Monday, December 17, 2007

Savage ethics II: What if one partner gets fat?

Sometimes I see Dan Savage as an advance scout, mapping out the ethical terrain of modern romantic/sexual relationships. But beating his way through all of this uncharted territory, he sometimes comes up with ideas that I think require a little further discussion by the rest of us. We had a very productive discussion here at LFaB about Dan Savage and the ethics of cheating, but now Dan has wandered into far more dangerous territory: the ethics of relationships and fat.

I almost hesitate to offer up my blog for such a touchy subject, but I'd kind of like to talk about Dan's conclusions. I'd also like to discuss his little stunt where he showed that his readers were okay with one partner (in a long term relationship) saying to the other "Honey, I'm not attracted to you anymore because of your weight gain -- shape up, or I'm shipping out," if -- and only if -- the partner who gained weight is male.

Dan seems to be of the opinion that it should be okay for one partner to say this to the other and expect results. Perhaps, but there are a couple of very important points that I think he missed:

1. While some people do achieve significant, permanent weight loss, they are the exception rather than the rule. It's not as simple as "anyone can do it if they care enough to do it." This is not from personal experience -- I'm not fat and have never dieted -- but everything I've read indicates that an attitude of "So-and-so did it, so anyone can do it" isn't justified by the evidence.

2. A focus on weight and appearance can be counterproductive when making healthy lifestyle changes. Greta Christina wrote an excellent article about this here. Nearly all of us have lifestyle improvements we could make to be more active and eat healthier. So if two partners decide together on a change they'd like to make (replacing evening T.V. with an evening bike-ride, replacing fast food with actual food), and if the focus sincerely is on health and feeling better about your body, then you have a good chance of succeeding in making a long term, healthy change (even if you can't count on changing your size or shape). And, really, there's a good chance it will improve your sex life. ;^) But too much focus on the scale and the "your not hot enough for me" factor will likely scuttle your efforts as well as your relationship, not to mention possibly produce an unhealthy (yo-yo dieting) result.

All of this doesn't explain the double standard, though, where a weight-loss ultimatum was seen as more acceptable when placed on a man than on a woman. Some will probably contend the Mr. Savage is full of sh-t, and that in fact a man is more likely to leave a female partner for "letting herself go" -- and feel justified in doing it -- than a woman is to leave a man for the same reason. However, considering the volume of anonymous opinions Dan receives every day, I think it's reasonable to suppose that he's right about what his readers believe is ethical behavior. How people in society at large actually behave is an entirely different question from the ethical ideals of Dan's (mostly young and liberal?) audience.

So the questions I'd like to pose are the following:

1. What do you think is an appropriate response when one partner gains a dramatic amount of weight and the other doesn't?

2. Body and relationship expectations for men and women are different. Is there perhaps a justification for having a double-standard on this question? Or not?

What do you think?

31 comments:

MattMan said...

Wow, chanson, you're really going out on a limb with this one. But what the hell, I'll bite...

#1. I think this question is so complicated that it's going to be difficult to get any two responses even remotely on the same planet. There are so many variables and assumptions involved. Let's cover a few just to make this interesting:

Exactly how much (mass and/or inches) constitutes "dramatic"? Is this dramatic change something previously not experienced in the relationship (meaning the "innocent" partner never experienced the one who changed in this way, or it was a yo-yo situation)?

#2. Double standards suck. Let's do away with them, shall we? As with many other issues, I think this one is more about individuality and has really nothing to do with gender.

That being said, let me revisit #1 for a general observation of what I mean by individuality.

Some people like tomatoes, others may be nauseated by them. Some like the sight of the color orange, some are repulsed by it, some are indifferent. Ok, maybe bad analogies, just trying to set the stage.

Some people are extremely attracted to obese people (someone in my family is like this), some are indifferent, some are unavoidably repulsed (at least sexually, hopefully not in any other judgmental way). For those in the middle, where it doesn't matter a whole lot either way, there isn't much of a problem. Likewise for someone who is simply an endomorph or ectomorph body type, the partner knew what they were getting from the get-go, and not much you can do to change that basic nature.

