Liz and Danny (names changed) have been in a committed relationship for more than a decade after a serendipitous meeting at a Mexican restaurant while both were seated at different tables. At the time they met, she was a sprite-like redhead with a quirky sense of humor; he was tall and thin with a mop of curly black hair. Physically attracted from the moment they locked eyes, emotional intimacy came later and grew over time.
Fast-forward 10 years. At 41, Liz remains slender. But Danny, 46, is no longer the lean, dark, handsome type she fell for. Now, she says, his 6-ft.-1-inch frame is “more than a little fleshy and mushy” and the weight gain is a turnoff. So much so, she’s found herself uninterested in sleeping with him. She’s unhappy; he’s growing more resentful.
“It’s hard to admit but he’s simply not attractive to me any more,” she says. “I’m turned off by his belly fat and love handles.”
While the couple is talking about the problem, Liz concedes that she’s thinking about leaving the relationship if Danny doesn’t, literally, shape up. She feels he’s become so complacent and entitled that he has little motivation to change.
“It’s kind of symbolic of the way he feels about our relationship,” she says. “I have refused to have sex with him on several occasions.”
We’ve all heard of men who pressure their wives, partners or girlfriends to lose weight, and often female fears of losing a man will prompt a major overhaul. On the flip side, experts say women often withhold sex as a weapon of last resort when their partners refuse to or don’t lose weight.
Dr. Laura Triplett, an assistant professor at California State University-Fullerton, conducts research on body image and the social implications of physical appearance. She has found that women in their 20s in particular stop having sex with their partners when they don’t meet their idealized notion of what a man should look like.
“They usually give an ultimatum: ‘We’re going on a vacation and you have until June to look this good,’ and they give him a picture that they want him to mold himself to. They buy him gift certificates to trainers and gym memberships as incentives,”Triplett explains.
It’s no secret that obesity is a national epidemic: The number of obese American adults outweighs the number of those who are merely overweight, according to data released in January 2009, by the National Center for Health Statistics. The data reveals that more than 34 percent of Americans are obese, compared to 32.7 percent who are overweight; nearly six percent of Americans are “extremely” obese.
Sabine says Kurt (names changed) began piling on the pounds 18 months into their three-year relationship.
“I’m not sure if it was because he was getting too comfortable or because his adolescent skinny boy metabolism was just growing into middle-aged fat man metabolism. Regardless, he was getting bigger and not in a good way… he was growing man boobs,” Sabine recalls. “I was getting really grossed out.”
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