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I’m about to reveal something of myself most of you don’t know.
A few years ago, my wife, Marie, and I were at one of those hip downtown restaurants sipping mangotinis and nibbling on injera bread when one of my bosses appeared with his thin trophy wife in tow and patted my shoulder. When I introduced him to Marie, he naturally looked her up and down. I froze.
Marie and my boss exchanged some small talk but I could see behind the polite chit chat that my boss’ eyes flickered with a hint of disgust. I noticed Marie hadn’t put down her fork, upon which was perched a wobbly chunk of eggplant.
“Well, it was good meeting you,” my boss said, cutting short the conversation.
Marie looked at me and shrugged. “He’s not a very friendly guy, huh?” she said, as my colleague walked off to his table.
“Um, yeah I suppose not,” I said, knowing that was a lie. My boss was actually one of the friendliest men I knew. I understood why he walked off so abruptly. My boss may be friendly, but he’s also a winner, and winners avoid fraternizing with losers. My boss took one look at my fat wife, and recoiled from the stench of loserness. Inside, I was mortified.
Technically, I had it all back then, including a gorgeous toddler and a cool job.
What I didn’t have was a wife I felt proud of.
God knows I wanted to be proud of her. Marie is smart and funny and the only person I know who gets off on explaining why the Twilight books are more feminist than vampiric. And if you asked me about somebody else’s stay-at-home wife, I’d be all over the subject, spouting statistics about how important the mother-daughter bond is to girls’ self-esteem and how limiting it is to expect men to mind the home front. But living with her as she became fatter and fatter was completely different.
Maybe it’s because the plan wasn’t for Marie to lose her looks so rapidly. I went to work when she started graduate school, thinking that I’d head back for my own Ph.D. once she was done. I envisioned us as hard-core SWPLs, reading passages from Joyce to each other while I put together a collection of sexy lingerie for her to wear as we reenacted every sex scene from Victorian era period films. Instead, I fell in love with my first job at a modeling agency, and eventually, after a few promotions, I found myself working as a photographer for a fashion magazine.
Things went less smoothly for Marie. By the time we found out she was pregnant – three years into our marriage – she’d been working at a job teaching film for six months and was beginning to gain weight from all the take-out she ate. She began packing on the pounds by the week, and it affected everything about her – her mood, job performance, health, sexiness. The lingerie I had bought her no longer fit, lost in the folds of her burgeoning ass. Still, the minute her pregnancy test flashed its double pink lines at me, I knew I needed to work even harder at my job to ensure my child had the best chance in life.
I worked late nights for six months after my daughter was born while Marie continued, yes, bloating up. In 18 months, she gained 40 pounds. Meanwhile, I was being pursued by the models I photographed. Eventually, I flirted with some of them.
I felt like myself again – flirting, feeling horny, loving the sight of beautiful women, doing the witty-banter thing in the halls with the models. But my marriage started to fall apart. I felt guilty about being glad to go back to work, and in my head, I made it Marie’s fault. Because she had gotten fat, I blamed her when I was working late and had to miss the baby’s bedtime; it was her fault I had to go in early every day, since the fact that she couldn’t stay slim meant that I couldn’t stop myself from checking out other women. And when I got home, I seethed. I couldn’t walk across the living room without tripping over a half-eaten apple pie or an ice cream scoop. The baby was in the same little nightgown she’d slept in the night before. There wasn’t a hint of food in the fridge; Marie had eaten it all. She was home all day-couldn’t she at least run a few laps on the freaking treadmill?
Eventually, communication between Marie and me deteriorated to the point where all we talked about was the baby. Had she gotten enough sleep? What had she eaten for lunch? How could she have run through an entire value pack of diapers in one weekend? “Wait till I tell you what she did,” she’d say every once in a while, as she gazed adoringly at the baby and I gazed around the room to avoid looking at my wife’s Pillsbury rolls. In those moments – watching Marie gently rock her to sleep while singing “Punk Rock Girl” – I was reminded why I had once thought Marie was the sexiest woman in the world. But our sex life was in ruins; I spent all my time in the computer den (AKA pornatorium) or at work-sponsored happy hours with the models. I chalked it up to the transition period all new parents go through. Then one day, I realized it had been almost a year since Marie and I had made love.
Sometimes she’d say, “I really think things would be better for us if we could just be intimate again.” Or she’d put the baby to bed early and come into the living room with two glasses of wine and a book of poetry – our classic recipe for seduction – but just the thought of me touching her cottage cheese thighs and lint-encrusted belly rolls made me recoil. “Maybe I’m just not a sexual person anymore,” I told her, and I honestly meant it. The truth is, I wasn’t attracted to her anymore. It wasn’t that she’d changed on the inside – she still had the same sense of humor, kind heart, and sharp intellect that had literally made me fall in love when I first met her. But in my heart and my head, I’d neutralized her as a sexual being. I wanted to be overwhelmed by the sheer power of her femininity in the bedroom, but I wasn’t. Because I felt like the dumpster diver in our relationship.
We went to see a therapist. “Don’t you think I resent you for how easy it is for you to stay thin?” Marie asked me during one session. “You have these great genes, and I’m home like a slave, running errands, taking care of your shit, and you can’t even spare me five minutes of sex at the end of the day.” I think it was the first time I’d actually listened to what she had to say in years. She said that she was angry with me for always staying out late and partying with slender models, and angry with herself for not being able to turn me on anymore. She said she didn’t appreciate being treated like a nanny-slash-housekeeper-slash-fat disgusting crap to be ignored in favor of porn. But what alternatives was she offering? I had ever so gently suggested she would feel better and our marriage would be happier if she lost the weight she had gained and slimmed back down to the hot wife I knew when I first fell in love with her and married her, but instead all she did was get fatter. We separated a few months later.
In retrospect, I realized I had this preconceived idea of what a sexy, attractive woman should be like. I imagined being married to, well, a good-looking, thin wife with a shapely hourglass figure. Someone whose attractive womanly physique looks pleasant to other people as well as to me. Someone who walks out the door with a sexy dress on, high heels, and a tight ass. Someone who turns heads. Does that make me a sexist? “I always felt embarrassed and guilty – you had all these preconditions for me that I felt like I wasn’t living up to,” Marie said to me after our divorce.
So nobody was more surprised than I was when I went ahead and fell for another funny, bright, kind woman like Marie.
Here’s the difference, though: Magdalena knows what men want – and it’s not a poetry reading over bon bons sitting on the increasingly concave couch. She knows men want to make sweet love to sexy, slender women who can wear the hot lingerie he buys for her without looking like a walrus tangled in a ball of string. Playing with my daughter or painting or translating the writings of Pablo Neruda is fine, but it is only a garnish to the main marriage course – hot, steamy, passionate love with a physically attractive woman. There’s nothing food-obsessed or self-loathing about her. When Magdalena and I are cooking dinner together on Friday nights in a kitchen devoid of cheetos and tubs of Haagen Daz, or trying to drink coffee in bed on Sunday mornings while my daughter dances around us, I’m so attracted to her that it’s all I can do not to rip her clothes off then and there.
Put it this way: Whether it’s me or the sexy figure she’s keeping, I think it’s damn sexy.
This article was sent to various women’s magazines for publication.