Welcome to Ms. Opinionated, our weekly advice column dealing with questions of life, love, feminism, and pop culture. Submit your anonymous questions here. This week, Andi Zeisler dishes out the naked truth to a reader whose boyfriend is surprisingly hostile toward nudists.
Dear Ms. Opinionated,
My partner of over 8 years has been a consistent feminist since day one. He will speak up when people say sexist things, he's pro-choice, not conservative, and treats me like his equal. He has said how he thinks it is out of line when men tell their girlfriends they can't wear revealing clothing. However, last weekend we were out with another couple and someone mentioned a nudist colony. I said being nude with another group of nude people seemed intriguing and I might like to try it. My partner seemed appalled. He said that made him very uncomfortable to think about other people looking at my naked body because nudity is part of the intimacy only we share. He also said he hates it when other guys check me out (rarely happens, that I'm aware of) and wants to protect me from it. I disagreed, I felt like he was trying to control my body. I said he doesn't like that men may be sexualizing me but that should not affect what I can do with my body. I'm not that serious about going to a nudist colony, but this seems to hit at some larger issues between us. What is your take on this?
Needs a Nude Attitude
You say you're "not that serious" about going to a nudist colony, but that's really not the point here, is it? Today's nudist colony might be tomorrow's beach day, and the issue is that you shouldn't have to be preoccupied with whether your getup (or lack of a getup) is going to send your partner into a stew. You've only got one life, and if you want to walk around naked for a few weeks of it, you should be able to.
On the other hand, you clearly respect your partner enough to be hurt and/or confused by what seemed like an out-of-left field response. So, first and foremost, it's time for a sit-down with this guy, and some straightforward, pointed questions. Example: "You always seem so progressive and forward-thinking, so I'm confused about why the thought of me hanging out naked with other naked people got you so upset. Can we talk about that?" The onus is then on him to really consider his own emotions and beliefs—even though he might not necessarily want to. There are some very intense, knotty questions at the heart of this: Does he, deep down, consider you his property, despite otherwise feminist beliefs? Does he doubt, even unconsciously, your ability to know your own boundaries and desires? Does he believe that your body is something only he should get to see and access? All of these are important questions, and if he answers any of them affirmatively, that's something he has to own up to and deal with before the two of you can move forward.
Also, if this is the first time in the eight years you've been together that you've been struck by an attitude like this from him, that might be worth talking about, too. Has something in your relationship changed that might make him feel more concerned that he's going to lose you? Have you grown apart in other ways? Often, when one partner is by nature more independent and open-minded—which it sounds as though you might be—it can make another feel clingier and more reactive, in response. But again, this is where you have to sit down and actually have a conversation that may yield some discomfiting revelations.
To that end, it's important to you to think about what your bottom line is in this situation. Let's say your partner doubles down on his earlier statement and says that, yes, he really does feel like the intimacy implied by your nudity shouldn't be shared with anyone but him. Is that something you can live with in the long term? Even assuming that you don't have a hankering to patronize nude beaches, be a figure-drawing model, or explore nudism—is his belief that he has a claim to your person something you can be comfortable with? If you feel like there's even a slight chance that his attitude could cause you to resent him—and, furthermore, if you think said attitude might grow to encompass other aspects of your personal autonomy—you'll have to question whether he's the right person for you after all. Most relationships do necessitate compromise here and there, but it's up to you to define how much is too much.