Based on the questions you asked, I assume you are directing the questions at partners who are either attracted to or repulsed by whatever the dramatic change was (you really should include dramatic loss as well to cover the other side, which does exist as a similar problem). And on the changed partner, I assume you are talking about one whose inherent body type is not that of the result of the change (ie someone whose not ectomorphic gained a dramatic amount; or someone who is ectomorphic lost a dramatic amount). So, for either extreme, a "dramatic" change in weight/shape can pose a problem.

As for appropriate response, I'm not sure I have any good answers. From the perspective of the "innocent" partner, it really can be a problem that is really beyond their control. If you're repulsed by something (or extremely attracted to something) and that trait does some kind of about face, you simply cannot help but struggle with it as it's in your very nature. Not to mention additional issues on top of that -- either dramatic change (gain or loss) can also carry with it potentially serious health issues, not to mention other collateral damage (self esteem, sexuality, etc). It just seems a very complex situation.

I would say that the range of appropriate response is fairly narrow. If it really does bother you (referring to a natural attraction or repulsion one way or another), I don't think it would be a good idea to simply not say anything, ever. Because over time it will damage the relationship, probably beyond repair. Likewise to come on too strong or insensitive or repeatedly naggy will also damage the relationship, possibly beyond repair.

I say no to the double standard, period. And for appropriate response, I leave it intentionally vague that I feel it must be discussed, but very lovingly and caringly, focusing on potential underlying psychological and/or physical health issues instead of appearance and attraction alone. Considering it's a dramatic change, most likely one of those things has played a role, and if corrected, the appearance issue comes as a freebie for solving the underlying problem. Again, I'm talking about dramatic change where the person has an established pattern of not having that body type to begin with.

Very good questions, no easy answers.

Gecko said...

My ex-girlfriend gained about 70 pounds over the course of a year, and I gained about 25 because we weren't eating very well. I suggested we try to live a more healthy lifestyle by cooking our own food more often, eating more fruit, eating at healthier restaurants, and riding our bikes. It didn't go over well. She flipped out about how she has body image problems and if I'm saying I'm fat then that's like saying she's even fatter. Not that this wasn't true, I weigh about 205 and she weighs around 265. But she took it as a personal insult and we got in a big argument about how lettuce makes her teeth hurt and pomegranates are too much work and apples can sometimes be grainy, and we should eat tater tot casserole instead (this was an actual recipe she dredged up from the Internet).

Later that night, we decided to eat dinner at a healthy pita place. I got something healthy, a chicken pita with a bunch of veggies, and I tried their mango habernero sauce which was really good. She got the same things she had got every time she had gone there for the last five years, chicken drowned in ranch dressing with cheese, tomatoes, and pineapples. Except they had run out of pineapples. So she took two bites, looked at me like I had shot her dog, and said her pita was inedible, and wouldn't eat it until I drove her to the grocery store and bought her a can of pineapple. This led to a big fight after which I told her that we wouldn't break up over a sandwich. Then we broke up and I'm glad to be rid of her.

The moral of the story is that sometimes it's okay to break up with crazy fat people who are making you as crazy and fat as themselves.

John Moeller said...

Wow. Yeah, I agree that the answers to #1 are complicated. I'll answer them in reverse order:

#2: No double standard. Period. The only thing that should be considered here is gender differences in body chemistry. Anything else is unfair, as is using chemical differences as leverage.

#1: I really think that this depends upon your circumstances.

I have two friends who are traveling around Asia right now, and their health is important to their lifestyle (i.e., traveling rough and doing physically challenging activity). If one of them gained a lot of weight, and the other didn't, I can't say that I'd blame the other for being concerned about the relationship. They met and grew together under physically-fit circumstances. Their life plans revolve around this lifestyle.

What's interesting about this is that the ex-wife of one of these people insists that he left her because she was fat. She had weight issues, and he didn't. Everyone who knows them both knows that this claim is ludicrous. He left her because her personality was toxic. So I think, honestly, that claims that men are more shallow in this regard are generalizing somewhat.

My wife and I are both on the overweight side of the equation. We both know that it's not good, and that we should do something about it. We also agree that when we have kids, we should encourage them to get some physical activity.

