Hey Alex, it’s me, Alex. (I love how many people are called Alex.)
Anyways, I’m here to ask you about something I’ve been struggling for quite some time. My boyfriend and I have been dating for a year now or so and I am absolutely in love with him. However, it’s just that I sometimes feel like I want him to work out a bit more. Not to say that he’s unattractive (he’s really handsome and hot plus we have crazy good sex), but there’s something about his body that I don’t fully appreciate. However, whenever he asks me if there’s something he could change about his appearance, I don’t dare to share my thoughts. I don’t want him to feel insecure or bad about his body – he is attractive after all. But whenever the question arises, so does conflict in me. On one hand, I feel like I should be honest, on the other, I feel like I should be kind.
I hope you can offer some good advice and thanks in advance!
The question has arisen, Alex, so if he’s asked, you might try honesty. “Look, I think you’re incredibly sexy, but since you’re asking, and I promised to be honest, I wouldn’t mind if you went to the gym more. I want to go more too.” I know you don’t want to hurt him, but if he’s a mature and rational person, he’ll appreciate your honesty.
That said, there’s a relationship rule I haven’t mentioned much in this blog: You can’t change anyone. If he asks the question and you tell the truth, that’s great — that’s what you’re supposed to do. But if, after that, he decides the gym isn’t for him and he likes his body as it is, that’s it — no badgering, pushing, or nudging him back in there. If he doesn’t appreciate the gym as much as you wish he would, and doesn’t make the physical changes you’d like to see, that’s it. Honesty is the most you can do.
If, after your honesty, he decides to do nothing, you have to decide if you can continue loving and living with his body as it is — no complaining and no efforts to change it — or you can’t. In my last relationship, I wanted open sexual permission — freedom to fuck anyone. I communicated that clearly to my partner and he communicated clearly back: No because that made him feel jealous. He told me that with no hesitation or apology, and I respected him for that: It was jealousy, plain and simple, that kept him from letting me do what I wanted to do.
After that honest confession, we tried a compromise. We’d play with others when we both found someone we thought was attractive, but that was the most he could do. That quickly became inadequate for me — I wanted more. We talked about it, and he could go no further. As his boyfriend, it was my job to respect his feelings, and his job to respect mine. We both did that to the best of our ability without sacrificing our own happiness.
Only playing with others together was his absolute limit, and that limit was his price of admission (a Dan Savage phrase), something I had to accept happily and without complaining in order to date him.
I tried to change him. I badgered, complained, argued, blamed, and eventually grew bitter at him for his restrictions. I shamed him for his feelings, which were presented honestly and kindly to me. I pushed him to be different. The result? We hurt each other, and the relationship ended badly. I learned a lesson, one I think many people could benefit from hearing: Some core features including one’s body, beliefs, political leanings, and thoughts about relationships cannot be changed and it’s wrong of you to try. Some core features are his price of admission — things you must embrace happily to date him.
Honest communication can lead to good things, but that’s where your power stops. You can only tell the truth. You can’t make someone do things differently. At risk of sounding sappy, the relationship truth is that you have to love someone as they are. If you find yourself unable to do so, it’s done. You should do the kind thing and break up.
The strongest relationships I’ve witnessed are ones in which requirements stay pretty flexible. The fact is, your partner will change, with or without your involvement. Even if he responded positively and started going to the gym rigorously, something could happen in a few years (injury, demanding job) that keeps him out for a while. He may evolve out of his current sexual appetite into a new one. In a few years, he may stumble across a different scene, a new group of friends, and decide that it better suits him. People will try things, go in and out of life stages, and become different people over time. If you want to be with him in the long run, you must accept that.
If the things you need in a partner — things which may or may not include a gym body — compose a very rigid set of traits, you’re going to have brief relationships, since no one stays the same for long. Just as you are powerless to change him, you are also powerless to prevent him from changing on his own. Tell the man how you feel next time he asks, then love him despite his answer or love him enough to say you want something else.