Reluctant Barbie Girl
April 22, 2011 1:49 PM   Subscribe

How can I explain to my boyfriend that some of the fantasies he has about me are hurting my self esteem (and our relationship)?

I am new to the serious relationship scene, and am nearing the 3 month mark with my long-distance, first steady boyfriend, who is also my first real sexual partner. Lately I've noticed that whenever we're relating fantasies to one another, whether it's through text or in person, my guy has some very specific visions about how I should look and how I should be "groomed". 

The first time he related a fantasy to me that involved me being completely hair free down there, for example, I was upset, told him so, and we had a good discussion about it. Now, though, other little "requests" pop up here and there, and they've left the bedroom and made it into real life. I enjoy having a bf who isn't afraid to speak his mind and be assertive, but some of these requests for certain clothes or looks are expensive, painful and hard to maintain. He even cups my breasts sometimes during sex and pushes them up because they look better that way (and that really hurts because I have been fighting with myself over whether or not I should have surgery to lift my chest back up to where it used to be for years). In every way my boyfriend tells me he thinks I'm beautiful and sexy and that he loves me for who I am and always will. How, then, can I get him to stop treating me like I'm some kind of fantasy girl even if, in his eyes, that's exactly what I am? Sometimes a request turns me on -- most of the time it hurts me and makes me question the mixed messages I'm getting.

I am not afraid to discuss this with him, by the way. He is extremely conscientious normally; i just think he's not realizing how insensitive he is, and I just don't know how to tell him this AGAIN without damaging our sex life. I just want to feel like he really likes me for what I look like NOW, not what I could look like if I did x, y, or z.
posted by patronuscharms to Human Relations (56 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

Your post shows that you're perfectly articulate about this. So the hurdle isn't whether you can formulate the words to describe the problem. And you say the hurdle also isn't being too afraid to talk with him about it. So I'm not sure what the hurdle is. Tell him what you've already told us.

I'm sure people will come along with alternate ways to word you've already said, but really, your own words are best. There's nothing you've written here that you can't say to him.
posted by John Cohen at 1:59 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Now, though, other little "requests" pop up here and there, and they've left the bedroom and made it into real life.

I don't know what the specific requests are, but the idea of this sounds unhealthy. One's SO should take them as they and not be requesting changes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:02 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

The first time he related a fantasy to me that involved me being completely hair free down there, for example, I was upset

I don't follow this. He shared a fantasy with you; why would you be upset about that? This doesn't seem insensitive. Nor does cupping your breasts in a certain way during sex.
posted by jayder at 2:06 PM on April 22, 2011

Response by poster: Brandon, the best and most recent example I can give is this one: we will be attending a high-profile red carpet event this summer and I am currently dress shopping. I have involved him in said dress shopping as a courtesy because I know he likes it when I get dressed up. This experience hasn't been all that fun because he really wants me to get a certain style of dress that I am not comfortable wearing because it's impractical and uncomfortable and he's really disappointed about it. I'm fine with a guy going, "Oh my god, yuck" about a dress. I find it stressful to feel like I'm being pressured to compromise my comfort and my own sense of self in favor of something that fits my SO's fantasy vision of me.
posted by patronuscharms at 2:09 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sometimes a request turns me on -- most of the time it hurts me

Unfortunately this is going to make it tough for him to guess what he can and can't request. It's something that's not fair to expect him to know ahead of time.

I wonder if maybe you can find a way to interpret his requests differently. For instance, the request about shaving: If you can see it as just a simple request and your responses can range from "Yeah that would be hot!" to "Nah, I don't feel like doing that.", that's going to be a lot better than ranging from "Yeah that would be hot!" to "That makes me feel hurt, ugly, and unloved."

Now he might be insensitive in the way he's asking - it's hard to tell from what you have written. "Hey it'd be fun if you/we/I shaved our/your/my whatever parts!" is really different from "Ew your pubic hair is all nasty." If his requests are anything like the former, you might consider that this is a matter of your own feelings about your body, and that you could work on that alone or with a counselor (or with your boyfriend!). If it's more like the latter, then you have to talk to him about shaping up and being more kind.
posted by fritley at 2:10 PM on April 22, 2011 [7 favorites]

You mention that you are not afraid to discuss this with him, you just don't know how to talk about it without damaging your sex life.

