Two years ago I was grossly overweight and resolved to lose weight through healthy eating and exercise. A year later, I was down 55 pounds, with about 20 to go, and happier than I'd been for a long time. Since then I've worked on maintaining, figuring that the last 20 pounds can come off slowly. About five months ago I started dating a great guy, and things have gone really well. We're both in our early 30s. I feel very comfortable with him -- I never feel the need to be something I'm not, or agree with opinions I don't really share just to keep the peace. I find myself thinking about saying the "L word" and biting my tongue only because it seems too soon. He has not said it, and I don't need him to say it -- the way he acts, the way he looks at me, the things he does all make me feel more loved than words could. I love being with him, being held by him, sleeping with him, waking up together and having sex and working around the house together and getting e-mails from him unexpectedly during the day. I love talking about everything under the sun with him and jogging together and cooking for him. This is the happiest relationship I've ever been in, and the longest-lasting one since college.
My boyfriend has a good friend, "Amy," a woman in her 20s, who is bright and talented and funny and outgoing. She was also, up until six months ago, very overweight (as she still was when I met her four months ago). Thanks to surgery, she's lost 86 pounds and looks amazing. She was attractive even at her heaviest, so she's approaching supermodel status as she loses -- tall, long blond hair, big blue eyes, etc. She's married to a much older, not very physically attractive man. She and my boyfriend have a great relationship as friends that strayed over the line once, just prior to her marriage. He told me about it, and I have no doubt that it was the only occasion.
So here's the problem. I am jealous of Amy, for a whole host of reasons. She's going through this transformation, and I'm afraid that my boyfriend is watching this transformation, and starting to see his friend in a new light, or maybe an old light. I know he finds her attractive, both physically and mentally (and one of the things I like best about him is that he is more turned on by minds than by bodies). I wonder if he thinks about her when he sleeps with me. I wonder if she looks at him and thinks that she could have him back, or just have him on the side. Their fling is increasingly on my mind. According to him, she approached him before she got married because she didn't want her husband to be the only man she'd slept with. They went to bed, but didn't have sex, only because he wasn't able to see her in that light, after having been friends for so long. I believe that he's telling the truth as he sees it, but I wonder if things would have been different if she had looked then like she does now.
This part will sound vain, but I'm trying to be realistic. Regardless of my looks, I have always been one of the smartest and most talented people in any group. I'm funny, easy to talk to, secure in my career and financially well-off. Now I'm also good-looking, probably even beautiful. Since losing weight, I've become the whole package (for the right type of man). What threatens me is that Amy is the whole package as well. My only safeguard is the friendship between Amy and my boyfriend, and her marriage. I think my boyfriend would tell me that he wouldn't want to jeopardize his friendship with Amy by having a physical relationship with her. On the other hand, my gut is screaming that he's turned on by her. I think Amy would tell me that she loves her husband and doesn't want to stray from her marriage. Again, my gut is telling me that she's always been attracted to my boyfriend, despite her marriage and their long friendship.
This jealousy is making me insecure and nervous, and I'm losing the healthy eating habits that helped me lose 55 pounds and will help me lose the next 20 pounds. I can feel that I've gained back about five pounds, though I'm afraid to get on a scale. I am trying to get back on the diet wagon, but I've lost my self-control. I did well for several days, then went out with Amy and my boyfriend last night, and today I came into the office and lunched on leftover Easter candy. Why? The answer goes to the other source of my jealousy. I know that gastric bypass surgery is a drastic measure, a life-threatening process, something that she will have to adjust to and live with the rest of her life, and a procedure that was only performed because she couldn't lose weight and keep it off the way I did. But every time I see her I feel like crying -- she's lost another 10 pounds and I'm struggling to lose the last 20, now 25! I know it has been horrible for her, I know she vomits up meals on a regular basis and can't exercise vigorously and can't eat normal foods. But there's a difference between what my brain knows and what I feel, and what I feel is that this woman is turning beautiful practically overnight with no effort, and she is going to make off with the first guy in a long time that I could love.
I need to know how to handle this within myself. I could talk to my boyfriend about this -- we have talked about difficult subjects ranging from money to my body issues, so we could talk about this rationally and lovingly. But there are a couple of reasons I don't want to talk to him. First, I believe, somewhat superstitiously, that talking about it will make it more real, and might even plant a seed that's not even there. In other words, if I bring it up, he might start seeing Amy as I am afraid he now sees her. Second, he's given me no reason to be jealous. This jealousy is coming from within me, so it's my problem, not his. (My gut is telling me all kinds of things, but don't forget that my gut is subject to hormones and mood swings and may not know what the hell it's talking about.) If I talk to him I will transfer the problem to him, and constrain his relationship with Amy. I don't want to do that to him - I know he values her friendship, and I think I could value her friendship too, if I could just get past this.
I'm just terrified of returning to my previous state of weighing over 200 pounds and wearing a size 22. I've considered therapy, but it seems like a drastic step, in addition to being somewhat against my stiff upper lip upbringing. I would just like to get over being threatened, and I'd like some armor for the next time this happens, should it happen again.
Stiff Upper Lip
Dear Stiff Upper Lip,
I think you have done a good bit of work just by getting this down on paper. You may already have reached some conclusions -- or perhaps we will reach them together. But first, you deserve much credit for taking the steps you have taken; it cannot have been easy, nor can it be easy living in this deeply religious tribe that indulges in metaphysical surgery. I know it is our craziness, and so it seems so much saner than anyone else's craziness, and I know that our crimes of beauty are often in self-defense; we have motive, we have opportunity and we also fear for our lives if we don't take these drastic measures. So I don't want to scold you or Amy for participating in this drama; it is, indeed, through our slimness that we endeavor to pass through the eye of the needle into heaven.
I just want to point out how, from the point of view of the Martian anthropologist, how very inscrutable must the metaphysics of our body sculpting seem. I say this to keep open the door of choice that keeps slamming shut; I have my foot firmly wedged now in the doorway, so you can see that, in all these things, you have choice; you can be fat if you want; you can be thin if you want; you do not have to be either one. You have a choice; if it's ever too much privation, you can be exactly as you are and still not hate yourself. You may have to enlist the aid of a therapist to snatch that exact moment of self-hatred out of the air and crush it, like snatching a fly, but you can learn to do that. And, if you're not doing it already, consider attending regular meetings of overeaters anonymous or some other kind of support group. It often helps.
Now, about this torment in your head: You really have to talk to your boyfriend about this. You have to pour it out to him. Cry on his shoulder and tell him all your crazy, crazy fears. Just let it out. Forget your reasons, all those reasons you are bottling up -- those reasons are nothing but supports, after the fact, for your fear. Fundamentally, you are simply afraid. Who wouldn't be afraid? You are afraid of losing him. You are afraid of botching things up. But what you ought to be afraid of is what you are doing right now. Right now you are already botching things up. You are botching things up because you aren't giving all of yourself to him -- you're giving him the slim, confident, ratiocinating self, but not the whole self, not all of you, not the whimpering, pathetic, mewling kitten of self-abnegation, not the shrieking Medea, not the midnight, bloodstained Lady Macbeth. And so by not giving them to him, you're not giving them to yourself either. And those are the people, the demons who, out of their own privation, are driving you to starve and purge; those are the madwomen who live in the backyard that you haven't told him about. The ones who refuse the staples in the belly. The ones who insist on being exactly the size they are, the ones who insist on arising in the night and walking about with knives.
So give it up. Give it all up. Stop pretending you're so goddamned sane. Nobody is that sane. Not you, not Amy, not your boyfriend, and certainly, most of all, not me.
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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.