My Heavy Weight Fiance

My fiancé is really cute. I don't mean to brag, but it's true. Craig was a skateboarder, soccer star, and windsurfing instructor back in college. He proudly recounts, coffee-colored eyes lighting up at the memory, that girls in junior high carved his name into the tops of their desks. And that he was actually listed on the wall of the girls' bathroom in high school as one of the "top three hottest guys in school."

When I met Craig 3 years ago, he was 28, 5'9", and a hard-bodied 160 pounds, with a taut stomach and the kind of arms that aren't huge but can lift anything. A couple of years into the relationship, though, the same thing happened to him that happens to a lot of skinny guys when they turn 30. He got fat. Well, not fat exactly, but a little chubby, with jowls, handlebars, and a strange new appendage called a tummy.

At first I didn't really mind the weight gain too much. I rubbed Craig's belly -- my little Buddha, I said. He laughed. We had just relocated from New York, the great pedestrian city, to Los Angeles, the great nonpedestrian city, and Craig was so busy at his new job designing a photography studio in Hollywood that he'd started grabbing lunch at the Jack in the Box on the corner. He jokingly began to refer to the jelly roll around his waist as his "capitalist gut." But sometimes when he said it, he looked sad.

Stuffing It

He was still the cutest, as far as I was concerned. I figured once his pants got too tight, he'd cut back the calories. Instead, he just stopped doing the top button. He kept on buying Ho Hos at gas stations and ending each dinner conversation with "Are you finished eating that?" In 8 months, he had gained 20 pounds. It was clear that this new development in his life -- you mean I can't eat everything I want and not gain weight? -- had him really confused.

Every attempt I made to help was completely fruitless. I'd make offhand suggestions here and there, like "Popcorn with extra butter is not a good snack" and "Some people call white bread 'the white devil.'" I cooked couscous instead of pasta. I tried taking him on strolls after dinner, but he resisted my tugging like a petulant puppy. I even hid the butter; he went to Costco and bought a family pack -- which is hard to hide behind anything. When a security guard at a concert stopped him from going in because he thought Craig had something stuffed under his shirt, I averted my eyes. Later, we had a mind-boggling late-night conversation about the concept of "dieting." I explained that a diet meant salads, lean meats, and a good breakfast in the morning. "But I've already started a diet," Craig said. "The diet is, I don't eat breakfast." Oh no.

I think he picked up this idea at his office, where everyone was on some radical weight loss plan, like eating only capers. Craig worked for a famous photographer, and all the other guys in the office were gay. And gorgeous. And beginning to notice that the formerly hot straight guy in the office was becoming not as hot. One day when I visited him for lunch -- he was happily eating a gyro and simultaneously stuffing rolls in his mouth -- the Botoxed, wheatgrass-fed, triumphantly fit in-house publicist confronted me in the hallway. "Your boyfriend is getting fat," he hissed.

I reeled. It was okay for me to realize Craig was a little chubby, but another thing entirely for a stranger to notice.

"I know," I replied, in as nonconfrontational a tone as I could manage. "But what can I do about it?"

"Well, you could help him."

Excuse me, but aren't I helping him already? I thought, fuming. What else was I supposed to do, babysit him on Atkins, parceling out itty-bitty pieces of sirloin and Swiss cheese? It's not like any of my other boyfriends had ever helped me when I had gained weight (or thought I had).


It's Not About You

Once I was on the defensive, Craig and I started to fight. He said the reason he was gaining weight was because I didn't know how to cook. I said I felt like I couldn't get him to do anything -- he didn't listen to me enough, whether I was telling him what to eat, filling him in on new developments in the Middle East, or making him pick up his socks. He said that I wasn't listening enough. He wanted me to go out with him and his buddies to the bar. I was not nurturing enough, he claimed. What exactly was non-nurturing about the way I'd been acting? "I don't want to be nagged," he said. "Nagging is not nurturing."

I guess I didn't know how not to nag when it came to food. I grew up in a Greek-American family, where if you're not eating every minute of the day, then you must be depressed. But I realized that I might have been acting a tad over-naggy. Truth be told, I whine like a baby when I'm trying to make Craig do something my way. And in the back of my mind, I began to wonder how much of my own self-worth had become invested in Craig's appearance, that special frisson I got from others' admiration when they first met him -- Nice job, Vanessa! Can I have him when you're done? Instead of wanting him to get his six-pack back so he'd feel better about himself, maybe I wanted him to get it back so I'd feel better about me.

In the process of objectifying Craig a little, I had approached his weight gain like any other problem: If I worked hard enough on it, I could make happen what I wanted. But caring for someone is a whole different ball game. It requires finding that delicate balance between backing him up and backing off.

Stepping Up to the Plate

Luckily, a perfect opportunity presented itself. At a yard sale a few weeks later, I watched stealthily from the sidelines as Craig discovered an old digital scale buried under a pile of broken chairs. I held my breath as he tapped it with his foot to get it to work. He brought it home and put it in the bathroom. And he started to weigh himself every morning.

I have to admit, it was his relationship to the scale that really changed things. He set a goal for himself and was determined to get that machine to display the numbers he wanted to see. As soon as he started taking responsibility for his weight, he stopped fighting with me about playing nutrition consultant, and I became more comfortable making suggestions. I stuffed carrots in his pockets, took him on long hikes in the mountains, and jumped up and down when he got down to 170 after a few months.

One morning, Craig and I were lying around in bed when he looked at me sleepily. "You know," he said, "you're getting a little fat."

He was right! I'd spent so much time thinking about him that I had stopped thinking about my own diet. He wasn't being mean: He was saying it to be honest, and to let me know he cared.

I didn't mind at all.

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