Let me fix that for you, E. Jean

So I just ended up on Elle magazine’s website, in search of an interview with Lorrie Moore. Along the way, I stumbled onto E. Jean’s advice column, wherein she answers the age-old question: “What do I do now that my spouse has gotten fat and I’m no longer attracted to hir?”

Every advice columnist gets it. None of them ever fucking get it right. Here, E. Jean starts strong(ish) , but manages to get it even wronger than usual.

The particulars of this story involve a woman who’s no longer turned on by her fat hubby. She’s tried to be “supportive” — meaning she’s cheered on weight loss efforts — but he’s still a fatty fat fat, and she doesn’t want to fuck him. That’s a pretty standard set-up, and let me pause here to offer what I believe should be the obvious answer every time that standard set-up appears in an advice column:

Dear Not Attracted to Your Spouse Anymore,

Get over it or get a fucking divorce. And I truly mean you should consider both options seriously. If you believe it is actually possible for you to get over it — by which I mean, you find a way to reframe the way you look at your fat partner, find him attractive again, and go back to whatever you both agree is a normal sex life — then by all means, work on that (provided everything else in the marriage is good and worth saving, which it probably isn’t if you’re not even a little bit attracted to him anymore).

If, however, you’re so hung up on your partner’s weight that you can’t even conceive of being attracted to him anymore? Get a fucking divorce already. And I don’t just mean that because your partner deserves better than your shallow ass, though he probably does. Believe it or not, I think you deserve better, too — or, perhaps more accurately, you deserve different. Everyone who wants to be in a relationship where mutual physical attraction is a core part of the deal should have the freedom to pursue that goal. Nobody should have to have sex with someone who repulses them (and certainly, nobody should have to have sex with someone who’s repulsed by them). The downside of ending it is that people like me might call you shallow. The upside is, both you and your current partner might be able to find fulfillment with someone better for you. So suck it up, accept that you’re the kind of person who can’t be attracted to a fatty even if you’d like to think you’re better than that, and cut him loose. Neither of you should have to endure a sexless marriage if either of you is not OK with that bargain.

Did you notice how I didn’t include badgering him to lose weight as an option there? Yeah. That really doesn’t work, as you’ve already gathered, or you wouldn’t be writing for advice. Not only are you unlikely to succeed in getting the thin hubby of your dreams that way, but you’ll be fostering mutual resentment out the wazoo, which doesn’t put anybody in the mood. So scratch that.

Work on figuring out how to change the way you see him or get a fucking divorce. That’s it.

Love,

Kate

That, as I said, is my standard response to the standard question. This question, however, goes on to become somewhat less standard:

He wants sex regularly, and I don’t want it—at all! When I explain why, he gets very angry and says if you love someone, it doesn’t matter what he looks like. Occasionally, I’ll let him “use” my body to appease him so he’ll stop arguing and yelling. I hate doing this. It makes me feel like I’m being violated. Is there something wrong with me? Should I still want to have sex with my husband?

As I said, E. Jean’s answer starts fairly strong, the expected fatphobic language and a bit of eye-rolling disdain for “political correctness” notwithstanding:

Sheets, my sweet: Let me get this straight: An “angry” 300-pounder is “arguing” you into sex and you say it feels like you’re “being violated”? No, Miss Sad, that is not a “violation.” That is an immolation. Divorce him. I realize it’s politically incorrect these days to tell a wife to table her spouse because of his weight, but it’s your husband’s anger and his colossal unkindness (you don’t want sex; he forces you to) that are the true reasons you never uttered the word love in your letter.

YES. THIS. (Minus aforementioned irritations.) I don’t give a shit if you’re a fatphobe or any other kind of -phobe or -ist that suggests you’re the kind of person I wouldn’t want to hang out with. If your husband’s demanding sex, and you don’t want it but feel like you can’t refuse, go directly to the “get a fucking divorce” option, because no one deserves that. And that is indeed the real problem in your marriage, not his fat ass.

But E. Jean does not stop there. Instead, she finishes off with this:

Take the man to a physician who specializes in weight loss, encourage him to lighten up; then, if he does not treat you with tenderness and respect, get rid of him.

I’m sorry, WHAT? This woman just told you she’s being coerced into sex, she feels violated, and your advice is TRY HARDER TO HELP HIM LOSE WEIGHT AND SEE HOW IT GOES? Because weight loss might magically make a pushy asshole who’s more interested in getting off than noticing his wife’s distinct lack of enthusiastic consent turn tender and respectful? What the everloving fuck?

Honey, if you are “letting” him fuck you because you feel you are not allowed to say no, that’s called rape. It is not “politically incorrect” to get the hell out of a relationship with a rapist before exhausting every effort to help him lose weight. It’s really not. You can dump that motherfucker with the Queen of the Fat-o-sphere’s seal of approval.

And as I indicated above, if you are similarly disgusted by your fat partner, yet not being raped or otherwise abused? You can also dump hir with my seal of approval — on the decision, if not necessarily on your character. The sad fact is, yes, being unable to see past fat on an otherwise loving, fabulous partner might just make you the shallow shithead you fear you are — and I do say “might,” because honestly, I can’t explain people’s preferences, and I don’t know you, maybe you’ve just got a really strong “type” that doesn’t happen to be fat. But maybe you are, in fact, a shallow shithead — I’m not going to sit here and tell you there’s no chance you are, and you should feel 100% guilt-free about trashing a good person who loves you, just because you think fat is icky. What I will tell you is, it doesn’t matter if you’re a shallow shithead or a delightful, compassionate person with an insurmountable sexual preference for thinness that happens to be deeply unfortunate given your current circumstances, because you will be that way whether you stay or go. If you simply cannot fathom being able to adjust your definition of “attractive” to encompass your own partner’s appearance, then going is the only option that gives both of you the opportunity to find a healthy relationship — i.e., one with somebody else.

This is not rocket science, but it almost always seems to elude advice columnists. Just as nobody wants to be the person who dumped the fatty for being fat, nobody (except Dan Savage*) wants to be the columnist who says, “Yeah, it’s OK, dump the fatty for being fat.”  But it is, for the simple reason that if you are in a shitty relationship that’s manifestly going nowhere, it is OK to end it, whether your reasons are noble or shit-headed. Because ending it might just make it better for everyone involved, notably the fatass you married, who gets the not insubstantial perk of no longer living with someone who finds hir repulsive.

How fucked up is it that the typical advice columnist’s fear of saying that — if you’re not remotely attracted to fat people, don’t fucking date/stay married to them — combined with the pervasive notion that fat people are helpless, undisciplined blobs in need of rescue, can actually lead to the advice: “Take him to a doctor about the weight and see if that makes him stop raping you”? Sweet Jesus, y’all. I am going to go find myself a cocktail now.

*BTW, have I mentioned that Savage recently, no shit, paid me a public compliment?

127 thoughts on “Let me fix that for you, E. Jean

  1. Well.

    This … should be interesting.

    (P.S E. Jean was a Pi Beta Phi at IU. If they come any more shallow than that, I don’t want to know about it.)

  2. It’s weird- in a way, I feel like her weight loss advice at the end comes from a misguided place of concern, similar to what you wrote about in your PETA post. It’s this idea that even though nobody should feel any body shame, all fat people need and secretly want to lose weight, so advice like that is seen as encouraging. Especially after she had just basically said, “Hey, this angry 300-pound man is raping you,” gently advising the woman to “see if he can lose some weight” probably in her mind mitigated the harshness of the preceding (good) advice. Seriously addressing the problem of the arguing and the forced sex and the incompatibility in some kind of therapy wouldn’t suffice, no- but maybe if he could lose weight (which you know he really wants and is really better for him, duh)… well, that would make him a little more sympathetic. The readers can swallow that.

    I wonder if E. Jean would have thrown something in about Rogaine if the letter-writer had mentioned not being attracted to her angry argumentative marital-raping husband because he was seriously balding? Or if she would have mentioned strength training if the issue had been his knobby knees and chicken-wing arms? Or maybe if she would have flat-out been like, “Just leave the bastard” with no mention of his appearance whatsoever?

  3. Seriously. When are they going to hire you instead? (Although I guess if they did, you’d have to do it without all the “fucks,” unless you’re literally taking over for Dan Savage.)

    I remember as a teenager absolutely hating The Pirates of Penzance because the old woman got dumped by the dashing young man for just being old. Sorry, shriveled old woman, you’re not good enough for me anymore! But shit, at least the story took place before there was cosmetic surgery, or he’d probably have made her get a full-body lift at her own expense, then dumped her because the postsurgical pain made her too cranky. You know what would happen if the guy in this colunn went on a diet: He’d be even more of an asshole than he is now. All these advice colunists who scream “MAKE THEM LOSE WEIGHT” seem to think it’s as simple as, eat celery for a few months and then you get to walk out of the fat suit. Eating only celery won’t make you a total pain in the ass to live with or anything, oh no. And certainly it won’t pose any further risk to their health!

  4. Amen. It’s amazing how many people seem to think they’re doing someone a favour by staying in a relationship with them if they’re not attracted to them. It’s condescending and horrible, not to mention a waste of both people’s time.
    Who wants to be with someone who is metaphorically holding their nose, no matter how shallow–or not–that person’s reasons?

    I agree that E. Jean’s advice is pretty misguided, but I think she’s just a victim of the prevailing culture that says “at least you’re helping them do something about it” if you give a fat person a recommendation for a doctor, or a diet.

  5. I read the Dan Savage piece–kudos on the compliment, I guess–and then started to read the comments. Whywhywhywhywhy. I forget that every comments section isn’t like this one.

    I do think E Jean might have suggested Rogaine to a wife of a balding man–that’s the scariest part. Kate hit the nail on the head when she basically said, “Look, he’s a rapist creep. It doesn’t matter why you aren’t attracted to him, really. It’s that he doesn’t care and goes ahead and forces you to have sex against your will. Run away. Run far far away.”

  6. This woman is dealing with martial rape, and E. Jean’s first piece of advice is get the guy to lose weight? She must believe the line of thinking that says your life will magically improve by a 1000% once you stop being a fatty.

    Oh, the world is making me sad today.

    Oh, and this:
    You can dump that motherfucker with the Queen of the Fat-o-sphere’s seal of approval.
    Love this! I totally pictured you doing one of those hot wax stamp things that they used to do back in the day.

  7. I think the question and appropriate answer to: “What do I do now that my spouse has gotten fat and I’m no longer attracted to hir?” is the same as for: “What do I do now that my spouse is no longer financially successful and I’m no longer attracted to hir?”.

    But, as you point out, that isn’t even the crux of the issue in this particular case.

  8. I hate those “paging Dr Love” kinds of columns because the troubled senders often leave out huge amounts of important information, so everything feels like a semi-educated guess at best. Meaning for example, I feel like asking if this weight gain has been consistent for many years and she’s just beginning to notice, and if so why now? Or if it was a large and rapid weight gain which can come from a change of habits, or from something more serious like an illness or depression. Perhaps he gained a little weight, got depressed because his wife kept saying she finds him repulsive and then gained a lot more weight. I have no way of knowing and these are just examples, but I wouldn’t treat each case the same way. Though in this case in particular, if this woman is being honest, divorce is really the only chance a marriage like that has left, since it seems neither of them gives a fuck about the other’s feelings or humanity in general. Being repulsed by the sight of your husband and using your wife as merely a masturbatory aid are signs that there is something much deeper wrong in that relationship.

    Just as nobody wants to be the person who dumped the fatty for being fat, nobody (except Dan Savage*) wants to be the columnist who says, “Yeah, it’s OK, dump the fatty for being fat.”
    I think the problem is that, in general, of course, if you can’t find any way to find him attractive again, it’s probably time to end the marriage; but that advice is so broad it’s probably true for everyone who’s ever sent a letter because they have a problem in their relationship. “If you have a big problem in your relationship that you have tried, but can’t solve and find impossible to get past, you should end the relationship”. Thing is, if love columnists said this as often as they probably should, there wouldn’t be much left for them to say.

