Help! My New Guy Has Everything I Want—Except His Front Teeth.

Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 30 2014 6:00 AM

Mind the Gap

My new guy has everything I want—except his front teeth.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
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!

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—He’s Great Otherwise

Dear Great,
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.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Missing Cousin

Dear Prudie,
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?

—Doggone Dinner 

Dear Doggone,
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.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
A few days ago I was walking from my downtown office to lunch when I spotted my 14-year-old son “Tom” walking down the street with “Becky,” a classmate and friend of his. It was on a school day with an extended lunch hour. The school is not in walking distance, so I knew they’d taken the bus downtown. I resisted the urge to accost Tom and Becky on the street. When I spoke to him about it later, he was untruthful when I asked him what he did at lunch that day. I’d prefer he stay on campus, but it’s not against school rules to leave, and I don’t think they were up to anything illicit. I told Tom I feel obligated to let Becky’s parents know that they had left campus together. Tom, naturally, pleaded with me not to. Becky seems like a lovely girl, and she and Tom seem to be spending a fair amount of time together. We have not met her parents, but I feel an obligation to inform them what their daughter was up to with my son. On the other hand, they're good kids who were just enjoying their youthful companionship, and I understand how mortified my son will be if his mother tattles on his gal pal. Is there a middle ground here?

—Perplexed 

Dear Perplexed,
Since I’m the mother of a girl, I would wonder what message the boy’s mother was sending by alerting me to this little adventure by two high school freshman. You note neither of these kids was doing anything wrong. But think how thrilling it must have been for them to escape from school and go on a lunch date downtown! I’m feeling a little giddy just imagining it. Sure, Tom should have told you the truth when you asked about his day. But instead of setting him up, you should have said, "Hey, I saw you went downtown for lunch today.” This is the time in life that teenagers are testing their independence. You want Tom to feel he can come to you for the big things he’s going to face, like "I think someone is getting addicted to drugs,” or “I need to talk to you about birth control.” Rat him out now over nothing, and he will be reluctant to ever trust you. 

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
How far should a hostess go to accommodate the dietary choices of her guests? I'm not talking about EpiPen-requiring allergies. My husband and I are having a small Super Bowl party. He is suggesting to go with the lowest common denominator and make most everything vegan. I can do that, but I find that meat and dairy substitutes are just poor substitutes. It seems that vegetarians/vegans are so morally superior that we should all sacrifice our omnivore diets to their choices. I live in a part of the country where being vegetarian/vegan and gluten-free is super hip and widespread, which doesn’t help me with the pervasive feeling that I get that I should feel guilty for enjoying animal products. 

—The Amoral Hostess

Dear Hostess,
Excuse me for thinking there is a certain cognitive dissonance to the idea of a vegan Super Bowl party. Your crowd should get some laughs out of this Chevy Silverado commercial, which mocks the idea that men are going to eat kale salad. Then there was this since withdrawn Taco Bell advertisement that said bringing vegetables to football parties is “like punting on fourth-and-1.” Even during an event as long as the Super Bowl, no one is going to starve just because some of the snacks are on the forbidden list. Since you know many of your guests love plants and hate animal products, have enough vegetable dishes for everyone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t also serve an intoxicating tray of pigs in blankets at the biggest pigskin match of the year.

—Prudie

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