By Baila Sebrow

Question

I’m seriously involved with a girl who is a great person. There are two things that bother me a lot about her, but I think they are connected. The first thing is that she does not really take care of herself. I mean, she dresses in the latest styles and her outfits are gorgeous, but she has a mustache. I’m not being mean—she really has a mustache. Also, I think she should do something with her eyebrows, too; they are too bushy-looking. Nobody I know walks around looking like that. I have sisters, and I hear them talk about doing their eyebrows, so I know that women can take care of such things.

The other thing is that I think she is way too close to her mom. They talk all the time, and it’s always, “My mom said this,” or “My mom doesn’t think it’s a good idea.” I once hinted to her about her mustache and she told her mom, and let’s just say it did not go over too well. I have to mention that I am attracted to her, and aside from those things she is really beautiful, and everyone agrees. Is this something I have to learn to ignore, or is there something else I should do?

Response

In the very beginning of your letter, you stated that there are two things that bother you about the girl you are dating, and after explaining the issues, in your last sentence you ask if you should learn to ignore them. In essence, you are asking me if you can grow to appreciate that which turns you off, in addition to what may be an unhealthy relationship with her mother, particularly where it pertains to you. The answer is that the issues you have are not a simple matter of just learning to ignore them, because if it were that simple, you would not have reached out to me for advice.

You are surrounded by women who take care of themselves differently than what you are seeing with the girl you are dating, so it may shock you to learn that she is not the first young lady in the world to disregard modern-day grooming habits. In her case, it might be that her mother disapproves of facial-hair removal and eyebrow grooming. She might be old-fashioned and even primitive in her way of thinking to leave things be, as G-d created her. Or perhaps her mother may have had a bad experience with an aesthetician, or she may know someone who did, and is therefore afraid to let her daughter change anything that may not even be that big of a deal in her opinion.

The problem I have with your dilemma is twofold. In order for you to get her to improve this area, which can ultimately be to her benefit, it needs to pass endorsement from her mother. This is no simple matter for you to ignore and learn to live with. Why does a young lady in a dating relationship feel the need to obey her mother in matters of personal grooming? I have no doubt that the approval she seeks from her mother will extend into matters even more serious.

Let’s talk about the young lady for a bit. For most women, regardless of the society she is living in, grooming is essential. But the extent of the grooming is a very personal decision that may have a lot to do with culture and one’s own perception of what is considered attractive. For example, there are the extreme cases where women continually undergo medical procedures for aesthetic purposes. That can turn into a separate problem when it becomes addictive, because the reason may be related to issues of low self-esteem.

Then there are women who are so comfortable with themselves and the way they look that they will do minimal self-care. For example, you imply that her eyebrows are thick and unruly. It is possible that she does groom them but she may prefer thicker eyebrows than you are accustomed to seeing in women. Eyebrow shapes are as individual and subjective as hairstyles. I have had complaints from men about women who have wavy, curly, or even kinky hair textures and styles. These women take good care of themselves, but they prefer to wear their hair in the manner that appeals to them.

The question is whether she actually has a facial-hair problem. You do not say if she is fair or dark-haired. There are some women with light hair who believe that they could get away with not utilizing methods such as plucking, electrolysis, or the many other techniques used for hair removal. And in certain lighting, they are correct. However, in direct sunlight it is quite noticeable, and can appear like a peach fuzz. It is possible that nobody ever brought it to her attention, and when she shared your thoughts with her mother, it was perceived as an attack.

However, if she is dark-haired, then whatever she has growing on her face is likely very conspicuous. There could be other things going on, too. Perhaps she did try to take care of it, but it could be that she has very sensitive skin and whatever she tried may have led to rashes or other allergic reactions. Or in the case of laser treatment, that can get expensive and is also painful. The concern is if she has a health issue and is not sharing it with you.

Even with all those possibilities, it could very well be that for her it is just a few hairs that don’t bother her at all. In fact, you do say that people comment on her beauty. She may not care what anyone thinks, and her mother’s interference may also be coming from a place where she feels that you should not be judging her daughter or giving her your opinion. Their family dynamics may also be different, such that the men in that household do not get involved in matters they consider to be of a feminine nature.

My advice is to have a gentle conversation with the girl you are involved with. Express how you appreciate her and your relationship, and that you want the best for her and her happiness. With the utmost sensitivity, tell her how beautiful she is to you, and that you are coming from a culture where you are used to thinner eyebrows and no hairs on the face of women. You don’t want her to interpret your words as negative. You need to smile as you speak and show compassion for her feelings. Consistently be mindful that she never gets the impression that she is turning you off. If after your conversation she discloses that cost is a factor, and you are able and willing to pay for cosmetic grooming, extend that option to her. 

However, it may end up that no matter how you say it, she sees nothing wrong with what you are complaining about. At that point it is up to you to decide if you can live with it. If deep down you are really turned off, then you will eventually resent her. That will not be beneficial to either of you.

No matter what happens between the two of you, if you do end up together for the future, this mother needs to be put in her place. Based on your statement that “it did not go over too well” when she shared your thoughts with her mother, is indicative that your girlfriend’s mother has huge boundary issues. The interesting thing is that your girlfriend may not even be aware of it, because to her it has become accepted behavior since her early upbringing. She may have been taught that obedience is lifelong, and, unfortunately, there are many adults who have never broken free from a controlling or interfering parent. And in your girlfriend’s case, it could be that her mother won’t let her alter anything to do with aesthetics, and she is afraid to stand up to that woman. She will need your encouragement to deal with her mother, and you will need to be strong, as you will be subjected to a lot of antagonism.

There are many relationships and marriages that end because of an interfering or manipulative in-law. I am from the school of thought that as long as the person you are in a relationship with has a mind of her own, and respectfully does not go along with the parent, then the future marriage stands a chance for succeeding. I cannot predict how this will play out.

To sum it up for you, talk to the young lady from your heart, and get as much information as you can. With regard to the mother, she has to break free from her opinions and do whatever makes her happy. If you find that your life with the young lady will always be under her mother’s scrutiny, and you can accept the stressors that come along with it, then this is for you. However, if you cannot deal with it emotionally, and if the person you are dating refuses to take your feelings into consideration, makes zero attempt to accommodate you in the things that bother you about her and also regarding the bond she has with her mother, then you are under no obligation to continue a relationship where your feelings and opinions don’t matter. You should never feel like you are playing second fiddle to anyone in your life.

Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to 5townsforum@gmail.com. Read more of Baila Sebrow’s articles at 5TJT.com.

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