You Can’t Change Your Partner

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! 

Be honest, but kind. My boyfriend and I are gym-goers and one day I asked him to tell me the truth. He did: “I wouldn’t mind if you were a little bigger.”

From that moment on, I started working out very hard several times a week. A year later, I confessed that his words had contributed to an unhealthy relationship with the gym.

He was shocked. He didn’t take his words back, but he told me the second part: “I do like you bigger, but there’s nothing you have to change about yourself in order for me to love you.” I needed this.

We all have our preferences, but that Part Two is essential. But only say it if it’s true.

If he asks, telling the truth is all you can do. After that, you can’t needle, cajole, or badger him into becoming a gym bunny. In my last relationship, I wanted open sexual permission — freedom to screw anyone. I communicated that to the guy I was with and he communicated clearly back: “No.” The thought of me having sex with others made him too jealous.

I tried to change him. I badgered, complained, blamed, and grew bitter. I pushed him to be different. I was cruel: “Why do you want to be with someone for whom you’re not enough?” In the end, he broke up with me because I had beaten him down so thoroughly that he had no other choice. The guilt I sunk into after that breakup was one of the darkest periods of my life.

That was a lesson: you can’t change the person you’re with. You can’t change their body, beliefs, politics, insecurities, jealousies, or sexual tastes, and it’s wrong to try. In Dan Savage’s terms, these parts of a person are the Price of Admission you pay to date them. You can tell them the truth when asked — kindly — but that is the limit of your power.

If the things you need in a partner compose a rigid set of traits, you’re going to have brief relationships. The best pairings I’ve seen are ones in which requirements are flexible. Your partner will change naturally without your involvement. Inspired by your fitness, he might naturally start working out on his own. But what if he gets injured and can’t set foot in a gym again? It’s scary to think about, but you could get hurt or ill tomorrow and your lifestyle could forever be changed, and if the foundation of his affections was purely your body, you’d likely lose him. I’m not discounting the value of looks — I can only date someone I’m attracted to — but a healthy degree of flexibility in the things you need from someone allows you to love them during the times their looks aren’t the best. There’s no shame in having physical, sexually-charged relationships or leaving someone when you lose attraction to them, but that’s not a setup for longterm romance.

I try to inspire healthy habits between my partner and I, and some of our practices are core parts of us: we work out, we recycle, we’re extremely promiscuous. If one of us were to change one of these, we’d likely separate. But while I can inspire the things we do that keep us together and that I love, I can’t control his natural evolution, and he may still wake up tomorrow and decide that he dislikes fitness, hates the environment, and wants to be monogamous. You can’t control how someone will change.

So, tell the man — when asked — that you’d like him to spend more time in the gym. You’re entrusted with his heart so you at least owe him the truth. But if you really love him, tell him that while this is a preference, you still love him and want to fuck him no matter what. He doesn’t need to change his body to keep you, but some squats wouldn’t hurt.

Love, Beastly

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