The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Boyfriend is a ‘relentless nail-biter.’ How to make him stop?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend is a relentless nail-biter. We have gotten into so many spats about it because I think it’s so unhygienic and unflattering. He says he wants to change, but it has been years, and still he gnaws at his nails constantly every day.

Any advice?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: For him, or for you?

He can get the underlying condition treated (anxiety, ADHD, OCD, other possible neuro issues), put foul-tasting stuff on his nails to treat the symptom, and redirect the fidget impulses to a habit that is less icky.

But does he want to? And if yes, will he follow through these steps?

You can suggest that he do these things and, if he refuses, treat this as a take-him-or-leave-him-as-is proposition.

Recurring arguments are refusals to take reality for an answer.

Re: Nail-biting: I picked my nails for years. I hated it and knew it was related to anxiety and stress. I picked when I was nervous or bored. Surprisingly, covid-19 was what I needed to stop. I just don’t anymore. For boredom, I keep a smooth stone on my desk and if I start picking at my nails during a call or meeting, I rub the stone and it keeps my hands busy. I have short stubby fingers so it’s not like I love my nails now, but I do love that I don’t pick at them anymore.

— Former Nail-Picker

Re: Nail-biting: I didn’t bite my nails; I picked them, constantly. For me, it’s anxiety/OCD. I’ve tried to quit for years. I’m in therapy (not due to the nails) and taking meds for said conditions, but I still pick my nails. I know they’re unsightly. I know they’re not pretty. People cheerfully tell me that all the time.

I had an ex years and years ago who was obsessed with my nails. He constantly harangued me to grow them out, to have long nails, to stop picking them. He finally broke two of my fingers because “You don’t care what your fingers look like, so why should I?” Still have the weird habit, don’t have the boyfriend. And yes, he was arrested and punished. Believe me: We know it bugs you, we know you don’t like it. We’re doing our best.

— I’ve Tried to Quit

I’ve Tried to Quit: Oh, wow. This is devastating.

Good for you for standing up for yourself, and putting the humanity in this conversation. Part of doing our best needs to be granting that others are, too. Thank you.

Re: Nail biting: I stopped biting my nails when I came to understand that it was all about “having” to fix the rough parts. I just was determined to make everything even. So I started filing my nails every day to prevent the rough, uneven edges. Amazingly, I didn’t bite. Eventually I got to filing once a week. Still, I have to push myself to get up and file the MINUTE I realize I have a rough edge. Just telling myself to stop biting didn’t work.

— Stopped