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THE QUESTION

My husband and several of his male colleagues are clients of the same trainer at a downtown health club. She is a young woman in her 20s. They are in their late 40s/early 50s. They are considering giving her some advice about her looks: apparently she wears too much makeup and her hair colour is "not quite right." I told him that she probably pays good money for her "look" and that they should keep their suggestions to themselves. He was surprised by my answer because they are genuinely fond of her and want to help her. What do you think?

THE ANSWER

Aw, these late 40s/early 50s guys are "genuinely fond of" their ultra-fit twentysomething trainer and want to "help her" by giving her tips on how to be more attractive?

That's just so damn – sniff – hang on, I need a moment … (Columnist, verklempt with emotion, whips out hankie to dab tears welling in his eyes.) … sweet and thoughtful of them.

And by "sweet and thoughtful," I, of course, as any (honest) man will tell you, mean "horny."

Even in the context of my 18-year marriage, sweet + thoughtful = horny. Like, I'll bring my wife, Pam, a foamy cappuccino, with fluffed-up froth and cinnamon sprinkled on top, to where she's lounging in her pyjamas in bed.

And she'll say: "Aww, Dave, you've always been so sweet and thoughtful."

Me: "And you, darling, even after all these years, are still so refreshingly naive."

Naivete is a good quality – up to a point. But you, madam, are living in Red Flag City, capital of the State of Denial.

It's been my long-standing observation that men in mid-life, especially the married ones, instantly turn into omniscient, avuncular advice-dispensers when confronted with hot young babes.

It's their way of saying: "I like/want you but don't know how to express it, nor do I know whether you view me as a viable sexual entity, so I become the sage."

One man's opinion? I think not. I've heard Scarlett Johansson complain about it in interviews – saying, in effect: "All these older guys keep giving me advice, about my career and whatnot, and I'm like: 'Dude, I'm fine. I know what I'm doing.'"

I've been guilty of it myself: "Well, Tegan that's quite a dilemma you've got with your flirtatious boss. If I may quote a little wisdom from Lao-tzu …" But hey, I'm an advice columnist. It's hard to turn it on and off.

What do they care how she wears her hair or lipstick or eyeshadow? Seems like your hubby and his cronies have discussed this trainer's personal appearance at great length and in unbelievable detail.

And you can bet you're only getting the tip of the iceberg of these locker-room confabs. In fact, your husband telling you about it at all should be a red flag in and of itself. Remember in Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding's excellent observation that when a man has a thing for another woman he gets "mentionitis," i.e. can't stop dropping her name into conversation?

Your husband, it seems to me, has the married-man's version: "Discuss-her-with-your-wife-onitis."

Now, giving one's fitness instructor unsolicited advice about her personal appearance is just a bad idea all around. People hate unsolicited advice.

Which is why my advice to you may seem counterintuitive at first. But stick with me.

Tell your husband: "Great idea! I think you guys should all go up to her after class, and say something to the effect of, you're sorry, but you've been thinking about it and discussing it a lot, and you just can't hold it in any more. Then explain in detail why her hair really isn't working and that she wears too much makeup. Remember: Honesty, even if it's brutal, is always the best policy. If she bristles, maybe try lightening up the mood with a joke or two, something like: '1982 called, it wants its hair and makeup back.' Stick to your guns: don't let it go too easily. Remember: you're doing her a favour."

See where I'm going with this? I predict the phenomenon of four sweaty, middle-aged guys from her class crowding around her and criticizing her hair and makeup choices will be so annoying and off-putting that the subsequent hauteur of this fitness instructor's froideur will throw a cold shower on all their churlish/childish aspirations/fantasies.

And they can go back to real life: i.e. guys who go to the gym to work out and get in shape.

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