Thursday, December 13, 2007

Standard Wear and Tear

If you're a regular reader of advice columns, you start to think that every problem of humanity falls into one of five categories:

1. I don't love or like this person any more. How do I make them just disappear without confrontation or feeling bad about myself in any way?
2. I love or like this person, how do I tell them without any possible negative consequences?
3. I'm related to a pack of weirdos, how do I force them to change?
4. My husband is a slob.
5. My husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/partner is totally porking out, what should I do?

The answers to #1 and #2 involve speaking up and taking the consequences. Number 3, you can't control them, so control your reactions to them. And, number 4, take some of the husband's plasma TV budget and put it towards a once-a-week housekeeper.

I'll go into more detail for Number 5. Let me point out that I am not bashing anyone for their weight, declaring that everyone should be a size negative 6 Petite or declaring that people should all go on extreme fad diets. I have only nice things to say about Jennifer Love Hewitt's bottom. What I'm talking about is a particular relationship dynamic that happens when one person dramatically changes their appearance.

I believe that long-term relationships come with a wear-and-tear clause. When you rent an apartment, you promise to keep the place in a similar condition to the way you found it. Allowances are made for floor scuffs, dull paint, and a few stains on the carpet. Throwing bowling balls into the kitchen island or torching the ugly wall-to-wall will be deducted from your security deposit. Improvements are welcome and will be deducted from the rent.

Relationships work the same way. You have an obligation to keep yourself in a similar condition as to when your partner signed your lease. Both partners should allow for the wear and tear of pregnancy, illness, or just plain old not being 23 any more. Gray hairs, fine lines, and extra padding are all part of life. Your wife won't always be a hot college coed, nor is it fair to heap that sort of expectation on her. Self-esteem is cheaper than Botox.

Weight gain or loss, or really any dramatic change, introduces a new dynamic into a relationship. Very few people gain weight overnight (usually, it happens in increments until one day it's time to buy new pants). Usually, the other person bleats about health concerns. I'm sure that's part of it, but that's not all of it.

The way we look has an enormous impact upon the world. If you don't believe me, try and get into Eighteenth Street Lounge while wearing your rattiest pajamas. I wish we could all be seen as beautiful souls housed in extraneous flesh capsules, but that's not how it works. I try not to judge on appearances, but at the same time I go nuts when someone wears a baseball cap in a restaurant.

S0 when your partner does something dramatic to their appearance, things get murky. After all, you're supposed to love them for who they are and ignore the extraneous flesh capsule. On the other hand, we're all a bit shallow. On the other other hand, it's a health issue. And on the other other other hand (I'm a regular octopus today!), anything you say is going to hurt.

Here's my recommended approach: "Your appearance has changed a lot lately. I know that what's inside can be reflected on the outside, so is there anything you want to talk to me about?" Then shut up. See what they say. This isn't about you, after all. It never was.

I've had significant others approach me about weight gain, weight loss, that time I wound up with an accidental mullet, or an unfortunate slobby baggy sweater phase. Done poorly, it's a slap in the face. Done right, it can bring you closer together.

1 comment:

Dana said...

I think the best way to handle this would be to offer to work out with the SO and follow through with it. As someone who's dealt with issues like this, it's really hard to get out there and work out on your own. If the guy put it as "I want you to look and feel great, and I want the same for myself, so why don't we start going to the gym after work?" few women would turn that down. Especially since endorphins tend to boost sex later. It would also help if they don't take out out to dinner and then psychoanalyze what you eat, but I think I'm talking more about my mom here. Men are usually too busy eating to care.

It would be great if I could say, "We should all love each other as we are" but that's not going to happen. This will sound awful, but even us fat people aren't okay with our weight. But it would help to have someone we love say, "I love you as you are, and I won't quit having sex with you because of how you look. But I want to keep you around as long as possible, so let's be healthy together."