  9. I wonder if it’s something like the Fantasy of Thin but being proxied to another person. Sure that person may be an asshole now but remember everything about personality changes when you’re thinner so maybe the guy just needs to lose weight and then he’ll genuinely be a non-rapist.

  10. Does E. Jean think that being fat is making him bullying rapist asshole? It certainly seems that way if she thinks making him lose weight will do any good.

    Also, why does anything think referring a fat person to a doctor will result in permanent weight loss? Ooooh, I’ve been dieting for decades, but this time the diet sheet was handed to me by a doctor so surely it will work.

    Ugh.

  11. Argh. Marital rape is a crime, unless of course he’s fat. *headdesk*

    I had seen Savage’s compliment. (I live in Seattle, and The Stranger Blog is a good way to know what’s going on.) I’ve also seen Savage come down on people who whine that the fat person they started dating is, OMG, still fat. His stated rationale is that you should stay the weight you were at when you started the relationship. I give him some credit for not giving encouraging the “start dating someone then nag them to lose weight” practice or the “diet down to a temporary hunting weight to find a partner” thing .. but, you know, it’s not that simple.

  12. You know, I don’t quite understand why the physics are so damn important in a relationship…It plays it’s role, all right, but after the passion cools out ant we experience the swiftly calm waters of love, it doesn’t quite matter anymore if the other person is hot strike attractive or not…even more when it’s about fat…after people marry they put on some wheight, big deal…
    The first guy I had a meaningful relationship with was chubby, and it never got in the way…it ended because he became a settled jerk…My current relationship is with a pretty average boy, just as I am an average girl, and it doesn’t make any difference….
    and I’ve got a secret…the guy that turns up my moods the worst, in the whole wide world, is Patrick Stump…he’s smart, and sexy, and got even cuter after he gained a few pouds….

    It might be wrong of me to think someone should be able to be attracted to something just because I am….but I really don’t understand how it gets in the way…

    The down side is that he is, in fact, as she describes, being insensitive, and forcind her to sex….and really, no one deserves that…and it doesn’t matter if the husband looks like Patrick, or Brad Pitt, or Dany DeVito, or whatever….It’s still disgusting that any woman should submit herself to any sort of abuse, even worse if it comes from your own husband, who should love you, and respect you, and stuff….

  13. His stated rationale is that you should stay the weight you were at when you started the relationship.

    Oh yeah. He’s a big believer that you owe your partner a thin body if that’s how you started the relationship, which is one reason why I’m no fan of his fat-related advice. But at least (afaik) he believes that if your fatty partner isn’t committed enough (eyeroll) to give you the thin body you deserve, it’s OK to break up. So he’s halfway there… sort of.

    I’ve mentioned this here before, but for the record, I’ve had one bf who started dating me thin, then stuck around while I gained 75 lbs. — because I started dating him at the end of an insanely restrictive diet. Funny thing is, I assumed at the time that my weight was a big reason why we broke up — until we started having crazy ex-sex, and he assured me he was as attracted to me as ever, physically. He broke up with me (after I sort of broke up with him — long story) because we weren’t compatible emotionally and mentally. But when I said flat out, “Wait, I thought you weren’t attracted to me anymore, but now you’re all over me?” he was like, “HELL YES I’m attracted to you, it’s just not enough.” And he was right, it wasn’t. (Also, I was soon to realize he was fucking someone else. THERE’S THAT.) But if I hadn’t asked him flat out, I’d probably have gone on thinking that the “real” problem was the weight gain, and we could have worked out all our other problems if I hadn’t gotten so big and ugly.

    And that’s certainly a factor in why I suspect that most people who say, “I’m not attracted to my partner anymore because zie got fat,” actually mean, “I’m not attracted to my partner anymore because of all sorts of reasons that are difficult to articulate, but it’s easier to tell myself that if zie just lost weight, it would all be good.”

  14. Well, we can be somewhat grateful that E.Jean did not recommend sabotaging the chairs in the the house so Chubby Hubby would magically start losing weight on his own.

    If a woman is being raped by her fat husband the advice from the magazine “professional” is she should get him to a doctor. But men suddenly find “their” woman has put on some weight the advice from the internet columnist is a 10 step guide to emotionally and physically abusing your partner into weight loss.

    Not surprising that the mainstream thinking really boils down to women it is okay if you are being abused. You may have gained weight so your partner needs to abuse you until you lose the weight. He may have gained weight and you are a woman for Pete’s sake so have some compassion and fuck him, hold his hand, take him to the doctor and cook those healthy meals. You can nurture him right into the weight loss. Oh and if he is raping you in the interim… well just try harder.

  15. Issues of marital rape aside, as someone who lost maybe 6 years of my life trying to figure out why my (now-ex) husband was so unhappy–it turns out, because he couldn’t bring himself to admit that he was that shallow guy who couldn’t ever deal with being married to a fatty fat fat fatty–I wish to the sweet baby jeebuz you could have given him that Queen of the Fat-o-sphere’s seal of approval personally, Kate!

  16. I’m going to set aside the forced sex issue, since as far as I’m concerned—if that’s what’s going on, it’s the ONLY issue. (Please, whoever you are, don’t waste any more time–call the cops, leave, go home to Mama, something.)

    Now if the only thing was the “weight issue”, I have different thoughts. I just really wonder what people expect out of a long-term relationship. Do they really believe that someone will be the same physical specimen they were when you met after 10, 15, 50 years go by? How unaware can you be that people change? My husband and I just celebrated our 25th anniversary (yes, I AM that old). If you saw our wedding pics, you’d probably say “that’s you? Really?” We’ve both gained bunches of weight (hubby says we’ve “grown” together as a couple..). His hairline is receding: I’ve gone gray and have hairs growing in places I didn’t even suspect had follicles. Frankly, we both kind of get a kick out of the changes. I’m not saying that physical attraction is something you can just will to happen, but I’m convinced that attitude plays a role. And if someone decides to leave a partner because they’ve become fat, what do they do when the next one loses a leg, or sustains a head injury that leaves them functionally/mentally challenged (as happened to a friend of mine)? Maybe it’s wise for that person to examine themselves and figure out if they really are a shallow asshole, and if so, let any potential future partners know from the get-go before things get too serious. (They could carry some sort of ID card—“Jane/John Doe. Shallow Asshole. Be forewarned that if we become involved and you then you become : [list undesirable traits here], I will drop you like a hot potato. )

  17. I’m not saying that physical attraction is something you can just will to happen, but I’m convinced that attitude plays a role. And if someone decides to leave a partner because they’ve become fat, what do they do when the next one loses a leg, or sustains a head injury that leaves them functionally/mentally challenged (as happened to a friend of mine)? Maybe it’s wise for that person to examine themselves and figure out if they really are a shallow asshole, and if so, let any potential future partners know from the get-go before things get too serious.

    To be clear, I agree 100% with all of that. At 34, I’m not particularly attracted to many men in their 60s, but I certainly plan on being attracted to Al in 30 years, you know? If people really have such a narrow concept of attractiveness, they’re going to have a terrible time being with other human beings, who do tend to age — if not gain weight, have accidents, develop illnesses, etc.

    But, you know, some people are just immature and/or shallow and/or incapable of finding a fat person attractive. And I would really rather those people cut fat partners loose than spend years “supporting them” by telling them that if they’d just lose weight, they’d be hot again and all would be peachy.

  18. He’s a big believer that you owe your partner a thin body if that’s how you started the relationship, which is one reason why I’m no fan of his fat-related advice.

    He’s also had someone complain that “I fell in love with this great fat person and now my partner is losing weight and I’m not attracted anymore!” and gave the same “you should stay the same body size that attracted your partner” argument.

    The problem is that Savage believes that body size is a choice.

    And Kate, your experience with your ex reminds me of my uncle’s second wife. See, he complained and moaned to his first wife about how she’d become fat, and wasn’t attractive, and she had to lose weight, blah blah fundamentalist “wife is subordinate to the man” BS blah blah. Finally they divorced and he remarried. His second wife? Is about the same height, weight, and overall body shape as the woman he had just divorced. But of course the ONLY reason they divorced was that the first wife gained 40lbs over 40 years.

  19. MamaD I cannot agree with you more. What on earth do these people think a relationship is about? In fact, what do they think the UNIVERSE is about? I mean… good lord!

    If you ARE going to give up on someone the second you don’t like something about them then 1) that’s not really unconditional love is it? I would personally say that from my perspective it’s not really love at all, but my opinion on that is not really relevant. however 2) maybe you should go for something a bit less permanent than marriage? And negotiate it as such – this is just for now, while you’re young and beautiful.

  20. And I would really rather those people cut fat partners loose than spend years “supporting them” by telling them that if they’d just lose weight, they’d be hot again and all would be peachy.

    Amen to that. ‘Cause that’s just abusive crap, as far as I’m concerned.

  21. Kate (KH) this: he was like, “HELL YES I’m attracted to you, it’s just not enough.” was something I heard from someone who really captured my heart and imagination. Mr. Rounded and I have been together for more than 18 years now, and we’ve been through all manner of changes, physical, psychological, some incredibly rough patches, and attraction has been fairly constant. The times we have been apart have been because “it’s not enough.” But if it hadn’t been there to draw us back together, we might have remained apart.
    Someone may have said this already, but maybe it’s easier to accept that you married someone who became fat and you are no longer attracted to them, than to own up that the same someone has always been abusive.

  22. God, you pointed out some great stuff here. I think part of the fact that no one wants to say “dump the fatty, because they’re fat, and you for some reason can’t stand it” has to do with the cultural beauty ideal. People, especially women who are usually the ones writing articles like this one, have such low self-esteem that they would stay with someone who found them disgusting, and they would want to be given chance after chance to lose weight while their partner is disgusted with them. They give this advice because they’re scared one day they’ll gain so much weight that their husbands (who couldn’t possibly love them for their personality, of course) will find them disgusting and dump them. They want the chance to lose the weight first, that’s the culture we live in. This is how they want to be treated, because it seems kinder and more loving than just being dumped for being a fatty.

    It’s sad, I wouldn’t wish that kind of relationship on anyone. It’s one alot of people end up in though.

  23. Beauty truly IS in the eye of the beholder….if you’re honest with yourself and actually mature in a relationship with each other. Kate said it right on when she wrote:

    “If people really have such a narrow concept of attractiveness, they’re going to have a terrible time being with other human beings, who do tend to age — if not gain weight, have accidents, develop illnesses, etc.”

    If you are in a relationship that you are actually committed to, then you will find your desire, view of beauty, attractiveness values, etc, challenged in one way or another during the growing of that relationship. Heck, just seeing or hearing the other’s bodily functions can “change” how you view attractiveness.

    The crux of it all is whether or not you can live with those changes….and that takes introspection and a firm grasp of self. Sadly, some people DONT have that component working for them…so they go through life seeking out their version of physical perfection, in others and oftentimes themselves.

    My husband married me as a fat woman (he was average weight)…and I’ve gotten fatter during our 11 year marriage. On the other hand, he’s gotten balder, less physically capable (aging), and much, much grayer. If we both didn’t have a hefty dose of reality about the lifecycle of beauty, paired with a willingness to re-evaluate our own “attractiveness scale”, we would have parted ways long ago.

    As an aside….I’d like to pose a question to Kate. When you found out the “true” reason you and the ex broke up (“because you weren’t compatible emotionally and mentally”) did that knowledge help you on your path to Fat Acceptance? Did it have any role in your kick ass journey to become the “Queen of the Fat-o-sphere”?
    ( I am always fascinated to hear what events/light bulb moments preceded people’s self-acceptance enlightenment)

  24. His stated rationale is that you should stay the weight you were at when you started the relationship.

    Which is staggeringly ablist bullcrap. Suppose you start, or stop, taking a medication that changes your weight drastically? Suppose you get injured or sick or otherwise occupied in a way that prevents you from the kind of vigorous workouts you used to get? (That could change someone’s weight in either direction, depending on the nature of the workouts and the person’s metabolism. Chris stopped lifting weights and lost 15 pounds.) Or suppose you had a raging ED when you met your partner, and now you don’t? A lot of women’s bodies change significantly with pregnancy, too, especially multiple pregnancies. And the longer you live with somebody, the greater the likelihood goes up that any of those things could happen. It’s not internally consistent to expect to be with someone from the time you’re both young until the time you’re both 80 or 90 and insist that they look more or less identical to when you met them (other than maybe a few allowable gray hairs and wrinkles). Anyone who can’t handle that shouldn’t be coupled permanently.

