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Friday, May 10, 2013

Question

Dear Patrick: I have a kind of complicated question about loving someone with a fetish. My partner of three years who I live with and completely adore has a fetish for BBW and SSBBW. She shared this with me at the beginning of our relationship—that she likes to look at BBW online and watches eating/feeding and burping porn. This wasn't something I was super familiar with, but I don't have any 

issue with it. Actually I think it's pretty rad. She gets intensely turned on by women who eat shamelessly and love their big bodies. That's awesome. I actually really enjoy role playing this with her, even though it's not a fetish for me. I'm an average-sized woman, but I'm happy to talk dirty to her 

about my fat, have her worship my belly, and to eat and burp for her. In a lot of ways, sharing her fetish is really positive, and I'm completely honored that she let me in on something that she feels quite a bit of shame about and hasn't shared with past partners. In some ways, it's made me feel better about my belly, which I've been insecure about for most of my life.

            In other ways though, it doesn't always feel great. I have a history of eating disorders, which I've had under control for almost ten years. All of my sisters have disordered eating. They and my mother are all very thin. I'm not as thin as they are, and not as thin as I used to be, but when I met my partner three years ago, I had been at a weight for several years that was pretty effortless to maintain. I could eat an amount of food that felt good, I wasn't hungry or restricting myself, I wasn't super thin, and I liked my body. When we first started eating meals together, she would make me (and herself) much larger portions than I was used to, and I often felt uncomfortably stuffed. She's a bit heavier than me, but still average, I would say. Eating her meals made me gain about 30 pounds fairly quickly. I didn't feel at home in my body. It triggered my old desires to restrict food and lie about what I was eating so I could avoid gaining more weight. When I would tell her I didn't want such large portions or when I wouldn't finish my plate, she would get upset.

            This is complicated for a few reasons. She was fat as a teenager, which she was shamed for by her mom, peers and doctors. She isn't as heavy now, but she is larger than me and is very insecure about this. Though she is incredibly attracted to people of size, she does not want to be one. She says it's because her body doesn't carry weight like the women she looks at online and is attracted to in real life. She has broad shoulders, a small bum and narrow hips, and gains weight mostly around her middle. She's very sexy. I love her body just as it is (and would love it bigger or smaller), but she can't hear this. She hates her body and gets deeply depressed about her weight. She gets upset that I am smaller than her, and has said that she's jealous of my body. This is really hard. To know that she's jealous of me being smaller than her, and that she's attracted to women much bigger than me. I lost some of the weight I gained at the beginning of our relationship, and sometimes she comments on me being thinner and has accused me of hating fat and not being attracted to fat people. But I love the fat on her body, and my previous long-term partner identified as fat in a positive way. Sometimes I feel like she would like my body more and our relationship would be better if I were bigger. But I know that this wouldn't make me happy, and she assures me that she wouldn't love me more or be more attracted to me. I've asked her if she would be happier dating a woman of size. She's slept with women of size before and says the sex we have is better, and that sex with people of size isn't remarkably better than sex she's had with smaller people.

            I'm not trying to make her sound like a bad or controlling person, because she's not. I think it's pretty common for two women in a relationship, both with a history of body image issues and eating disorders, to have a hard time emotionally. It's difficult when you're trained by society to compare and 

rank your body next to those of other women. It's easy to feel insecure, and I can imagine I would feel more insecure about my body if I were sleeping with someone much thinner than me. I know I feel more insecure when I'm around my family, comparing my body to those of my sisters and mom.

     So that's some background to my issue. Generally things are wonderful in our relationship, and we're both very committed to each other. Here's the rest of my question. We're somewhat open and are working on feeling more comfortable opening our relationship in different ways. Right now we're open to making out with other people, but so far only I've done this. My partner says she doesn't really feel a desire to make out with other people, and doesn't see a lot of people she's attracted to. But the other night she mentioned she might like to meet up with a BBW/SSBBW, for sex or just to watch her eat and touch her body. She says she would only want to do this with a woman who identified as a BBW and liked being objectified and worshiped as such. I've mostly worked through feeling insecure about her watching BBW porn. I usually feel secure in the idea that she truly does love my body the way it is and that she wouldn't be more attracted to me if I were larger. But the thought of her actually being with her ultimate fantasy, a fetish that plays a huge role in her sexuality and our sex life, something I mimic and pretend to be to turn her on and something she has masturbated to since she was a young child really threw me. She doesn't want to hurt me and says she doesn't need to actually do this if it will cause me to feel so bad, but I want her to be able to. I want to feel okay. I just don't know how to think about it or where to look for resources and support.

