I'm married to HARD—maybe not the HARD, but a HARD. So that letter didn't come as a shock to me. Honestly, I know that what HARD said is true, from his perspective, but let me give my perspective.
Honey, I'm sorry about the pudenda. Really, I am. I hate my FUPA (Fat Upper Pussy Area) as much as you. Its feeling upon my legs makes me retch. I've already lost three pounds and I will get better; I have nowhere to go but up. (And you have yet to go down, har har.) But how did I get into this sorry state? Well, once upon a time, we shared parenting and chores. You valued my work as a mother. Then you lost your job, no fault of yours, and you wanted to go back to school. My blessing. But the fact is, the strain of parenting alone, carrying the mortgage, and being a loving, available GGG fucktoy can be hard on a girl. But like the enduring lady I am, I happily read the kids one more story and assure them that you'll see them briefly tomorrow—after all, you've got hot, cute 20-year-olds to study with and plump your middle-aged ego.
Here's the danger, though: These girls, your classmates, may convince you that you are still the hot, cute punk-rawk skater guy you dream of being again. I will get sick of your absence, your obvious cheating, and divorce you. You will take joint custody of the kids, or pay child support. The honeys who threw themselves at you when you had a wife who supported you will blanch when all of a sudden you must work and act like the 34-year-old man that you are. You will get stressed, you will not be hot because you, like I, will be forced to drop kickboxing and eat crap food on the run.
Thanks for printing this, Dan. Reading HARD's letter was pretty much the equivalent of being called out on the freakin' Maury show, but it's given me new motivation to shake some weight—off my ass and off my heart.
Not Afraid Anymore
Thanks for sharing, NAA.
You give helpful and to-the-point advice to Piss Drinkers & Co., Dan, but you have trouble with the ages-old issue of male-female communication.
Here's the thing: Men can speak directly to each other. I can make fun of my guy friends for their retreating hairlines or they can mock my emerging beer gut. Men actually want to be told what the problem is, and how it might be solved. But women prefer that certain things—like hard truths about bodily imperfections—never cross their partners' lips. I figure it has something to do with the constant critical measuring they are subjected to (and subject each other to). In many ways, it's a lot harder in our culture to be a woman.
So my two cents, having experience striving to be a good boyfriend in the straight-couple thing, is that HARD should dance around this with much more subtlety. I'm not suggesting he ignore the issue or be dishonest. I just think someone in his situation should tread lightly when so much else in the relationship seems to be going well.
Not A Relationship Expert But I Try My Best
Men can speak directly to each other—just another reason I'm thrilled to be gay. I never could dance. But gay men are subject to much the same scrutiny that straight women are. The women's studies crowd calls it the "male gaze," NAREBITMB, and it's the reason most male anorexics and bulimics are gay men.
And yet even as a victim—excuse me, a survivor—of the male gaze, NAREBITMB, I can recognize the disconnect between demanding, as so many straight women do, complete sexual fidelity from a male partner and then declaring the subject of my sexual attractiveness out of bounds for the little bit of emotional blackmail that it is.
But I know enough about women that I would never, ever advise a straight man to be honest with his wife about her weight—not at first, anyway. So what was the actual advice I sent to HARD? Keep reading...
I'm a fan of your column, but I have to say I was disappointed with your response to HARD (the guy whose wife was letting herself go), because I've got the same issue myself. Been married 16 years, and I'm still waiting for my wife to lose the weight she gained when she had our last child over a decade ago. I love my wife, and she knows that she's overweight, but she can't or won't do anything about it. Our sex life, which used to be fantastic, is now basically nonexistent due to the fact that I no longer find her attractive. My wife still wants sex, and I "do my duty" from time to time, but it's something I dread at this point.
I've tried to take the lead on this by getting and using exercise equipment, going on diets, etc. I weigh substantially less than my wife, who is several inches shorter than I am, and has a much smaller frame than I do. As I said before, I love my wife, and though I've had opportunities to cheat, I haven't done so, and I don't intend to. At this point, I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my sex life is a thing of the past. If that's the case, I guess I can deal with it, but if you've got any bright ideas, I'd be thrilled to hear them. As of now, I don't know what else to say, as she knows the situation, and it hurts her feelings if I bring it up.
Not A Simple Problem
Well, if you were gay I could tell you to be honest, since men can take it. But since you're straight, you're fucked, I guess.