So... it sounds like you ARE afraid to talk about it and you feel your sex life is at stake. But you are, in a sense, faking it. Your sex life is already damaged because your bf is saying and doing things that are making you very uncomfortable. So maybe you can re-conceptualize it as you need to talk to your boyfriend about improving, repairing and strengthening your sex life
posted by zia at 2:11 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Jayder, in the first scenario he basically related the fantasy to me, which I just took in initially, and hours later he made the follow up comment, "I have some requests about grooming." I expressed discomfort, he retracted the request, but days later, same fantasy resurfaces, making me feel like he's constantly thinking about how badly he wants that part of my body to look a certain way.
posted by patronuscharms at 2:13 PM on April 22, 2011

Honestly, if he's going to a dick and pressure you, dump him. This behavior probably won't get better.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:13 PM on April 22, 2011 [22 favorites]

Does your bf watch a lot of porn?
posted by jsavimbi at 2:15 PM on April 22, 2011 [12 favorites]

You need to talk to him about this. I kinda feel like he can make requests, and you can respond to them as you feel like it- if he asks you to wear a certain kind of dress, and you say in a non-dramatic way that it's not your preference, for instance. It's how he responds that seems to be the problem. If he continues to pressure you or act obviously disappointed, that isn't cool and you need to make it really clear that it's your body, and what you do with it or wear on it are ultimately your choices, even if he can give some input, and that his reaction to your not fulfilling his wishes is making you feel really bad.
posted by MadamM at 2:15 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Brandon, the best and most recent example I can give is this one: we will be attending a high-profile red carpet event this summer and I am currently dress shopping. I have involved him in said dress shopping as a courtesy because I know he likes it when I get dressed up. This experience hasn't been all that fun because he really wants me to get a certain style of dress that I am not comfortable wearing because it's impractical and uncomfortable and he's really disappointed about it. I'm fine with a guy going, "Oh my god, yuck" about a dress. I find it stressful to feel like I'm being pressured to compromise my comfort and my own sense of self in favor of something that fits my SO's fantasy vision of me.

Did you tell him you didn't want to buy the dress because it's impractical and uncomfortable? If so, what did he say?
posted by John Cohen at 2:17 PM on April 22, 2011

Him: "Wow, you should wear this strapless minidress for that event we're going to!"
You: "Ick, no, that looks uncomfortable and impractical. I like this one better."

You: "When you push up my breasts during sex it makes me feel like you don't like the way they look and it's a sensitive subject for me."

If he does it again: "I asked you not to do that" [move his hands elsewhere]

You: "I just want to feel like you really like me for what I look like NOW, not what I could look like if I did x, y, or z."
Him: "Of course I like what you look like now!"
You: "OK then shut up about me getting waxed, it's not going to happen."

It's pretty simple, actually, but your lack of confidence is getting in the way. You need to draw a bright line. I know my husband has certain preferences, and sometimes I'll indulge them because it turns him on, but it's on my terms. If I don't want to wear stilettos then it's "Nope, not doing it." It's YOUR BODY. Presuming you maintain some basic level of hygiene, beyond that anything you do for him is a gift and not a right he has. Cultivate a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. You already know he's going to "take it," so there's zero risk, and it will increase your confidence quite a bit.
posted by desjardins at 2:20 PM on April 22, 2011 [46 favorites]

I agree with John Cohen that you've clearly identified the problem. As for how to address it, I think you need to treat this like other kinds of kink; in other words, ground rules and boundaries!

"Darling," you say, "I love you, and* I need you to work with me on how I can fulfill your sexual fantasies without getting my feelings hurt." Then you say what you said to us, putting it in terms of "I feel X when you Y." Then you propose possibilities for situations where comments about your appearance will work for you (roleplaying? when you've specifically gotten yourself all dolled up for the situation?).

Basically, set up a situational space in which he knows it's okay for him to do it, and another in which he knows it's not. (At least not without asking first. It should generally be okay for him to say, "Can I tell you how I'm imagining you right now?" and it should also be okay for you to say "No, not right now. I've been feeling crummy about my chest/belly/legs lately, and I need for you to appreciate my body for how it really looks right now.")

Finally, like other kinds of kink, have a safeword. "What?" you're thinking. "But this isn't like being tied up—it's just normal sex." Well, right now you probably don't have any way of non-judgmentally letting him know that you need to slow down, step back, and start again when this sort of situation (e.g., grabbing your breasts and pushing them up) isn't okay with you. The great thing about a safeword is that you work out exactly what it means in advance. That way, when he's doing something that makes you uncomfortable, you can just say "Asparagus" and he'll think "Oh! Something must be weirding patronuscharms out. We'll just move back to side by side cuddling, as we had earlier agreed to do if either of us said 'Asparagus' during sex. It doesn't mean she doesn't like me or think I'm hot, it just means this isn't working."

*See scody's awesome comment for why it's always "I love you, and" and not "I love you, but."
posted by ocherdraco at 2:23 PM on April 22, 2011 [12 favorites]

I think that requests are fine. You can ask him to stay clean-shaven, or grow a beard, or to please rub baby oil on your butt, and vice versa.

But if someone has said "no," continuing to pressure and beg is not classy.

And, even if any one of those requests is fine on its own, if they aggregate into a vision of you or your relationship that you are not ok with, then you need to establish some boundaries (or move on if he can't respect those boundaries. So while you might be ok with an occasional request for something like shaving, you might not be ok with a dude who wants shaving plus a minidress plus big hair plus implants plus vinyl underwear plus tattoos. Any one of those isn't the end of the world to ask for, but putting them together expresses a vision of sexual desirability that maybe isn't what you are down with.
posted by Forktine at 2:28 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

I agree with everything that's been said before, about communication, and that pressuring is definitely not cool.

