Dear Dr. Chani,
I am in my late 30s and I would love to get married. A few months ago, I began dating Danny, a tall, intelligent and interesting man. We quickly discovered that we have the same sense of humor. I was immediately attracted to him and we progressed into my first serious relationship. I was excited but afraid to be too hopeful. Then, a few weeks ago, he began to bring up my weight as an issue that he is concerned about. To say that I am disappointed would be an understatement. I am terribly afraid about what will happen.
It took me a while to realize that my weight bothered Danny. At first, Danny would bring up his concerns very subtly. For example, I once suggested that we go out for pizza for dinner and he said that maybe we should try to find something healthier. Then, I baked him cookies and he said that we should try not to eat too many because it would be hard to work off the weight. Since we had a great time together and he seemed to like me I did not read too much into these comments until he began being more direct. Recently, Danny told me that he feels I am overweight to the point that it is unhealthy and he would like me to lose weight. I was shocked.
It is true that I am overweight. Frankly, I do not need Danny to enlighten me about it. I have been struggling with my weight my entire life. I have tried every possible diet and have lost weight many times. But I always seem to gain it back. My parents and friends have tried to encourage me to keep at it, but at this point in my life, I have come to terms with the way I am. I do not want to fight the battle of the bulge anymore.
I told myself that I would only be willing to date someone who is okay with my body the way it is. I am mortified by the thought that I will need to worry about my weight in order to stay happily married. Who knows if I will be able to maintain it? I am already feeling stressed and self-conscious just thinking about having to keep my weight down.
Yet, I know that Danny is someone special and men like him do not come along every day. He is the first person that seemed to respect me for who I am and give me a chance. I am wondering if he is right and if I should try to lose weight in order to ease his concern. What do you think?
I can only imagine your angst about your situation. You described an almost idyllic light at the end of your dating tunnel that was abruptly eclipsed by Danny bringing up your weight as an issue. Now you do not know if you should work on this issue or turn around and head back.
It is important to look at this issue from multiple perspectives. There are competing issues that can be behind your feelings and Danny’s feelings. Unless you are in touch with the deeper feelings that might be here, both for you and for Danny, you will find yourselves drifting apart from each other.
It sounds like you feel that if Danny is concerned about your weight, his appreciation and eventual love for you is conditional. You might feel, “If he loves me, let him love me as I am.” It is terrible to feel that your most important relationship is conditional on something, especially something about your appearance. It sounds from your letter that you have been grappling with this issue your whole life—with your family, friends or the world, in general. You have tried to diet so that you could fit into what the world calls attractive or healthy. Yet, after years of attempting to conform to those societal assumptions and adapted norms, you made a decision to break free and give up molding your body shape to fit into society. Now, when Danny raises a concern about your weight, it brings all those feelings to the fore. In addition, you might also be thinking ahead and wondering if Danny’s relationship is predicated on your keeping your weight down, what happens if you do not do that successfully? Will your relationship self-destruct?
Now let’s explore how Danny might see the situation. For one, since Danny is simply a product of a society that often values slimness and associates being overweight with being unhealthy, it might seem understandable for him to have that opinion too. Danny also might not realize what a battle this has been for you all of your life. He might think that you are overlooking this issue or that it is just a bit harder for you to control your eating habits than it is for other people. The examples you give point to the fact that Danny might erroneously see your weight as chiefly a result of eating choices or not doing exercise. He is almost innocently encouraging you on those things and thinks they will easily make a difference.
Keep in mind that it seems that Danny himself understands that this is a delicate issue for you, even without discussing it with you. He did not, at first, tell you directly how much your weight concerns him. He probably intuited that you would be hurt, and he did not want it to seem that your relationship was hinging on that.
Another point to consider is that Danny might feel guilty that he is bothered by your body shape. If so, there is an internal battle in Danny’s mind. He is bothered by your weight, but he is not letting himself fully acknowledge that he is bothered. He is fighting himself internally, which lets it fester in his mind, instead of allowing him to accept your weight the way it is, and then accept and cherish you.
It is important for Danny to allow himself to fully acknowledge that he is bothered by your weight right now. Ironically, that can be an essential step that brings him closer to overcoming his concern. When we allow ourselves to accept that something bothers us, we can more easily let it go. If we do not allow ourselves to think about and vocalize what is perplexing us, it becomes trapped inside and it is hard to resolve. If we let ourselves think about what is on our minds and we talk about it, it is easier to let our concerns disappear.
These are important points for you to think about that can help you work through this issue with Danny. There may be other factors that affect how you and Danny feel as well.
If you feel that your relationship with Danny is worth your investment, you and Danny need to talk about these ideas. The more you are able to understand each other’s feelings about the issue of your weight, the more your conversations will move away from body shape and enter into understanding each other’s life experiences, mindset and values. Ironically, that means that the issue of weight can actually connect you to each other instead of making you grow distant. The more you understand what is behind each other’s feelings and thoughts, the greater your relationship can be.
In a practical sense, how can you eventually resolve this issue after many conversations that you have about each other’s feelings? One way to come to a mutually beneficial decision might be for you to agree to put in effort to bring down your weight, but for Danny to agree not to ever be the one to bring that up. Included in that is for his relationship with you not to be contingent on what your weight is.
It sounds like Danny appreciates you in many ways and values who you are. You had many wonderful experiences together before he brought up the issue of your weight. Hopefully through your discussions and sharing your feelings you will work through this issue together.
Wishing you much success,
Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, and teaches online courses to help you create your ideal relationship. Get free relationship resources and contact her at www.chanimaybruch.com.