Personally, if my wife gained a lot of weight, I would be more worried than disgusted. I've stuck through worse with her, and I'd try to help her. I know that she'd do the same for me.

MoHoHawaii said...

I'm a bit with Dan on this. If you gain a significant amount of weight after securing a commitment of devotion from your sexual partner, don't be surprised if that person experiences the unpleasant feeling of bait-and-switch. They married A, but B got delivered. That's not okay by most people used to modern truth-in-advertising standards. Arguing about the ethics of any resulting relationship trouble is beside the point.

Fixing such a situation and avoiding a breakup is ideally the responsibility of the person who made the mess, i.e. the person who gained the weight. If that doesn't happen, then the response of the partner is a personal decision. Whether that approach is confrontational, passive, supportive, etc. is not for us to say.

Anonymous said...

Relevant info: I'm overweight. I've dated "normal" weight women to very overweight women to everyone in between. Luckily, I'm attracted to (some) people of all sizes. One of the normal weight women I dated for a while told me she wasn't attracted to me anymore when I gained weight. We ended up breaking up and that may have been a contributing factor. (Or, she may have been blaming my weight when really the problem was that we weren't a good couple.)

I have a number of thoughts:

1) If you're not attracted to someone anymore, for whatever reason, it's not your fault. We're not in control over that sort of thing. However, keep in mind that what you're blaming on the weight might in reality have nothing to do with the weight. Except for the first second we see someone, we're attracted or unattracted to whole people, not to just their bodies.

2) Some 90% of people who do manage to lose weight gain it all back within a year, often with more added. It's not as simple as asking someone to lose weight. If losing weight were easy, there wouldn't be many obese people. If 90% of people can't get themselves to keep weight off, what are the odds that you are going to get someone to keep their weight off by nagging, complaining, pleading, or even asking nicely?

I've lost and gained it back plus more myself. It sucks. Is it my fault? Yes. But it's really not as simple as that. Trust me, I want to be thin more than any woman wants me to be thin. It's just that it's really freaking hard for some of us. Even forgetting about those with physical issues like thyroid problems or medications with side effects, many of us are depressed or have anxiety disorders. Until those are treated, losing weight is going to be a very uphill battle.

3) If you've sworn "through sickness and in health, til death..." then not being attracted any more isn't really sufficient reason for leaving. If you haven't made any vows and don't have any kids, I'm not opposed to you breaking up with me if you aren't attracted any more. Life's too short. Let me date someone who thinks I'm attractive.

4) Regarding the men vs. women thing, I think that's oversimplifying. Maybe women are more sensitive than men on average, but we don't date averages, we date people. I doubt it will do much good to tell your partner they've gotten too fat for you regardless (they're almost certainly fatter than they want to be already) but some people will react to such a revelation differently than others. Again, when I was on the receiving end of that revelation, it maybe made me want to lose weight more... but I already wanted to lose weight, and wanting something doesn't make it so. And considering that my depression contributes to my weight gain, adding to my depression isn't going to help matters.

5) For some people, staying in shape is part of the deal, implicit or explicit, in their relationship. That's their right, as long as both people are on the same page, even though it may be unrealistic. (See 4.)

6) Most people gain weight as they get older, especially if they have children.

7) The good news is that overweight people who are with people (overweight or not) who are attracted to them can still have really great sex.

Anonymous said...

1. What do you think is an appropriate response when one partner gains a dramatic amount of weight and the other doesn't?

Fleeeeeeeeee!

Genetics has a good deal to do with your build. It is, however, undeniably, only part of it. People are way fatter than they were 50 years ago, but our DNA is more or less the same.

I have a personal preference for the more solidly built women. Nobody who say the women I've been involved with would think I am fixated on the thin. But if she becomes morbidly obese, once children aren't a factor, I's gonna look for the exits.

Say I have an unreasonable expectation for body image. Whatever. You find something attractive, or you don't. You can't guilt-trip your penis into staying hard.

2. Body and relationship expectations for men and women are different. Is there perhaps a justification for having a double-standard on this question? Or not?

No double standard. I watch my diet and spend time every week exercising to keep myself from becoming unfuckable. Being a dude in no way excuses me from this.