Just wanted to ask: are you sure he's cupping/squeezing your breasts because he thinks they're droopy, as opposed to just cupping them and squeezing them together because he's all "Yay boobies! I wanna play with them?"
posted by np312 at 2:36 PM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Also, specifically with regards to the dress thing: you put yourself in that position by inviting him along. Once again, make boundaries! Go shopping by yourself or with a friend who's invested in you not making a fool of yourself, who knows something about the kinds of clothes needed at such an event, and who isn't your boyfriend. Select a reasonable number of options that fit the event, seem to be in the ballpark of the kinds of things your boyfriend might get excited about, and (most importantly) that you know you will actually wear.

Then, depending on which is most feasible for you either:
A) purchase them all, call up your boyfriend to let him know that you are going to have a very special fashion show for him that evening, and that you need him to be his most sexy, discerning self, or

B) have the store hold them for you and come back later with your boyfriend in the admittedly less sexy atmosphere of the store, but with the clear understanding that you have already selected the possibilities, and that it is his job to help you make the final decision.
Again, the point is that you know his behavior: you need to anticipate it and work with it where his behavior is not in and of itself inappropriate, and not expect him to act differently, and in situations where his behavior is inappropriate (i.e., doesn't fall within the guidelines that you have mutually agreed upon) you need to tell him so.

Work with his overall pattern of behavior: if you tell him "I don't like that specific request" but you don't also say "because it's part of a general set of things that you do that make me feel uncomfortable," he may remember it as "I shouldn't ask for X," when what you really want him to remember is "I shouldn't ask for X, because it falls into the broader category of Y." You've got to give him the information he needs in order to then think: "I think I'll ask patronuscharms to do Z. Oh, no, wait, Z is in category Y, just like X. I think I'll ask her to do B instead; I know she's okay with B."
posted by ocherdraco at 2:37 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there a way for you to look at this more artistically and less personally? As I read your question, I thought, were I in your shoes, that I would draw these things for my boyfriend. I am a decent artist, and a drawing is a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a bunch of lingerie (and more flattering to me, ha). So I'd do some pinups. Maybe because of my artistic background, I am not that threatened by how an SO wants to see my body (because the body he wants to see is mine). Doesn't mean I'll fulfill that in real life, but I can see the appeal of the visual fantasy from their point of view. Okay, me in a corset, hot. Am I going to spend $100 on a corset, or am I particularly interested in cramming myself into one? Hell, no.

Perhaps you are afraid of drawing strong boundaries in regards to how he can influence your physical appearance? He can request that you shave or wear a crazy dress, and if you put your foot down immediately and say, "nice in fantasy but not so much for reality" - what reaction are you afraid to get? Are you afraid that by not fulfilling his visual requests, he will say unkind things, or leave?

I mean, perhaps there is a way to play around with his visual fantasies of you in a fun way without spending an impractical amount of money or doing anything uncomfortable, but you are going to have to define what you are comfortable with in real life and what he's just going to have to leave to imagination. His reaction to the boundaries you set will say a lot about him.
posted by griselda at 2:38 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Since you say this is your first real sex partner, I think it is important for you to know that not all guys are like this. Some guys want barbie-porn girls and act cluelessly entitled about it. Other guys (the great majority, actually!) will either be totally happy to be having sex with you, or will be clued in enough about female body image stuff that they won't present their requests in a hurtful way. It is possible that your guy just needs a little educating - but on the other hand, please remember that there are men out there who think women's natural bodies are intoxicating, and you will instinctively feel that. Any requests these kinds of guys make will feel like icing on the cake - will make you feel sexier - instead of making you feel like you have to live up to an impossible standard.
posted by mrs. sock at 2:42 PM on April 22, 2011 [10 favorites]

One more thing about the shopping: you know that you can take him to the store to try on things that he thinks are fantastic and which you would never wear in real life even if both of you know that you're not going to buy any of them, right? If you do that, you can let him get excited at the sight of you in something ridiculously awesome and also just plain ridiculous, and then you're not constrained by actually needing something with a practical purpose. (You can even roleplay while you do it! "Rich socialite and personal shopper" or whatever floats your boat.)
posted by ocherdraco at 2:44 PM on April 22, 2011

It's also important to know that people have requests and a lot of having a relationship is compromise.
posted by rr at 2:44 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

How about this.

"Honey, I'd love it if you got a Brazilian wax, wore stripper heels and gave me a blow job in a Starbucks bathroom."

"Awe baby. Not going to happen."

"Hey honey, what do you think of this (LBD, the one that if you sit down the whole world is your gynecologist)?"

"Awe baby. Not going to happen."

Usually I'm all for talking things over, working out feelings yadda yadda yadda. Sometimes, however, a good natured and firm No is more effective in stopping the behavior you don't want. The lovely thing about no is that you don't have to explain, you don't have to get into these long conversations about self-esteem, about the lines between fantasy and reality, and the economics of hot clothes. You just say 'sorry babe, not going to do that' or 'sweetie, could you please not knead my breasts like pizza dough."

