It’s 6 AM and I am furious. This isn’t a new experience, now that we have a baby, but for once, my anger isn’t directly related to the fact that I’m up at 6 AM. This time it was my choice. I went to the gym to work out, and there discovered that my husband has wasted over 500 perfectly good American dollars on a disused gym membership that he could have canceled at any time.
It had bugged me for months that Steve had only visited the gym a handful of times since the baby was born, whereas I went six days a week. “What a waste of money!” I told him. What a waste of a commitment to physical health! I told myself. I had assumed that our particular membership was the type that you could only cancel once your contract was up, but before entering boot camp; the receptionist informs me that Steve could have canceled at any time. I go on to do a really good job at the kickboxing portion of the class, go home and tell Steve it’s time to bite the bullet and cancel his membership. To my irritation, he totally agrees.
It’s now 7:15 AM and I am still furious, but this time, for totally different reasons.
Body issues run in my family. When I was a young girl, I was a little overweight. My father, who means well but who says exactly what’s on his mind, would frequently offer me suggestions on how I could eat less or work out more, sometimes outright humiliating me. I remember after one big meal at a restaurant, he hissed at me, “I bet you weigh as much as I do right now.” -- and I probably did. In the meantime, my mom (a previously somewhat-overweight girl herself) didn’t say a word to me about my body and cooked wonderful meals for us to enjoy as a family, yet ate only one meal per day, filling herself up with decaf coffee until dinner.
They meant well, I know that now, but between my love of food and the pressure I put on myself to overachieve in other areas, eating in excess was my primary release valve. We’ve all eaten more than we should, but I felt like I couldn’t control myself around food. Once I was out of my parents’ jurisdiction, I’d do things like buy a carton of ice cream, order a large pizza, eat both, and hate myself.
Then, in a shiny new diet journal, I’d promise to start anew, writing entries pledging that I would get my revenge on everybody who had wronged me, including my parents, by getting so thin they’d feel sad. I must have wasted hundreds of dollars on pretty notebooks that I threw away the second I went off the tracks. My weight rose, but more miserably, I hated how out-of-control I felt.
As an adult I eventually got therapy and lost 50 pounds, but my relationship with food and exercise is still a little touchy. I’m always thinking about food: what I want, what I will have, what I want but won’t have, and so on. I get up at 5:30 AM twice a week to go to bootcamp before work; in 2013 I ran 442 miles and I sometimes spend secret time in the bathroom mirror looking at my muscles and/or flab. I work out because I enjoy feeling strong and fit, but there is also a latent terror of what will happen if I stop.
Steve’s been with me since the height of my Binge Eating Disorder, been with me during the loss and plateaus, the fitness fixations, not to mention pregnancy weight gain and loss, and never said a peep about what I should do with my body. He knows me so well that he can spot the difference between what he calls “happy pizza” and “sad pizza,” and still is OK with me going to that early morning workout class even when he has a hard time getting back to sleep after I get up. So if all he’s ever cared about is whether I’m happy or not, why should I not extend him the same consideration?
And still, it riles me up when Steve says things like "I don't have time to work out.” No, I think. It's not that you don't have time. It's just that you don't want to, and then mentally supply the additional point that I don't exactly have all the free time in the world either but I make it because I am awesome and maybe also a martyr. How dare he not feel motivated by my motivation! What kind of person just sits there and feels OK in his own skin while his spouse frantically fights her own desires and genetics?
Once, a few years ago, I told Steve it would be the one and only time I yelled at him about weight and exercise, and then laid it all out on the line: my desire that he live a long life, that he feel good about himself, that he try to keep it tight(ish) as it were, and so on. But of course a few passive aggressive comments about taking a walk during lunch or making sure he adds fruit to his lunch still slip out. I am my father’s daughter, after all.
But I know from my years of being "helped" by my dad -- encouraged to exercise when I didn’t want to or having an empty candy bar wrapper waved in my face -- and all the advice, or shaming, or whatever, can't make someone care about his body in the manner I, not a health professional, of course, have deemed ideal.
Steve is not lazy. He’s not weak. Sometimes he even brags to me that at work he chose not to have a cookie at lunch when he could have. So he’s actually trying to accommodate my issues. And at least when I get up to work out I know there’s somebody at home looking after our baby; at least we don’t have twice as much laundry as there would be if he also worked out as much as I do.
There is honestly probably only enough room in our house for someone with the body issues I have. And besides, once Steve quits the gym, I can buy a second membership for me, closer to work, so we can sleep in a little bit more together and I no longer have to get up at 5:30 AM. I’m trying to accommodate his issues.