Can a relationship survive the big bum question?
What do psychologists and counsellors have to say about the harmless question that can make or break a partnership
What do psychologists and counsellors have to say about the harmless question that can make or break a partnership.
It's the question that strikes fear into the hearts of men on a weekly basis. As the women of Ireland kit themselves out in sparkling, spangly outfits for the Big Saturday Night, the question is: Does my bum look big in this?
Now, on a good day, this query doesn't see the light of day. On a good day, one may even accentuate one's bum's resemblance to that of Jennifer Lopez or Christina Hendricks'. Those days, you work it because you know it works, and in that sort of vicious cycle-y way, it works because you do work it.
But on the bad days? On the bad days you are certain that your behind is the size of the Asian sub-continent, and what were you thinking when you bought that gold-sequinned tube skirt? Did you actually think you were going to be able to pull off that look?
It's too late now, there's no time to change, and Himself is rattling around the sitting room waiting, and you can feel his impatience emanating from below, and at this stage, it is surely his fault that you're in a state about this outfit since he's in such a rush, so, therefore, it is up to him to make it all okay.
Not really, no, because you're not actually asking for sartorial advice.
Self-esteem is a fluid element in one's psychological make-up, and it ebbs and flows with internal reaction to external events. The bigness of your 'bum in that' is, let's face it, self-evident. So why bother asking the question in the first place?
Tony Moore is a psychotherapist and counsellor with Relationships Ireland. "We all want to be liked and to be well thought of on a number of levels," he says. "Think about politicians and their constituents: all politicians want to be liked, especially at election time. Diplomats also need to be liked in order to do their job and climb the greasy career pole."
With regards to this more personal scenario, he explains: "We have an expectation that our partner will support us. If we don't get that support, it could be perceived to be a betrayal."
Betrayal seems a big reaction to a question about a skirt. It seems obvious – when it's not the heat of the moment, as Moore explains – that 'the bum question' is really: "Do you still think I'm drop-dead gorgeous?"
"Women are more concerned about what they look like for other women than for their men. Most men really don't care that much, and maybe they like their partner's bum to look big in the dress – it would be a bit of a turn-on for them."
So, then, is this an invitation for the man to tell a porkie pie? There's no easy answer to this question, either. "Premeditated, calculated and repeated lying and deceit is wrong, let's be clear on that," Moore asserts. On the other hand, however, "all relationships are based on 'limited' honesty," he explains. "All couples tell fibs or white lies all the time. We will receive presents and say, 'how lovely!', meaning 'Oh, no!', and smile through gritted teeth.
"This is not necessarily a wrong thing. It is very hard to tell one's partner they are useless at oral sex, for example, or that intercourse with them leaves you dissatisfied and more frustrated than before you began. You see the problem with being direct! One person's constructive criticism is another's destruction of the relationship."
So, how does one go about telling the truth? "Be positive first," says Moore. "Then, maybe later – days, if possible, after reading your book on diplomacy – say, 'I wonder if it might be possible to talk about something that's been on my mind about our sex life'. Say what you mean as gently and as clearly as possible."
Moore suggests you then ask your partner what they think about the situation. As always, a detached third party can be helpful should the topic be one of extreme sensitivity."
In Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind by David Livingstone Smith, lying is cited as a survival technique, and certainly the fellas know that a judicially placed fib can get them out of jail free.
It's the quality of the response that matters, though. "No, yer arse is fine," spat out impatiently with yet another glance at the clock – that's not going to do the job.
One wonders if a sincere, "You look amazing, and I love you, and let's not even go out anywhere because I am so turned on right now," is any more useful. It all goes back to the impetus of the query, and the need for reassurance, and the questioner's desire to believe what they hear. It's all back to that cycle of belief: the better you feel about yourself, the less outside intervention you need. The better you feel about yourself, the more likely the compliments will roll on in.
And, honestly? Audition the outfit a day or two before an event, giving yourself time to work out a replacement ensemble. And if you really, really want to know, get your BFF in to offer advice, because surely you can trust your pal to tell you the truth ... or can you?
Relationships Ireland can be reached on 1890 380 380; firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information, log on to relationshipsireland.com