I'm sure you're going to get a million letters saying this, but Hawt and Royally Depressed may want to frame his conversation with his wife more from a medical angle. The weight gain and skin problems may be the unhappy side effects of diseases such as polycystic ovary syndrome, or hypothyroidism. Add depression in the mix (and who wouldn't be depressed about gaining weight and getting zitty?), and the bad situation gets worse and worse, until it's overwhelming.
And if she is just eating too much and not taking care of herself, they can both pretend like it was concern over a "medical condition" that led them both to the gym.
That's good advice, ARN...
I'm sure I'm adding to a maelstrom of letters regarding HARD, the guy who is no longer physically attracted to his wife.
While I understand the logic of your response, don't most couples eventually age into bodies that are not the ideals of their partners? If you actually intend to stay with your partner for life, shouldn't you expect that your partner is going to eventually get fatter, wrinklier, grayer, saggier, crotchetier? At what point would you say it is no longer reasonable to ask your partner to make changes in their appearance to be more attractive to you? After all, eventually we all turn into people we never thought we'd want to sleep with, don't we?
Love Can Handle Love Handles
Time and gravity come for us all, LCHLH. Anyone who expects his wife—or his husband—to refrain from aging or changing over the years is an asshole. But we all have a responsibility to do reasonable maintenance.
What's that romance killer that mainstream-relationship advice gurus are always harping away at? Ah, yes: taking each other for granted. A partner—male or female, gay or straight—who doesn't make some reasonable effort to maintain is taking his or her partner for granted. In my own case, I appreciate my boyfriend's efforts to remain fit, to keep himself attractive for me, just as he appreciates my far less successful efforts to do the same for him. He was an attractive man at 23 when we met and, 13 years later, he's attractive at 36. I expect he'll be attractive at 46 and 56. And one of the reasons I'm still attracted to him—in addition to the fact that he's still attractive—is that I appreciate his efforts to keep himself attractive.
No one is going to look as good at 45 as they do at 25—except, of course, for those who look better at 40 than they did at 20—but it's not unreasonable to expect a spouse to bear some vague resemblance to the person you married 10 years ago.
I'm sorry you're getting slammed for your advice to Hawt And Royally Depressed. You could have been more tactful, sure, but the basic message that the guy needs to be honest with his wife was spot-on. I've been with my husband for 10 years, and after time and especially after having children I've gained weight. Not long ago we had a talk where he told me my weight is a problem for him.
Hearing that sucked. Then he told me my weight has been a problem for him for five years and he hasn't said anything. Hearing that sucked much, much more. I can and will lose weight, but now I'm doubting everything I thought was great between us. So HARD, you need to be honest with your wife, and soon.
Signing Up With Weight Watchers Now
Does your husband make sure you have the time to exercise? Do you get to head off to the gym a couple of nights a week for two or three hours of private, kid-free, stress-reducing exercise and, hopefully, a good half hour's worth of unwinding in the sauna? If he wants you to maintain your appearance for him, he has to make sure you have the time to do that.
Please, don't ever, ever, ever recommend that a straight man tell his straight woman partner that he doesn't find her attractive anymore. Leave "complete honesty" for you lithe and lean gay boys. But more importantly than the honesty question is that there were a few clues you missed, too, about what's really going on here. First, HARD mentions that he's getting hit on by both women and men, and also that he finds people of both genders attractive. Second, we all know the dyke-in-denial who puts on a ton of weight to create distance between herself and the male partner she thought she loved and no longer wants to have sex with. Or how about the questioning man who starts using drugs, as HARD is now doing, to dull a certain desire? It's not desperation, Dan. It's homosexuality.
Happily Queer Now
So every last fat, married, straight-identified woman in America is simply a budding—excuse me, ballooning—lesbian. And every bisexual, married, straight-identified man in America who smokes a little pot is a secret faggot.
While that may have been the case in your circumstance, HQN, I very much doubt that it's always the case. But thanks for sharing.
I've often thought of writing in with the same question as HARD—the debt, the gnarly gas, it's all there. I did the "let's walk together" thing, bought gym memberships, offered to see shrinks, specialists, and nutritionists. Nothing. She refused to engage in any of it, no matter how hard I tried. I've offered, suggested, demanded, begged. Nothing. Bottom line is she wasn't ready to deal with it. So a couple of years have gone by and the problems have gotten worse. Stomach issues, weight gain, general malaise. But here's what happened—I stopped loving her. And thus I don't care anymore. And I'm moving on.
