Dealbreaker: He Hated My Clothes

I am newly single (again). After a fun, but exhausting, up-and-down five months, my boyfriend-ish-person and I broke up this week. I’m sad about it — I really did fall for him and had so much fun with him. But I’m also a little relieved. The drama was wearing thin. Plus, he hated my clothes. Yeah. My clothes.

I wanted his approval in this area especially because it’s associated with something that is key in a romantic relationship — sex appeal. So long as he didn’t like what I was wearing, I felt like I wasn’t pretty, that I wasn’t sexy.

It started out innocently enough. The night of my birthday party, he came by my apartment to pick me up. I was planning to wear an A-line gold silk dress, with this cool metallic ruffled panel down the front — very Art Deco. I got it for $25 at a consignment store — it was festive, but as we were having my party at a dive bar, it wasn’t so fancy-pants that I would feel out of place. The point is, I was comfortable. I was psyched.

“What do you think?” I asked. He was not enthused. He didn’t think it was festive enough — or sexy. I wasn’t really looking to be sexy — dressing typically “sexy” isn’t my thing. Low cut and super short doesn’t feel like me. That stuff is better left to Cosmo models. After giving frowny face to a couple other dresses I pulled out of my closet, we eventually settled on a blue dress with an open back that I hadn’t worn before. I felt good about how I looked in it, but I was also feeling a little off-kilter. This was the first time a dude had actually thumbs-downed an outfit — and not in a joking “I don’t get harem pants” sort of way. He really didn’t like that dress I had on.

Comments about my clothes started coming more frequently.

“That doesn’t fit you.” “Why do you have so many prints?” “Everything in your closet looks exactly the same.” “You dress so conservatively.” “Why don’t you show off your figure more?” “You can’t see your body shape in that.” “I like simple.”

He also liked long hair, which was unfortunate, I suppose, because I had chopped mine off to shoulder length about nine months ago. “Your hair was so pretty long,” he said wistfully when looking at an old photo of me. I got my hair trimmed anyway.

In short, he had a lot of opinions. In fairness to him, often I asked what he thought, mostly because I was curious as to whether I had “gotten it right” yet. I am generally a secure person — I know I am good at my job, I know I am at least marginally talented at a few things, I know I give a mean blow job — but here was something I suddenly felt unsure about. I had always thought I had good taste in fashion, but this person I really liked, hell, loved, was saying the opposite.

I wanted his approval in this area especially because it’s associated with something that is key in a romantic relationship — sex appeal. So long as he didn’t like what I was wearing, I felt like I wasn’t pretty, that I wasn’t sexy.

Perhaps he could have “made up” for the disapproval in my clothing choices by softening the critique with some compliments. “You look so pretty,” said suddenly and meaningfully every once in a while may have gone a long way. “I love your ass,” might have taken the sting out of “that dress is ugly.” That didn’t happen often at all. I made it clear that these criticisms hurt me, that I didn’t understand why he had such strong opinions about a subject no other guy had seriously ever even noticed before — yet they continued. He said he was being honest. Apparently, no one told him that honesty is not always the best policy, especially when it leads to needlessly hurting someone you’re supposed to care about.

One night we went to see a band play and then stopped by to see a female friend of his who was DJing at a bar near my apartment. She was outside when we arrived and as we were making friendly conversation, he suddenly said to her, “Hey, you look great!” It was the most sincere compliment I had ever heard him give in regards to someone’s appearance and he had given it to her. I wasn’t jealous. It wasn’t like he was flirting. I was just sad to realize that he had never complimented me on the way I looked in such a sincere and enthusiastic way. I asked him later what it was about her outfit that he liked so much, mostly out of curiosity, as I still didn’t “get” what he didn’t like about the way I dressed. It spiraled into a fight, which I’m sure sounds really immature. Two adults fighting over clothes? Seriously?

The truth is, it wasn’t about clothing. There were other issues at play. I mentioned in a previous piece that he was insecure and self-loathing, both of which are flip-side characteristics of narcissism. I think, consciously or unconsciously, he was trying to chip away at my confidence, because I had so much more of it than him. He would have been hard-pressed to find many areas in my life he could nitpick, but going for something shallow, like my clothing/hair, was easy.

The thing is, it didn’t work. While he has definitely hurt my feelings, I am secure enough as a person to know that changing who I am — because the way I express myself with my clothes is part of who I am — to meet someone else’s approval, and to make themselves feel better, is not a worthwhile way to spend my time.