My guy is a slob

I'm a designer, but my beer-swilling, potbellied future husband doesn't seem to care about his looks.

Published February 7, 2003 8:36PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

My fiancé is very comfortable with who he is: He's outgoing and a team player; he's got integrity and a sense of humor. The problem is that I wish he were a little less comfortable with who he is, so that he'd put some effort into his appearance. He's got a potbelly (he says it's genetic, but he likes his beer and salty snacks), he gnaws at his fingernails, has horrible teeth, and wears unflattering clothes. He's not handsome, but if he put some effort into his grooming, he would look fine.

Though his lack of vanity was once refreshing, lately I've been looking at him and thinking, "You're so unattractive," then suddenly I feel very depressed. I'm a designer, so visuals are particularly important to me.

Is there any way to stop these obsessive "You're so ugly" thoughts from popping into my head? Are they a sign of cold feet? The wrong guy? Fear (of what)? Neuroses? Garden-variety superficiality? All of the above?


Dear Designer,

I really think your fiancé needs to put some effort into his grooming. If he does not, he could be deprived of many opportunities, both social and professional, for which he is otherwise qualified. And it's going to affect you as well. If you are going to make your living as a designer, you will be working and socializing with other designers; when they see your mate, they will not like what they see. You may find yourself wanting to hide your husband the way you'd hide a painting that shows a lapse in taste. And of course you're going to feel guilty about all that, because it's all so wrong and shallow. But like it or not, people -- especially people in the visual arts -- judge you on your appearance. They'll never tell you that. They'll just quietly cross you off the list.

That would mean that because he refuses to fix a relatively simple problem, your life together will not be as good as it could be. And what's the sense in that? Why make your life worse on purpose?

If he thinks that he is being humble and unassuming by taking no care with his appearance, he is wrong. It is not vain to try to look good. On the contrary, it is a public service, and it can be an act of great humility, because it requires you to honestly look at yourself. In fact, underneath his good-humored carelessness may be a grain of arrogance, the assumption that, for whatever reason, he doesn't have to bother with what others bother with, because he's better than the rest of us.

So I think that you owe it to yourselves to struggle over this issue. Tell him your concerns. Find out what he feels about his appearance. Do it with compassion; seek to understand; but do it. It may be that he feels he is ugly, is ashamed about it and ashamed of feeling that way, and has made a taboo of the entire subject. For some men, trying on clothes in front of a woman is creepier than any kind of sexual taboo; they'd much sooner talk about anal sex with a dildo than how they look in a sweater. But you've got to deal with this.

Once you have established a beachhead of communications, you must begin the march.

I would start with the teeth, because that's a health issue as well. If you have a dentist, suggest that he schedule a visit. Insist, if you must. There is really nothing optional about dental care.

Then you have to clothe his body. If he exercised and ate right the potbelly might go away. But why not try to figure out what kind of clothes best suit him -- what colors, what styles. If he's got a beer gut, I would think dark, solid, non-contrasting colors in rich fabrics might help. Things that broaden the shoulders are good, I think -- like well-structured jackets. I would avoid tight T-shirts and any pants-and-shirt combination that ends up with a big belly spilling over the belt. That doesn't look good on deputy sheriffs or anyone else. And maybe shoes with heels, to make him a little taller.

Talk to an expert. Men in clothing stores can be of great help. If you can get him to wear a few things that look good, he might find that he enjoys the way he looks, and over time, he might begin to take an active interest. That would be ideal. If he doesn't, well, you'll just have to do the best you can. If you spend your lives together, you will probably develop an instinctive feel for each other's aesthetics, and you will eventually look good together, and your designer friends will think, well, they may be a little offbeat, but the combination does seem to work.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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