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You don't get to set someone else's goals

Published April 3, 2014 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dear Carolyn • As a man with an overweight girlfriend, I feel a bit demonized by this column (http://wapo.st/1jbbY1P) and advice. Me, I'm small and healthy. I saw her pictures online and knew she had some weight on her, but she was appealing enough. She admitted since those pictures were taken, she added 30 pounds from a stressful divorce. Am I also a heartless superficial slob to want her to lose the 30 pounds she recently gained? I agree if one partner is too demanding of a certain image/appearance or other attribute, then maybe the couple should split. But isn't there room for compromise, and having some mutual health and appearance goals?

Skinny Boyfriend

Dear Skinny Boyfriend • No. You don't get to have goals for other adults, not "health and appearance" goals, not any other kind of goals. You just don't. You can, of course, want someone to lose 30 pounds without being a heartless superficial slob. You can find those pounds unattractive. You can find them indicative of something else that worries you — of a stress-eating problem, of a known but unaddressed health condition, of an annoying habit of bemoaning the weight and using pre-weight-gain photographs without actually changing any habits toward losing weight. You can break up with (or just not go out with) someone over any of these things. But you cannot stay with someone while wishing — privately or openly — that she would improve upon the version of herself she presented to you when you met, not without crossing the line between positioning yourself as an equal and assuming the role of mentor, coach, renovator — as in, superior. Occasionally in a healthy, power-balanced relationship, two people will want something different from each other, sure. But they have to approach it as equal partners, meaning basic respect for boundary lines: My feelings about you are my business, but your body and choices are yours. By the way — "small and healthy"? Watch how you demonize extra weight; it's a far more complex business than that.

Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.