  25. Owch, this one hits a bit close to home for me! Hubby and I have an ongoing issue with this – I’ve gained weight since we started dating (when I was 18) and he worries about it a lot. He says he still finds me attractive now, but he is afraid that if I keep gaining, he won’t.

    Apart from this, our relationship is pretty good, and he seems to sincerely want to change this – he says it annoys him that it annoys him. But he’s kind of stuck with how.

    So my question is:
    If you believe it is actually possible for you to get over it, then by all means, work on that
    How does one do this? Any suggestions anyone?

    We’ve come to a place now where he doesn’t try to pressure me to lose weight – bascially since I found FA and told him that I will not be dieting any more. But growing up with 3 brothers seems to have given him a hefty dose of male entitlement, and every time he sees a “hot” chick, he thinks he deserves to have that.

    Ok this paints poor Hubby in a bad light, and he’s really a good guy so please don’t attack him on my behalf. I’m just really interested in what people have to say about how you learn to reframe attraction (since this is something that EVERYONE has to do, thanks to aging etc).

  26. I find these debates fascinating but also unfathomable. I’m 30 and my husband is 31; we’ve been married for 8 years (we married young because he’s British and I’m American).

    Two years ago he was diagnosed with bowel cancer, and he’s had three very major surgeries (removal of nearly all of the large intestine, all of his spleen, 60% of his liver, most of one kidney, part of his pancreas, part of his stomach, etc) and two bouts of chemo. We were lucky that he didn’t have to deal with anything like a stoma bag after any of his operations, so we had things pretty easy compared to other couples in the same situation. But even so, the changes his body went through were truly staggering.

    He was nearly starving for three months before diagnosis because he couldn’t keep anything down. From always being slightly on the chubby side, just after his first surgery he looked like a concentration camp survivor, and I don’t say that flippantly – he was jaundiced, emaciated, stooped over like an old man, with huge dark eyes. Over the course of his other surgeries and treatments, he lost hair and grew it back, he lost weight and gained it back, he alternated between pale as a ghost and lounging around the flat (iron deficiency) and hale and hearty, walking up mountains with me, and the long incision across his abdomen became an inverted T nearly up to his sternum. Oh, and he also turned grey a bit prematurely, probably due to the chemo.

    How is this relevant? Well, I think that his disease made a huge impact on how I view bodies in general and my own fat body. Bodies change, sometimes shockingly, and we often have little control over that process. His disease also affected how I see relationships. He and I aren’t the same people we were, either physically or mentally, but we’ve basically agreed to grow and change together, no matter how unpredictable that evolution might be.

  27. Ok this paints poor Hubby in a bad light, and he’s really a good guy so please don’t attack him on my behalf. I’m just really interested in what people have to say about how you learn to reframe attraction (since this is something that EVERYONE has to do, thanks to aging etc).

    I’m sure he is, but, really, it shouldn’t be that hard. People don’t change overnight, you know, weight gain, aging, etc are usually gradual changes. (Losing a limb, as has also been used wouldn’t be, but still) You wake up every morning, and you look at your partner, and you try your damnedest to see things you like. You focus on the things about them that are attractive, and you make the decision to love them every damn day. Because love is a verb. It’s not just something you feel, it’s something you do. You decide to love that person, and that means you also decide to love them the way they are, with blemishes, and scars, and hair in weird places, and fat.

    And I guess for some people it’s just second nature to love someone even as their body changes, but maybe for some people the work is a little more difficult. Either way, it’s worth it. The more days in a row you can decide to love each other, the stronger the whole thing is, and if you can manage to keep loving, it gets pretty damn awesome.

  28. Sorry for the cowardly anonymity. I really am. I just don’t want any chance of my husband knowing this was me because I would rather cut my hands off than hurt him.

    That was heinous advice she gave. Dear god. And the writer sounds like she, sadly, has her own problems. The marriage also sounds like it may have other problems.

    However, I want to say that I’m in a less-fucked-up version of the letter writer’s position myself, and while “get over it” is the eventual goal, it’s not particularly practical advice for what is, at heart, a very sad and very painful problem that goes a lot deeper than “you have to be ok with your partner getting fat or you are a shallow git.”

    Losing your sexual attraction to someone because they have undergone serious physical changes that you find unattractive is not necessarily a sign of poor character overall. Nor is it a sign that you don’t love that person more than life itself. I would die for my husband. I would love him if he were just a talking head in a jar. I have been through living hell with this man, and he with me. I’m not a shallow bitch. But not everyone we love is physically beautiful to us, not even the people we partner with. And people change.

    I would never say that my husband is obliged to fit my body type preferences exactly. If that were true, I would’ve married someone really pretty with black hair and blue eyes — none of which describe him. I would never tell him to lose weight. I realize that the solution has to occur on my end. But I don’t have a shitty relationship that is in trouble from other factors. What I have is a whole lot of human pain because someone I love to the point of breaking is suddenly a lot less attractive to me, and I feel horrible about that.

    I’m with randomquorum, I’d love some sympathetic advice here. Some kind words that don’t boil down to “it’s morally wrong of you to feel that way, period.” Something that respects my pain, and how hard this is.

    I refuse to believe it is evil of us to find our attraction ebbs when someone passes way outside what we personally find attractive. It’s not wrong for him to be this way, it’s not wrong for anyone to be this way, but I don’t find him attractive. I wasn’t wrong to marry him, for god’s sake, but he’s changed, and to say that hasn’t been a problem would be a lie.

    I’m not asking for permission to dump my fat partner. I would never do that, not ever. I’m not asking for permission to hate his fat. That’s not okay. I’m asking for sympathy because I’m in pain, and some guidance, because this is a big issue for a lot of fat people and their partners.

    It would be deeply evil to stop loving someone because they got fat, or to insist they change or you will stop loving them, which I don’t think anyone here is talking about. If that were true, there would be no problem, no pain, no letters to stupid advice columnists. We’d just dump them and go find someone thinner. What we are talking about is the pain of loving someone, wanting to stay with them always and be married to them, knowing that this is in all other ways the best relationship you could ever ask for, and realizing that through *no fault of their own* they physically aren’t attractive to you anymore. I want to overcome that, I do.

    This is really hard, and really painful, and for a lot of us, it’s horribly real. It’s a desolate, lonely, despairing, frustrating, heartbreaking feeling when your sex life collapses, escpecially combined with the shit that comes when you yourself fall outside your own standards of attractiveness, so it’s like rolling two boulders uphill at once.

    If you have an hour I would love to tell you about how much it hurts and where, and how very much I love him, and how much I fucking hate myself for feeling this way.

  29. Also, I have to say this:

    I don’t understand the talk about loving someone in spite of their fat. Dude, it has never been an issue. I don’t love him less because he’s gotten fat. That’s crazy. What the hell? But sexual attraction and love are not one and the same for me, nor for a lot of folks, and it’s perfectly possible to marry someone and find that one goes away while the other gets stronger.

    I can’t make myself want to fuck someone by loving them, or I would be fucking my best friend, my sister, and my, uh, my horse. I can’t make myself love someone by fucking them, or there I would’ve broken my own heart over and over by falling in love with guys I just meant to have fun with.

    So talk about learning to love your spouse again, that’s not necessarily what we need. We didn’t fall out of love with them in the first place.

  30. It seems like she’s saying fat = lack of discipline = rape (but it’s ok because fat people can’t control themselves! You can’t blame them really, can you?) ; weightloss = discipline = no more marital rape.

    Can’t quite put my finger on it but something just doesn’t seem right…

  31. The closing of that “advice” column is incredibly dichotomous. “Your husband’s a dick, divorce the raping bastard … but first why don’t you try changing him so that said rape is more bearable?”

    GAH.

  32. Love is a verb. It’s not just something you feel, it’s something you do.

    That is seriously profound. I’m going to steal it and embroider it onto a pillow.

  33. Ouch. This also hits close to home for me, because I’ve been there. Except it wasn’t the husband who’d put on weight; it was me. (OK, I later learned that I was ‘too fat’ by his standards when we met, but I also put on maybe twenty-five pounds over the course of our marriage.) And while he wanted sex, he lacked any concern about whether I enjoyed it or, sometimes, wanted it at all. And for a long time, he let me believe that if I were only thinner, I would ‘deserve’ better treatment (in that as well as many other areas). It was only in the middle of a conversation just before our divorce that it struck me that what he actually wanted was a woman who didn’t just fulfil all his needs – among which was a very narrow definition of physical attractiveness – but who had no needs of her own. In other words, he didn’t actually want a relationship at all. it was never my problem, but I was too naive and insecure to realize that.

    The fact that my second husband made it clear from the start that he loved my body was a huge revelation. And if my body, or his, changes over the years, which they will, because we’re human beings…big deal. It’s all part of the package.

    And you know, bearing in mind the number of people I’ve known who’ve insisted they couldn’t go for someone fat, thin, older, younger, bearded, whatever – yet ended up with someone with precisely that characteristic, and loving them for rather than in spite of it – I’m not really convinced that anyone ever does leave someone for no longer fitting their physical ideal. They might give that as their outward reason, but from what I’ve seen there are always other, underlying issues. As there are with this couple. My guess is that this is a guy who’s always pushed his weight around in some way, no matter what that weight was.

  34. Why doesn’t this post show up on the front page anymore? It is on the recent comments list though, and in top posts, but not where the actual posts are.

    I just thought I’d let you know. The problem might of course be something in my end too.

  35. @randonquorum “But growing up with 3 brothers seems to have given him a hefty dose of male entitlement, and every time he sees a “hot” chick, he thinks he deserves to have that.”

    I think that’s the problem right there. He’s worried about a possible future when you’ve dropped down his hotness scale because that’s how he’s thinking that men and women relate sexually. It’s as if you’re not married, you’re not his wife, just another woman who he gets to rate and women below a certain rating don’t get laid.

    Here’s another story from another marriage. I can’t remember when this happened, but it was definitely in our first year of marriage about 25 years ago and my husband told me about a very funny cartoon (his judgment). An old man sitting with a young boy says something like, “The worst thing about growing old? You’re grandmother’s tits.”

    So I took it to mean that women aging was the worst horror that aging men had to face and that my husband thought it was funny ’cause it’s true. And here we are 25 years later and he says he loves me still and he wants me still but I am definitely looking middle-aged and every once in a while I wonder, what’s the cut-off? When do I go over my sell-by date? He likes to look at pictures of young naked women and I’m getting further and further away from 21.

    Here’s the possible future I worry about: I’ve dropped too far down the hotness scale AND I’M STILL MARRIED TO HIM.

    I realize this didn’t answer your question about how to work on this, but I think the problem for your husband and mine is how to stop judging the women they claim to love by some scale at all. Hello, what do you mean when you say you love me?

  36. We were lucky that he didn’t have to deal with anything like a stoma bag after any of his operations, so we had things pretty easy compared to other couples in the same situation.

    I’m really sorry about what you and your husband are going through. It sounds really tough. I do want to say, though, that having a bag is really not that big a deal for many people. In many cases it represents a major improvement in life quality from whatever made the bag necessary before, so people can even feel good about having one. So if he ends up needing more surgery and having to get a bag, it’s not the end of the world. And I really hope his health improves and that he can recover.

  37. I dunno. I’m a woman. If my male partner were to gain a great amount of weight (and not because of illness, depression or accident), I’d consider them selfish. Because men get to be fat and women don’t.

    It fucking bothers me that men get to be fat. They demand the right to be deemed perfectly fuckable even when they are not conventionally physically attractive, and women don’t. So yeah, dumping someone just because they are fat sure is shallow – and for women, also a way of getting even.