Rock on, Dan Savage.

- Jeff Vogel

Rich said...

My ex gained quite a bit of weight over the years we were married, but it really didn't hinder my sexual attraction towards her (I acknowledge much of the gain resulted from bearing children, and I respect women too much to fault them here).

However, getting fatter made her feel less attractive, and consequently lost much of her enthusiasm for sex, which in turn caused our relationship to suffer (not the reason for our divorce, but certainly one factor among many).

Moral of the story: I don't mind women with curves (to a point of course; true obesity is a major turn-off), so long as they feel good about themselves. I love the beach for example, and if you hate how you look in a swimsuit and therefore refuse to join me in a little bodysurfing/swim/etc., then that's where the relationship starts to suffer.

Rich said...

I suppose I should clarify what I just wrote -- if a woman (in my case) hates her own body, then she should do something about it. I absolutely reject the idea that for 99.99% of women out there, you can't make permanent, positive changes if you really want to. For example, the vast majority of Americans, men and women, haven't got a freaking clue about what constitutes a healthy diet. I know way too many folks for example that think that a balanced diet is achieved by putting ketchup on their freedom fries, and a wedge of lemon in their diet coke.

The other big problem is that most obese people have no idea how to exercise properly to achieve true, permanent weight loss. A combination of improved diet, weight lifting and cardio (swim, jog, or even walking) will work wonders on pretty much anyone who isn't completely disabled.

Beat Dad said...

I read the Dan Savage columns you sight here, And I mostly agreed with his advice. It seems he was trying to get the guy to be honest with his GF about how he felt.

I can only speak for myself here, if my wife gained weight, other than for a pregnancy, and aging I would be worried.

If I did she would tell me to get exercise. Me leaving her, or her leaving me, would only come into play in the gaining weight scenario if it were coupled with attitude change. Like, if I started sitting around way too much, and eating twinkies and getting abusive. Knowing me, she would probably assume something was wrong.

As for the double standard question. I can't generalize beyond my relationship. My wifes body is completely different than mine.
My wife can gain weight much faster than I can, and she has to work harder to keep her weight down.

And, if she stopped being as active as she is I definitely would be concerned enough to talk to her about it.

C. L. Hanson said...

Wow, fantastic insights, everyone!!!

MattMan -- you make a lot of good points. Your overall message -- which I heartily agree with -- is that there isn't a single blanket solution that covers all cases.

Gecko -- I agree about your ex's attitude. There are times when healthy lifestyle changes are warranted, and since that is hard (for both people), it's important to be able to work together. If one partner is hostile to the very idea of cooperating on improving both partners' health, then there's not much you can do besides DTMFA...

John M. -- That's a good additional point about wanting to have a compatible lifestyle with one's partner, particularly in the case of shared interest in sports or travel that involves roughing it. There's a correlation and connection with weight, but weight isn't necessarily the only issue.

MoHoHawaii -- I agree with you on principle, especially about pulling a bait-and-switch on your partner. And in many situations, I wouldn't judge one partner for leaving another over this. The only thing I'd add, though, is to be realistic about the complexity of the situation. It's very, very easy to gain weight (particularly with the modern car-commute + fast food lifestyle), and once that happens, it's not necessarily realistic to expect that a partner can take most or all of it off permanently even if they're willing to make a serious effort to try. I think that element should at least be taken into account when deciding on a realistic course of action, regardless of what is fair and just in an idealistic sense.

Anonymous -- Your points #2 and #4 are exactly what I'm talking about in my response to MoHoHawaii. Whether this counts as legitimate grounds for leaving one's partner depends on the situation. As you explain in some of your other points, a certain amount of weight might be a problem in one relationship, and the same amount of weight might not be a problem in another.

Jeff -- "People are way fatter than they were 50 years ago, but our DNA is more or less the same." That's true. Genetics play a big role in how we metabolize what we take in, but I've seen people claim that it's 100% genetics and has nothing to do with lifestyle, and well, that's just denying reality.

