How can I comfort my boyfriend about losing his hair?

He's approaching 30 and I know it's tearing him up.

Published August 10, 2007 10:03AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm writing to you because I can't find any good information on this subject, despite the fact that it must be a pretty widespread problem. My boyfriend is a good half-decade older than me, in his late 20s, beautiful, athletic, a graduate student at a good school, and one of the most thoughtful and caring people I know.

He is also losing his hair. It has happened relatively quickly. In the last two years he has experienced a great deal of stress for various reasons (family problems, stress from his research, and general anguish about nearing his 30s and fearing the end of his youth). Within these two years he has gotten noticeably thinner "on top" and seems to be losing more hair all the time. Making matters worse, all of his closest friends still enjoy a full head of hair, as does his father! I think it is this perceived loss of his physical beauty in the eyes of others (as he puts it) that causes him so much anguish and makes the perceived "loss" of his youth all the more evident and painful.

I have to admit, he has beautiful hair and I hate to see it go. I don't tell him this, though, and I make sure to reassure him that I care for him just as much no matter how much hair he has. I agree that it must be awful for men, especially young men, to lose their hair. The loss of such a powerful symbol of virility, youth and beauty ... I can see why it hurts him so much. Is there anything I can do to come to grips with the feelings we are both experiencing because of this? What does a well-meaning gal who really loves her guy say when he's losing his hair and there's no denying it?

Never Been Through It Before

Dear Never Been Through It,

If you do not live with the constant awareness that everything is fleeting and everything will be taken from you, then early baldness may come as an affront. But everything is fleeting and everything will be taken from you. Your hair, your eyes, your skin, it will all go. The folly of youth is to ignore this.

But ignore it we do, when we are young. We ignore it as long as possible.

To come to grips with the feelings you are both experiencing, what you can do is to face the facts.

Youth is like a luxury hotel room in Hawaii. You'd like to stay but you know you have to leave. What you want to do is leave with some dignity.

You go to the front desk and say, We'll be checking out of the luxury hotel of youth today. We have some matters of profound balding to attend to.

You hold your chin up and dare the desk clerk to make a comment. What I mean is, this is a good time to start practicing how to respond to life's innumerable indignities with dignity.

It's a cruel world. Let's not kid ourselves. You're younger than he is. You don't have to watch him go bald. Youth is positively amoral in that respect. You could get a new boyfriend with better hair. You could say, There will be time later to read "Passages." Right now I want to run my fingers through some more luscious hair.

There is no law that says you have to be prematurely mature. As distressing as it is to see an older person pretending to be young, it is even more distressing to see a young person pretending to be old.

So if you want, you could turn around right now and say, You know, I'm just not ready to be dating a bald man.

I know it sounds cruel. And I seem to be contradicting myself. On the one hand I say, Hey, this is big, profound life, deal with it. On the other hand I say, Hey, you could say screw it and get another boyfriend if you don't like the whole balding business. I just want to say that the option is there. As a young and presumably attractive woman, you have enormous power and freedom.

But what I would like to see you do, if he is the right man for you, is to try to deal with what this moment means right now.

If you choose to stay with this guy, it means something. I would hope what it means is that you and he do not spend the next 10 years paying for hair implants. I would hope what it means is that you and he make room in your relationship for time, aging and imperfection.

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