Today we bring you our latest installment of “What Would a Humanist Do?”—offering multiple AHA staff opinions on the same question. As with our long-running “Humanist Dilemma” column by Joan Reisman-Brill, readers often ask what qualifies as a humanist problem. Our answer: humanists are committed to being good without a God, but sometimes they need a little advice on how to pull it off.
Q: I have been with my partner for five years and engaged for one. We’re getting married in six months, however, lately he’s been pressuring me to get dermal fillers in my lips.
He feels it’s my duty to make sure I’m attractive to him. I feel very offended by this. I’m twenty-nine and feel there is nothing wrong with my lips or face. I went for a consultation and was told that I shouldn’t do this if it’s not for me. When I’ve relayed this to my fiancé, he either ignores me or gets angry. He doesn’t seem to have any emotional intelligence around how this is affecting me. All he thinks about is that this is what he needs from me.
—What Would a Humanist Do?
It’s your face and no one should pressure you to change it, especially not a life partner who’s supposed to love you unconditionally. It’s not your “duty” to be attractive for anyone. No ring or marriage license will ever change that. However, since you’re considering your fiancé’s demand, let’s review what that entails.
He’s pushing you to get multiple injections (dermal fillers can last a few months to one year) in one of the most sensitive parts of your body (sure they numb you but that doesn’t always work) with no concern of the dangers associated. Although injections are FDA-approved, they’re not usually covered by insurance (costing you $500-$2,000 per injection) and can result in pain, infection, bruising, and lumps. Fixing a filler issue may also require more injections. Choosing the right practitioner to use is important because not all are certified and each has different philosophies, techniques, and levels of experience. You’ll need to have a clear understanding of what your partner wants and (more importantly) what you want when discussing realistic results and expectations with the practitioner. More importantly, do you like your lips or want to go bigger? What size and shape works well with your face? If you get the fillers and there’s an issue or you don’t like them, will he still push you to continue? Will fillers be an inconvenience when you talk, drink, eat, kiss, or smile, and if so, how will he support you?
Unless your fiancé only has a lip fetish, he’ll probably make other demands to keep you “attractive to him.” And even if you’re open to changing one thing, that doesn’t mean you also owe him other changes or procedures. Make him explain why the changes will make you happy (not just because it would make him happy) and what he’s willing to do to make them happen. Be clear about what you love, like, or have no issues with regarding your body, what concerns you have about changing it, and which (if any) changes you’ll consider.
This also works in reverse. What (if any) changes do you want to propose that he make to his body? How he reacts to your demands to keep him “attractive to you” should tell you a lot about his willingness to have an equal partnership. If he isn’t willing to have a respectful conversation and instead uses shaming, guilt trips, yelling, or violence, then get out of this relationship as soon as possible. You deserve a partner who loves and respects you and your body.
Your fiancé’s behavior indicates a remarkable lack of empathy and respect for your feelings and for you. You expressed to him that you have no desire to change your face, and a medical professional even advised not to go through with the procedure. That should have been the end of it. At that point the only proper response from him would be some version of: “I’m so grateful you would even consider doing this for me. I respect your decision and love you no matter what.”
You have every right to be offended by his request and his lack of compassion for your wishes. You said it yourself, there’s nothing wrong with your lips or face. If he asks again, that’s all you need to say. Any further pressure from him is abusive behavior that will likely permeate other aspects of your relationship. You might be seeing it already.
Think back on the five years you’ve been together. How have you resolved other disagreements? Is there an even share of compromise or do you consistently concede to his wishes? Does he usually guilt you or get angry when you disagree? Does he ignore you or give you the “silent treatment”? Does he try to coerce or control other aspects of your life like your friendships or how you dress? Does he make other twisted claims of “duty”? If your fiancé isn’t ready to accept you for who you are, then he isn’t ready for a relationship, let alone marriage.
For humanist advice from multiple perspectives on all manner of situations, please send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org.