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How do I tell someone I love they have bad breath?

February 1, 2013, at 9:00 AM

Dear Starshine,

How would you tell someone you love that they have bad breath?

It depends: Do they love you back? Because let's face it, nobody wants to hear that.

But if you must, there are thoughtful ways to convey the bad news. My best friend once offered me a mint and when I declined, she said, "You know… when a friend offers you a mint, you really should take it." I took the hint and the mint. I like that she cared enough to tell me what no one else would have, and to do it in a way that carefully avoided the words "your" and "breath" and "reeks right now."

How you tell them also depends on why you're telling them. Are you concerned for their oral health? ("You usually smell so sweet. I hope you don't have a sinus infection or tonsil stones.") Or their social reputation? ("You know I love you garlic-flavored, onion-scented or otherwise, but I'll bet your coworkers are more discerning.") Or your own comfort? ("Let's make a deal: I promise to always wear deodorant if you promise to brush your teeth with a frequency bordering on obsessive.")

I'm the sort of gal who'd rather embarrass myself (and even lie) than hurt the feelings of someone I love. So I might try this: "I found these awesome breath strips. Have you tried these? A friend of mine commented that I have corpse breath — who knew?! Anyway, these things are amazing. I'm sharing them with everyone. Try one and see if it doesn't make your breath a million times better."

I posed the question on Twitter (@ToughLoveAdvice) and folks had these funny suggestions:

But this is perhaps the most sensible advice of all: 

**

Dear Starshine,

I've been dating my boyfriend for a little over two months. We became close pretty fast and spend a lot of time together. One thing I like about him is that he always wants to take me with him to things, be it work functions or watching football with his friends. He's from a traditional family, and although he often texts his mother, he doesn't tell her about his personal life at all. I speak to my family a lot, see them a lot, and tell them all about my life. They know about my boyfriend, but I'm hurt he's not willing to tell his family about me. He has proudly introduced me to all of his friends and coworkers, but I've told him I feel dispensable or unimportant if he can't tell his family about me. He says his one sibling only brought one girl home, the girl he married, and only a couple of months before they got engaged. We're clearly not at that point, and may never be, but it still hurts me. Am I being overly sensitive? Should I give him an ultimatum?

Hold up, now. You've got a guy who loves spending time with you and showing you off to the people that matter to him — and you'd risk it all just for a mention to All-But-Missing Mom and Distant Dad?

Look, family is important. And yours sounds exceptionally great. But what if your fella's actually sparing you, even protecting you, from his weirdly judge-y parents? What if they're unbearable snobs or insatiable gossips and he can't bear to expose you to that just yet? 

Someday, if you become the "one girl" he brings home, you'll have to decide if you'll be happy joining a family that's at best buttoned up, at worst not-worth-sharing-cool-stuff-with.

Meanwhile, there are things you can do: Bring your boyfriend to interact with your own tightknit clan, show him how much you enjoy that dynamic, and let him appreciate the feeling of being welcomed into the fold. If he thinks that's possible within his own family, maybe he'll try it. 

But there are things you cannot do: You can't tell a guy how to interact with his own parents. Their relationship is decades older and volumes more complicated than yours will ever be. So an ultimatum would be the fastest way to stop feeling dispensable and start actually being dispensable.

Send me your dilemmas via email: ToughLove@TheWeek.com. And follow me on Twitter: @ToughLoveAdvice.

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