    If the rape thing weren’t an issue, this is how I’d reply to the advice column question:

    “So he’s too fat and you don’t want to dump him? Great! Just don’t shave your legs anymore, girl. Or wear makeup. If he doesn’t, you don’t have to, either.”

  38. Someone may have said this already, but maybe it’s easier to accept that you married someone who became fat and you are no longer attracted to them, than to own up that the same someone has always been abusive.

    WORD. Easier to rationalize “I don’t want to have sex because he’s a fatty now” than “I don’t want to have sex because it turned out I married a rapist and didn’t know it.”

    Kate, I think you and Miss Conduct should team up and write the Best Advice Column Known to Humankind.

    Ildeth, I’m so sorry about your husband’s illness — good luck to you both.

  39. And that’s certainly a factor in why I suspect that most people who say, “I’m not attracted to my partner anymore because zie got fat,” actually mean, “I’m not attracted to my partner anymore because of all sorts of reasons that are difficult to articulate, but it’s easier to tell myself that if zie just lost weight, it would all be good.”

    I think that’s probably very true. A lot of the “I want my partner to stay exactly the same size they were when we married” stuff probably really comes down to “I want my partner to stay exactly the same, period, as they were when we married.” Because when you’re in a long-term relationship, people change. I’m 31 and have obviously changed a lot in the last 31 years. If my husband and I are together for the next 31 years, there’s no reason for me to think I’m not going to change in really significant ways, too, not just in terms of my body shape and size, but in terms of what I think and believe and enjoy. And there’s got to be a lot of adjustment and compromise that goes into maintaining a relationship for 40 and 50 and 60 years, and a lot of constantly re-getting to know one another, probably sometimes through some changes you might not be that happy with. I do think the desire to have your partner never change, period, is probably behind a lot of the anxiety about a partner’s body changing.

  40. Anon, I don’t have an answer for you, I’m sorry to say. But I did want to say that this cracked my shit up even in the middle of your sad comments: I can’t make myself want to fuck someone by loving them, or I would be fucking my best friend, my sister, and my, uh, my horse.

  41. To those posters who husbands have alluded to the fact that they won’t want to fuck them anymore because of gaining weight…Say, “Hey, when I married you, you made $75,000 a year…and if you fuck up and lose your job- you might have to take a job making $25,000 or be on unemployment. That would just be really unattractive to me, so go sleep on the couch.” You also susubsitute salary for a hot car, a particular sport he plays, whatever. The point is find whatever thing is his hot button and that you find attractive in him (although it might make you you look shallow. Maybe the caveman will get the idea when you make it relateable to something that might offend him. Hey, how many of us have become video game widows? Yeah, I find the 6 hours per night that he spends on the fucking couch starting at the TV real hot! When we met you when you used to play basketball three nights a week and come home all sweaty and hunky! Life is change and love is acceptance- deal with it.

  42. “I don’t know you, maybe you’ve just got a really strong “type” that doesn’t happen to be fat. But maybe you are, in fact, a shallow shithead”

    I’m confused about where the difference lies here. If someone is not attracted to someone else because of their weight (or other physical characteristic that modern society and the media have repeatedly bashed), then how do you know if they’re actually shallow, or if that person just isn’t their “type?”
    Also, is it ever really fine to reject someone (or dump someone) based on something aesthetic about them, or would such a decision automatically make you shallow? Isn’t that the definition?

  43. Someone may have said this already, but maybe it’s easier to accept that you married someone who became fat and you are no longer attracted to them, than to own up that the same someone has always been abusive.

    Ding ding dingity ding-ding-DING. We have a winner! It is far easier to put the ‘blame’ on a situation on someone else, than it is to accept one’s own responsibility. Or to fob it off on something physical, some large (hurr hurr) and visible sign, than to admit to emotional effed upness. So blaming it on “he/she got fat” is a way to save face, because admitting that the laundry is in fact much, much dirtier can be hard. Introspection don’t come easy.

    This whole thread is bringing up the weird attitude people have towards fat folk. There’s all the villification and harassment, sure, but there are also patronizing ripples of “well let’s not be TOO mean” running through it.

  44. Anon, I’m not sure what to tell you other than that it’s obvious from everything you’ve said that you love your husband very much and that this is really hard for you, and I’m sorry that it is. And attraction is something that you have limited control over, so no, it’s not wrong that your attraction has faded.

    I’ll try to offer some actual advice, after thinking on this for a bit.

  45. So talk about learning to love your spouse again, that’s not necessarily what we need. We didn’t fall out of love with them in the first place.

    I completely agree, and I do sympathize with the awful position you’re in. I was serious when I said I don’t think not being attracted to a partner who’s gotten fat necessarily means you’re shallow — that gets a bit buried in my rant. But I’m also serious when I say that if you can’t reframe the way you look at him, perhaps you should consider ending it, because as you said, love without sexual attraction is the basis of friendship, (non-marriage) family ties, even our relationship with pets. But if both of you aren’t OK with skipping sex, or with giving each other permission to go elsewhere for it, then it can’t be the basis for a marriage.

    Lack of sexual attraction is often a dealbreaker, pure and simple. I’ve ended an otherwise good relationship with a really great guy because of it. (It wasn’t because he was fat, or because of anything about his physical appearance in particular. He was perfectly nice-looking to me, but there was just a basic lack of chemistry that I’d been ignoring for a while, because he was so great in every other way, and I liked having a boyfriend.) A good friend of mine ended a reeeally long relationship in large part because the spark was just gone — which actually had to do with a million emotional factors, not his appearance. (He was pretty fucking hot, by cultural standards.) They worked and worked on their relationship, but she never got over her lack of sexual desire for him, and it was a huge problem. Not the only problem, by any means, but one of the big ones that most clearly told her, “This is not someone I can marry.” She loved him more than anyone, and it was fucking agonizing — he was her family. But the reality was, he was her family in more of a brotherly sense than a spousal one, and she couldn’t go on pretending otherwise.

    So I do sympathize, and I don’t think you’re a bad person or a fatphobe. Honestly, I don’t think fat is the root of the problem anyway — the root of it is, you’re not attracted to your husband anymore, and that happens in relationships between conventionally gorgeous people, too. But I stand by the advice in the post, even if I’d put it in much gentler, more sympathetic terms if I were talking to you directly, as opposed to spouting off about the issue abstractly.

    I don’t know how you change the way you see someone, how you become attracted to someone you’re not attracted to. I’ve only had that happen at the beginning of relationships — i.e., someone I felt no great physical attraction to at first became beautiful to me as I got to know him. So I think it’s theoretically possible, but I can’t necessarily recommend any practical steps toward it. In my experience, it was based on warm, loving feelings that sort of magically alchemized into real attraction. But the only time I’ve had warm, loving feelings and still had to admit there was no real attraction, I ended the relationship, because I didn’t see that situation getting better for either of us.

    And that was really, really hard, even though I hadn’t been with that guy for all that long, much less married him. I can only imagine how agonizing it is for you. I am really sorry you’re in that position. But the advice in this post isn’t just about offering “permission” to dump someone or to hate fat. It’s about acknowledging reality: If there’s no chemistry in your marriage — and you’re not OK with trading that off for all the other good stuff — something big needs to change. And whatever change you ultimately choose is going to be horribly painful — but so is continuing on the way things have been going, especially if you’re telling yourself that the solution is for your partner to make physical changes. (I know you’re not telling yourself that, but it’s often the case.) In the short term, your options are pain (status quo), pain (trying to figure out how to change the way you see him, which can take a long time and might even be impossible), and pain (leaving). So you have to move on to looking at the long-term — what gives us both the best chance of being happy 5 or 10 years from now?

    Maybe it’s staying and trying to change yourself. Maybe it’s non-monogamy (if both parties are truly willing, which can be tricky to sort out). But maybe it’s leaving, no matter how good the rest of your relationship is, because being married to someone you love like a sibling is not a situation everyone can (or should) tolerate.

  46. [i/] Also, is it ever really fine to reject someone (or dump someone) based on something aesthetic about them, or would such a decision automatically make you shallow? Isn’t that the definition? [/i]

    I tend to think of the line between “shallow shithead” and “just not interested” as being a motivation one. Are you not attracted because you’re wondering what the neighbors think? Are you not attracted because you believe that your partner reflects negatively on you? Are you convinced, despite all evidence, that your partner’s body is doing this to spite you?
    Or have you just never, despite squinting your eyes and turning your head sideways, found a characteristic remotely attractive?
    In other words, are you a judgmental baconbrain worried about other judgmental baconbrains, or are you just not attracted to some bodies?
    There’s a legitimate space for just not being attracted to certain bodies. Few people would suggest that straight and gay people are just hetero/homophobic assholes for not fucking every gender.
    On the other hand, there’s plenty of people who considered themselves straight who found themselves attracted to someone of the same sex somewhere along the line. Sometimes they end up with someone of the same sex. Because attraction isn’t a zero sum game. It’s complicated, and the components aren’t predictable. But Kate hit the nail on the head – no one deserves to be with someone who has no attraction for them, when they want to be in a sexual relationship. And that goes for conventionally attractive people, too. I’ve met a few gorgeous men who are attracted to fat women, but will only court thin ones. This is monumentally unfair to everyone involved.

  47. . . . and I really need to hit refresh before posting, in case Kate’s already covered everything better.

  48. “You can dump that motherfucker with the Queen of the Fat-o-sphere’s seal of approval.”
    Love this! I totally pictured you doing one of those hot wax stamp things that they used to do back in the day.

    omg! you should totally make those and market them! or at least use it to seal letters you send. :)

  49. This is an AMAZING post! I haven’t read any of the other comments yet, but I just wanted to say that several years ago, I was the shallow shithead in my marriage. My husband and I were both putting on weight and I had thrown myself headlong into a ‘lifestyle’ change and was so angry at him for not doing likewise. I gave him grief for his weight, putting my own (temporary) weight loss up as the example he should follow.

    I said some mean things to him that at the time I thought were out of concern for his well being and all that crap, but in hindsight it was always about my own fears of getting fatter. I wasn’t comfortable with my own physical changes and I was taking it out on him.

    After I found FA, I got way more comfortable with myself, and realized what an asshole I had been. I apologized to him one day not too long ago and he told me that when I was going through that phase of weight loss mania he basically figured to himself that it was my problem and that if I was going to toss him aside for his weight, then I was not the person he thought I was and it would be my loss.

    I was so glad to hear that from him.

    I’ve gained back almost every pound I lost during my crazy dieting years, and now we’re both comfortably squishy people who are very attracted to one another. But most importantly, I’ve gained the knowledge that you absolutely can ‘re-frame’ your attraction to your significant other. Just like you can ‘re-frame’ the way you feel about your own fat. You can go from fear and disgust to love and acceptance and attraction, but I think the two are really closely intertwinded. You have to accept your own perceived faults before you can accept perceived faults in others, and I think that first part is the hardest to realize, and to do.

    P.S. I used to post as Amy, but I think there’s another Amy floating around here, so I’m going by Lasersloth from now on.

  50. I started reading this feeling hatred for this woman, that she could be so fucking judgmental and insensitive that she is pushing her husband to lose weight but after reading your advice (which was the best damn advice ever) and then reading the rest of her story – wow – I just feel pity. She really can’t see that she’s married to an abusive jerk so she blames the weight instead for her failure to be attracted to him. I hope she finds this page, somehow. I really do.

  51. I tend to think of the line between “shallow shithead” and “just not interested” as being a motivation one.

    I also think timing has something to do with it. If you don’t start dating somebody because their body shape/size doesn’t appeal to you, that, IMO, is just not interested. If you decide to divorce your partner of 15 years because they gained/lost weight, honestly, I’m more likely to put you into the “shallow shithead” category, simply because, before you made the choice to enter into a relationship that is intended to be a lifelong commitment, you should have taken a few minutes to consider the changes you could reasonably expect your partner’s body to go through over the course of a lifetime, and if you couldn’t deal, you shouldn’t have made the commitment, for your sake and your partner’s.

