Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Question: My on-and-off-again boyfriend said he loves me and feels I'd be the "perfect" woman for him - if only I were in better shape.
Part of me thinks, "Screw you," and the other part acknowledges I could stand to lose about 30 pounds. We broke up, and I've lost about 12 pounds; now I'm stuck wondering if I should share my progress and talk about reconciliation (he tried to get back together already) or be happy that I'm getting healthier for me and leave him in the past.
Answer: What happens if you go through a stretch when you can't exercise? Put on a lot of baby weight that you struggle to lose? Develop a health condition or take medication that involves weight gain? Or simply go back to this extra weight as your default body position, which is common?
"Off again" is where this relationship belongs, unless you think it sounds appealing to have someone's love conditioned upon something no one can promise to control - oh, and, bonus! Conditioned upon your service to him and his preferences!
Kindness, absolutely; fidelity, sure; hard work, quite useful; curiosity, great idea; compassion, can't say enough good things about it; flexibility, a great gift you can give to each other. But physical appearance? Since when was it your job to be perfect for anyone?
Imagine yourself asking of someone else what he asked of you. Would you feel right doing it? If you wouldn't do it, don't date it.
Comment: Run! Yes - run, to find the person who will love you just the way you are. As you age, things sag, turn gray, get stretched, get less flexible, etc. What you want is someone who can look at you with 30 extra pounds or no hair and say, "There is no one I would rather be with."
The bonus is, the person who will say that is much more likely to have your back, be compassionate and giving, kind and hardworking.
Answer: Or demonstrate the quality that is at the root of all of those behaviors: humility.
The mere notion that it's remotely OK to expect someone to change to suit your own ideals is breathtakingly arrogant, and arrogance makes for a foul-tempered roommate.
Now, I often advise couples to talk about suggestions and changes each person can make to help them get along better - a la, "When I'm upset, I'd appreciate it if you gave me a little time to collect my thoughts instead of talking it out right away" - but that's about relatively minor, behavioral accommodations, and based on an understanding that not everyone can or will change even in these ways, or has to, because ultimately partners are an as-is business.
Maybe the boyfriend won't be this way always, but for the purposes of the letter-writer or anyone else facing this kind of decision: Unless and until actual maturity is achieved and humility sets in, now is always.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.