My boyfriend isn't taking care of himself.
I don't know how to help my boyfriend without coming off as a dick.
THE BRIGHTEST STAR IN THE SKY:
I don't want to be a dick. I love my boyfriend very much and he is a wonderful wonderful WONDERFUL man. A perfect man!!!! Loving, kind, super smart, aware, he recycles, he's IT.
But he does not take care of himself. He only finally went to the dentist bc of INTENSE tooth pain in early 2019, and after that cavity was fixed, he has not gone back for several of the other (non-painful) cavities that his dentist found. I've mentioned he should return more than once. He has insurance and can afford it. He has not been to the doctor since I've known him (5+ years.) I've suggested he go for a yearly check-up, but he won't.
Here's the part where I reveal myself to be more judgmental than I thought I was: He's a big guy. We started dating 1.5 years ago and I fell in love with him when he was big and I don't care about that. Rather, I didn't care about that. I'm still attracted to him, but now things are super serious between us and I'm thinking about longterm stuff, quality of life, potentially raising a CHILD together, etc. ("Big guy" = "Big, big, BIG guy." I'm not like "Ew, he has love handles!" Everyone has love handles.)
I would NEVER want him to feel shamed or judged and I would commit a CRIME if I ever heard a man telling a woman she needed to lose weight or even implying that she should by saying he was "concerned about her health" or anything fatphobic. We're all made differently and we all have different life experiences that formed who we are and no one is better than anyone else and I don't think that making "healthy" or "unhealthy" choices is a moral issue.
I also don't want to give him an ultimatum or say something that could make him feel not 100% supported. But I actually AM concerned about his health because I love him. He'll say self-deprecating things about being out of shape and being fat. But it's like....he takes no action. So I get that it's probably a pretty fraught issue for him.
I'm pescatarian and I don't drink and I suppose to him that looks draconian. I don't need him to do exactly what I do, but I do need to stop worrying that he's going to die from a heart attack—or mouth-health-related heart disease. That shit is real. He's not a stranger minding his own business; I feel like it IS going to become my problem. I'm not a medical professional or his physician, but two guys in my office within the past month have been hospitalized and given heart stents and it's really scary. I don't want to be controlling or, like, MONITORING his choices... but I AM noticing him make "unhealthy" choices VERY often and it's BUMMING ME THE FUCK OUT. Gently influencing by example, by the way, has had no result. Suggesting we try going vegetarian together did not fly. He went on a hike with me once which was very sweet of him because he hated the very idea of it (and the hike itself), and has turned down all subsequent invites. I get no joy from nagging, so I never push it. (Alternatively, am I making things worse by not speaking up and avoiding uncomfortable conversations?) I'm always on the "everyone-is-deeply-worthy-of-love, you're-so-handsome-and-I-love-every-part-of-you" pulpit so it's slooooowly dawning on me that I'm. A. Hypocrite.
I think out-of-the-blue ultimatums are cruel and I know it's wrong to try to change people or HOPE that they will change when they were always honest about who they are. I know change doesn't happen unless a person WANTS to change.
Ugh, if the one thing I can control is whether or not I choose to stay with him... I don't give "not caring about his health in a way that's up to my standards" as a reason when we're breaking up, right?
It strikes me that this is actually probably a common issue, but I have NO IDEA what the right thing to do here is. The thought of googling "how do I get my boyfriend to care about his health" makes me feel gross.
Is this just a "ME problem" that I need to deal with on my own-- or is there a minimally hurtful way to talk about this with him that A.) won't make him resent me and B.) might actually have a positive outcome?
You are so beyond kind, loving, and mature that it’s making my skin itch!!!!! You are already framing this issue in such a healthy, loving (sorry gonna keep using that word!) way that I can’t stand it! I hope you’re so proud of yourself because you seem like an unimaginably good person. I’d be so happy if I had a friend or sibling or kid like you!!!! Please take a moment and bask in the knowledge that you are really really really fucking good at handling delicate problems. Like probably better than 98% of people.
