My friend Susie was unhappily married for many years. Her husband was controlling and even abusive. She often talked to me about how hard it was for her to be married to him, but she was determined to stay with him until all of her children were out of the house and married. I think she was very devoted to her kids to stick it out for so long.
When the last of her children got married, she got out. All the years that she was married, she would often look at me and my husband and say that someday she hoped to have a relationship like ours. Thank G-d, we have a beautiful marriage. We are respectful toward one another and really like each other. I also hope that Susie can one day know what it’s like to have a wonderful husband.
Here is the problem. I know that it’s not so simple to find a new husband, let alone a great husband! Susie has been dreaming about this time in her life for so long, and she seems to think that she paid her dues and it will all work out. But Susie doesn’t take care of herself. Inside, she is fantastic. She has a heart of gold, and she is kind, giving, smart, and everything anyone would want in a wife. But she is about 40 pounds overweight, she would definitely benefit from a little Botox, she walks around wearing a snood, which even the prettiest women usually can’t get away with, and her clothes are not fashionable or flattering. Frankly, she doesn’t look like someone should look if she expects to be noticed and set up on dates.
I love Susie and don’t want to insult her. But I feel as though her chances of remarrying are bleak if she doesn’t start to seriously work on herself. I don’t think I’m being shallow. I know there is a lot of competition out there and I want her to at least start out of the gate at an even pace with all the other single women — and I know there are plenty.
So how do I broach this subject to her? I so badly want to see her happily married. Is there a way to express my concerns over her appearance without hurting her terribly? I mean, is it possible that she doesn’t understand the importance of putting your best face forward? As close as we are, we’ve never touched this subject. What are your thoughts? How do I handle this?
Dear Loyal Friend,
I hear how much you want to see your close friend find marital happiness, the same way that you have. It’s very sensitive of you and she’s lucky she’s always had you to support her and to confide in. In sounds as though the two of you are very close.
The spot you find yourself in is tricky. I hear exactly what you’re saying. At all ages — and certainly at Susie’s age — the competition is fierce. Somehow, men don’t seem to have the same pressure on them to appear magazine-cover ready. There are men of all ages who don’t really care tremendously about a woman’s outer packaging, but they are few and far between. If someone tells a man that she has two women in mind for him, and they are both wonderful women but one is slim and attractive and the other is not, most men will choose the attractive one. And you care enough about Susie not to want to see her at a disadvantage.
So let’s analyze the upside and the downside to what you could and should say. The downside to saying nothing is that you may be complicit in limiting her potential prospects. The upside is that you don’t risk hurting her feelings, and who knows, she may meet someone wonderful regardless.
Now if you do say something, what would the downside and upside be? The downside would be possibly hurting her feelings and possibly damaging your friendship with her, which would be a tremendous loss for both of you. The upside would be the possibility that she would be able to hear you out without making it personal and allow you to help her get it together and look and feel so much better about herself, upping her chances of meeting someone great.
There’s no clear answer, I’m afraid. Probably your best bet is to offer to go shopping with her. Tell her you plan on going shopping for yom tov and would like if she would accompany you. That way, you could at least have some input into her choice of dressing. And there’s nothing wrong with asking her whether she’s thought about a dating wardrobe, which she’ll hopefully need. While you’re both in fashion mode, see if you could gently bring up some girly talk, maybe a new diet you heard about and are thinking of trying or other feminine issues that women discuss. Gently tell her that you’re always there for her if she feels she could use any advice, as she is now venturing into this new world of dating. You’ve opened the door to a conversation that she may or may not respond to, but at least it’s out there. See where it goes.
Mind you, it is unusual these days for a woman to be so clueless about these things, so I do have to wonder if it’s a matter of Susie not having the means or the willpower to achieve a better all-around look as opposed to not being aware of what her best look would be.
Meanwhile, try not to get frustrated with Susie when you feel she isn’t giving it her all. These things are complicated. And at the end of the day, some of the most glamorous women are sometimes not successful in this area, and sometimes the least likely candidates wind up hitting the jackpot. Let’s hope that winner is Susie!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.