Regarding the rest of your comment, I think that's fair as long as you and your partner are clear on what the deal is. I think obesity is more easily prevented than cured, so if you and your partner make it a priority to maintain a healthy lifestyle, then obesity is unlikely to be a problem.

Rich -- That's a good point that sometimes the secondary effects (in terms of how you feel about your body) can be worse than the weight itself. Making it a priority to be more active (take up sports you like) can go a long way towards improving how you feel about yourself. Paradoxically, though, I feel like placing too much emphasis on "success" in terms of appearance can make you feel worse about your body since it's very, very hard to achieve the results you (and perhaps your partner) would like to see. It seems like it's better to set out with a primary goal of feeling good and having fun (like at the beach!), then if you end up looking better too, it's just a bonus. ;^)

Beat Dad -- This is a very good point about the complex relationship among weight, attitude, and health. Sometimes expressing concern about your partner's health and well-being really is a question of being concerned about your partner's health and well-being, and isn't just a white lie way of telling your partner you're not attracted to him/her.

all -- One last point about Dan's stunt: I read some more of the reaction letters he posted, and I agree with the person who said he wasn't being fair when he posted the two contradictory pieces of advice in a row ("say it's about health" vs. "whatever you do, don't pretend it's about health"). I almost always agree with Dan, but on that one I have to admit it looks dangerously like he was trying to demonstrate that women are irrational. I think Dan is oversimplifying the question of whether one should mention health concerns when discussing lifestyle changes with your partner. It's not that complicated, but it's slightly more complex than Dan let on.

Personally, I'd give the following advice:

If it's not about health and it really is about appearance, then don't lie and say it's about health. If it really is about health -- if you'd like the both of you to be more active and develop better eating habits -- then say so. If it's a little of both, then what you say is at your own discretion. ;^)

On the other side of the equation, if your partner says "Honey, we should take up an exercise program and cut back on the junk food," then don't immediately translate it as your partner saying "You're ugly." Give your partner the benefit of the doubt that s/he means it and really is concerned about the both of you and your lifestyle. A little communication, a little good faith effort on both sides never hurt a good relationship. :D

Aerin said...

I agree this is an issue fraught with peril.

I will say, as far as the health thing goes, there have been some recent studies that weight doesn't matter as much as exercise. But I think that to some extent, a person has a right to speak up if they feel their partner has a dangerous amount of weight.

I'm not talking about someone who is 20 lbs. overweight. I'm talking about over 100 lbs. over what they should be, with little to no activity and or healthy eating (lower fat, salt, etc.). I thought the study I mentioned above mdid point out that it was the activity level, not the weight, that actually makes the health difference.

I think it's perfectly valid if you have a commitment to spend the rest of your life with someone - to bring up that you want them to be alive for that time.

Obviously, we never know what will happen.

But I thought statistically, people who carry around that much extra weight, and who don't get a lot of exercise, who may have high cholesterol - have a higher chance of having heart problems and other health issues later in life.

Again - I'm not talking about producing anxiety in anyone. I just think some requests about health are okay for some partners. It's more about the process than the result (to my mind).

And I disagree with the double standard that Dan mentions - if it's okay for women to point out attraction to men, the reverse should also be true.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Aerin!!!

I agree, the most recent studies seem to indicate that activity is far more important than weight in terms of health and longevity. The two are related because it's harder to stay active if you're obese, and you're less like to gain a lot of weight if you stay active.

Yet the connection isn't 100% -- activity level and weight aren't one and the same. It's quite common to be healthy and active yet still be far above what our society considers beautiful. And a big improvement in lifestyle doesn't always lead to a big drop in size. This is why I advocate setting health-related goals for their own sake, and trying to see weight loss as the icing on the cake, if possible. Whether you lose weight or not, you look better when you feel better!!! :D

Stephen said...

first:

http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2006/04/03/the-case-against-weight-loss-dieting/

Now, what if one partner goes blind, or loses a leg in an accident or ...

I don't see the difference.

INTJ Mom said...

Yes, weight and activity level/eating habits don't always line up. I am pretty active and I also eat pretty healthy, yet still I am a bit overweight. My husband has some of the worst eating habits on the planet and he sits on his butt writing code for 12-15 hours a day and yet he's a teeny skinny little thing still at 40.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Stephen!!!

