How to Tell a Man That He’s Balding

Chris Panicker

Every few months, my boyfriend asks me to examine the back of his head. Some days, he’ll pull back his hair from his forehead and ask if it’s receding. I always tell him that no, he is not balding. And so far, that’s been true. But each time he asks, my heart beats a little faster. As we march valiantly into our 30s, I know the day will come when he’ll make this request, and I’ll have to put my hand on his shoulder, look him in the eye, and say, “Yes.”

I’ve watched my boyfriend navigate the threat of balding with fascination. He’s always been privy to my insecurities. Is my acne noticeable? Should I bleach my upper lip hair? Do these jeans look bad? He has no other choice than to answer with an incredulous “no,” and I have no choice but to believe him. That’s the unspoken contract we’ve entered into as partners. But the fit of my jeans is subjective; the whereabouts of his hairline is not. If and when it retreats, I hope I’ll have the courage to tell him what I really feel: That if he doesn’t want a hair transplant, he needs to shave his head.

Men’s fear of balding is not unfounded. An early 2000s study found that bald applicants were less likely to be selected for job interviews, and bald respondents to a 2022 survey claimed they had worse luck dating, compared to their full-haired friends. So it makes sense that many men try to stave off hair loss by combing over any sparse patches or by compensating elsewhere with a beard or mustache. But it’s this middle phase, this limbo between the two options of “completely bald” or “hair transplant,” where some may feel it’s the partner’s role to step in. In an ideal world, you could gently cup their face and tell them: “It’s time to pick a side.” (Of course, some partners—and some balding men—might happily embrace receding hairlines, as Larry David and Jude Law have persuasively done, and more power to them.)

One married couple, Emily and Eddie from New York, say that the state of his hair is a constant topic of conversation—she insists that he’s balding, and he says the alleged bald spot is just a cowlick. (Then why, she asks, does his camera roll contain photos of the “cowlick” taken at regular intervals over the years?) Amy in Seattle, meanwhile, took a less direct path to The Talk: “We just made gradually less subtle jokes,” she tells GQ.

Balding is also a hot topic among singles. Ariana, a 31-year-old from Los Angeles, tells GQ that she ended things after a month of dating someone who was balding, in part because she didn’t like how he was trying to cover it up.

“It’s literally not about aesthetics,” she says (she’s dated bald men before). “It’s the willful refusal of reality and trying to lie to me, yourself, and everyone around you that made me concerned about everything else.”

But one formerly bald man tells GQ the truth is much simpler.

“You always know,” Andrew, a 37-year-old attorney in Kansas City, Missouri, says. “You try to cover it up and you think, ‘Well, maybe people are not noticing,’ but people do notice.” In February, Andrew underwent a hair transplant, and ended up going viral a week later for his response to another TikTok about the issue.

“Everybody swears they’re real until it’s time to look your man dead in the face and tell him it’s time to go bald,” the creator in the original video claimed. In his reply, Andrew described the transplant procedure as “hell,” and called out TikToks like that one as a reason why men turn to hair transplants as they age.

“I did everything I could do before I decided to do this,” he says. “I did the medicine, the oils, and I tried shaving my head. I just didn't like the way that it looked on me.”

It’s a sensitive topic, one that Andrew admits that he and other men barely know how to talk about, which is why he’s trying to be more open about his transplant online. How does he recommend a balding man’s partner approach the issue? With a little tact.

“Men will often ask for advice. They'll be like, ‘Hey, I'm getting a haircut. What do you think I should do?’” That, he says, is the best time to broach the issue—when the guy is inviting the input. “‘Hey, did you ever try shaving it off?’” he suggests saying. “It might be a lot easier. There's less maintenance.” And fewer awkward conversations down the line.

Originally Appeared on GQ