Then you stand back and observe. Does he keep asking for the same thing over and over, despite your No? Does he up the ante and ask for more extreme versions of the same thing? Does ask you how he can make you feel more comfortable? Does he bail?

You don't have to justify your limits, all you have to do - for now - is enforce them with some humor and grace and see what happens. His response will tell you every thing you need to know about staying in this relationship.
posted by space_cookie at 2:45 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: >> Yes, John, and it's starting to sink in. I think he's used to some girls having the whole "get dressed up" thing down to a science, whereas I am the daughter of a tomboy and it takes a lot of effort for me to feel really comfortable getting dressed up. I've just sent him a gentle request via text to clarify how much he really wants me to look a certain way at this event so that a dialogue can begin.

>> It's a mixture of both, NP312. Dude loves my boobs, but dude also spends a lot of time focusing on what bras I'm wearing and his reaction to my bra-less body is not as strong as it is when he sees me in a great pushup. Minus ten points for my self-esteem each time that happens. I have yet to call him out on this because I've been interpreting this as a nonverbal request and it's one that really makes me sad.

I think that a big "AHA" light went off in my head with ocherdraco and desjardin's comments about these things being fetishes and kinks for my boy. That is helping me reframe a lot of what he's asked for in the past as understandable and forgivable. Kinks don't have to be fulfilled all the time. They can be doled out as special treats. THAT is something I can handle.

However, that doesn't mean that all of what he says is kosher. Some of it is insensitive and I am so, so glad I asked this question today because I really just needed some help in dissecting what is and is not going to work for me in the future. I am going to mull a lot of what's been said over and start a dialogue with him the next time one of the requests happens so that he and I can reset expectations and have a more satisfying relationship in general.
posted by patronuscharms at 2:48 PM on April 22, 2011

Does he love you or parts of your body? Sounds like he's into Barbies!
posted by Carol Anne at 2:53 PM on April 22, 2011

Kinks don't have to be fulfilled all the time. They can be doled out as special treats.

Special treats, yes, but not inexplicably or capriciously granted treats. People's kinks are important and integral parts of their selves. Think of it more like "a gift I will happily and almost always* give under a specified set of circumstances." If there's no obvious logic to when you say yes and when you say no, it's bound to be frustrating for both of you. He'll think you're jerking him around, and you'll think "But I'm doing it sometimes, aren't I?" You both have to be very clear about how you're going to approach these situations.

*leaving room for saying no when you really can't, in good faith, say yes, because it would be either dishonest or hurtful to either of you
posted by ocherdraco at 2:57 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Dump the guy. You really think this thing is gonna last the test of time? Not a chance. Take a macro perspective, trying to micro-manage the red flags you're seeing and feeling an exercise in futility.
posted by america4 at 3:00 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: No, that's totally fair. I can really get behind that. I would love to be able to fulfill some - if not all - of his requests. I just can't do that sometimes, and there are certain requests that cross boundaries of mine and I need to be more direct about establishing those boundaries with him so we both know where we are on those kinds of things. Thank you for saying that. I don't ever want to play games with him - or any man - like that.
posted by patronuscharms at 3:01 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Sweetie, I know you don't want me to give you a complex about needing a bigger cock, so let's not give me one about needing a bigger rack, m'kay?"

When you haven't had a lot of relationships/sexual partners, it's harder to realize that they should make you feel BETTER about yourself. If he can't reign this in, you deserve MUCH better.

posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 3:01 PM on April 22, 2011 [22 favorites]

I just can't do that sometimes, and there are certain requests that cross boundaries of mine and I need to be more direct about establishing those boundaries with him so we both know where we are on those kinds of things.

Yes! That's it exactly. Good luck!
posted by ocherdraco at 3:04 PM on April 22, 2011

You need to learn to say, "I disagree. I'm hot." and mean it. Women are tacitly taught to let men decide what's sexy. It serms like they should know, right?

Big secret they don't tell you but if you're lucky you internalize eventually: Beyond certain instinctual subconcious things that are so subtle they almost don't matter, when it gets to the conscious level of deciding this or that is attractive, men have no more idea than anyone.

What this means is, you can get very far in life by deciding and believing and defining what's hot and selling it to everyone else.

So just laugh and say "I disagree, I'm hotter as I am already." and mean it. More often than not this totally works and wins you respect to boot.
posted by Nixy at 3:16 PM on April 22, 2011 [21 favorites]

I may take a different stance on this. I'm not saying you should just jump and do what he says, nor am I saying that you should ever do something that makes you uncomfortable. That said, I couldn't help but notice this:

The first time he related a fantasy to me that involved me being completely hair free down there, for example, I was upset, told him so, and we had a good discussion about it.

So, the first time he mentioned hairlessness, you were upset. I guess the thing that comes to mind is: why? Can you identify why this request upsets you?

I mean, while I don't think he should pressure you in any way, a part of me wonders whether you are reacting a little too strongly to what may very well be low-stakes, non-issue requests and ideas from him. Many of the examples you gave just seem...benign. It makes me questions whether there is a dynamic here that we're not seeing in this, or whether you are reacting because of some strong underlying insecurities.