Regardless of maturity level, there are some problems that are still A Bit Out of Our Depths, and this is—clearly, and very reasonably—one of them. Nothing on god’s brown, charred earth is more heartbreaking than having to talk to a loved one about their health, whether it be mental, physical or a combination of the two (they usually go hand in hand, tbh).
Let me please reassure you as a former fat person and long time body-image-issue-haver, that you are being incredibly thoughtful. Obviously, obviously, obviously, my signing off on your words/language/this letter does not mean that it will feel good or right to everyone who is overweight or who has struggled with their health. I’m just letting you know that your compassion comes through. You’re doing amazing, sweetie.
Let me also warn you that there are very very very very few ways for this to go 🎉SUPER GREAT!!🎉. Health is so personal, and often excruciatingly sensitive. Even if you aren’t being judgy or unkind—WHICH YOU 100% ARE NOT, I LITERALLY GUARANTEE YOU—the world has already been judgy and unkind to your boyfriend about his health. Your kindness cannot undo that, sadly. Your love cannot, either. He’s going to be in pain when you two address this. I don’t know if his pain will feel like anger, guilt, embarrassment, sadness or what. I have no clue. I don’t know if he’ll show it to you or not. Blame you or not. I do know this: THE PAIN IS NOT FROM YOU. You bringing your concerns up is not creating the pain around the topic of his health. The world did that, and you are a good person for how much you’ve clearly accounted for that in your approach. My warning is this: this is not a game of Operation, where if you simply don’t touch the bad parts, it won’t hurt. This conversation is going to suck balls no matter what. Knowing what you’ve written, I know without a sliver of doubt that you will be beyond compassionate and thoughtful, which is about as good as you can do.
Look, you and I both know you are going to have to have a conversation with him. How it goes, I have no clue, you have no clue, and he has no clue. The best I can do is help you get ready for it. So here are my thoughts/feelings/ideas about what you’re about to do:
✨Please remember that while my skin is glowing and my advice is nearly unimpeachable, you know the situation better than I do, you know yourself and your boyfriend better than I do. Trust yourself. You have more than enough good in you to do this and do this fairly and generously.✨
First things first!!!!! You seem to be INCREDIBLY FAR from fat-phobic. Of course, I’m sure that—like almost all of us who have lived in such a fat-phobic world—you have moments where you slip up or judge people unfairly. But you also seem to have done the HARD AS FUCKING HELL work to undo your biases. I know that it worries you that you will come across to him (or yourself or other people) as fat-phobic. That, however, is not your issue and I want you to know that it’s very clear that it is not your issue. It is very clear from your letter that your boyfriend’s weight is not the or even a problem to you.
The problem is that your boyfriend does not take care of himself, despite being able to do so. That is beyond frustrating in general. If your boyfriend weren’t, say, buying sheets, and was instead sleeping on a bare mattress, you’d be frustrated (and probably embarrassed). However, the thing your boyfriend isn’t taking care of is his health. And he’s playing it fast and loose with some potentially serious problems like teeth health. You’re right that this is not a stranger whose body you want to make cruel comments about. This is a loved one who is not caring for himself. That’s scary as fuck. Unfortunately, it’s also very lose-lose because as you’ve astutely pointed out, he will not and cannot truly change until he wants to. If he “changes” his behavior simply to keep you around, that is compliance not change. And you clearly are aware that that’s a not-good set up.
Here is what I would say to my partner (please note: I would be shitting bricks because it’s obviously a hard convo. It’s normal if you find yourself shitting bricks here!!!):
“Sweet Angel, I need to talk to you [pause while your boyfriend gets ready to pay attention]. I’m sure you’re not going to like the coming conversation any more than I like having it, but I’m really close to a breaking point, and this relationship really, really matters to me so I’m going to let you in on what’s going on. I’m scared for you right now. I’m scared that you not taking care of your body is going to lead to some major health consequences. It terrifies me. I’m not trying to make your body about me, or co-opt any struggle you have. I’m sharing how worried I am. I love your body, and I’m sure that is hard to hear in conjunction with what I’m saying. I’m turned on, thrilled with, and in love with your body, which is actually why I’m so worried about your lack of health care.