Precisely -- significant permanent weight loss is perhaps more likely than regrowing a lost limb, but you're right that it's not necessarily a realistic expectation to place on a partner.

Hey INTJ Mom!!!

That's a fairly common situation.

lma said...

I've been thinking about this, and my reaction is much the same as Stephen's.

What if the partner suffers a disfiguring injury or contracts a disfiguring disease. Where would the difference be between these and a partner having a dramatic weight gain. And what about wrinkles? Would it be kosher to leave simply because the partner is showing their aging process and isn't willing to undergo plastic surgery in order to look as young as the partner wishes?

It seems to me that if someone gains that much weight, especially in a short period of time (short being anything up to a year or so), there is something going on besides just eating too much, because depending on metabolism it really takes a lot of food to gain a lot of weight. Either there is a physical problem or an emotional problem that needs to be addressed. Normal, healthy people just don't gain 50 or 100 pounds all of a sudden, no matter what their starting weight. I guess that's my answer to question number one.

Anyway, my contention is that you marry the person, not the physique, and to dump someone just because they have gained weight, without trying to get to the reason for the gain, is just using "unattractiveness" as a way to get out of a relationship that probably wasn't very healthy to begin with.

As for double standards...no, I don't think that a double standard is justified. Why should men expect women to keep their "girlish figures" but then expect to be given a pass when they grow a beer belly?

Rich said...

I've owned several horses in the past decade. One of the things I've learned is that they eat and maintain weight differently, depending on breed.

My Thoroughbred gelding ate a lot, but needed a lot to maintain weight. 3 large flakes of alfalfa hay twice a day (this hay has more calories) and he stayed looking good.

My Morgan mare on the other hand got two flakes of grass hay (fewer calories than alfalfa) twice a day, and she remained stocky. I swear, she even looked at alfalfa and she put on weight! If I fed her like I did the thoroughbred, she would blow up like an obese balloon. I also could not let her free range, or she would overeat. Clearly her ancestral DNA evolved her to survive and even thrive on less food (presumably in areas where less food was available). The US Cavalry in fact used Morgans extensively for this reason; they are strong, had good endurance, and were easy keepers, that didn't require as much food to stay in good shape. Thoroughbreds on the other hand require a lot more food to keep looking good. If I fed him like my mare, he would be skinny and not look good or be at his best.

Does this perhaps say something about our various human DNA ancestries when it comes to comparing one to another? I think it does. The trick is finding out whether or not you have a "Thoroughbred" or a "Morgan" metabolism, and adjusting your diet accordingly.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Ima!!!

True, everyone gets less attractive as they age, and an accident or disease can cause a dramatic shift in your partner's appearance. Dan Savage talked about these cases by pointing out that weight gain is in a different catgory because it can be both prevented and cured if one is willing to work at it. I think the actual situation is a little more complex: weight gain is somewhat more preventable and curable than normal aging and disfiguring injury but not nearly as much as Mr. Savage seems to believe. And you're right that if your partner has a sudden significant weight gain, it does seem like a reasonable response is to be concerned about whether something is wrong.

Hey Rich!!!

I think that's a very good way of illustrating the interplay between genetics and lifestyle.

Bull said...

My first thought on the differences between men and women is that women bear the burden of pregnancy and the significant and often permanent physical changes that that entails. Men don't have that excuse.

Second, those that are most critical of overweight people are often those who have never had to struggle to maintain a healthy weight and certainly have never had to lose weight and try to keep it off. My beanpole of a father comes to mind.

I used to be like my father until I had a rather significant weight gain and found out over the course of several years just how difficult it is to lose weight. I'm currently averaging 30-40 miles a week running and have actually gained weight. I'm not going to say I'm eating ideally, but on the other hand I'm really not pigging out either. I'm much more sensitive now about what it takes to lose weight.

That said, reality sucks. I don't find fat attractive. I find my wife attractive, but I wish she were about 60 pounds lighter. There is a threshold beyond which I would feel like an ultimatum would be justified. If she became morbidly obese and could only wear mumus then I don't think I could stick around any more than I would stick around with a wife that was killing herself by abusing drugs. So, would it be cruel? I don't know. Wouldn't it be cruel to watch someone you love kill themselves and not intervene and lay down the gauntlet?