    That’s not to say that things don’t change or that sometimes circumstances are very different when we’re really faced with them than when we imagine them, but if you go ahead and make a lifelong commitment to somebody knowing full well that you will not be attracted to them unless they remain the same size they are at that very moment, I’m not sure it makes you a shithead, but it does make you kind of stupid, IMO.

  52. Yep, that’s pretty much what I would say, only probably hella more wordy.

    Also, why does anything think referring a fat person to a doctor will result in permanent weight loss? Ooooh, I’ve been dieting for decades, but this time the diet sheet was handed to me by a doctor so surely it will work.

    Even if somebody was actually able to stay on one of those super-low-fat diet-plans from one of those stuck-in-the-1980’s clinic nutritionists, I doubt that doing so would leave them in any mood for having sex!

  53. Anon, I think there is a big difference between “this particular physical characteristic in my husband is one which I don’t find a turn-on”, which is something that it might perhaps be possible to overcome through conscious will, and complete lack of basic chemistry. My husband and I have got greyer and saggier together for 20 years. I find that if I have had a quarrel with him I tend to focus far more on the features I find less attractive – last night we had a minor row and I lay next to him in bed silently hating his receding chin until I realised how silly and unfair I was being – and when I am feeling close to him I notice the physical things that attracted me to him in the first place, like his hands. I do realise this is not the same as your situation, in that my husband had his chin when I married him, but it’s the best example from my own experience that I can think of. Are there still physical attributes in your husband that you do find attractive? If so, are you able to deliberately focus on those and try to block out his weight from your radar, as I try not to think about my husband’s chin, poor guy? Or is there literally no spark? If there really is no spark at all, then, as Kate said, is sustaining a marriage with no chemistry an option? It may be, of course; plenty of people have platonic marriages quite happily for many years. But if you feel you need your relationship to be sexual, and if you feel no sexual connection at all with your husband any more, then I think that would be a very hard situation to sustain. I am so sorry.
    Sorry, too, to the poster with the husband with bowel cancer, and best wishes to you both.

  54. Anon, I just went back and read the comments and found yours to be an almost identical description of how I felt about my husband when I was badgering him to lose weight. I am so sorry you’re going through that and I think I know how you feel.

    I *love* my husband, and I am physically attracted to him, but there was a time when I loved him and was *not* attracted to him. At all. For me that lasted for almost a full year, and it was terrible.

    It’s so hard to give relationship advice, because no one is in that relationship but you. But here are my 2 cents:

    I stuck it out with my husband because I loved him, I love being with him, I love talking to him, and cuddling with him, and going out to dinner with him, and laughing with him, and all that stuff never went away. The sexual attraction most definitely did go away though. It was because I was busy hating myself for getting fat, and I started hating him for getting fat. Once I decided to actively start accepting myself, that acceptance extended to him, and I found that the attraction came back. But at the same time, I was also starting to realize that for me (and this obviously wouldn’t work for everybody) loss of sexual attraction was not something that I was willing to disolve my marriage over. I think in our society, a lot of emphasis is placed on having hot sex 3 times a week and keeping those butterflies in your tummy alive. But I think that it’s more important to have a relationship where there is open communication, mutual respect, similar life goals, and a good dose of fun. Now, once I put myself in that mentality, and simultaneously started accepting that physical bodies change over time, the attraction did come back for me. Maybe it’s one of those, ‘let it go’ type things, and then it comes easy. I don’t know.

    Anyway, that’s my experience, and I hope it gives you some kind of insight that helps you one way or another.

    It sounds like you really care about your husband, so whatever happens with you guys, I hope you both find real happiness on the other side of it.

  55. Yes to everything Kate said.

    On the Tyranny of Attraction:

    I have a friend who looks like young Matt Damon. He is thin and well-muscled (he will drop trou and show you his hamstrings out of pure child-like enthusiasm). Smart as hell. Good person.

    He has this problem where he feels like A Bad Person and Very Shallow because he just cannot get sexually attracted to women who are not obese. (He sometimes sees a beautiful girl and wants to tell her, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know, in passing, that you are Beautiful,” but he doesn’t because he knows that he is Hot and worries that these very fat beautiful girls will think he is mocking them and be hurt.)

    I have this other friend who is half-Asian. He grew up in an area where everyone else was black or white. Now an adult, he just is not attracted to Asian women at all. “That’s kind of un-P.C.,” I say. “Well,” he says, “I know it’s messed up, but no matter how pretty they are they all remind me of my Mom, sister, or grandma, since those were the only Asians I had met until college.”

    I’ve personally been doing a lot of thinking as I read this column and comments about whether I had “deal-breakers” and whether I am shallow. In high school I dated and was very sexually involved with a dear friend that I did not find attractive until we’d been getting it on for a while. Because he wasn’t repulsive to me, just kind of meh, I sort of got by on affection till the lovey chemicals kicked in. Not that that would work for everybody.

    I know that if my partner of 5 years lost a leg or two, I would still be attracted to him. If he suffered a horrible burn that disfigured one side of his face, that would suck, but I would be down with the sexin. I fully expect him to get absolutely covered in age spots and seriously leathery wrinkles because he sun-worships without sunblock. Don’t care. However, I’m not sure I could go to bed with him if he became obese, shaped like a competitive body-builder (no, I don’t like muscles), or developed an incurable case of cystic chest acne. I would still love him.

    /ramble

    I’m just not clear on how much of attraction is malleable and what makes one shallow. I’m not sure we can answer that.

  56. RE: not finding your partner attractive but still loving him/her and not being willing to leave.

    I am definitely No Expert on relationships (see Had to Flee Abusive Partner), but from what I hear in my professional experience (social worker) attraction tends to ebb and flow (also in the disatrous couples therapy we went to before I got the hell out).

    This was one of our issues. He no longer found me attractive because I was so horrendously fat. I kind of turn the statement above on it’s head, though: “It is easier to accept that you married someone and they are no longer attracted to you after you became fat, than to own up that that same someone has always been abusive.”

    But I digress. I found in my own self-acceptance journey that the more work I did on accepting MY OWN body, the more acceptable (and even attractive?) I found other people’s bodies. Mirror work was really helpful (looking at myself in the mirror and saying nice things–sounds corny but I found it very efficacious). Working really, really, really hard to banish all fat hatred from my own mind (which is hard) and recognizing that others’ is about THEM and not me. All of this helped me to love my own body and others.

    Not sure if it will help in the situations at hand, but it couldn’t hurt.

  57. I’m just not clear on how much of attraction is malleable and what makes one shallow. I’m not sure we can answer that.

    Some of it you can control, some of it you can’t. But what it comes down to for the health of the relationship is to know when you have to let it go and walk away. Even if it hurts. Even if you come out looking “shallow”, or otherwise not smelling like roses. The price we pay for living the life we need to live is not always having everyone else’s approval.

    I really wanted to drop-kick this one dude I knew after I broke up with my last boyfriend. “But you’re not giving him a chaaaaaance! He lurrrrves youuuu!” Yes, and he also had a bigass list of dealbreaking flaws. My choice was made. I stand by it, and care not for anyone’s hand-wringing or guilt-tripping.

  58. Setting aside the forced sex issue here (because obviously, we can all agree on HOLY SHIT GET AWAY FROM THE RAPEY ASSHOLE NOW NOW NOW) — I’ve always thought Carolyn Hax had a good response to this issue, in that it’s less about fat than it is about feeling duped.

    This wasn’t the sort of change-associated-with-age that people could expect from a partner over the course ofa marriage — according to the letter, we’re talking about a gain of 100+ pounds over the course of a few years. That is a major change, and it implies that her husband was basically maintaining one weight (I’m guessing through unhealthy/disordered behavior) until he got married, then changed that *behavior* as soon as they’d tied the knot. Which is the crux of the problem; it’s terrible that this man felt like he couldn’t be loved at the size he naturally is, but his wife feels understandably like the victim of a bait and switch.

  59. Apart from this, our relationship is pretty good, and he seems to sincerely want to change this – he says it annoys him that it annoys him. But he’s kind of stuck with how.

    randomquorum, would he (and you) be amenable to couples therapy? There’s always the frustration of actually finding a good therapist who isn’t fatphobic themselves, but if you’re both really willing to fix this but aren’t having any breakthroughs on your own, it seems like an ideal time to call in an expert.


    I have this other friend who is half-Asian. He grew up in an area where everyone else was black or white. Now an adult, he just is not attracted to Asian women at all. “That’s kind of un-P.C.,” I say. “Well,” he says, “I know it’s messed up, but no matter how pretty they are they all remind me of my Mom, sister, or grandma, since those were the only Asians I had met until college.”

    I had a similar thing going for quite a while — I’ve only recently started finding men with facial hair at all sexually attractive, because they’ve always reminded me of my uncle (who is my favorite uncle, and attractive in an avuncular sort of way, but still…avuncular.)

  60. Anon and others who are struggling:

    The thing about being married to someone for any length of time is that physical attraction does fade, I think for everyone. Even if my husband never got older, or changed his physical shape, I would just not be as attracted to him as I was at the beginning. This is normal and natural and there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling that way. (Of course there’s nothing “wrong” with anyone who might feel wildly, intensely attracted to their partner for the duration of the relationship, it’s just not the norm as far as I have seen.) For some reason, we’re just biochemically oriented toward feeling more lustful and interested about new partners than tried-and-true ones.

    But when it comes to having good sex together, physical attraction and lust are not actually that important. What’s more important is simply having the sex, on a regular basis, and enjoying it.

    Years ago in my current marriage we faced the “meh” way I usually feel about my husband, sexually, and I decided that a possible solution was that we’d just agree to have sex every night. We tried it for a while, and the outcome has been that we have very satisfying, near-nightly sex. No, I don’t experience passion and lust for my husband very often, but it does flare up on occasion; and meantime, he’s pretty happy sexually, too. We don’t experience conflicts over whether or not I want to have sex or am attracted, we just, simply…do it. (And note, I enjoy the act a lot–I’m just not that personally motivated toward it, usually. Much less motivated toward sex than I am toward chocolate, that’s for sure!) And because we are keeping that physical connection going, it sheds a nice warm glow over the rest of our relationship, too.

    This is not to say, of course, that I advocate having sex when one of the partners actively doesn’t want to, or is not physically capable. I’m recommending this only as a solution for the blahs of attraction.

    The whole romance and physical attraction and “being in love” thing is, IMO, a world of fantasy. The reality of life–of working, of being exhausted, of there always being housework and errands to be done, of family demands and social expectations–just does not match with our escapist fantasies about how love is “supposed” to be. I’m not saying anyone is shallow or immature for wanting impassioned romance and blazing attraction and insatiable lust, but I do think that focusing on those things, or expecting them to be more than fleeting, is unrealistic.

    Someone else up-thread said that love is a verb, and I pretty much agree with that. Attraction is a verb, too.

    Another factor that can really affect attraction, but which doesn’t sound like it’s the case with Anon, is other dissatisfactions with the relationship. It’s hard to be physically attracted to and want sex with someone with whom you are fighting about the dishes, or struggling over finances, or conflicting over the kids, and whatnot. The solution there is to somehow resolve those conflicts, or agree to disagree and live in peace about them. Then attraction and sex can find their place again.

  61. Hey, everyone, I’d like to make a request that people not get too much into specifics when talking about what they don’t find desirable. Even if your intentions are perfectly innocuous, mentioning that your partner’s XYZ doesn’t turn you on, or that you can’t imagine feeling the same if zie developed ABC, might very well be hurtful to people who happen to share those characteristics.

    I know you’re talking about YOUR individual preferences, and as I’ve said a bazillion times, attraction is subjective, and what turns one person off will turn another right on. But since most of us here are recovering from a lifetime of conditioning that tells us certain characteristics are objectively unattractive to all right-thinking people, and we will never find love unless we change those characteristics, it can still really sting to hear, “I’m not sure I could love hir if zie had/became _____” (fill in the blank with some physical trait other Shapelings undoubtedly share).

  62. His stated rationale is that you should stay the weight you were at when you started the relationship.

    Which is staggeringly ablist bullcrap.

