Love dilemmas abound, and here, in our latest installment of a weekly advice column, a TODAY.com panel answers a question from a reader who is not smiling about her fiance’s grin. Have your own question? Submit it here.
First, let’s introduce our panelists:
The wise grandma: Kitty Schindler
At age 87, retired nurse Kitty Schindler is TODAY.com’s oldest regular contributor. One of 10 children raised by a Pennsylvania coal miner during the Depression, she offers advice from the perspective of a successful long-term relationship — a 61-year marriage.
The dude: Alex Smith
Alex Smith is a 44-year-old journalist and native New Yorker. Despite possessing a worldview some might describe as “bleak” and/or “cynical,” Alex has been very happily married for a decade, and is the father to two incandescent little children, Charlotte (age 7) and Oliver (age 5).
The relationship expert: Dr. Robi Ludwig
Dr. Robi Ludwig is a national TV commentator and psychotherapist who practices in New York City. She is also the author of the book “Till Death Do Us Part” as well as a contributor for both Care.com and TODAY.com.
Q: Growing up, my best friend always made fun of one of my only dating caveats. I have always been most attracted to men with straight, beautiful teeth and have turned down relationships with men that don’t have that “Hollywood smile.” Years later, I suppose karma has come back with a vengeance. I’m in love alright — in fact, engaged — to a man with crooked teeth! I’m secretly embarrassed because he doesn't smile in pictures. I told him I want him to go to the dentist to get some work done. A great smile for him would be the icing on the cake for both of us, and for our eventual wedding photos. Is it wrong for me to demand he get dental work? How do I suggest it in a gentle way? He's a great man in every way, and a great smile would only add to his personality. — Tennessee tooth fairy
Kitty says: We all have preconceived expectations, but often they’re unrealistic. Maybe you should rethink why you fell in love and became engaged to this man. Is he a great guy who fills all your other requirements?
You’ve always thought that not having straight, beautiful teeth was a deal-breaker, but evidently you made an exception when you met this guy. Ask yourself: Why? You fell in love even though he violated your personal rule; now you want to change him. What are your priorities?
You say you’ve already asked him to see a dentist; evidently he didn’t go. Have you asked him why? Has he had good dental care throughout his life? That would rule out dental phobia, from which many people (including yours truly) suffer.
If you want him to have cosmetically perfect teeth, it may require lengthy orthodontia. How soon are you planning your wedding? Is it worth the wait?
Perhaps you are focusing on the wrong values. As a nurse, I would be more concerned about how healthy his teeth are (they’re vitally important to overall health) than how white and even they may be!
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Alex says: While it’s nice that you have some clearly-defined criteria in your dating agenda, have you paused for a second to consider how potentially hurtful your comments might be to your poor suitor? Maybe he doesn’t want to get a bunch of expensive dental procedures done. I mean, it’s his mouth, right? Are your exacting standards that rigid? Evidently, his choppers served him just fine up until meeting you. Let’s put it this way, how would youfeel if he were to suddenly cite a laundry list of your own less-than-flawless attributes? Whatever happened — with apologies to Billy Joel — to loving someone just the way they are?
Dr. Robi says: First of all, when you're in a relationship, demanding such a request is so NOT the way to go. Placing demands on a partner typically engenders anger and rebelliousness. Having said that, I hear how important it is to you to have your fiancé look a certain way on your wedding day. Realize this may be your exclusive wish and not his. It is driven by your need to have your partner fit a certain visual romantic ideal. You want him to change his teeth so it will be more pleasing to you. Having said that, we all want our partners to look their very best, but sometimes other concerns have to trump this wish — for example, caring about your partner’s feelings.
Why not state your preference this way: Tell him you think he’s adorable, but hate the idea of something so fixable taking away from his appearance. Offer to go with him to a cosmetic dentist for a consultation; then the two of you can find out all about his options. He might fall so in love with the idea of fixing his teeth that you won't have to force him to do anything. And if for some reason your fiancé makes the decision not to change his appearance, this is something you will have to learn to accept and deal with, at least for now.
No one is perfect. It's not our partner's job to be everything we want them to be (although granted, it would be nice sometimes!). Be thoughtful and loving about your preference to have him fix his teeth, and see if this moves him in that direction. Oh, and you may want to choose a very persuasive cosmetic dentist while you're at it. It couldn't hurt!
Do you agree with the panelists’ advice? Do you have your own? Share it in the comments below.
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