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Bull!!!

Yeah, your situation really illustrates the complexity of the situation.

I've followed what you've written about running on your blog, and saw the pictures you posted the other day. You look very healthy and athletic. It would be a shame to see this as a failure just because you haven't lost all the weight you wanted to lose.

At the same time -- even though you understand how hard it is to lose weight -- that's not a reason to stand idly by and say nothing if your wife were to become morbidly obese. I hope she has an active hobby like yours!! :D

Tom Clark said...

I haven't read the comments here yet or Savage's column on the subject but my knee-jerk reaction is to say that what's good for the fat goose is good for the fat gander.

There's a point at which the difference between the sexes is obvious: as a guy I shouldn't have to wear a pad or a tampon once a month just because women do. On the other hand, saying that fat gain is unacceptable for a male partner but OK for a female partner sounds like just a whole lot of sexism to me. I guess I'm going to have to see what the rationale is behind something that at first blush seems so patently absurd.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Tom!!!

Don't worry -- pretty much everyone agrees with you. There's pregnancy to take into account, but really the whole question is complex enough that it needs to be handled on a relationship-by-relationship basis and not have one rule for all the guys and some other rule for all the gals.

Tom Clark said...

OK, I've read the responses and jeff Vogel's response is probably just about where I fall:

"Say I have an unreasonable expectation for body image. Whatever. You find something attractive, or you don't. You can't guilt-trip your penis into staying hard.

No double standard. I watch my diet and spend time every week exercising to keep myself from becoming unfuckable. Being a dude in no way excuses me from this."

I think that really nails it. Sexual attraction rarely can be forced, even with Viagra or Cialis. It was kind of the same problem I ran into being a gay guy married to a woman - after a couple of years it became really difficult to convince my dick to keep playing the game. It just didn't want to.

I am not sexually attracted to or aroused by overweight men. Got lots of 'em as close friends but any thoughts of fucking them are non existent. It goes without saying but I'll say it anyway: my criteria for friendship and social interaction has nothing to do with a person's weight. But sexual attraction and love-making factor in at every turn.

Yeh, you've waded into the deep end with this one Chanson. But you know, it's tough always tip-toeing around the difficult subjects. I'm glad you chose to go there - lots to learn for me anyway.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Tom!!!

I agree. People have their tastes in what qualities they're attracted to in a romantic/sexual partner. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be with someone who turns you on. This is not to be confused with discriminating in friendships or in general.

Tom Clark said...

Ima said...

"What if the partner suffers a disfiguring injury or contracts a disfiguring disease. Where would the difference be between these and a partner having a dramatic weight gain. And what about wrinkles?"

This is where it gets really complicated. A disfiguring injury or the loss of one's sight or any other related situation is not usually the same thing as gaining a lot of weight.

No, I would not leave someone just because they got into a car accident and lost their legs. Nor would I reject someone who wrinkled and grayed prematurely.

A disfiguring disease over which we have no control is not the same thing as discontinuing exercise and eating ourselves into obesity.

And this is where the conversation gets really really touchy. I have to go have breakfast and think about whether or not i really want to get into this.

Freckle Face Girl said...

My mom's brother has been married for over 30 years. After giving birth to 6 kids, she got quite heavy. He always used to joke that they were even b/c he was bald & she was fat. The point? If you want to get fat, look for guys that are going to be bald. (haha)

It is horrible to think that relationships can be based on something so shallow, but unconditional love works more for kids than for partners. I would not be bothered by my husband getting chubby, but morbidly obese would make him unattractive and I would worry about his health. It is not enough for divorce, but physical romance would die.

As far as double standard, I don't see female & male fat as exactly equal.
1. Quite a few women gain/keep on weight because of pregnancies, something men never experience.
2. Men can consume more calories without gaining weight.
3. On average, men lose weight faster than women.
4. Most men don't have as many psychological issues with their bodies that women have.
5. You get the point...

