VANCOUVER, Canada – I’m on a Canadian lecture tour gearing up for the launch of my new national TV show on Canada’s Vision TV network, called Family Fix. On Saturday night I lectured on Kosher Lust, in which I argue that desire and covetousness are more important than love and companionship in marriage. Raw, magnetic attraction – rather than compatibility – are the foundation of a relationship.
And by attraction I mean not a focus on the body but on the electric gravitation of masculine to feminine and vice versa.
A man in the audience stood up and said, “That’s all well and good if your wife is really beautiful. But what if your wife let herself go? What if she simply doesn’t care about her appearance?” I hear this question often.
Husbands contest my assertion that loss of attraction has more to do with too much familiarity and less to do with appearance.
“Let’s get real,” wrote one man. “When we married my wife was a size six. Now she has trouble squeezing into a size 18.” Another husband nastily echoed the sentiment: “Being married to my wife makes me feel like a polygamist. It’s like being married to two women.” Yet another husband: “I’ve tried to get my wife to go on a diet or go to the gym.
She get angry at me and kicks me out of the bed, which is OK since I barely fit in anyway.”
Struggles with weight are no laughing matter, especially for a woman. Feeling overweight can make one’s self-esteem plummet. I have earlier written that today we live in the age of the visual medium of TV. Therefore, since men today make love with their eyes, “thin is in.” But in an earlier age, when men made love with their hands, “meat was neat.” The woman with curves was preferred. It’s far more pleasurable to make love to soft, supple flesh then a bag of bones and a rib cage. Here, however, I wish to offer a different argument.
Husbands who are married to women who “let themselves go” use it as justification for an indulgence in pornography, affairs, or having little or no sex with their wives. It’s a convenient way of passing the buck and blaming a woman for the loss of what Judaism says is a marriage’s most important ingredient: teshuka, desire, lust.
Firstly, there is something hypocritical in the contemporary notion that only women have to be sexy while men can have endless folds of whale blubber hanging over an ever-expanding torso. Sorry guys, but just as you don’t want to be married to Aunt Jemima she doesn’t want to be married to the Pillsbury dough-boy. You say you’re not drawn to the Goodyear blimp, but she’s not into the Michelin man either. If you want her to get rid of the thunder thighs perhaps you should work on those love handles.
More controversial is my assertion that husbands are largely to blame for wives putting on weight in the first place. A lot of women today have to balance family and career, leaving them little time for a healthy diet and exercise.
But from my experience in counseling couples a woman often diminishes effort in appearance in the face of a neglectful or distracted husband. Why give up the sensual pleasures of food when the sensual pleasure of touch is not offered as a substitute? To be sure, we all need to live healthy, attractive lives for ourselves before anyone else. Self-respect and dignity are key. But I also reject the idea that loving ourselves can in any way compensate for the love of another.
And a sexually distracted or uninterested husband gives little incentive to prioritize looking great, especially when a woman feels pulled by a thousand different priorities, especially when coming home from work also means coming home to work. We all enjoy being attractive, so when a woman in the prime of her life no longer cares as much, we ought to ask why.
Often the blame lies with a husband who long ago stopped noticing.
There are so many famous diets, from Weight Watchers to the Atkins diet to the South Beach diet.
But the most effective and natural of all is the compliment diet.
It’s where a woman feeds off her husband’s sincere flattery. The most mystifying thing about compliments is how they are free and yet we find it so difficult to offer them. A marriage survives on a minimum three to one compliment to criticism ratio. A great marriage has at least a five to one ratio.
When told by the man she loves that she is beautiful a woman is given the incentive to live up to the compliment. Silence and indifference, however, are no match for a calorie-rich diet. A 2010 University of California, San Diego School of Medicine study showed a direct link between depression and eating chocolate, with the sweet treat serving as “a sort of natural Prozac.”
I realize that we all need our own self-esteem and no woman, be they married or single, should allow her identity to be subsumed by a man. Nevertheless, we can’t overlook how in marriage both men and women are deeply influenced by one another’s opinion. A romantic spouse brings out the beauty in their partner.
A man from Los Angeles sent me an email. “There is no easy way to tell your wife she’s overweight.”
“Perhaps,” I said. “But there is a very easy way to focus on the positive. Are you in the regular habit of telling her how beautiful she is? When was the last time you went shopping for clothing with your wife and told her what she looks best in?” Husbands are often blind to the wife who lives in the solitary island of a lonely marriage.
Because of my experience over the weekend with a few husbands complaining about “unattractive wives,” I have focused this column specifically on the failure of many men to make their women feel beautiful.
Of course, it cuts both ways.
I was asked by a rabbi over the weekend, “Since you maintain in Kosher Lust, Shmuley, that what a woman most wants is to be chosen, what is it that a man most wants?” I said, “Men are judged from the earliest age by competiveness, productivity, and winning. What they most want is to be appreciated for their being rather than their doing. Sixty percent of husbands’ affairs are platonic. They connect with women not for sex but for the ego boost of feeling admired for who they are and not what they produce. They’re looking for a relationship which is not focused on the practical, which never excuses it, but it does explain it.”
A lot of husbands I speak to feel like ATMs. They feel appreciated for what they provide. They too need to be complimented for their hearts and not just their hands.
Last summer I bumped into a couple with whom I was friendly more than a decade ago. I remembered the wife as a woman of beauty, with sparkling eyes.
But now some of the light was lost. She still smiled brightly but the glow had diminished. I subsequently discovered her husband had gone through a rough financial period. Unable to support his family and falling increasingly in debt, his self-esteem plummeted. He would come home after work and offer his wife monosyllabic responses to her questions. Whereas once he had been attentive, he now came home and surfed the Internet for hours.
A week turned into a month, a month into a year, and soon he was barely noticing her. True, he had lost a lot of money, but he still had life’s greatest blessing, a beautiful woman who was devoted to him.
So the next time you believe that your wife has added a couple of pounds, perhaps it is you, rather than her, who should be looking in the mirror.The author, “America’s rabbi,” has just published Kosher Lust. He is the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary and his book Kosher Sex is considered a modern relationship classic. Follow him on Twitter @ RabbiShmuley.