    Meowser, THANK YOU. I was thinking the same thing. #1, illness is NOT A FAULT, and #2, “should” we stay the same weight and instead let ourselves be crippled by pain/depression/degenerative whatsits/etc.etc.etc.?? I mean, really??? WTF.

  63. Book recommendation: Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch. I really think anyone and everyone who is married and is willing to critically examine their marriage should read it. The basic issue in the book is conflicts over sex (which includes the attraction issue to a certain extent, though I can’t remember whether he addresses it specifically), but Schnarch’s treatment of the underlying dynamics and power struggles, and suggested solutions, are just excellent.

  64. @ Sweet Machine:

    :D OK, but “attract” IS a verb! However, instead of just waiting around for my husband to attract me, I do part of the work to attract me to him.

  65. No! The pedant in me cannot let this stand!

    Thank Maude I didn’t have to be the one to say it. :)

    That doesn’t, of course, mean that the basic point is wrong. It just means that desire is, like love, a verb as well as a noun. But attraction is not!

  66. I also think, along with the idea of attraction ebbing and flowing in a relationship, sexual desire will too, and that’s okay. In some ways I think we have overvalued the role sex should play in relationships. It’s important, but it’s not the most important thing. There are couples who, for various reasons, are unable to have sex, who continue to have very strong relationships.

    I just think both men and women are being sent the message all the time that if you don’t want sex all the time–or at least every time your partner does–there is something wrong with you. This seems especially bad for women, though. If your sex drive goes down after you have a baby, there’s something wrong with you; if your sex drive decreases as you age, there’s something wrong with you; and on and on. Maybe I’m just young and naive, but I feel like it’s highly unlikely, when my husband and I are 70, that we’ll want as much sex as we did when we were 20, and that’s totally fine with me. But I do think we sometimes get the message that if you aren’t having sex 2-3 times a week, and you aren’t like filled with lustful thoughts every time you see your partner, there’s something wrong, which doesn’t seem to be reality.

    I have a friend who does sex research, and she is always amused at how every single study about sex finds that almost every respondant, no matter how much sex they are having, thinks most people are having more. I think when we have this mismatch between the reality of our sex lives and what we’re told our sex lives should be like, it leads people to conclude that there is either something wrong with them or something wrong with their partner.

  67. Anon, I was also going to chime in with the idea that attraction ebbs and flows in long-term relationships. I think that another option might be, as a couple others have pointed out, just waiting it out for a while and using that time to work on your *own* self-acceptance, whether that’s focused on body image or professional confidence or whatever other aspect of your own life seems out of balance.

    You seem to be saying that you know your husband is not the problem, and you know that you can’t change him. So figure out what areas in your own life need bolstering, and focus on those for a while. At the very least, it’ll shift your attention away from your problems with your husband and give that issue a break in your own mind.

  68. Dear Advice Columnists,

    People are not projects. No person can “fix” another person — the best they can do is to love and support that person while they “fix “themselves. Mostly what people can do is to take action to better their own situation or their reaction to a situation. So stop telling people that they need to fix other people, and start giving them advice that they might have a shot at actually doing.

    Me

    Dear Not Attracted,

    If your SO gets angry, yells and pressures you into sex when you don’t want it — causing you to feel “used” and “violated” afterward, this is not OK. The not OK-ness of the situation is the same regardless of anyone’s weight. The problem will not go away if your spouse’s physique undergoes a magical transformation into the body of your dreams. The problem here has nothing to do with your attraction to him — it has to do with the fact that he is being an asshole and treating you with violence and contempt. Have you ever wondered if your lack of attraction to him is caused by the way he treats you? Just a thought, but his weight is the least of your worries right now.

    Me

  69. “I think the question and appropriate answer to: “What do I do now that my spouse has gotten fat and I’m no longer attracted to hir?” is the same as for: “What do I do now that my spouse is no longer financially successful and I’m no longer attracted to hir?”.”

    Yes. People change, physically, emotionally, etc. You can’t control it, and putting pressure on them can easily destroy the relationship. Accept it, and learn to deal with changes in a way that keeps both of you happy and fulfilled, or you are better off apart. And I think that goes for couples that have been dating 6 months, or married 40 years.

    “This wasn’t the sort of change-associated-with-age that people could expect from a partner over the course of a marriage — according to the letter, we’re talking about a gain of 100+ pounds over the course of a few years. That is a major change, and it implies that her husband was basically maintaining one weight (I’m guessing through unhealthy/disordered behavior) until he got married, then changed that *behavior* as soon as they’d tied the knot. Which is the crux of the problem; it’s terrible that this man felt like he couldn’t be loved at the size he naturally is, but his wife feels understandably like the victim of a bait and switch.”

    It seems like it’s pretty common for people to gain a lot of weight after marriage.. there are studies with decent sample sizes showing that while nearly everyone gains with age, those who marry tend to put on more in the first few years regardless of age. And I’ve seen it first-hand many times (my dad put on 30 lbs in the first year my parents were married, for instance, something he always mentioned when he praised her cooking). 100 pounds in such a short time could also have something to do with an underlying health issue, so it might be worth it for him to see a doctor…

  70. I just wanted to add…I love you, Kate. I think is one of the best posts on anything I’ve ever read. And I love how you use the word “shallow,” because that’s the word for shallow people that everyone’s afraid to use. We should all use it more. Attraction is subjective, but if you put a disproportionate emphasis on the physical, you’re shallow. Tough cookies! If people could just admit to being shallow instead of hiding behind cowardly terms like “I like people who stay in shape” or “I prefer younger women/men” or “Caucasians/Asians only, please” *shudder* we could all save ourselves time by hanging out with people as shallow (or not shallow) as we are.

  71. Meowser, on August 21st, 2009 at 6:23 am Said:
    “His stated rationale is that you should stay the weight you were at when you started the relationship.”

    Which is staggeringly ablist bullcrap.

    Along with the possibilities you mention, there’s also the fact that most people gain weight as they age. Hubby points out that even guys who’re marathon runners are “softer around the edges” in their forties than they were in their twenties. And, as you mention, pregnancy can change someone’s metabolism and “natural” weight as well. The cultural standards are totally ageist.

  72. I agree with @Lori. I believe there are romantic relationships that, by mutual agreement, don’t involve sex or even physical attraction (even if they once did). These are a different kettle of fish than a friendship, a family relationship, or any other kind of relationship. I say, if it’s possible to have physical attraction and sex without love, I think it’s also possible to have love without the physical element, if both parties are happy with that.

    But that’s the key. If both parties aren’t happy, then there is a problem. And that’s where situations like the letter writer’s, and anon’s, are so painful (leaving aside the rape in the letter writer’s situation, which is another level of horrible).

  73. this is a lot of comments and I think I’ve only read about the first 1/2, hopefully I will come back later and read more. I do have to say that I really found Kate’s post inspiring and so far the comments have been almost equally as awesome.

    Has anyone ever heard that song “I’ll love you when your hair turns gray, I’ll still want you if you gain a little weight, as long as your love don’t change”…I think it’s called Dontchange and it’s by Musiq Soulchild? This post reminds me of that song, gives me the same warm feeling that someone believes we deserve better than crappy relationships and shallowness.

  74. My husband was a thick sort of guy when I married him, and I wasn’t thin either. The thing that got in the way of our sex life (Apart from kids and work that took him away for a week at a time) was that his belly fell down. And since I’ve got junk in the trunk and a decent pannus fold of my own, figuring out how to get tab A into slot B is pretty damn tricky, especially since we are also sparing sore backs, knees, etc.

    We get by on cuddling and mutual masturbation, pretty much. And every now and again when all the joints appear to be calm and happy and I feel especially athletic and he feels that he isn’t having breathing problems, we actually try putting tab A into slot B and it still sometimes will work. But we know we can’t count on that any more.

    Non monogamy happens to work for us, but then again we were non-monogamous a long time ago.

  75. That is horrible advice D:

    I will admit that as much as he tends to get villified here for his stance on fat or whatever, I rather like Dan Savage. (And as I recall, when he’s telling people that their partner owes it to them to stay in reasonable shape, he’s telling people who have explicitly said that said partner is spending most of their time in front of the tv stuffing their face with junk, so, um, that’ at least the kind of fatty that might reasonably be able to stop being fat. And he says that if you start out fat and that’s one of the reasons your parter is attracted to you that you shouldn’t extreme diet to skinny and expect to keep them. Equal opportunity, at least.)

    I am completely unsurprised that the E Jean column is at Elle, though. Before I even looked at the link I thought “definitely cosmo or similar”. Sigh. Columns like that are always suck.

    I think I rambled and forgot the point I was trying to make. I seem to always do this when I write anything >_<

  76. The problem is that Savage believes that body size is a choice.

    This is part of Dan Savage’s own baggage, and something he talks about fairly candidly. Most of his family-of-origin members are quite fat and also not particularly physically active, and he believes that only his own extremely rigorous diet and exercise regime keeps him from not being a fat and out-of-shape person, which is something he fears intensely.

    Although I admire his candor, I think that it might be wiser for him to recuse himself from giving advice on an issue around which he clearly has deep issues.

  77. Here’s a relevant link, piece written by a man whose appearance has drastically changed due to cancer: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/20/when-cancer-changes-your-appearance/

    Obviously he has no choice about how he looks right now. But in our culture we believe (erroneously) that fat people do have a choice. Or that dark people should at least try to look less dark and more blonde, or etc.

    Assuming a person is gravely ill, and his/her appearance has changed, yet the ability to have sex remains–what a powerful gift that person’s partner can give, by seeing-as-attractive and actively-desiring and initiating sex. THOSE are the real choices in the equation. How awesome would that make the sick partner feel, to know that s/he is so special, that looks really do not matter?

    And if a person is fat, or has dark skin, or whatever–the same thing. How awesome does that person feel to know that s/he is really desirable and worth it?

    So yeah, I guess I’m coming down on the side that says attraction IS a choice.

    We are all dying, every moment. We are all disfigured and broken by life. But we have the power to love, and the opportunity to grace others with that love.

    And, in honesty, I am uncomfortable even talking about attraction in the abstract. The whole concept feels objectifying–not just objectifying OF me, but I feel like I am objectifying others (both male and female) when I talk about the specifics of my attraction to physical parts. That is not a good feeling. And/or when we talk about being “repulsed” by various body issues, it seems to me like we just reveal a basic abhorrence at the messy imperfection of life.

  78. Dan Savage’s philosophy on this whole thing actually really pisses me off.

    As I am reminded pretty regularly by the example of my parents, gaining weight is probably the LEAST bad thing that could happen to someone over the course of a relationship. (My mother has had to learn how to walk three times in my lifetime due to various major events that caused brain damage. My dad always jokes that he is on his third wife.)

    This issue makes me so angry. I don’t want to say people should just take it for the team because they are married, so deal. That’s unfair (and I totally think Kate’s response was SPOT ON as usual.)

    What I DO want to say is that if you can’t see yourself being with the person you’re with +100 pounds, or +cancer, or – breasts, or – key motor function YOU SHOULD NOT FUCKING GET MARRIED.

    The odds that the person you marry will look and be the same as the person you are married to 5-10-20 years down the line are exactly 0. Maybe what we really need as a society is better reflection BEFORE making what is supposed to be a lifelong commitment.

  79. I haven’t read all the comments, but I saw the ones asking what people can do if they are losing their sense of attraction to their partners. In response to a notorious Dan Savage post from 2007, Laurie Toby Edison and Debbie Notkin of Body Impolitic wrote this post, that I think has a lot of good, concrete advice (if someone posted earlier, my apologies):
    http://laurietobyedison.com/discuss/?p=459

  80. @ Anon and others with this issue:

    I’d also like to chime in that attraction changes over time. My husband and I have a good marriage but we also found our passion fade over time (seems natural as life happens) and our sex life went in cycles of interest (some really low, some high points).

    I also found that when I was suffering from depression, I lost a lot of my feeling of attraction for him. Is it possible that this could be affecting Anon or some of the others? Maybe. Certainly as my depression faded, I started remembering what I found attractive about my husband in the first place (I now think he is one of the most handsome men I know–but wouldn’t have said that then–odd, huh?).

