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Dear How to Do It,
I am a 32-year-old guy. I have been on several dates with a wonderful woman whom I am interested in continuing to see, and we have already slept together. We have good physical chemistry and I think we are very compatible sexually. But there’s one catch, and unfortunately it involves her body.
She has a flabby stomach and I find this to be a turn-off physically and in terms of what it indicates about her fitness and nutrition habits. Aside from her stomach, she appears in shape. I am fortunate to have genetics that make it relatively easy for me to maintain a good physique (including a six-pack), but I also care a lot about nutrition and physical fitness and I put a lot of effort in. I work out four times a week, in addition to playing on an intramural soccer team and doing bicycle races. I don’t know if this is selfish or spoiled, but I would like to be with someone who is about as fit as I am and who puts in a similar amount of effort. On the one hand, a little stomach flab right now isn’t that big of a deal, but I am concerned about what it could mean for the future that nutrition and fitness habits are not in place.
I am not some meathead fitness bro. I consider myself a feminist and I care deeply about gender equity and egalitarianism in relationships. I know the issue of weight is just so fraught for women in our culture. I think we should all be critical consumers of the body ideals we receive from our culture, since most of that is unrealistic and/or unhealthy. I know all our bodies will change over the course of our lives. In fact, I look forward to growing into old, wrinkly jelly beans with a life partner! But I can’t get around it: I am not attracted to a flabby stomach. To pass up a potential relationship because of such a minor issue would be a mistake, but I also I want to figure out how to honor my own needs and desires here.
I am wondering if you have advice about how to broach this subject with a romantic partner. It feels so crass to say, and I don’t want to say, “I’d like you to lose some weight.”
My thought for how to approach this is, if we progress to dating as boyfriend and girlfriend, to ask if she would be willing to join me on a lifelong fitness and nutrition journey. This stomach issue aside, I genuinely do want to embark on that journey with a partner and think it is something to be excited about. I want to work out together and support each other in eating well and staying fit. I haven’t thought much past this point, but if she agrees, then I think at a later date and as compassionately as I could I would bring up the stomach issue. Thank you for any insights you have on this.
— Tummy Troubles
Rich: This is a meaty one, pun intended.
Stoya: So, that was five paragraphs and kind of one question about how to broach this. And my answer to that question is no, because no matter how you word it, you’re saying, “I’d like you to lose some weight, to fit into my idea of what my partner’s body should look like.” I call bullshit.
Rich: Here’s what I call bullshit on: I think that he’s doing a lot of talking out of both sides of his mouth, the foremost being that he talks about “good physical chemistry, very compatible sexually … but the flabby stomach is a turn-off.” How much of a turn-off could it possibly be if you had good physical chemistry and are compatible sexually? It doesn’t sound like you’re being turned off. It sounds like actually, practically speaking, you’re not turned off, but there’s something inside of you, some little voice inside of you, that still wants to push back on this—this thing that you’ve actually already overcome. He’s already there, and yet the sense that this is an issue persists.
My suspicion is that it’s a society-based, culturally-bred notion of, “That’s not who I see as my partner,” even though it is, actually. Like, you want to continue dating this person.
Stoya: So the thing that he needs to do is consider whether he is capable of having a genuine connection with this woman as she is, because, like he says, he has genetics that make it relatively easy for him to maintain a good physique. I have those genetics and I’m also aware that without those genetics, once you get into your 30s, you have to put in an enormous amount of work.
Stoya: I’m 35, I have to do backups to help my head be supported because otherwise I get like a thing in my neck that’s terrible, because I’m…35. I still look sporty and lean, but in your 30s, your body requires more effort and attention, and what actually matters is my health. And a flabby stomach may be how this woman’s body is, right? Some people have softer spots and women tend to be soft in the middle, over the abdomen, where we are evolutionarily selected for our belly’s ability to protect a baby.
So essentially, if he can’t not be a jerk about this thing, then he needs to go find someone who is super into intermittent fasting and keto and power lifting. Whatever it is, he should recuse himself. Or if he does think he can get over it, great—but step one: Accept that a woman’s body is not your male body.
Stoya: There’s going to be some padding.
Rich: Yes, exactly. And to your point, she may very well be diligent with fitness and eating healthily and yet this is how she carries weight. Maybe she’s not intermittent fasting, maybe she’s not doing keto. The choice between eating white rice sometimes or never might make an appreciable difference on one’s physique. There are certain things that it would be very easy for someone with a different metabolism to take for granted. And that doesn’t mean that the person that is presenting in such a way is “unhealthy” or is not taking care of herself. It just means that her metabolism is different and her body composition is different.