A story: one of my exes was really into ladies' clothing. Not in the sense that he liked to wear it, but there were certain things he just really, really liked on girls. Different articles of clothing would sometimes give him a really strong response. So, he would sometimes point out things that he thought were sexy, in the hopes that I would wear it, just random thoughts about how he had been fantasizing about if I came into his office in 4-inch heels, or maybe observing, while we were out shopping, that it would be really fun if I put on some short-shorts and some sneakers. They were just ideas that he voiced semi-frequently.

At no point, though, did I ever feel that he was editorializing or making some comment about my fashion choices. In fact, he really liked what I normally wore. There was no doubt about that in my mind. He just liked to bring up other ideas to see if I would entertain them. Which, often, I did; but if if I didn't, no biggie.

Obviously, there is a line that can be crossed, and you are free to set yours wherever you'd like, but I just have this feeling that there is something else going on, you know? Similar requests are often a part of relationships, like asking a guy if he wouldn't mind shaving because beard burn sucks, or suggesting he wear that favorite shirt of yours when you go out because he looks all foxy in it and you're feeling frisky. Is that negative commentary or just a fun suggestion?

I dunno. Maybe I just missed something in the question...
posted by vivid postcard at 3:23 PM on April 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

Also (I swear I am going to stop rambling in a sec), I can't help but think that you are conflating superficial requests with deep body image stuff. I mean, look: if he had made some statement about how it would be really hot if you lost 10 pounds or got implants or did some other body-altering thing, he would be an ass and it would be understandable that you would start to get a complex about how he sees you and your body.

But clothes are not you. Nor are they your body. They are just clothes. They are just things.

It almost feels, though, that you are mixing the two up, you know? Like - a negative statement about your shirt is a negative statement about you. Hell, even if he were pointing out that he didn't like something you wore, that would just mean that he doesn't like what you wore*. It doesn't mean that he doesn't like you.

And that he maybe lacks tact, too
posted by vivid postcard at 3:45 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

I agree with vivid postcard, a lot of these things seem pretty mild to me like maybe you're projecting how you feel about your body instead of how your boyfriend feels about it.

As someone who was once (long ago) skinny and hot, I can assure you that pushing up breasts is common and nothing to do with thinking they're saggy. There are really only four ways they can move, and down and out are both awkward, so up and in it is, you know?

Ditto with being attracted to sexy lingerie--sexy lingerie is designed to attract attention and look sexy, that's what it does. Sexy clothing (short dresses, high heels, etc.) is the same--it does what it says on the box.

Shaving... I know this is a polarizing topic, but I don't know... It's hair, it grows back. Maybe you could compromise with a close trim instead of completely bare so that it is less upkeep but also less hair?

The things I agree with are basically comfort and cost. Comfort in that you shouldn't be seriously uncomfortable... If you want to wear something on a special occasion that you wouldn't exercise in, that's reasonable. Wearing something painful long term, serious pain (waxing would be that for some people), or serious mental discomfort like wearing a super short dress in public--not reasonable. Cost would be time and money, and you can just flat out say it: I don't have time to do all my make-up every day, I didn't even know they made dresses that expensive.
posted by anaelith at 4:04 PM on April 22, 2011

Response by poster: Vivid, your comment is so spot on that I can barely even register a response to it. Thank you for your insight.

Dflemingecon, I totally understand the point of a pushup bra. My baggage with this part of my body has to do with the fact that I have otherwise beautiful breasts that now sag a little due to weight loss, and each guy I've dated and fooled around with has, in their time with me, made comments about how nice my chest looks when it's all supported and not saggy. (I date winners. I know.) For my boyfriend to say, "I love you as you are and looks don't matter" and then spend a lot of time cajoling me into admittedly awesome bras? It hurts and makes me feel very distressed. It's a huge issue to me and I spent a good part of last year trying to get over that insecurity and just love my body and now the self-doubt is coming back. That is why this thing, which may seem benign to some of you, is a big deal to me.
posted by patronuscharms at 4:05 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

If I may trot out the Ask.Me cliche, I think you need to work out the issue with your breasts by talking to a therapist. It's pretty normal for a straight male to prefer they're pushed up, even if they're perfectly happy with their natural state.Make it clear to your man this is a sensitive topic for you while you work it out. If he can't respect that, then yes he's an ass, but right now what you're describing is something you mostly need to resolve, not him, IMO.
posted by asciident at 4:14 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, ignore me if I'm wrong, but I think what's bothering you isn't that you're getting a series of requests to do things that aren't to your taste. It's that you feel controlled. If you feel controlled because he has a controlling attitude, then setting boundaries won't change his controlling attitude. Saying no to this or that might get you out of doing this or that but it won't change the fact that he wants to treat you like a doll and you and your separate wishes are the obstacle to him getting what he wants. In situations like these you can say "no" and apparently have it respected, but it's really a signal to the other person to start looking for other ways to get the control they want over your actions.

