to him since he’s probably been wondering when you were going to mention it. Be direct and sympathetic. Say you think he’s great, but that because of his dental issues, people are going to make unfair judgments about him, particularly once he starts looking for full-time work. Say you don’t want people to fixate on something that’s fixable. Explain that you know getting a partial denture or a more permanent solution is expensive, but give him this list of resources for finding affordable dental care. If he lives within a reasonable distance of a dental school, he should look into being a guinea pig for a (supervised) dental student. It’s a shame that privation and dental maladies are so closely linked. But moving ahead professionally—and personally—requires that your guy address this.
Dear Prudence: Missing Cousin
I come from a very dysfunctional, abusive background. I have made it my life's goal to run and never look back at the insanity. Becoming an abuser and continuing the cycle is my greatest fear in life. My girlfriend and I are recent college grads. Over the holidays my girlfriend was visiting her family, while I stayed home. I got violently ill. For more than a week I could not keep anything down. I was too dizzy to drive and could barely take care of myself. During this time I ran out of dog food. For two days, the pooch had chunky soups mixed with dry cat food for meals, because that's all that was in the house. He seemed to enjoy it! When my girlfriend returned she was livid and is convinced that I am an abusive jerk not to be trusted around children, pets, or even the elderly! She called me mean, cruel, and selfish. Why didn't I call a friend to pick up the dog? Why didn't I see about a kennel? Why am I trying to poison her baby with people food? She's made a few remarks as well about "reconsidering children" with someone so "solipsistic.” I am feeling so guilty. I see now I could have made a better decision. My girlfriend is trying to get me to go to counseling for my "abusive" behaviors. I know I made a mistake but I don’t feel I’m turning into my father. But am I? Should I go to the counseling?
So your girlfriend wanted to make sure her beloved was well cared for during a time of crisis—the dog, not you. Apparently, you could have passed out from dehydration, fallen on the bathroom floor, slipped into unconsciousness, and that would have been fine as long as her pooch had enough Castor and Pollux Natural Ultramix. It’s true some ingredients in human food can be detrimental to dogs, but the dog is fine and you managed to look after your girlfriend’s “baby” even though you were barely able to care for yourself. I’m glad you mentioned your childhood. You should know that it’s a strange psychological quirk that people often unconsciously end up re-creating the situation they are seeking to escape. It is sadly common for people raised by abusive parents to find themselves involved with abusive partners. Your girlfriend grossly overreacted. If she knows your deepest fear and is using it against you, she’s cruel. Of course you want to run away from your childhood and the people who populated it. But without exploring what happened to you, you may find yourself running around a track and ending up back at the starting line. You want to feel you’re moving toward something good in life, rather than forever fleeing the bad. So I agree with your girlfriend that counseling is a good idea—not to dig into your own nonexistent dog abuse, but to make sure no one ever makes you feel like a beaten-down dog again.