When is it okay to encourage your girlfriend to take slightly better care of herself? She’s not unhealthy, but, like, those last fifteen pounds? Please don’t say never. I’m not a jerk, really.
Your plea at the end gave you away entirely; you’re totally worried you’re being shallow but you’re not quite sure how not to be, so you assume your original predicament must be valid. Avoiding being shallow, however, isn’t always a deep emotional or spiritual awakening, thank goodness, because really, those can be exhausting. In this case, it’s just about thinking rationally and objectively about reality and where your expectations of her are coming from.
A man I dated long, long ago asked me his version of this question back then. In his mind, I was almost perfect, and how dare I be almost perfect when I could have been even more perfect for just a little bit more work? This was his way of being sweet. But at the time, he wasn’t capable of understanding several tough realities that are just part of being an adult. I list them here, but bear in mind they are not made to make you feel bad for asking. The more you reflect on them, the more you will see her as totally removed from the shadow of your expectations – a shadow that is probably bringing you both down.
1. He was inaccurately comparing me to other girls, when he should have been comparing me to himself.
He never stopped to wonder if I ever saw him as my physical ideal? If I really had to think about it, and trust me, I did when I realized he was critiquing me, there were plemty of physical things about him that I would improve if I were him. He was scrawny and I couldn’t lay my head against his chest like I could with more muscular guys. He didn’t brush his teeth before trying to kiss me like I bothered to do every time and probably entirely too self-consciously. He wasn’t comparing my imperfections to his own – he was comparing me to other girls who obviously didn’t choose to be with him as I had chosen. So don’t look at someone you love and ask him or her to perfect an area that’s already okay without first looking in the mirror and asking yourself how he or she truly sees you. Chances are, she knows all about your imperfections and doesn’t really think about them much or care.
2. He was holding me to a standard of “fashionable health,” not actual health.
Actual health means working out in some way on a regular basis, which might be two hours a day for some or 30 minutes three times a week for others. Actual health involves eating a wide variety of nutrients rather than primarily subsisting on empty calories. “Fashionable health” involves retouched photographs of already-beautiful people who get paid to be in the best shape possible. Do not confuse the two.
3. Most people have to work hard to be not-quite-perfect.
My being his less-than-ideal still involved my working out more than he did, and eating less and better than he did. See point 1.
4. The last fifteen are always the hardest.
Seriously. The thing about weight loss is that it’s easy to begin if you’re legitimately overweight. You start cutting out the most egregious aspects of an unhealthy lifestyle and the pounds just melt away, especially if you’re still young. But the more you lose, the harder it gets because bodies do in fact have uses for fats and your body will fight you hard to keep those last fifteen pounds. So the “just a little bit more work” idea isn’t remotely accurate.
5. The margin for error in beauty starts out small and widens as everyone ages.
If you can’t love a woman as she is now — slightly imperfect and young — how will you learn to love her when she’s starting to get wrinkles, or when the metabolism slows down due to aging and those last 15 become those last 30? If you’re planning on always dating women younger than yourself, you’d better become some combination of the things young women date older men for: money, power, and looks. Unless you’re George Clooney, chances are you will always merely attract women in or around your own age margin. There are lots of old, bitter men in this world who would rather be rejected by young women than embraced by their own generation.
In a busy world that favors unhealthy habits and makes processed foods readily available and inexpensive, it’s important to encourage each other to be healthy in any romantic situation. Tackle the problem together by working out, cooking for and with each other, and trying new things together. But the last fifteen pounds? If you don’t figure this stuff out, nobody human will ever be enough for you, an equally flawed human, and you will spend much of your life alone.
Sara Lynn Michener writes an occasional column on modern dating. She is a freelance writer from Ellicott City.
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