Dear Ms. Behavior:
My boyfriend, Franz, is a gym Nazi. (I don’t mean to offend with this term—we are both Jewish, and the names in this letter are fake.) I am naturally thin and well-built, but Franz insists that I tone up and build my muscles, and keep my heart pumping, especially because we are getting older (in our late 30s).
The point is, I’m not interested in going to the gym every night after work. I want to go to the movies or dinner, or out with friends. I think he has some compulsive problem, because he tells me all the time that if I don’t support him by doing the gym with him, I essentially am undermining him, and keeping him from being his best. He used to be overweight, so I feel bad about his deathly fear of flab, and my not being able to support him totally.
Do you think I am wrong to want to live according to my own comfort? Or should I support him fully by going to the gym when I don’t want to?
You shouldn’t have to give up your movies and dinners every night to do crunches and sweat with your former-fatty boyfriend. If Franz wanted to sing in a choir five nights a week, your refusal to join him wouldn’t mean that you were “unsupportive.”
Even though it sounds like you have the metabolism of a teenager, perhaps (out of romantic generosity ordinarily reserved for movies and love songs) you’d be willing to indulge your boyfriend, and join him once or twice a week in his workout habit. Just treat it like an obligatory trip to visit ailing relatives, or to address a chronic dental problem.
Your gesture of goodwill and kindness won’t be enough to satisfy Franz completely, but fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. You’re not obligated to provide what’s missing from his life. You’re not his Mommy.
Franz needs a gym buddy, but there’s no reason that his gym buddy has to be you. He might try advertising for one on Craigslist, or even in a local queer publication.
You, of course, will have to tolerate the idea that your boyfriend routinely is grunting and sweating with another man, and saying things like, “Do it! Push! Yes!” (Unless you take the initiative instead to find a big butch lesbian trainer to help him.)
Meanwhile, you might try buying a few inexpensive pieces of gym equipment for Franz to use at home. That way, when he’s running on his treadmill, you can recline a few feet away with a bag of Doritos, cheering him on between mouthfuls.
© 2008 Meryl Cohn. Address questions and correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the author of Do What I Say: Ms. Behavior’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Etiquette (Houghton Mifflin). Signed copies are available directly from the author.