Jane has had a few relationships but within a year or two they would always fall apart. She would lose weight, gain some confidence, find a boyfriend and then, once she was settled in the relationship, the weight would creep back on and her self-esteem would diminish, along with her sex life.
Now, Jane’s been engaged to Sam for three years and he’s pushing to get married. She started a degree and they agreed to wait until after she’d graduated. Then the wedding was delayed again when she needed a new car. Sam complains that he feels like her brother, not her boyfriend. Fed up of the sexless rut they’ve got into, he suggested getting married on a beach somewhere – just the two of them. Jane’s response? “I want to get married. I want to make that commitment. But I want my family there. I’ve always pictured myself walking down the aisle and I don’t want to be a fat bride. If I have some more time to lose weight, then we can set a date.”
Putting up barriers to intimacy
Christine Northam is a Relate Counsellor who works with those who are experiencing relationship difficulties. She sees more and more obese people who are staying that size (either consciously, or more often, subconsciously) to protect themselves from the pitfalls of a relationship. Christine says: “Fully engaging in an intimate relationship is a scary thing. Many people are fearful of it for a variety of reasons. Quite often, it stems from their childhood and a mistrust of adults. “Putting up barriers to intimacy – whether that’s committing to marriage, a sexual relationship with a partner, or a close friendship with a peer – is a common issue.”
“When I walk into a room, they can’t see me”
Diane, who has been single for over a decade, says: “There’s that classic saying: ‘Inside every fat person there’s a thin person waiting to get out’. It’s like, when I walk into a room they can’t see me, not the real me. They see this fat woman. But then at the same time, I can feel them staring at me and I just know what they’re thinking, what they’re whispering. I don’t go out much now. There’s no point. Yes I would like to meet someone, have someone to share things with, but it’s not worth the trouble.” “I’m so ashamed of how I look”
“I’m so ashamed of how I look”
Heather admits using any excuse she can think of to avoid sex with her husband. “We’ve been together 20 years and I’ve got bigger and bigger in that time. I’m so ashamed of how I look, I can’t bear him touching me. I can’t understand why he would want to. We no longer even go to bed at the same time. I stay up, tidying or doing the dishes, until I’m sure he’s fallen asleep.”
“I’m putting my life on hold”
“Having worked to understand more about myself,” says Amy, “I know I use my fatness as an excuse. It’s like I’m putting my life on hold. I can see that I get something out of eating in secret. It feels powerful, like I can get away with it and my boyfriend will never know. I test relationships with my behaviour. I dare them to love me when I’m fatter than when we first met. Eventually I push the testing behaviour too far and we break up. Then I fall into another round of comfort eating. It’s a hopeless, screwed-up cycle, but I am beginning to see my way out of it.”
Sexual confidence is about the mind, not the body
In her book ‘Healing Your Sexual Self’, psychologist Dr Janet Woititz writes: “For some people, obesity serves a purpose. If you stay fat, you don’t have to deal with the terrifying truth – as you see it – that if you were thin, you’d still be undesirable because you are not worth much.”
Interestingly, when someone is gaining weight, being 12 stone is seen as a problem. But when someone is losing weight, reaching 12 stone leads to feeling better about themselves. Sexual confidence and satisfaction then has less to do with the size of your body and everything to do with your mind and your perception of yourself.
A self-imposed prison
Of course, relationship problems are not just found in the realm of the fat. People of all sizes find excuses to avoid intimate relationships.
In the 1960s, psychologist John Bowlby studied the bond between children and mothers, and the behaviour children exhibit when this bond is disrupted. His well-known theory on attachment proposed that for children to successfully develop socially and emotionally, they need a close relationship with at least one primary caregiver during their infancy.
Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver built upon Bowlby’s theory in the 1980s, and applied his principles to adult romantic relationships. They established four categories of adult behaviour: secure; anxious-preoccupied; dismissive-avoidant; and fearful-avoidant.
Anxious-preoccupied adults are typically needy. They want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but often find that their partner is reluctant to get as close as they would like.
Dismissive-avoidant adults prefer to be self-sufficient and independent. They believe they are comfortable without close emotional relationships.
Fearful-avoidant adults want emotional relationships but find it difficult to trust and worry they will be hurt if they get too close to others.
Along with such developmental issues, overweight and obese people often blame their fat. Many stay fat to protect themselves from the world and live within its confines, like a wall of defence. Both those who are dissatisfied with their weight and those in a position to help need to understand more about this self-imposed prison.
We asked our Twitter followers @brocbrainsmag the question: Have you ever avoided sex with your partner because of your weight?
We got more than 1,000 responses and 52% admitted that they had. Comments included:
“YES. YES. All the time. I’m pathetic.”
“Now I’m fat. 10yrs older than my hubby & feel so ugly & fat that I make excuses to not have sex :-(”
“oh yeah second marriage great defence haha trouble is pigs don’t care”
“I’m happy being fat love food love cooking given up with diets. Sits back and waits for backlash”
What do you think? Tweet us @brocbrainsmag
Subscribe to our free magazine for more interesting articles on health and obesity.