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.
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?