The annoying thing to me about this letter is I feel that this is a person who’s fighting his own mind expansion. He’s in this relationship, he’s already there. He’s crossed the threshold that he didn’t think was possible, and there’s this voice in him telling him, “No, you’re not supposed to have crossed that threshold. You’re supposed to push back.” I mean, live in the moment, man. You found this person. You like her a lot, you think things are progressing, you have good physical chemistry. What else is there? And you did that with someone with some belly flab. Look at that—it’s possible to fall for someone with some belly flab! He did it.
Stoya: And you can be OK with being old, wrinkly jelly beans but you’re probably going to be old, wrinkly, potbelly jelly beans. Eventually the stomach flab will likely come for him, as well.
Rich: Exactly. And I would be a hypocrite if I said that I don’t think that discussions about health have any place in a relationship, because I think that they do. I mean, from a selfish perspective, I care about my boyfriend’s health because I want him to be around. He’s my partner. I need him to be here, so I need him to take care of himself. Him taking care of himself is taking care of me and taking care of us.
Do I expect him to go to Barry’s Bootcamp with me on Sunday mornings and to follow my eating patterns and everything? No, of course not, because those are my decisions that I’ve made. But if I see him not taking care of himself, that freaks me out. And it’s not like I’m just assessing by looking at his body and drawing conclusions. I’m observing his lifestyle.
Stoya: Yeah. Someone that I care deeply about has a health issue that’s going to require a particular kind of diet, and it was a bit of a test for the viability of our relationship. I went to them and I said, “Hey, instead of the dinner out that you suggested, how about you come over and I cook for you?” And they said, “That sounds wonderful. Can I be sous chef?” And I was like, “Yes, that is exactly what I wanted to see. I offered you a healthy choice and you said, ‘Yes and let me assist in this healthy choice.’” That was a good sign to me.
I care about their body; I find their body attractive. And I don’t particularly care when it’s a little fatter, I don’t care when it’s a little skinnier. I care that it functions.
Rich: I think what you just set up is the perfect path forward, because it could speak to this guy’s desires. He could make some comment, it could somehow galvanize her, and that’ll be that. But given everything that women hear about their bodies, it could also have the complete opposite effect. It could shut her down, it could make her depressed.
I don’t think that’s worth risking at this juncture. I think it’s far less risky to set it up in a positive way, like you just did: “Hey, do you want to join me?” They’re in the early stages of their relationship; if she keeps saying, “No, no, no,” then you know that she doesn’t want to have the lifestyle that you do and that it’s not a match.
Stoya: However, I must point out that his line, “Ask if she would be willing to join me on a lifelong fitness and nutrition journey”—if anyone said something like that to me, I would laugh them out of the room. And it wouldn’t just be laughter, it would be cackling. So I would suggest he pull it back about 10 notches—to spare the woman’s feelings, but also to spare his own feelings, because I don’t think that particular phrasing is going to be inoffensive to anyone.
Rich: A hundred percent.
Stoya: “To date me at all, you must promise to sign up for this for the rest of your life.” That would feel very aggressive and presumptive.
Rich: And also, you can’t count on the answer that you’re given. What our writer is asking for is a glimpse into the future. It doesn’t work that way. Sorry, this is what dating and getting to know someone is for. This is a process. You’re going to understand where she’s at with these issues that you care so much about only by hanging out with her and seeing how she responds to different situations.
And by the way, those situations should be invites, right? It should be, “Do you want to do this thing together?” Only through time will you be able to understand what the answer to that is, and then whether or not this is the person you’re looking for. There’s no fast-forward button on this. This is just what you’ve got to do in dating. Luckily, you found someone that you think highly of and have this chemistry with, et cetera. Seems like it’s going great to me, stick with it. You’ve just got to go along and see if it works out.
Stoya: Dating is a process.
Rich: And you’re in it. So, as much as I do love to make our readers’ and letter writers’ lives easier (or to at least try), this is simply just something you have to live through. That is what life is. This is what’s going to inform your character and give you stories and the life experiences that you then look back on and say, “This is how I lived.” So, you’re in it. You’re in the thick of it.
Stoya: Figure out what food she likes and offer her a healthy smoothie in the morning.
Rich: And don’t be a dick about it. If you want to stay with this woman, don’t give her reviews on her body unless they’re positive.
More From How to Do It
Recently, I went on a few dates with a man who repeatedly shared with me that he finds me gorgeous and is very impressed with my career, and I thought he was a great guy himself. I gave him head and he came in my mouth, which afterward he said hasn’t happened to him in five years. It was “maybe the best head of his life.” Dude never texts me after that night. I didn’t text him either because I had initiated our last date. I’m being sexually rejected all the time and I am a very, very attractive woman. I have an hourglass body, exercise all the time, and have a career in mechanical engineering. When I look at who swiped on me on dating apps, the feed is practically infinite. When I walk down the street, I turn heads. Thus, I can confirm I am cute as a button to the majority of people in the metropolis I live in, and yet I have a really hard time being pursued.