Dear Rabbi & Susan,
You speak and write a lot about Biblical marriage and while sometimes it sounds a bit too good to be true, my wife and I largely follow your teachings. We’ve had many issues crop up and we have often found answers in your work.
But we have looked throughout your work and your website for an answer to the question that is causing some stress in our relationship right now. We have both agreed to be bound by your answer as we want the contention to end. Here is our problem. I am balding. No, that does not fully describe the situation. From the beautifully full head of hair I proudly sported when we got married, I have now progressed to the point where, frankly, I am as bald as a billiard ball. There I’ve said it. It happened surprisingly quickly; I am not happy about it of course but I have accepted it. I’ve even come up with some humorous lines to respond to my ‘well-meaning’ friends teasing me.
Here is the problem. My darling wife wants me to wear a hairpiece or to undergo a major hair transplant. As I said, I am not happy about my new look, but I would be even less happy about trying to hide it. I would feel ridiculous resorting to either a wig or hair transplants. I think I am explaining my wife’s position by saying she feels that our marriage makes us indivisible and how I look affects how she feels just as she knows that I appreciate how she looks and the trouble she takes to look that way. I think she feels that appearing next to me in public makes her look older though she hasn’t said that.
If I have to do what she wishes, I will do so in good grace and accept it as I have accepted being bald. I think if you both say that I don’t have to change the appearance that God has given me, she will also accept it and come to get used to my shiny new look.
We love your television show and appreciate all the teaching you do.
This has to rank as one of the most interesting questions we have ever received. As we worked our way through it, we wanted to make sure that we knew what you were not asking as much as what you are asking. You are not asking about a marriage in which one spouse feels that the other is letting him or herself go to “pot.” This too is an important question but it’s just not yours.
We also want to commend you both on agreeing to be bound by the answer of a third party—in this case, us. We too set up this kind of problem-solving-dynamic early in our own marriage. The idea is that when a disagreement occurs, its resolution does not involve a “He won” or “She won” scenario. Instead, for the benefit of the relationship, and by virtue of your earlier agreement to be bound, the relationship wins.
Balding is not under your control. We might compare it to a woman’s hair turning gray. However, that isn’t even a fair equivalent because coloring a woman’s hair today is incredibly common and acceptable. It is also less invasive physically and emotionally than a wig or implants. Your options are a medical procedure (transplants) or a toupee which is still the barb of jokes. So, your wife’s request is a big deal.
On the other hand, her feelings are also a big deal. Making one’s wife happy is serious business. We know from how God created the human being that few things make a man happier than bringing ecstasy to his wife. (Deuteronomy 24:5) This applies in the living room and kitchen and in public as much as in the bedroom.
From your letter it sounds as if you and your wife enjoy a good marriage. You don’t mention how long you’ve been married though you do describe how your balding occurred in the proverbial blink of an eye. Many moons ago, I (RDL) shaved my head and removed my beard in anticipation of a sailing trip we planned to take together. It never crossed my mind to mention my plans to Susan. Needless to say, with more experience, I would never make that mistake today since I have a better understanding of the stake each partner has in the other. She was extremely uncomfortable getting aboard a 37 foot sloop with someone who looked like a stranger. Might your marital problem go away on its own with the passage of time as your dear wife becomes more accustomed to your sleek and polished new look?
Here are five questions we would ask your wife to answer honestly (to herself or to a wise counselor). Is her discomfort only in public or is she feeling less attracted to you in private? Is she concerned with how others see the two of you or only with how she sees you? Sorry to have to ask this but Is a great deal of her self-worth tied up in externals? Is this truly an isolated discrete problem or is it indicative of an incipient difficulty in the marriage? Is she having trouble dealing with seeing herself getting older and your changed looks aren’t allowing her to live under the illusion that she is still twenty? It is possible that we making a mountain out of a molehill, but we can’t make that decision.
Ideally, as we age our views of ourselves and the people in our lives should hinge less on the physical and more on the spiritual which includes the long term relationships and friendships we have forged. (We cover some of this idea in our audio CD Festival of Lights.) When a dear friend was in her eighties she once mentioned that when her (similarly aged) husband walks in the room she still sees the handsome naval officer she first met sixty years earlier. However, the times we live in emphasize the physical and material making it harder for us to make that transition.
As you can hear, we are tending to the idea that your wife should make peace with your new looks. We would recommend her acting as if she is proud to be seen with you until that becomes internalized. Feelings follow actions. However, we also think it is worth your taking the time and trouble to look into hair transplants and toupees, even if for no other reason than to demonstrate that you are indeed taking your wife’s concerns seriously. Perhaps there has been great progress in the field that neither you nor we are familiar with. We wouldn’t reject an idea that holds importance to your wife without doing some due diligence.
As an interesting aside, we read your letter the day that Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Duchess Kate welcomed their third child. The press ran some pictures from previous years including one of the two of them at university graduation. It seems that Prince William and you have something in common! Perhaps if your wife begins to think of herself as Kate Middleton’s peer she will adjust more easily to your new look.
Thank you for your kind words about our show and writings. We hope that something in our answer will be an asset to your marriage.
The equally hair-follicle challenged Rabbi Daniel and his wife, Susan
PS: I (RDL) add, that it might be worth while mentioning to your wife that scientific studies reveal and experts confirm that bald men are smarter, stronger, more virile and have better eyesight than the hirsute!