I don't know if that's the case, however. Maybe it is just that you don't like a particular aspect of the way you look and apparently they don't either, whereas what you want is to like it. In which case "I love your saggy boobs honey, now please put on this pushup bra so they can look great" is an annoying mixed message, if in fact that's what's being said and not just what you're hearing.

Maybe it's you that is being a bit controlling here, by not wanting him to like anything that isn't you already, and you want a complete attitude change rather than simply having to say "no" as people routinely do. This seems to be what the hivemind is getting at. His wanting to foist a specific dress on you kind of suggests otherwise to me, though.
posted by tel3path at 4:27 PM on April 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think that it's okay, in a relationship, to indulge some of that fantasy doll stuff. My husband likes my legs in really high heels. Am I going to buy a pair of Manolos and wear them every time we go out? Maybe, but I'm more likely to get a cheapo pair, and parade around in them at sexy hour. Then, when we do go out, he's probably not going to suggest that I hoist myself into the stilettos.
And being a daughter of a tomboy doesn't mean you're not allowed (by yourself or the universe) to practice getting dolled up, showing yourself off, and all that girly stuff every once in a while. That's why they make French maid outfits.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:33 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mod note: folks, more helping, less eye-rolling please. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:40 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

It hurts and makes me feel very distressed.

"Boyfriend, when you repeatedly ask me to wear [whatever] after I've declined, it hurts my feelings and makes me feel very distressed."

... next time it happens ...

"Hey, I'm not kidding, that hurts my feelings."

... if it happens again ...

"Hm maybe we need to take a break from each other..."

I don't care how minor other people think the issue is, if you are specifically telling him his behavior hurts your feelings, and he is specifically ignoring it, there is A Problem.
posted by desjardins at 4:44 PM on April 22, 2011 [24 favorites]

The question your post raises for me is, do you trust him? Do you have a feeling with him of trust and support and comfort, or are you still in the establishing-trust stage, or are you starting to feel like maybe you can't trust him completely so you are starting to hold things back? The things you describe would make me hold things back, because I would feel like he's not seeing you for yourself, but as a substrate that his fantasies can be painted onto. That would make me feel pretty weird.

I mean, sure, talk this over with him. Explain the boob issue, that it's a thing you feel strongly about, and that cupping/squeezing or whatever is not sexay but is awkward for you. Explain that some of the stuff he is asking for makes you feel gross. See how he reacts and see if things change. But you have every right to stand your ground and if the weird requests continue in a way that continues to make you feel gross, I think you're well within your rights to say this is a dealbreaker, like me for who I am or find someone else.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:19 PM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I think another core issue here at hand, too, is that he's very comfortable and practiced in asking for what he wants in all realms of a relationship. I, on the other hand, am only decently good in certain areas, and am pots in the sex arena because, obviously, I have so little experience with it. Over the past few weeks my sexual satisfaction has decreased significantly because I have been holding this concern about my appearance in my mind for too long. Even thinking about having sex with him makes me flinch and curl up into myself. That's how badly this has started eating away at me. I know that this is indicative of a deeper issue, and it's something I am tackling in therapy, but I think it's something that he can ameliorate on his end if I could find the words to ask it. I would like to ask him to be more tender when we have sex; to tell me why he finds me attractive and how he cares for me and how happy he is to have me around. He tells me these things often anyways, but when we have sex, there's a disconnect there. Suddenly we're replicating porn. It's impersonal. How can I ask this of him without sounding needy or even weepy (which is often how I feel when I'm asking for something like this from anyone)?
posted by patronuscharms at 5:37 PM on April 22, 2011

That is why this thing, which may seem benign to some of you, is a big deal to me.

Then I think it is a good idea to let him know that this is a big issue, and see how he responds to it. But I also think it might be an interesting thing to explore why it is a big issue to you.

As desjardins said, if you are specifically telling him his behavior hurts your feelings, and he is specifically ignoring it, there is A Problem. And I think she is right. If the guy is pestering you to wear blue all the time, despite the fact that you hate blue and told him so, that would be a problem, because that would mean that he is absolutely ignoring your needs and requests. And even in my example of the clothes-fixated ex, when he brought up an idea that I was not into, it wasn't an problem because he never, ever pressured me into anything, or even brought up the idea again after I said no.

I guess the one thing with the question of whether this is a "minor" matter is me wondering whether your initial response to his initial requests are indicative of some insecurities on your end, which may be worth addressing in order to avoid miscommunication in the future, or more importantly, in order to make you happier in the long run. and I say this as someone who has, in the past, responded very strongly to some things that have been said to me regarding my appearance. Some of those things should have not been said. But some of those things were milquetoast, and would not bother me at all now, since I have tried to address some of my own insecurities. and honestly, I am a lot happier now that I've done that work with myself.

If, in the course of addressing those issues, you need to put a moratorium on his commentary, then go for it. Just be sure you clearly communicate, not automatically assume hostility if there is none there, and stand up to yourself where needed.
posted by vivid postcard at 5:43 PM on April 22, 2011

but when we have sex, there's a disconnect there. Suddenly we're replicating porn. It's impersonal.