Having said that, I think that partners have the right/should express concerns including touchy subjects like weight & money. Great relationships involve honesty and openness. Communication is key.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Freckle-Face Girl!!!

Very good points!!! The list you came up with is essentially the reason I asked the question about the double-standard in the first place, and you're the first person to point out more than one reason why the situation for men isn't necessarily identical to the situation for women. I still stand by what I said to Tom -- that this issue should be handled on a case-by-case basis rather than having a set rule for each gender -- however, the gendered points you mention should be some of the factors that couples keep in mind when thinking about their situation.

Rebecca said...

I doubt more women LEAVE overweight men than vice versa, but I think it may be seen as more pc or appropriate or whatever for a woman to give a man an ultimatum. Men occupy an inherently more privileged position in this society, so it's seen as more oppressive - and more of a power play - if a man gives an overweight woman an ultimatum.

I do NOT, however, think that makes an ultimatum (from either sex) more appropriate in actuality. It totally depends on the individual relationship, and I think generally ultimatums make people more panicky and defensive than anything else. If you have to give an ultimatum, it's time to get out anyway.

Okay, I also think that if two people place a high priority on eating healthfully and being very active, then person A stops being active and gains a ton, person B is justified in leaving. If, for example, they got together because they shared an interest in rock climbing, hiking, running marathons, and things like that, then person A gives up those activities, they no longer have common interests, and probably shouldn't be together.

However, I think it's complete bullshit to say that since both people were thin when they got together, but person A has now gained a lot of weight, then it's false advertising. People gain weight. Just because a person is thin now is not a guarantee he/she will be later - it's not "false advertising" - it's just change. People's metabolisms slow down as they age. Women may not lose all their baby weight. People get sick, get depressed, react to medications. They get busy and don't eat as well or exercise as much. They get more involved in their careers than their fitness. They have kids and opt for convenience over time. Things happen. People get fat(ter) for so many reasons, and unless a great interest in physical activities/fitness is something a relationship is based on, then I think it's bullshit to say it's false advertising, or to say a person wants out because fat isn't what they signed on for. Just utter bullshit.

You fall out of love, you're no longer attracted - fine, whatever. But don't say you're leaving because fat isn't what you expected. You don't expect to go bald, or blind, or deaf, or to have a handicapped child, or to get in a car accident, or for heaven's sake - you don't even truly expect to get OLD, but you do.

Fat as false advertising is bullshit.

That being said, if someone who was not obese, and led at least a fairly healthy lifestyle started eating crap and not exercising and gained a TON - that sounds less like a physical problem and more like an emotional one, and that would have to be dealt with. Sometimes getting healthier actually takes care of the emotional problems (NOT ALWAYS) - it's just that when you feel that bad, even getting to point where you CAN do something about it can be a real ordeal. And if the emotional problems are really bad, and the partner has tried to help but can't live with that anymore, well, I understand leaving then. I hate this "I have to take care of ME" culture, but sometimes it's true. You can't let yourself get taken down in a sinking (relation)ship.

(that last line is way too corny)

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Rebecca!!!

Excellent insights, as always. I think you've pinpointed the main reason for the double-standard, and I agree that once you're at the point of making ultimatums (ultimata?) that's already a very bad sign for the relationship. The rest of your comment gives a good discussion of the complexity of the question.

EnoNomi said...

I'm going to make my responses before reading the rest of the comments. As the one who gained 80 pounds since getting married I'm very glad to have a husband who's never made such an ultimatum. He's concerned about my weight, mainly for my health and is always willing to help me in the battle, but I've never felt as though it was a loose it or loose him situation. In fact, when the diet life-style change battle just seems unwinable, I've wanted to just give in and get the stomach surgery. He has prohibited this because, based on his reading when I brought it up, the risks of after surgery complications are just too high. If he had wanted me to get thin for looks alone, not because of my health, I don't think this relationship would be one I'd continue. After all, what would his demand be when I'm thin and wrinkled?

I don't think the ultimatum is right no matter who's making it.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Enonomi!!!

I think you're right about an ultimatum being the wrong solution. As Rebecca points out, once you are at the point of making an ultimatum, it's probably a sign that there's already something seriously wrong with the relationship...