    I do recommend working out your own feelings a bit, trying to be romantic or forward (you know, pretend a bit or do something different–sometimes I “pretend” interest and then find that I am, in fact, interested right away), and perhaps counseling.

  81. On not being attracted to your (now fat, bald, aging, or somehow changed partner) I want to agree with the following wisdom up there:

    1) chemistry DOES ebb and flow, but

    2) sexual attraction to each other is a valid dealbreaker – so ebb with no flow is a good reason to end something, and

    3) you cannot ask your partner to hurt themselves to conform to a standard you think might bring your sex life back.

    But I want to add – the standard may not be the issue at all.

    When I was about 14, just getting my puberty on, I grew panicked that I didn’t find Pierce Brosnan gorgeous whereas my aunt did – that I was, in fact, most attracted to 14 year old boys. Oh, no! I thought, I am attracted to children! Well, indeed that’s ridiculous; of course I matured past finding 14 year old boys attractive. But I never did grow a predilection for Pierce Brosnan.

    And that was my first experience of the problem is not what we think it is.

    Without getting too much into detail, I had confirmation – a very long term relationship where the sex was awful because I was no longer at all attracted to the guy. I blamed it on X,Y,Z.

    Only NOW I’m in a long term relationship where there’s at least factor X and Y, and I find my partner hawt.

    Z wouldn’t be a dealbreaker, either.

    My ex and I were supremely badly matched and we just couldn’t really tell without space. We loved each other. A lot. But going for beer 10 years later and it was obvious — we were simply and completely mismatched, growing in opposite directions.

  82. sexual attraction to each other is a valid dealbreaker

    I agree that it can be, but I also think that sexual attraction is not necessarily related to physical appearance. When I’m not attracted to my husband, it’s rarely because he’s sweaty or stinky or just not looking very good (although that sometimes happens). It’s because I’m upset with him or in a bad mood or we’re in a rough patch.

    But I guess that’s what people have been saying all along. People feel like, “I’m not sexually attracted to my partner any more; if only s/he lost 50 pounds/got hair transplants/got a face lift” but really the loss of sexual attraction probably has nothing to do with those things. I’ve also heard of many cases, as somebody above pointed out, where somebody dumps his wife because she’s “too fat,” only to end up soon after in a relationship with a woman the exact same size as the wife he just left.

  83. And as I recall, when he’s telling people that their partner owes it to them to stay in reasonable shape, he’s telling people who have explicitly said that said partner is spending most of their time in front of the tv stuffing their face with junk, so, um, that’ at least the kind of fatty that might reasonably be able to stop being fat.

    No no no. There is no special “kind of fatty” that can just work to be thin and so they have some obligation to do so.

    Lori, I think that while for some people, attraction is based that strongly on emotional connections, for a lot of other people the physical attraction aspect is necessary to be turned on. Shallow or not. People are different. I would hope that the people who are attracted to more limited physical characteristics would be able to work to be flexible about them, because of, you know, aging, but if you can’t, well, Kate’s advice is spot on.

  84. Anon, this post is a good one for the specific issue of finding your partner unattractive because of a change in their appearance.

    I’d like to add another perspective – I’m on an antidepressant that kills my desire for sex. I still enjoy sex when I have it, and I still have orgasms both from sex and masturbation, but I rarely feel desire for sex, with my partner or anyone else. So what I do is, I talk myself into it. I remind myself that if we do have sex, it will be fun, it will feel good, I’ll have an orgasm, I’ll give my partner pleasure, and we’ll bond physically. (It’s kind of similar to the way I talk myself into exercise – something else I enjoy but rarely feel desire to do). I wonder if this is something people who lose their desire for their partners could try.

  85. I agree that advice is good. I would wonder about the advisablility of somebody who is aware from the outset that their ability to be sexually attracted to somebody is really dependent on their maintaining certain physical characteristics getting married in the first place, though. I mean, sometimes what’s done is done, but if somebody who knows that about themselves should probably think really long and hard before making a commitment like that. I guess I feel like relationships have trade-offs, and if you want the security of a lifelong commitment, you might have to either work really hard to extend your preferences or be willing to put always feeling sexually attracted to a partner a bit further down on the priority list. And, if you are going to be extremely rigid about physical preferences, you might need to give up the security of a lifelong commitment, out of fairness to your potential partner.

  86. Sorry for the physical characteristic mentioned upthread, Kate.

    Oh, no prob, Alison! I just saw that happen a couple of times and figured it would be good to head it off. It wasn’t some huge violation of the comments policy or something.

    Volcanista, thanks for addressing the “special fatty” issue. I saw that before but forgot to respond.

  87. Random note to really-wacked-out advice columnist (um, RAPE, duh, you idiot):

    IMMOLATION = either
    1) being killed as an act of sacrifice, or, more commonly,
    2) being killed via fire

    Seriously, folks, reading comprehension. YOU CAN ACHIEVE IT!

  88. Anon, I think you’re in a tough position there’s been a lot of good advise upthread. I’d just add that, with ebb and flow, one thing that can keep us stuck in ebb is some of the guilt you seem to be feeling – if you feel like you really should be attracted, but aren’t, that can create pressure, which further kills your desire, creating a kind of negative feedback loop. So, anything you can do to try to take pressure off- maybe seeing a therapist to whom you can share your thoughts and get a non-judgmental response, might help.

    If the ebb’s been going on a long time, and the flow doesn’t come back, but leaving doesn’t feel like an option, a separation might give you a chance to really take the pressure off and potentially come to see him in a new light.

  89. Thanks, SM. I try to laugh at this shit too. My horse could use the love, but that is just not on.

    Thanks Kelly, I would really appreciate it. I love him so much that trying to describe it just sounds stupid as hell.

    To K:

    Yes, I have a major mood disorder. It makes it harder to accept already-hard things for sure. I’ve been getting help, as they say, for years and while I know that in me, this disease will never go away completely, I’m in a good phase right now re: the depression thing. My sex drive is quite troublesomely active. I still feel very little physical attraction to my partner, alas, beyond “warm body, pulse, will do.” It’s really irritating, to be honest, and not real flattering to me, I’m afraid.

    And, at last, to Kate:

    THANK YOU. Seriously. That helps some.

    I actually had a friend go through the same thing, breaking up with a spouse because they loved each other, but weren’t attracted to each other. I felt so bad, because I saw a lot of us in their relationship to begin with, and also in what she talked about when she talked about going through the whole mess. I think they are both brave and strong and amazing for doing it, but I am so sorry that they had to. I desperately want them both to be happy.

    I’m in a relationship where I can have sex with other people. I’ve done it before and sometimes it worked out great, but it doesn’t usually go well when he’s having a hard time, which he really is right now, so I have to table that for at least a while out of consideration. I’m in such a beat-down place about my own appearance anyway that I find the prospect of trying to find a fuck-puppy who IS my type terrifying. Beyond the body image crap, the logistics of finding and dealing with a play partner is forbidding, but that’s stuff that I should take up elsewhere, and can, and will. So at least there’s that much.

    I can’t leave him. I depend on him to live. That’s not the ideal situation, but independence is a cultural ideal I can’t live up to. I am mentally ill, I cannot hold a job, and I cannot take care of myself for long periods of time. I wish I could know for sure that I’m here because I want to be, but I don’t know because I don’t have that choice, and that haunts me. I can’t help but think that leaving him because I might like fucking someone else more is just . . . so stupid when we work so well together.

    I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be depressing. It’s just . . . we don’t live ideal lives, any of us, and the process of dealing with this shit is so often tied down with *other* shit that we have to change in order to make progress, and sometimes that’s shit we can’t change. Sometimes it’s the lesser of two evils. It’s hard to make that call, and hard to try to make something good out of the lesser evil without knowing if it’s even possible.

    Thanks for being patient, and letting me talk. This has hurt me for months, and I’ve had nowhere to talk about it. Not to friends, only to my therapist, who is amazing but who I can only see twice a month, and then I am usually talking about the things I’m trying to deal with that are worse than this. It’s been really lonely, and I really hate that feeling.

  90. Anon, I feel for both you and your husband, really. You sound like you’re really in agony over this, whereas most people in your position seem to be, “How could so and so do this to me? Fuck them!”

    I think Kate is right — people lose their attraction to their partners all the time, regardless of what they look like. Look at all the movie stars and rock stars and whatnot who get dumped and cheated on and so forth, or have done likewise to their perfectly attractive partners, then stuck with the next ones they connected with; if looks alone made lasting chemistry, that wouldn’t be happening. If you do leave, and anyone asks why, that’s what you can say, there just wasn’t any spark anymore. We tried and tried and tried, and it just wasn’t happening for me. What else are you supposed to do?

    Unfortunately, I don’t think you’re going to get out of this without hurting your husband’s feelings, unless he secretly has someone stashed away on the side waiting for him. But you can minimize it by telling him it’s not his fault. Which it isn’t, unless there’s a behavioral reason unrelated to his looks that explains why you’re not responding to him. It also might be that your lower chakras “know” something that your uppers aren’t yet aware of; my dad cheated on my mom (who was, FWIW, stunningly gorgeous) and superficially that was the reason they split up, but years later it’s apparent that the real reason was because they were very different people who wanted very different lives, and they were going in different directions.

  91. I noticed the incorrect usage of the word “immolation” as well. I wondered if perhaps the columnist was going for an esoteric metaphor.

  92. [i/] I mean, sometimes what’s done is done, but if somebody who knows that about themselves should probably think really long and hard before making a commitment like that.[/i]

    But for most people, it’s not a zero sum game. I mean, characteristics I *thought* were deal breakers ten years ago turn out now not to be such a big deal. And in other cases, while *generally* I’m not attracted to characteristic X, I do happen to be wildly attracted to someone who is characteristic X. So assuming I thought there was some chance of my lover becoming X, or discovering hirself to be X, how could I know whether I’d find it to be something unpleasant but bearable, an utter dealbreaking turn-off, or something that’s pretty hot with the right person?

    I don’t think we can know these things ahead of time, and I bet most people have at least one thing they *think* is a dealbreaker, and a whole bunch of them are potential futures. Not just the physical, but the mental, spiritual, emotional states, food preferences, hopes for the future, earning potential . . . I mean, good luck with that.

    I do think it’s a super good idea if you can discuss your fears about the future with your partner in an open and nonjudgmental way, or at least consider them yourself, but trying to create actuarial tables of turn-off potentials and chances of you continuing to be attracted based on their other attraction profiles, then breaking up with someone on the basis of those odds seems kind of . . . self-limiting. Although also an excellent short story idea, in sort of a dystopic kind of way.

  93. I wondered if perhaps the columnist was going for an esoteric metaphor.

    Yeah, that’s how I read it. It’s a crap metaphor, but it sounds good next to “violation.”

  94. I second the other married folks who have said these things come in cycles–sometimes there will be a few hawt years, sometimes a low year/month.

    It was very difficult for me to learn that not every month-long sexual schlump was a cause for zomg! the mawwiage! is! dooooomed! breakdown.

    However, it can be a sign of Impending Issues, and honestly it can be a little hard to tell the slump that needs to be addressed from the one that just needs to be waited out.

    As far as weight gain/loss/dramatic physical change of any nature–it happens. You don’t have an obligation to maintain your 18 yr old bod, that’s for sure. I DO think you have a duty to your spouse to do your best to stay as healthy and happy as you can, whatever that means for you. Obviously life can get quite dramatically in the way of these things, but the successful couples I know get up, dust themselves off, and goddamn well figure out how to have sex with a stoma bag/missing leg/no breasts. With an inventive and loving partner, there’s nearly always a way.

    I do take issue with folks who do a kind of false advertising, dieting, overstating their sex drive, or over-exercizing (etc, it isn’t limited to these things) right up until marriage and then dropping it all once they’ve landed a spouse. That seems irresponsible and cruel, *although* I understand the fear many women live with that if they do not inflict that torment on themselves, they will never find The Right Guy, and the post-wedding slump may be their final sigh of relief at being able to finally STOP.

