Dear Wendy: “My Boyfriend Takes Issue With My Weight”
I have been in a long-distance relationship for six months with a guy I’ve known about two years through work; we’ve seen each other in person for what amounts to a month during vacations and we talk daily via Internet chat and video. I’m in my late twenties; he’s in his early thirties. I really care for him and thought I was falling in love. Things were going really well on our last vacation up until the end of the trip when I asked him was there anything in the relationship bothering him, and he told me that while I had a very pretty face, my weight has been an issue for him. I have dropped some weight since I’ve first known him and currently wear S-M shirts, US size 8 in pants. He soon apologized after seeing how much it hurt me, but I know it’s honestly what he feels, and is a factor in his attraction to me. He said that while it was a factor, it wasn’t a “dealbreaker.” I can’t stop thinking about it and my self-esteem has taken a bruising. I was working on losing more weight, and this could be a kick in the butt to get on it, but I wonder what it could mean long-term. I sometimes want to end the relationship because of this and because he doesn’t seem to be as attached as I am, but a part of me wants to see what happens next year. Perhaps I’m moving too fast anyway. What do you think? — Weighty Issues
In the past I’ve gotten flack for saying it’s not totally inappropriate for someone to express concern over a partner’s weight gain or to ask his or her partner to lose weight for the benefit of their physical relationship. I know that’s a controversial viewpoint, but it’s how I feel. There are certainly exceptions, but in general, if a couple is in a loving, committed relationship and one partner has let him or herself “go” to the point that it affects not only his health, but the other person’s attraction and sexual enjoyment, I personally think it’s a little selfish for that person not to make an effort to get in shape (unless, of course, there’s a physical or medical reason he or she can’t). However, yours doesn’t sound like a particularly loving or committed relationship, and this isn’t an issue of you letting yourself go; this is an issue of your boyfriend wanting you to change before he fully commits to you. Screw that. You aren’t a custom-made object your boyfriend can order to his particular liking. If he isn’t attracted or interested enough to accept you exactly how you are now, you shouldn’t waste any more time investing in a relationship that will probably have a short shelf life. Move on and find someone who doesn’t give your self-esteem a beating.
I am worried about my brother-in-law, my husband’s younger brother. He is a 22-year-old who’s generally a good kid, but exhibits severe self-destructive behavior due to (I think) him being a closeted gay. It’s been pretty obvious to my husband and me for several years now that he’s gay, although he makes anti-gay jokes and tries so desperately to put on a tough-guy demeanor. He lives with us and doesn’t have a car. Occasionally, he’ll ask me to come pick him up from a “friend’s house.” When I arrive, it’s obvious what the situation is. Here is my worry: every time he comes home from of these “dates” or “hook ups” or whatever, he spends 5+ hours in the bathroom, showering again and again. He also suffers some sort of OCD-like anxiety disorder which ends with him picking at his skin to the point of injury and infection, which has landed him in the hospital twice.
My husband and I are afraid to sit him down and say “listen, it’s obvious you’re gay, you don’t have to lie about it.” It seems to me like his issue isn’t that he’s afraid of telling other people, but that he can’t admit it to himself. I feel like if he just didn’t want to be open about it, the 5+ hour bathroom time and the anxious skin-picking wouldn’t happen. My husband and I both agree that this isn’t a problem for us to confront, but a trained professional therapist. The problem is money for a therapist. My husband and I are just scraping by, and though my BIL has a job and is able to pay his bills, he wouldn’t be able to afford regular therapy either. I’ve looked for free or pro-rated therapists, but everything I’ve found seems to be for drug addiction. Any suggestions on how to just be there for him without coming right on out and saying “I know you’re gay” would be very helpful. — Concerned Big SIL
First of all, I commend you for being an observant and concerned family member and wanting to approach this issue as sensitively as possible. I would continue to research free or sliding scale therapy in your area if you haven’t already exhausted all the resources available. Have you called the psych departments at your local universities and colleges? Students in the final year(s) of their PhD programs have to fulfill a certain number of clinical hours before graduating and often offer their counseling for free to community members. I would also contact your local chapter of PFLAG, the organization for parents, family and friends of lesbians and gays. It’s an invaluable source of information and support, and can help guide you through the process of supporting your BIL. Another organization you can connect with is the GLBT National Help Center which, in addition to listing 15,000 support resources, “provides free and confidential telephone and internet peer-counseling, information and local resources for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning callers throughout the United States.” You don’t have to do this alone; help is available free of charge, and these wonderful organizations I’ve listed are good places to start looking for it.
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