(The Root) —
"Over the last two years, my girlfriend has put on a significant amount of weight. I haven't asked, but at least 30 pounds. I love her and don't have any significant complaints about the relationship, but I'm no longer attracted to her and I'm sure she's noticed. She asked what's wrong and I told her I was stressed over work. She's also caught me looking at porn, which has become another problem. She's always been sensitive about her weight, and I don't know how to bring it up or tell her I'm not attracted to her without hurting or upsetting her. What do I do?" —F.D.
I think this is the point where I am supposed to tell you that you're shallow and what really matters is on the inside and you don't know how to appreciate a good woman. Oh, and you're a misogynist. But I'm not going to say any of those things, because I can't say them with a straight face. I've heard plenty of optimistic people talk about how looks shouldn't matter, and I think to myself, "Oh, you've never dated anyone you became un-attracted to." I have. It's a serious problem, and you have my empathy.
There's no easy way around this one; if you want to remain in this relationship, you are going to have to diplomatically tell her what's on your mind — and soon. I appreciate that you don't want to hurt her feelings, but you're acting out in other ways. Right now your reaction to her weight is making her think that you are cheating.
Think about it: You're not attracted to her anymore, which means you're not touchy-feely, if at all (assuming you were), and you're likely not having sex with any frequency, if at all, either. She's noticed that your demeanor has changed toward her — hence the question, "What's wrong?" And every woman with even rudimentary dating or relationship experience knows that "stress at work" is practically code for "I'm cheating." Add to that, you got caught watching porn, which from the sound of it is a new or more frequent activity for you (at least in the context of this relationship).
All of this could easily translate in a woman's mind as "evidence" of your infidelity. She's just waiting to catch you in the act at this point. And she might just leave you before you leave her. As my significant other likes to say, "Confusion creates chaos."
This would have been easier if you had said something to her earlier so you wouldn't have to essentially say, "I know you assumed X, but it's Y" (and she may have had less to lose), but we're beyond that. At this point, you have to explain: "Baby, I know you've noticed that I've been acting different lately. I've had a lot on my mind. I've noticed that we have gained some weight since we began dating."
Yes, you, too. I don't care if you have or not. For the purposes of this conversation, you have. You've told me she is sensitive about her weight, as are most people, so it is doubly important that she does not feel attacked or blamed.
Add: "I am concerned about our health … " Pause. Did you catch that? "Our health" — not just hers. And the emphasis is on "health" — not appearance. Trust me, it goes over much better. I've been on the other side of this conversation with someone who took the "appearance" route.
It devastated me. I didn't eat much for a week, worked out constantly and lost the weight — 5 pounds. But I was so self-conscious about him judging me after that, I refused to get undressed in front of him or have sex with him. I actually broke up with him about a month later because honestly, I wasn't that attracted to his weight, either.
I'd overlooked it since the beginning because he had other qualities that I liked and I was trying not to be shallow. Further, I hadn't figured out a way to tell him what I was thinking that wouldn't hurt his feelings. Plus, did I have a right to say anything, if I met him that way? I would rather have dealt with whatever I was feeling than hurt him. I left because I wanted someone who cared enough to do the same, or at least be kind about it.
Let's continue with your soliloquy: "And I want us to begin working out more and eating healthier." Yes, you: If you are not currently, you are going to have to work out, too, and start bringing her with you to exercise. Her weight loss is a team effort, and since it's a "workout," not an "ease-out," she will need your on-hand support.
Next, you ask her, "What do you think about that?" This is a very important step because it includes her in the conversation instead of you dictating what needs to happen. Her answer might reveal some stumbling blocks or challenges she's having in managing her weight — like stress or time management — that both of you can address.
Finally, create a detailed action plan for your new lifestyle. Rome wasn't built in a day, but you can plot what changes you would like to implement, including where you both will be working out, when you will start and what new healthier activity will be going on in your kitchen.
Be forewarned: This will not be easy; nor will her weight fall off overnight. But as a woman whose ex wasn't so nice, I beg you to be patient and kind. Being both, even when you don't feel like it, is one popular definition of love.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.