That is terrible. I'm so sorry. It doesn't have to be like that, it isn't usually like that, don't start thinking that that's normal. Nothing is more of a turn-off. Blech.

Here's a suggestion: ruin the moment. Are you grunting like that because you saw someone do it in a movie, dude? Cut it out. Laugh a lot and goof around and refuse to use a bedroom voice -- use a normal voice. Cause it's actually you and him there, right? It's not fake-o porn actors.

Here you both are, your actual selves, enjoying this weird and fun and very intimate and trust-requiring activity. Is he there, interacting with you in a genuine (but awkward) way, or is he somehow absent, engaging more with his fantasy world or idealized picture of how it's "supposed" to be? To me, this would be a grade-A make-or-break moment. You (jointly) need too find a way to make this an activity that you can come to on equal and genuine terms, or else it's just driving you further apart every time.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:07 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

He tells me these things often anyways

....but you don't believe him. Because you don't believe that you are attractive. So it's not going to matter what he says or does until you believe it. Insecurity is like an abyss - reassurance from others can never fill it. By all means, ask for what you want from him, but it's going to be your job to trust that he's being truthful when he says you're attractive.

Figure out what makes YOU feel sexy and confident, regardless of his reaction, regardless of his stated fantasies. Your level of confidence in the bedroom is crucial to your sex life and to your connectedness. I know it seems like he can give that to you by saying all the right things, but he can't. Do not be afraid. Move through your fear of rejection - there is a whole new world on the other side.
posted by desjardins at 6:15 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

I just wanted to tell you that liking boobs in a great bra is not at all tied to not liking them sagging and swaying. My boobs are huge and therefore sag a lot, but the other anachronism's commentary on my recent bra purchase is not aimed at getting me to wear it all the time. It is simply an acknowledgment that he has never seen my boobs look like that and that he is very appreciative. There is a difference between thetwo, but I don't know how to explain it. I am self conscious about my boobs, but his comments have never ever made me ashamed of them, or self conscious in bed with him. So I really get what you're saying here - it isn't that he likes them in a pushup bra, but the way he says it is triggering something.

In other areas of our life the other anachronism has said things that have crushed me a little. So I say something, there and then and I refuse to hold back. It can backfire (when that response does something similar to him and we end up a goddamn mess) but mostly it works out fine.

Sex is too much fun to waste time and effort on feeling like you need to act a part.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:21 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised more people aren't saying that you might want to consider this a deal-breaker. Here's where I'm coming from with this:

One particular ex-boyfriend (I dated him for 2+ years) told me often how hot he thought I was, but had critiques about how I dressed and acted. I know he loved me, but I also knew he thought I should be something other than what I was. I broke up with him for other reasons. I have a very strong ego, so while the comments annoyed me, I didn't get anxious about it like you did.

The man I eventually married was older, and much more tactful. He never even implies anything unflattering about anything I am, do, or wear. That's not entirely true--he hates this huge patterned robe my mom gave me, but I admit it's totally grandma-gear. But, point being he was raised by a single mom and a sister, so I think he learned his manners early.

Here's what you need to consider. For the vast majority of people, their bodies are on a one-way street into not-so-hotness. If he is making suggestions now, how are you going to feel if you have kids and barely have time to shower? What if you gain weight again? Are you ready to hear comments about that?

Especially if this is one of your first serious sexual experiences, I think you may want to consider that you can do better. How your partner makes you feel about yourself is a very important part of an intimate sexual relationship. Even if he's not doing it in a "mean" way, this could make you chronically unhappy with the relationship.
posted by tk at 7:29 PM on April 22, 2011 [13 favorites]

Even thinking about having sex with him makes me flinch and curl up into myself.

Unlike a lot of the people who answered this question, I don't think that the problem here stems from any lack of love for your own body. I think you're pretty accurately picking up on the unspoken vibes that he's sending that he does want your body to be different and that he's trying to mold you into what he finds attractive, rather than loving the way you are. Frankly, if he's making you feel so bad about yourself that you aren't looking forward to having sex three months in, I think you should kick him to the curb with much swiftness.

Love your body now, and don't spend a moment hating it. It won't be very many years before you look back and say to yourself, "why was I so convinced I was ugly? I was BEAUTIFUL." And once you've done that once or twice you realize that you-of-X-more-years-from-now will say that about the way you are at this moment. And you will realize that you are beautiful all the time. Right now. At this very moment. Even if you doubt your mirror, you learn to trust future-self and the way she knows you are gorgeous. Don't let this guy convince you you're not. (Mentioning that your breasts are sagging when you're only old enough to be in your first sexual relationship, plus your mention of a red-carpet appearance makes me think you may be in an environment that focuses so much on the impossibly "perfect" body that it fails to acknowledge your current beauty. Don't let it warp your thinking.)
posted by MsMolly at 7:42 PM on April 22, 2011 [15 favorites]

I just want to feel like he really likes me for what I look like NOW, not what I could look like if I did x, y, or z.