Answer

For readers who are too lazy to Google some of the terms you used, I want to explain that BBW is Big, Beautiful Women and SSBBW is Super-Sized, Big, Beautiful Women.

            I agree with many of your comments about our culture's insanity around women's bodies, weight, and food. Women are indeed trained to compare themselves to one another and compete to be the most conventionally attractive person in the room. Ironically, the fatter real people become, the thinner our ideals have grown. Actresses, musicians and singers, models, and other female media personalities are so thin at this point that I can only imagine they are living on air. How do they manage to walk down the runway on those broomstick legs or pick up a sheet of paper and read the news with their matchstick arms? This makes it very difficult for people who are not celebrities to figure out what their standards should be. For most of human history, maintaining a healthy weight was not a problem. People ate as much as they could whenever there was a chance to feast because food was always scarce. We never had the huge surplus of food that currently exists for a certain percentage of people in privileged Western nations. Prior to the 19th century, very few of us were able to make a living without expending high quantities of energy, which burned up the handful of calories we managed to grow, harvest, hunt, or raise and slaughter. There also was not a widespread access to manufactured food that contained artificial ingredients (including excessive salt and refined sugar) that skews the amount of calories in each mouthful.

            Part of the friction between you and your partner does indeed sound normal for two women who are living together, sharing food, and creating a sex life which hopefully meets both of their needs. Every couple, no matter the gender configuration, have issues around eating, attractiveness, and what constitutes a healthy way of life. But your individual situation is indeed complicated by your partner's fetish and personal history as well as your own. So let me try to reply to your concerns issue by issue below.

            Given your history of controlling your food intake in a secretive and self-destructive way, tending toward anorexia or bulimia, I think it is amazing that you are able to tolerate having a partner whose sexual fetish swings in the other direction. You don't indicate in your letter whether your partner understands your struggle to allow yourself to eat a reasonable amount, be truthful about what you are consuming, and allow yourself to have some attractive curves and a menstrual cycle. So the first thing that needs to happen, in my opinion, is a reversal of the flow of empathy. Instead of you spending so much time explaining, rationalizing, and accepting her sexuality and emotional wounds, she needs to devote a hefty chunk of time to listening to your story and really “getting” what happens when you have more food on your plate than you can comfortably ingest. It is not good for ANYONE to feel that their partner has an emotional investment in what they are eating or their exact weight and shape. Even if somebody weighs 400 pounds (or 85), they are never going to be able to eat in a healthy way unless they are making their own decisions about what works for them and how they want to look. Sometimes treatment of an eating disorder requires that a person temporarily surrender control over their food to a trusted professional who genuinely has their welfare at heart, but the long-term goal is always to transfer control over the food to the person who has to eat it, digest it, and wear it.

            It sounds to me as if you have been functioning on an empathy deficit for quite a while. Because you are a kind and caring person, you have devoted a great deal of effort to hearing your partner's perspective. You have quite lovingly attended to her needs. You have actually gone a lot further toward fulfilling her fantasies than most people would have the patience or inspiration to create for a loved one. But as I read your letter, I wondered what your fetish was. What is it that really gets your wheels spinning? What does your ideal partner look like? What do they say or do to you? What happens in your fantasies of the ultimate encounter? And is your partner interested in this—beyond a casual agreement to make herself look and feel like a good person? Because talk is cheap! Does she actively pursue and enact the images that are your erotic ideals or obsessions?

            Many people—not just fetishists—have trouble doing this. Far too many of us walk around assuming that if we are getting turned on and having a fun time in bed, the same thing is true for our partner. But even the biggest bottom has to switch on occasion. Very few relationships can flourish if people don't take turns running the fuck. This is the chief difference between being a great lover versus sexual mediocrity. People who are ashamed of their sexual interests are often afraid that they will never get those needs met. They can develop an acute sense of being sexually short-changed that never goes away because they do not appreciate the gratification that does come their way. If you are living in a state of scarcity, it can be very hard to take responsibility for discovering a partner's needs and making sure that their key turn-ons are gratified. But once you find the strength to do so, your whole world changes. Sex becomes an arena of nearly infinite possibility instead of one sad, predictable story featuring guess who as a martyr and victim.