I don’t want to be your mother, and frankly, I’m a bit resentful that you put me into the position of having to behave like one*. But I’m gonna be real with you: I don’t see how I can have children with someone who refuses to go to the doctor. I’m 100% sure you have good, valid reasons for not wanting to go. I don’t know what they are, and I’m happy to talk to you about them or not talk to you about them. But I need you to talk to me about what your plan is going forward because I can’t be in a relationship like this much longer. I don’t say that as a threat, but as a boundary. I’m not going to keep bringing your health up, I’m not going to monitor or watch you, I’m not going to dangle a break up in front of you. But I do need you to know where I stand. If you are not planning on changing habits, that’s your business, I understand. It’s not my life or body, and you have every right to choose that. If you are, I’d love to help or support. Either way, I love you.”
You may notice the asterisk I put after the first sentence of paragraph two of The Long and Important Talk! Well done, you! You mention him not resenting you, but I genuinely think there’s a lot more danger of you eventually resenting him. Or resenting him now! I cannot imagine all the balancing you’ve tried to do, all the care you’ve tried to give, all the worry you’ve tried to bury lest it hurt him. This is an adult who refuses—not can’t, but won't— to get basic health care. I think there’s a high chance of you starting to resent him if he doesn’t put in some effort and soon. To talk about it, to address it, to anything.
Another thing that you may want to think of / talk to him about: him seeing a person to help with this. I don’t know what that looks like, and obviously he’s a bit doctor-adverse, plus it’s obviously not my place to push him into anything. Some of the things you mention about him sound like depression symptoms; I’m hearing about him second hand from a biased source, so of course I have no idea of what’s going on. And I’m a bit hesitant to even write about depression because so often people link being overweight and depression even when it’s not the case (this happened to me as a child!). It doesn’t even have to be a doctor, it could be a trainer or something entirely different. Again, you know him better than I do, you know what he might be more receptive to. He just seems to be in a lot of pain, and that much pain is hard to undo by yourself. Or even by yourself with the best partner ever.
There is some chance that you two have this conversation and you realize that he is not ready to change, or you have this conversation and he is ready to change somewhat but it is not enough, or he doesn’t follow through. In fact, the chance of these outcomes happening is not small; I’m sorry. That means it’s time to leave. It is not cruel to leave someone who is not good to themselves. You are not required to have a reason to leave any one ever. But even if you were required to have a reason (YOU AREN’T!!!) this is an impeccable reason. You are not leaving him because of his weight or his body. You’re leaving him because he is not taking care of himself, and you’ve had a serious conversation about your concerns and he’s not ready to change. Your “standards” aren’t unreasonable or unreasonable. You do not have to stay and watch your boyfriend’s health deteriorate due to negligence to prove that you are a good person. You get to have a boundary.
Your job is not to drag someone through life; that is not love, and that is not a partnership. You cannot have children with a person who will not go to to the doctor. I’m sorry. That doesn’t make him a bad person and leaving doesn’t make you one, either. It means you’re in different places. You deserve a partner who cares for themself as well caring for you. Asking for that—requiring that—is not cruel. I promise.
You’ve got this. You’re stronger and more brilliant than you’re even aware of. We’re all rooting for you!!!
❤️❤️❤️NOTE: because so many sweetie pies have been asking questions, it can take up to a month or two to answer them. I’M SORRY. I try to answer “urgent” / timely letters ASAP and more general questions later.
IF I HAVEN’T GOTTEN TO YOUR LETTER, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RESEND!!! I DON’T MIND AT ALL!!!❤️❤️❤️
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tweets about everything else at @1followernodad, is a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at firstname.lastname@example.org.