Well, remind yourself that "you now" is the person he's with, not you doing x, y, or z. It sounds like you keep thinking about how inexperienced you are, and how experienced he is, and that fact alone eats away at you. Does he make a big deal about his past girlfriends and what they were like? Even if he stopped saying these things, do you think you would suddenly stop feeling self-conscious about it? It's possible you two just aren't a good match...

I would like to ask him to be more tender when we have sex; to tell me why he finds me attractive and how he cares for me and how happy he is to have me around. He tells me these things often anyways, but when we have sex, there's a disconnect there. Suddenly we're replicating porn. It's impersonal. How can I ask this of him without sounding needy or even weepy (which is often how I feel when I'm asking for something like this from anyone)?

The thing is, you really shouldn't have to ask for stuff like this.
posted by wondermouse at 8:51 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

From reading this thread; you're asking us for permission (and tips) on how to dump this stupid asshole who doesn't appreciate you.

DTMFA - dump the motherfucker already.

Unless he's in perfect shape and completely hairless and his skin is absolutely flawless... you don't need/have/expected to be, too. You need to acknowledge your desireability (he, at least desires you).

Do you actually *like* this guy? I'm pretty sure you can find a better person/boy/man/guy/whatever.
posted by porpoise at 8:53 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Three months together, long distance, and all these appearance-specific requests? I think you are sticking around because this kind of relationship is new to doesn't sound particularly good and life affirming. I would move on.

There are enough very real and terrible obstacles to worry about in life; being made to worry about being attractive enough for one's SO (BY said SO) should never, in my opinion, be on that list.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 9:16 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: After much deliberation I brought my worries to my boyfriend and we discussed everything at length. He admitted that he focuses on my appearance too much and agrees that the way things have evolved for this aspect of our relationship is destructive. I asked for many of the things I discussed with all of you in this post and he had no problems with any of it. He even took the lead and drew other connections for himself and offered solutions in other ways. He seems to be very committed to me and making sure that I have what I need to feel secure in our relationship, so I felt empowered and asked for a break so that I can spend a little time working on how I feel about myself to better determine if I am ready for a relationship like this, and if a relationship with him specifically is the right thing for me.

Thank you for all your input. I am going to sleep on this and see how I feel in the morning.
posted by patronuscharms at 11:01 PM on April 22, 2011 [12 favorites]

Good for you both! Good luck as you think it through.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:26 PM on April 22, 2011

Yay communication! Good luck!
posted by desjardins at 8:30 AM on April 23, 2011

Response by poster: An update: I drove to see my boyfriend last weekend after asking for a break because I realized that a great deal of the confusion and turmoil we were both experiencing was due to the distance between us. As soon as we saw each other we burst into tears because we couldn't believe we'd allowed ourselves to get this far without really clarifying exactly what was going on in our physical relationship, and my boyfriend in particular expressed a very strong desire to help me see myself in the way that he sees me: perfect just the way I am. I didn't realize how much of what he had been saying to me or asking of me was rooted not in criticism; he truly views me as already everything he could want, and none of what he sometimes requests is anything but icing on the proverbial cake. I didn't wear makeup, I dressed casually the entire weekend, and for the first time I just let myself be natural. We were a little on tenterhooks (mostly because he thought I was going to break up with him) but our communication lines were so open that we couldn't help but move forward, and in great leaps and bounds, too. I know that from what I described here in this post that many of you view him as a little bit of a Shallow Hal. We're both a little shallow due to our environment and careers, but I have never felt so treasured in all my life after telling him how I feel about my body and after he put all my fears to rest so thoroughly.

Anyway, thank you for the guidance and input that each of you provided me. I hope to be able to overcome some of my body image issues and I believe that in time my own sense of self coupled with my boyfriend's love and support will make that a reality.
posted by patronuscharms at 10:23 PM on April 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I love updates like this! It's great that you were able to get through some tough conversations. A lot of people would shut down and run away or pretend the issue doesn't exist. Major kudos to both of you.
posted by desjardins at 7:15 AM on April 28, 2011

Love the update. I thought it important to mention (though its been stated differently in lots of comments above), that making requests like he did does not necessarily mean he's attracted to you 70% and only the change he requests could bring it up to 95% (or whatever you feel is 'enough'). He could be starting at 100% and bringing something up that would make it 110%

And you have a right to do that too. And it could, should, and will be fun and sexy to make these things happen together.

It sounds like he's a good guy who maybe was not aware that he was hitting specific triggers of yours, and that you weren't (for whatever reason) communicating 'hey, when you do this, it triggers an emotional reaction because xyz'. And now that he knows, he will be more aware of it.

This is the kind of guy you keep. And maybe even shave for.
posted by softlord at 10:28 AM on April 29, 2011

Shave your crotch for pete's sake. I love keeping myself totally clean. It heightens my pleasurable experiences because there's no 'interference' lol. A clean kitten looks far sexier than one with scruff. The bush was popular in the 80's for a reason, ugliest decade to date.
posted by JeSuisLibre at 3:29 AM on June 1, 2011

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