See, I did worry about her feelings. And I did want to help her. And I tried. But sometimes, shit exists that has nothing to do with you, shit that you have no ability to fix. So now I've realized that she's just not who I want to be with anymore. And now I face having to be honest with her.
And thus I am again prostrate at your feet, and ask of you: How the fuck do you break up with someone over this?
Maybe you could tell her that she's a lesbian.
I love your column and have read all of your books—you're a great counselor. But you were completely off on the dude telling his wife to lose weight. Please find me ONE couple where the guy has told his wife that she needs to lose weight, she does, he gets turned on again, and all is well. Dan, I've been there! Eight years ago I told my wife that I loved her but needed to find her attractive. A year later we were divorced. In the past seven years she's eaten herself to well over 250 pounds, and found a chubby-chaser husband who loves her and whom she loves back. I'm with a thin woman whom I love and find attractive too.
Can HARD's marriage be saved? Does it need to be? There's no mention of children, so rather than make his wife feel even worse, he needs to be the bad guy and DTMFA!
Happy Endings For All
I'm often scolded for being too quick to tell people to end relationships and marriages, HEFA. So I'm thinking your "just dump 'em" advice when a partner puts on a few pounds isn't going to be any more popular than "be honest about your partner's weight." But thanks for sharing.
Your November 22 response to Hawt And Royally Depressed was so off target. Hello? They've been married 10 years? Do you think that maybe husband may have a gut? Less hair? Is not overall perfect or looking like what she married? But she's still there for him. She didn't write to you and go, OMG my husband is an ugly MF'er. Even if he is, she still loves him.
Let me ask you: Let's say husband was in a disfiguring accident. Would you tell his wife to be honest? "Sorry honey, you look like a pile of puke, I'm out of here." Or would you tell them that they married each other for what they are, not what they look like. What if the wife had breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy and the guy was a total boob guy. Would you tell him to leave her?
When people are married and they love each other, they have to learn to look past the changes that the years bring on. That's what marriage is all about.
You Missed It On This One
There's a difference between eating yourself into unattractiveness—or dieting yourself into unattractiveness (some people are attracted to big folks, marry big folks, and want 'em to stay big folks)—and suffering a disfiguring accident or boob-threatening illness. It's the difference between something that happened to you and something you did to yourself, YMIOTO.
Again, the passage of time destroys us all. But you can't sit on the couch stuffing Twinkies in your mouth and bitch about how shallow your partner is for not finding you attractive anymore because some people get cancer. Please.
I have a married friend whose husband was getting too chunky for comfort and the subtle comments had fallen on deaf ears. So she cut out a picture of a very large woman from a fat-lovers' porn magazine and left it on his pillow. When he went to bed that night and saw the picture he asked what this was all about. She asked him, "Does that turn you on?" to which he replied, "No," to which she replied, "Well, it doesn't turn me on either." He immediately knew what this meant and they worked together to get his weight down. They worked on it together because they are in a committed relationship and enjoy a great sex life.
A Rude Shock Energizes Hubby On Loving Exercise
Your friend only got away with that stunt, ARSEHOLE, because her fat spouse is a man. So while I may have been able to tell SAS to try that trick with his boyfriend, I'd be boiled alive and served with melted butter if I told HARD to do the same.
So what did I tell HARD? I e-mailed him privately, warned him to ignore the advice that would appear in the column, and told him this: "Your wife—the weight gain, the hair growth, the moodiness, the drugs—may be clinically depressed or have some undiagnosed medical condition, both subjects you could broach without touching on the boner-killing fatso stuff. But, yeah, at 10 years together you have a right to expect that your partner will maintain some base level of attractiveness. That's not about sexism—I expect the same from my boyfriend—it's about respect."
I also sent HARD my phone number and asked him to give me a call. Because, you see, I'm not a total asshole. But you know what HARD ultimately decided to do? Be honest.
"If I was willing to send an e-mail to you," HARD wrote me, "I might as well talk to the wifey. So that's what I did. We talked civilly and she didn't cry. She was actually understanding and loving about the whole thing and I told her that I have needs that aren't being met and that she needs to step it up in the physical department. I also told her that she has to work a little harder at turning me on because my eyes and mind tend to wander.
"She admitted that she needs to do some work to feel sexier herself and that won't happen unless she makes an effort. And then we fucked like wild monkey-dogs on an overdose of Ecstasy and Viagra. It turns out that we both needed to get some. So things have been a little cheered up."