The Many Guises of Keeping Up Appearances

By Wendy Belzberg

Published February 20, 2004, issue of February 20, 2004.
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My wife and I have been married for 28 years, and we have three teenagers. We are both in our late 40s. My wife could make herself look much more attractive and 10 years younger if she would color and style her gray hair and start wearing makeup and nail polish — like she did when we were first married. But she insists I should accept who she is. Do I have the right to ask this of my wife? It is my thinking that a married man or woman has some obligation to make him or herself look attractive for his or her spouse. We’re both going to be looking old soon enough, but do we have to leap into it when we are still young enough to hide it?

— Bored and bothered

It is backbreaking work to haul politically correct advice. Were this question posed by a woman regarding her beer-gutted, love-handled husband, my answer would be easy and swift. Instead I feel as if I’m walking over eggshells into quicksand. Each half of a couple accommodates the other all the time. It is perfectly legitimate for you to ask your wife to take better care of herself — and for you to be prepared to respond in kind. It is not a secret or a crime that mutual physical attraction does not come with a lifelong guarantee, nor is sexual attraction incidental to a good marriage. Without physical intimacy, a marriage is at best a great friendship. You have made your desires clear. Your wife is similarly entitled to choose to age without the benefit of lipstick or highlights. But she runs the risk of your drifting apart in the bedroom, which is likely to lead you to drift apart elsewhere.

* * *

My son will soon become a bar mitzvah and does not want to invite his father to the service. My ex-husband and I have been divorced for nine years. He rarely visits our son and does not support his Jewish education. The only reason my ex wants to attend is to maintain appearances. My son is afraid that his father will embarrass him. I feel I should support my son’s wishes, as this is his day. What are your thoughts?

— Obligations vs. inclinations

A bar mitzvah may be a celebration of manhood, but your son still has a lot of growing up to do. Can you be certain that he will never look back and regret his choice? Help him explore all of the pros and cons of his decision. Make him realize that he will live with this decision for the rest of his life. Having his father there may help build the bond between father and son — even if you do suspect his father is coming for the wrong reasons. It is okay to let your son make his own decision as long as he makes the right one: to invite his father to the ceremony. If he wants to, excluding his father from the party afterward would be a fair compromise.

* * *

Several recent visits to my children have ended badly. It rattles my nerves to hear loud music. My children insist on playing music during meals. I asked them to turn down the music, and they were clearly offended by the request. We watched a movie after dinner, and the volume was blaring. (I don’t go out to the movies anymore because I find the volume stressful.) Would it be best just to avoid family get-togethers where music and movies are played to entertainment velocity? I may be too sensitive, but the volume of all this really wracks my nerves.

— What price family peace?

Would your children feed you dairy products if you were lactose intolerant? Did you serve them liver when you knew they hated it? Your aversion to loud music may be new, but sensory issues are real, not imagined; sensitivity to loud noises is a recognized malady. Remove yourself from large gatherings, events, concerts or games where you are not in control of the volume. In a situation in which you can respectfully ask that the volume be turned down — your children’s homes being a case in point — basic human consideration comes into play. Perhaps describing your sensitivity in technical or medical terms will make it easier for your children to show a little less beat and a little more heart.

Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at

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