            A certain amount of compromise is necessary in every couple's sex life. But “doing for” somebody else can't be maintained unless they vigorously and effectively “do back.” This is so important because it sends a message that your love and care is genuine. You don't just want a partner because they provide you with pleasure; you are able to look outside of yourself and make sure they are cared for as well. Sadly, you can't make her self-hatred go away no matter how well or how often you mimic a BBW. She probably needs to do more about this, in a more direct fashion. Catering to her fetish will not make her love her own body. Nor would eating more food than you want. Instead of dealing with her self-hatred indirectly, she could explore therapy or a free, 12-step program like Overeaters Anonymous. She needs some kind of intervention or outside help to feel less anger, blame, and shame. Growing up fat and being treated as a second-class person or a failure just because of your physical size is extremely damaging. I hope the fact that she has a loving partner now will create enough of a safety zone for your lover to realize that life doesn't have to be so hard. There are caring professionals and peers who can listen to these stories of loss and humiliation, and offer some comfort.

            Both of you sound fairly insecure to me. I am wondering if this relationship is stable enough to tolerate the stress of non-monogamy. But I also wonder if it can be sustained without the presence of outside partners. Either path has its own difficulties and limitations and dangers. If both of you value the ideal of non-monogamy, why not see what can be learned from experimenting with it? If for any reason it turns out to be too difficult, it's okay to take a break from sex with other partners until you recover or feel motivated to try again, after having adjusted your process.

            The fact that she wants to experience a sensual encounter with a real SSBBW makes perfect sense to me. If her core fantasy is a super-sized woman who consumes mass quantities without shame, someone she can adore and worship and burp, well, of course at some point she is going to want to see if actually doing that is as much fun as it is to think about. Right now, you don't know if her experience with a woman like that will be fantastic or a yawn. Finding a large woman who will get excited doing the things that your lover likes to think about may not be that easy. Not every beauty of size wants other people to hover nearby, voyeurizing while she eats. So let your lover pursue these fantasies—but only if you are also able to look for your own erotic siren.

            Most couples in open relationships have some rules about it. These rules vary a great deal, and can change over the life span of the relationship. It may be too early for you and your lover to set reasonable boundaries around this activity. Do your best to approximate the conditions that give you both maximum opportunity to enhance your primary relationship, but understand that it's a work in progress. You don't really know what you can endure or what you need until you have wider experience to guide you. Experimentation should be done with the understanding that both of you need to talk things over after each date and assess how well your boundaries worked. As long as both of you are being honest, sticking with your agreements, and not trying to be mean to each other, nobody should be treated like a villain. Mistakes are learning opportunities.

            Let me give you some more specific examples. Some non-monogamous people need to hear every detail of a partner's encounters so they feel that no secrets are being kept. The erotic narrative of an adventure with somebody else can become a sort of porn that is exciting to share vicariously. For other people, the less said, the better. They prefer not to know details because this is too painful or challenging. For some people, their comfort relies on an emotional limit. They might say, “Do whatever you like with another person's body, but don't fall in love.” Other rules might be: You can only date people I don't know. No overnight stays; that's too much like a real relationship. For others, there is more safety in knowing their partner is with a trusted friend or someone who cares deeply for them. Making sure both partners are as safe as possible (which also means taking precautions to protect their health) is a well-nigh universal expectation.

            Dossie Easton's book The Ethical Slut remains a classic in the world of open relationships. She does an especially good job of talking about how to do self-care when jealousy or insecurity arises. It takes a stout-hearted soul to continue to love the partner who wanders off with somebody else, even if you know he or she will be back soon. Few of us have enough self-esteem to keep faith with the truth that we are irreplaceable. Even if your partner has a dozen huge orgasms with somebody else, you can't be duplicated. Your gentleness, beauty, kindness, acceptance, and warmth are writ large across her heart. No one else will ever be you. Also remember that monogamous couples break up all the time, without any nookie on the side. You can't keep your partner by forbidding sex with other people. The relationship succeeds or fails on its own merits.

            I would be concerned, however, if the drama of negotiating an open relationship swept aside your valid concerns about your own needs. It is not okay, for example, for your partner to tell you that she is jealous of your relatively thin body or accuse you of hating fat people because you have resisted her efforts to inflate you. It's not okay for her to get pouty when you don't eat as much as she wants you to eat. If she doesn't learn to respect your reasonable boundaries, you will come to resent her. I understand that you don't want me to think she is a terrible person, and I don't. But she has done some things that have hurt your feelings and made you wary. If she wants to keep you, she needs to understand what went wrong and make some amends. The relationship you have described to me is lopsided. Your pain and your need for transcendence are just as important as your lover's, so I hope the balance of power can be reset.

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