Personal grooming — Can I tell my date to spiff up?


I've dated a new man three times and I like him enough to want to know more about him. In fact, I find him more interesting than every other man I've dated since I've been single this whole year. There's palpable chemistry between us and I look forward to our next date. He's successful and prides himself on being unconventional.

Big problem! His grooming isn't up to my standards. When he kissed me on our last date, his stubble made my chin red. I did say something, so he knows to shave before our next date or he won't be able to kiss me. But I also noticed his face didn't smell freshly washed (as in same-day!). Good news: his breath was fine and he's a great kisser.

More: his hair has split ends, different textures, is shoulder length, and is thinned at spots on top. It looks disheveled and unkempt and he wears it down and too much in his face.

Third: his clothes do not smell fresh and his white socks and undershirt did not look clean. Good news: I love his style and the vest, overcoat, jeans, and shoes he was wearing.

Last: His fingernails were not clean!

Question: How do I approach the subject to find out if these things are negotiable? I want to increase my chances of his considering my concerns without being insulted. I feel promise in our budding relationship and would hate to see it end before it's begun. Should I wait until he's more hooked on me? Please share some of your wisdom with me.

Dear Reader, 

It sounds like your new love prospect hasn’t only piqued your interest, but also your awareness of your own standards of acceptable cleanliness and grooming. Each person's level of hygiene is a unique aspect of who they are and is also influenced by their upbringing, daily schedule or routine, comfort, convenience, culture, among other factors. What’s more, fashion and grooming choices can change throughout a person’s lifespan. So, when it comes to your new beau — he may be going grunge for the moment, but it may also be his personal style for the foreseeable future. There may be some hinting at your preferences to encourage a different look, but it’ll be up to him to decide if he wants to change. If you’re into him though, it’s wise to also look beyond just his aesthetics to determine if he’s truly the apple of your eye — stubble and all. 

First, you might consider that your acceptable level of personal grooming and hygiene may just be different from his. Since you’re still getting to know one another, it may be difficult to assess his nature and sensitivity to the subject matter. You can start a conversation by complimenting him and being honest with what you share. It could be a phrase along the lines of, "I love how smooth your face feels against mine when we kiss." The idea is to play up his features that you enjoy, without sounding condescending or phony. Approaching this subject with good intentions and conveying that you care about him will help you create an environment that makes him feel safe discussing the issue with you. 

In addition, you can also ask yourself if his "disheveled and unkempt" appearance weren't an issue, would he still fit what you’re looking for in a potential partner? And, if he doesn't consider and follow-through with your suggestions, would you still be willing to date him "as is"? This is a chance to identify what you value and learn how to express them to him. You could make a list of the attributes you'd like in a partner, designating them as pluses, negotiables, or deal-breakers. This process may help put your thoughts into perspective, allow you to prioritize what you value, and possibly even save you some heartache and time. If you find there are more deal-breakers than pluses, then the relationship may not last even though the initial chemistry is good. 

A better route, however, might be to dedicate some more time to get to know him first. Instead of focusing on his appearance, you may concentrate more on how he treats you, how you feel when you’re with him, and what you have in common. If there are positives, over time, you might talk with him, being upfront, honest, and caring about your grooming preferences. You might learn that he, too, has different expectations of you. Hope this helps! 

Last updated Apr 23, 2021
Originally published Oct 17, 2003

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