  95. Sarah L said;

    “We are all dying, every moment. We are all disfigured and broken by life. But we have the power to love, and the opportunity to grace others with that love.”

    Keechy bows to Sarah L.’s wisdom and poetry.

  96. Anon, I’ll pitch my 2 pennies out here and hope maybe they can help. It’s all from my personal experiences, though, so I have no idea if they apply to you or not.

    Like most people I’ve gone through stages of lessened attraction to my partner. These periods tended to coincide with times I was having issues with my own body/attractiveness and it’s possible that projecting those frustrations outward were somewhat of a relief. It’s also possible that I was just so focused on those issues with myself that I was unable to remove my focus on them when it came to other people. The more I’ve learned body-acceptance the more I’ve been able to freely explore and cherish my partner’s body as well. I’m actually glad I experienced that loss in the first place because what I’ve discovered in myself and him has been mind-meltingly awesome.

    The other times those feelings have ebbed dramatically have been times that I’ve felt most dependent. I have a lot of issues with feeling dependent. For me it comes attached to an especially icky vulnerability and questions about capability, worth, etc. It’s hard for me to maintain an attraction to someone I have that relationship with because it all becomes about that dynamic. It’s only because my partner proves by his actions over and again that I am worthwhile, I contribute, I matter just as much as I ever have that I can participate enthusiastically in the emotional, physical aspects of our relationship. Someday I hope it won’t be dependent on his deliberate reassurances, I’d really like to bring that level of self-acceptance to our relationship myself. But in the meantime I just accept it when he tells me that I deserve this, that I’ve earned it and that we carry each other along.

    What has not worked for me, and I doubt ever would, is to push myself to be in the mood. I know it works for a lot of people, but for me I start to feel used, or mechanical, or objectified in ways that I know my partner would never want. Then when I start to feel like I might be in the mood the next time I actually have to slow it down even more because I hate to initiate, realize that it’s just not happening and then put an end to it early. Even though he’s really understanding, it gives me emotional whiplash. And you can probably imagine what all that questioning does for my libido. So yeah, if it works for you great, but my advice would be if it doesn’t, don’t push it.

    What does work for me is doing stuff together that we enjoy. The whole dance/cooking/photography lesson, or dinner and a good movie cliche really works for me. Just to spend time together, have fun, open up a bit, smile, watch his face light up. Then cuddling and talking and feeling good about following it where it goes. If it doesn’t lead to sex it’s still worth it to have that time spent simply being us outside of our normal, daily crap.

    I know what you’re going through sucks and I wish you the best of luck finding a healthy way through it.

  97. randomquorum, on August 21st, 2009 at 10:26 am Said:

    Love is a verb. It’s not just something you feel, it’s something you do.

    That is seriously profound. I’m going to steal it and embroider it onto a pillow.

    Feel free. I don’t know where I got it originally. Possibly from Daddy, The Wisest Man in The Entire World, who also taught me gems like “no one can *make* you feel anything,” and “sometimes, darlin’, the real world just sucks.”

  98. Off-topic, but I just heard a new angle on pushing WLS. In a segment about Latin American Healthcare and the Human Touch, there’s a comparison between American and Latin American care from a woman with a hernia. When she tried to get treatment for the hernia in the USA, she was told that there was no need to operate unless she also got a gastric bypass, and there was a lot of pressure for her to get the gastric bypass.

    I’ve read enough about the prejudice-driven denial of medical care to fat people, but this is still enough to shock me.

    When she was in Guatamala, the hernia became serious, and she got good care there.

  99. I think I might be missing something here, because I’m not sure how this is rape. The way I read that part of the letter was that when she doesn’t want to have sex with him, and explains the reason, he gets mad and starts yelling and arguing, and sometimes she agrees to have sex to make the arguing stop for awhile. I agree that he’s a creep for arguing her into sex when he knows she doesn’t want it… but I didn’t see anything suggesting that she was in danger from him, or that there was a reason she couldn’t say no. I’m reluctant to even say anything, because I don’t want to get lumped in with the scum of the internet who think, for example, that if the woman is asleep it doesn’t count as rape, or that you have the obligation to have sex with your husband whether you want to or not… but I’m really confused here. The letter could be leaving out information that would make the situation into rape, but the way it reads now, I just don’t see it.

  100. Zoe, being coerced into sex with arguing and yelling such that the only reasonable way to end the confrontation is to submit to sex you don’t want is rape.

    It is perhaps not a very prosecutable form of rape, but being browbeaten (if not physicaly beaten) into consent is not actually consent.

  101. Occasionally, I’ll let him “use” my body to appease him so he’ll stop arguing and yelling.

    I have to say I read it in a similar way to Zoe.

    She said she’s appeasing him. A lot of people do this, especially women, as we know society often encourages this.

    I do not for one second take it lightly, it has consequences that are often overlooked. I wouldn’t call it rape though which is without consent.

    She is actually colluding in her own mis-use, she is consenting, which makes it not necessarily less serious, but different and more insidious.

  102. Wriggles – consent doesn’t count if it’s a result of coercion. If a man threatens a woman with a knife and says: “Have sex with me or I’ll cut you” and she says: “Okay, yes, I’ll have sex with you”, that obviously doesn’t count as consensual sex because the consent wasn’t given willingly. Similarly, if the reason this woman is giving her consent is because it’s the only way to make a (bigger, stronger) man stop yelling at her (which can be very frightening and intimidating), I would call that rape.

  103. but I didn’t see anything suggesting that she was in danger from him, or that there was a reason she couldn’t say no.

    But Zoe, she DID say no — by declining to have sex with him — which is what made him start “arguing and yelling” so much that she felt she had to give in to make it stop. When a bigger, stronger man feels SO ENTITLED to your body that his response to you declining to have sex with him is to get really, angry and harass and intimidate you until you agree to let him “violate” you (her words), how can you say it doesn’t sound like she was in danger from him? He gets sex from her by harassment and initimdiation and he thinks that’s totally cool. You really think he wouldn’t try to get it by force? He practically does already.

    She doesn’t have to hold out to make sure he will actually rape her by force to make it rape if she gives in out of fear before that point. By making it sound like she could have totally avoided this whole thing by just being more assertive, or something, you’re placing the responsibility on her. That’s blaming the victim, and it’s not okay.

  104. Well, I wasn’t expecting a psychology PhD’s opinion from an advice columnist; a fashion mag advice columnist no less. But what disturbs me is how her “advice” jumps from “letting him use your body unwillingly is not cool” to “encourage him to lose weight and see how it goes!”

    Like…she’s purporting the age-old idea society’s been shoving down our throats all our lives that this woman s better off having a man she’s unhappy with than no man at all?

  105. You should Definitely be an advice columnist.

    I actually got dumped by a guy because I’d gained a few pounds (12? 15 or so?) and he was no longer attracted to me. I didn’t find this out until a few months after the breakup – we had a fun drunken night together, and he confessed. And you know what? I laughed and actually felt better. I hadn’t understood *why* he broke up with me in the first place (not that we always need a reason) – I got the “treat her badly and she’ll break up with you” treatment, and promptly ended things with him, though I knew it was really his doing. Little did I know, it was for *this* ridiculous reason. I’ve long felt people are just attracted to *different types* of people – and there’s likely someone who adores nearly every type. I didn’t mind my extra 15. The fact that he did, well, so what? We weren’t for each other, and he could go on seeking his thinner future girlfriends. I escaped having him ignore, berate, treat me badly, and just not-be-attracted to me for years to come. Imagine getting pregnant, breastfeeding, just getting older and changing with someone like that?

  106. Zoe, it is rape by the “yes means yes” standard, where only when both of the partners are freely (without coercion) and enthusiastically (of perhaps varying degrees) participating it is consensual. Just because she said yes or even initiated it doesn’t make it consensual if she said yes or initiated it because of her partner’s pressure or intimidation, which is definitely the case with the original letter-writer.

  107. I think part of the difficulty that people have with the word “rape” is that people use it as a technical legal term as well as in a more social/psychological sense.

    Whether or not the letter writer was raped (in the legal sense of the word) depends on things like expression of consent, capacity, force, coercion, etc. And to be honest, that is a call for a prosecutor, and ultimately for a jury to make.

    But in a social/emotional sense, what she describes is clearly rape. Look at how she describes it — She doesn’t engage in sex unless he acts in an intimidating way by “arguing and yelling” at her. Even then, she lets him “use her body” to “appease him”. She feels “violated” afterward. Her perceptions of the act and its aftermath are clearly those of someone who has not consented. This may not reach the threshold of “legal” rape, but it meets the description of the more colloquial, social sense.

    And it is a good thing that the legal threshold is set so high. If someone gets sent to prison, it should not be over what (from a different point of view) could look like a misunderstanding. But as a part of the healing process, it is often important for victims to fully recognize that they did not consent, and that something real and traumatic happened. Giving the trauma a name and descriptor is an important tool in healing and in existing in the world as a trauma survivor.

  108. Heather, yes, I think that’s the problem I was having with the term. I don’t think that this woman’s husband bullying her into having sex is at all okay… but it doesn’t fit the definition of rape. I didn’t know it was being used here in a colloquial sense that covers other forms of wrongness.

  109. I believe the term rape was used deliberately to express the seriousness nature of the violation, not as another form of wrongness.

  110. My god, Kate. THANK YOU. I was in the salon getting my hair cut and I was brought this issue of Elle to read. (I’m not big on fashion mags for all the obvious reasons). You, in this blog, captured EXACTLY my issues with the advice given and what I wanted to ADVISE the woman writing in to do. I had already sent an email off to John Mackey and a few other folks that week and my teaspoon needed a rest. So thanks for the post.

  111. I have to admit, about a year or so into our marriage, my wife and I had both gained a good bit of weight.

    I lost what I’d gained (putting me at the same level of overweight that I’d been at before getting married) :), but my wife didn’t.

    I hate to admit that it took me some time and perspective to find her as attractive after the weight gain. Some of it had nothing to do with weight – the first six months of marriage are like one big honeymoon – but some of it had to do with that stupid “fantasy of thin.”

    I’m glad to have pretty much gotten past that trap. Your blog has helped quite a bit. Thanks.

  112. Becky,

    The scenario you mentioned doesn’t involve consent of any kind. The man with the knife is signalling his intent.

    He’s informing you of what’s about to occur, that’s the point, to use someone without their consent because you want to get off on that. Sex is the vehicle, not the object.

    What I’m getting at is that rape is not the only way you can be or feel violated, sullied or mis-used.

    I’m saying you can feel violated, even be violated with the involvement of your consent, it isn’t always either/or.

    You say that it doesn’t ‘count’, but for me it’s not about counting, it’s about knowing that your actions don’t have to be saintly or perfect in order to be allowed to feel pain, regret or cause for complaint even.

    If that demand is made of you, even by the well meaning, it’s just another form of shaming because its suggest that you can only be hurt if your actions met some (in my view falsely) impeccable standard that isn’t often the way it is in real life.

    That is one of the reasons why women are still unlikely to report rape, in fact it’s why a lot of people don’t report a whole lot of outrages perpetrated on them.

    In this case, the whole thing can be summed up by taking the first line and last two questions;

    My husband has become obese, and I have no desire to be intimate with him. Is there something wrong with me? Should I still want to have sex with my husband?

    This to me is why she “occasionally” permits him access to her, she said it’s when she explains why and he responds by arguing, loudly, that love should mean it doesn’t matter what a person looks like, that is pricking her conscience and causing her to yield against her true desire (or lack of it).

    He should accept her wishes, so of course should she, (he should also have told her that the gym and WW was out too). But I’m not sure there can be a weight limit on hurt feelings and angry reactions.

    Miz E. Jean decides to cynically bingosquare him into a rapist.

    Instead of telling the writer to call the police, or run to a shelter. At the end of all this, what does this really mean?

    I realize it’s politically incorrect these days to tell a wife to table her spouse because of his weight, but it’s your husband’s anger and his colossal unkindness (you don’t want sex; he forces you to) that are the true reasons you never uttered the word love in your letter.

    Eh?

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