We all know a couple where the disparity in attractiveness between the two halves is of note. I don’t need the difference in attractiveness between Tom and me to be that stark, but let me be frank: neither do I want it to be a close call that I am more attractive than Tom. I never want anyone to consider me the lesser half of anything, and that includes my marriage. I don’t want to be the less intelligent half, or the less funny half. I can probably take less athletic half, but even that makes me chafe a bit, because I am very good at step aerobics, and Tom is not.
Competitiveness, in general, is not a desirable trait. Competitiveness with your spouse, even less so. But it’s a trait I have, and these days, I have it in spades, because I’m feeling threatened. Tom and I started a health kick about six months ago, and while I fell off the kick in short measure, Tom actually stuck to it, and has lost almost 30 pounds in the process. When we first started the 21-day Clean Diet, I felt confident that Tom would make it 5 days, maybe 7 days, tops. Instead, it was me that folded like a cheap suit. The end, for me, looked like this: after a liquid dinner at Prasad, I walked into Little Big Burger alone and crushed a burger and fries like I hadn’t eaten in six days, which I hadn’t. I have a visceral memory of watching the line cook slowly turn the beef on the grill and talking myself out of reaching across the bar to cram the half-cooked patty in my mouth. Eating my truffle fries, I felt the shame that an addict must feel upon relapse, but alas, the deed was done.
After my collapse, I shrugged off my failure and began re-focusing all my efforts on sabotaging Tom. I began to think that I’d started him on the cleanse, and that, by God, I could take him off of it. A large part of me was incredulous that Tom could succeed at something where I had failed. But I had forgotten a key character trait of Tom, which is that he is goal-oriented in the extreme. He treated the cleanse like it was his own personal version of The Biggest Loser. Soon, the slight paunch he’d grown over years of long hours at the office melted away. So too, his late night eating. Pre-cleanse, I’d come downstairs most mornings and find my kitchen looking like it had been ransacked by a bear. No longer. Tom also started going to the gym regularly, in very tiny shorts.
As his weight got uncomfortably close to mine, everything Tom did or said became intensely annoying. Every time he asked for salad with a “squeeze of lemon,” I wanted to hurl his water glass across the restaurant. Every time he checked out his shrinking belly in the mirror, I had to physically restrain myself from kicking him in the nuts. I started baking more than usual, and when he would say “no thank you” to the fruits of my labors, I’d sulk, for hours. The more he said no, the less subtle I became:
To no avail. Tom’s still on the diet, improving himself. As for me, I’ve spent the better part of December eating one-pound bags of holiday Hershey’s Kisses and chasing the candy with fudge. I don’t want Tom to fail, exactly. I am happy that he is getting in shape and taking care of his heart. I’ve even stopped gritting my teeth at his smug demeanor when he’s denying himself something. It’s just that it’s hard when someone you live with and see every day continually improves, leaving you behind. But maybe this is how life partnerships are supposed to work. Maybe it’s not love that keeps a union going, but a mutual desire to better oneself, so that you stay ahead of the other. All I know is, January is in my sights, and Tom’s not going to know what hit him.