Well, it’s finally happened. My skinny, indie-band-guitarist-looking boyfriend has brought home a vitamin bottle full of powdered protein bigger than my head and announced his intention to Buff Up. It’s been a while coming. His best friend is a highlighted gym bunny, two of their good mates are professional football players with tree-trunk thighs, and another is elite Special Forces with a chest like the side of a barn and the alleged ability to maim with his big toe – not that any of this affects their collective smoking and drinking regime. The rest of their boy gang are regular blokes with varying degrees of fitness, and Boyfriend has coasted comfortably as the Good-Looking and Sensitive One for years. He’s got strong legs and more than held his own in the weekly five-a-side, but lost his niche a bit when he left everyone behind and relocated to London to move in with me.
I knew it would all change when we started partnering in hand-to-hand combat class and he discovered I could punch harder than him, as well as tote him across a gym in a fireman’s carry. Actually, no, he likes these things about me, and since we found out I’m three pounds heavier, he will jokingly accuse me of throwing my weight around whenever I’m being bitchy. Oh, the fun we have! It just proves I could save him in a war zone or an emergency. If I felt like it.
In seriousness, combat class has made us both want to be fitter, and there’s a mutual effort to eat more vegetables and motivate each other to go to class when we’re tired or lazy. The range of guys (and it is almost all men) in class is vast, and the physiques are pretty average, especially at our beginner’s level. Nevertheless, I know his desire to hold his own and kick some ass is equal to mine, which is why I was not totally surprised at the sudden purchase of said powder.
I’ve been through this with two other boyfriend before. The first was my shy, actual-indie-band-guitarist boyfriend from college in New York, who decided during our summer separation to throw his energy into Buffing Up. His sister would call to give me whispered updates on the phone about his bizarre juice requirements and totally unexpected dedication to the gym. When I visited him after a two-month separation, my gangly hipster boyfriend from Queens greeted me at the airport with bulging biceps and straining pectorals and, once I got over the initial shock, a good time was had by all.
The second was a post-college boyfriend into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and what I by then recognized as gym addiction. There is nothing wrong at all with having a vigorous exercise routine and making efforts to stick with it – Jesus, I only hope to develop the discipline. But like the boyfriend before him (although college boyfriend lost interest after a few months), Jiu-Jitsi boyfriend had a similar, nearly neurotic, obsession with his fitness routine. Huge quantities of the familiar protein powder crowded out dishware in the kitchen cupboards, and in the mornings I would make him a blended smoothie of fresh fruit and powder for breakfast. I could visit in the late evenings only after he was done with the gym, and the few times I suggested going out for brunch on a Sunday instead of or even before working out were shot down with horror.
In fairness, I genuinely liked the guy, but stuck with him for an entire year despite his extreme emotional stuntedness because he was so insanely hot I was basically a sex zombie for him. So I guess I can’t fault the extreme health regime too much, as I once got him drunk and naked in front of a fireplace for the express purpose of taking a picture of his magnificently sculpted back and ass. Since then? He has moved to South Korea, thinned out considerably on the kimchi diet, and remains insanely hot. Yeah, I still look at his Facebook pictures once in a while, just to torture myself.
But that brings me to my now Boyfriend, who is a darling, and showed up home with the dreaded powder purchase looking sheepish but proud. Here is roughly how that subsequent conversation went:
ME: Is that what I think it is?
HIM: Yeah… (Pulls out scary vitamin bottle on steroids with both hands because it is so HUMONGOUS). They had one that would probably have been better for me. It was specifically for weight gain and building muscle mass. And it had a really good picture of a flexed bicep on the label.
ME: Well, why didn’t you get that one?
HIM: It was 30 quid. This one was 12.
ME: Well, I always say, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing on the cheap. You’ll have to lift weights, you know. You don’t just drink the magic powder and get beefy and cut.
HIM: I know that! I found a set of weights at Argos that will dismantle and fit under the bed.
ME: You are aware there is no space under the bed, correct?
We live in the only apartment I’ve ever seen with no closets, outside of historical reconstructions from when people were all five-foot tall and had thatched roofs. Zero. Closets. We keep the mop and broom hidden behind ever-propped-open doors and the ironing board is just leaning against the wall in the bedroom, with my cowboy hat slung over it for decoration. Underbed space has been staked and claimed for out-of-season wardrobe and Assorted Other Shit in Boxes. Linens are stored in the suitcases. My sanity is kept in a pillbox.
HIM: I’ll get rid of some stuff. Or just, you know, do lots of push-ups. Picture me buff!
I looked at his noodle arms, slumpy shoulders, and skinny bottom. I also looked at his beautiful coloring – thick black hair that turns golden-red at the ends, milky-white skin, and green eyes. Buff somehow seems the province of the bronzed, and he and I both had to reconcile ourselves to a life of SPF 30+ and floppy hats a long time ago. When I took him into 80 degree heat, he practically wilted.
ME: I… can’t. I can’t picture you buff. I admit it.
The thing of it is, I don’t need him to be big and muscular. He has great legs, a fantastic head of hair that is clearly going to last forever, and an absolutely divine face. Moreover, he is sweet and good and he loves me. I hate my fat thighs, have no idea what to do with my hair, have broken out in stress zits recently thanks to my uncertain employment situation, and yet, he makes me feel like a sex goddess. And it’s not that I don’t see that he has a little back hair and the teeniest bit of pudge on his belly… but I don’t notice it. I just think he’s beautiful, and am frankly grateful that there are a few minor “flaws” in the overall package. Isn’t that what makes us all interesting and human?
So I told him that he’s perfect to me, but if he wants to do push-ups and sit-ups, I will do them alongside, and we should try to exercise more together, but for health and fun. I predict that the protein mix will be collecting dust under our bed before long, but will try to be supportive in the meantime if he wants to give it a whirl. I am, however, going to stave off the purchase of a weight set for as long as possible, because until I know he is committed, there’s no way I’m dismantling my sweater box.