My boyfriend and his ex-wife argued about letting their 10-year-old daughter get highlights in her dark hair. My boyfriend wanted her to get them; his ex did not. After much negotiation (and tears from the girl), his ex capitulated, and their daughter’s hair is now colored. The problem: My boyfriend told me that the little girl is dying for me to “notice” her highlights. I haven’t said anything yet. I agree with her mother, and told my boyfriend so. What should I say to the girl?
All week, I’ve been trying to coax myself into seeing these highlights as playful and temporary. Are they really so different from the dress-up trunk I had as a kid? But I failed. All week, I kept coming back to: What kind of parent encourages a little girl to dye her hair? (Judgy, I know.)
But it sends a terrible message to the child: “You aren’t good enough the way you are.” And it strikes me as too adult. The little girl has the rest of her life to worry about her appearance. A parent’s job is to suppress that pressure for as long as possible. Ten years isn’t even close! I wish your boyfriend had tried harder to preserve his daughter’s childhood.
But now the highlights are in, and you have to say something — preferably something that won’t send her running to her bedroom in tears. I’d go with a two-part compliment and question. “I like your hair! But you know, I like it even better the way it is naturally. What do you think?” (Please get back in touch the minute your boyfriend starts talking about smoothing out his daughter’s laugh lines.)
Still Mad About It
When my stepson married 25 years ago, I was excluded from the receiving line at the reception. This was a stunning slight given our good relations. I don’t know why it happened or why my husband didn’t object. Still, I remain sensitive about it. Should I make my stepson aware of this or let it go?
You’ve kept this bottled up for 25 years? How terrible! Your stepson probably doesn’t even remember his receiving line anymore. It may have been a simple omission or miscalculation by the bride (or wedding planner) that your presence would upset the groom’s mother. Or maybe it would have upset the groom’s mother. There’s no fixed rule here, but you were entitled to a conversation.
But there’s a new rule — starting now! — that you are not allowed to keep hurt feelings hidden like this. It’s a huge waste of energy. “Letting it go” seems unrealistic. So, tell your stepson: “It may seem silly to bring this up now, but it hurt me to be excluded from the receiving line at your wedding. I love you, and I wanted to get that off my chest.” In the future, share disappointments closer to the event. You’ll spend less time stewing, and apologies (if warranted) will mean more.
He’s Nice, But …
I am a 15-year-old girl. I keep getting texts from a boy who wants to get together. I’ve spent time with him, and he’s not someone I want to hang out with. I don’t want to hurt his feelings; he doesn’t have many friends. But it’s hard to come up with excuses now that it’s summer vacation. I send brief text replies to hint at my lack of interest, but he doesn’t get it. We’ll have classes together in September. How do I escape this?
It would be so great if we could all get what we wanted. But we can’t. Sometimes, there’s not even a compromise — as here: The boy wants to hang out; you don’t. (You’ve given it a try. Case closed!) The kindest thing is to stop hinting and making lame excuses. That just prolongs the agony of his invitations. (And thanks to social media, he probably knows you’re not busy.)
Be straight with him. “You’re a nice guy, but I don’t want to hang out.” Period. Will it be a little awkward in September? You bet. But we aren’t obliged to spend time with people to make them happy, if it makes us unhappy. Just be nice about it. And pray that folks who don’t want to hang out with you behave as kindly.
Babe, We Need to Talk About Your Breath
My partner has a full set of permanent upper bridgework. His smile is dazzling, but his breath is terrible despite conscientious oral hygiene. He is very sensitive to criticism. I’ve tried offering him gum and mints, without success. How do I tell him that his breath stinks without hurting his feelings?
If our life partners can’t tell us that our conscientious oral hygiene is not conscientious enough to do the trick, who can? You can’t let your guy walk around with honking bad breath, no matter how sensitive he is. Say, “Honey, you should speak with your dentist. I see how hard you try to keep your breath fresh, but it’s not working.” And a parting thought: Gum and mints only mask the problem temporarily.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.