Originally published Sept. 10, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.
There’s an inside joke among people in the bariatric community that the second most common side effect of surgical weight loss is divorce.Before surgery, doctors and mental health professionals spend a lot of time talking with bariatric patients about their relationships with their spouses. The doctors try to drive home the point that any problems in the marriage before surgery will be even more glaring after surgery.Unfortunately, the same attention isn’t given to all relationships.
I’ve sat in countless support groups and listened to post-operative patients address unexpected changes in relationships.Sometimes, it’s about coworkers who used to be friendly but have become snippy as the patient has lost weight. Other times, it’s about relatives who discount the person’s weight loss because it was helpedalong by surgery. But most often, it’s about friends — and that’s when the situation seems to be most hurtful.Gastric-bypass surgery was a big decision for me. First, I had to decide that it was the right solution to my weight problem. Then I had to figure out how my size played into my marriage and how drastic weight loss would affect that.Once I figured that out, I turned my attention to my circle of friends, particularly my best friend.
Long friendshipI’ve known Amber since the eighth grade, though our friendship didn’t develop fully until after high school.At 18, I supported her in the delivery room as she gave birth to her son. I held her bouquet when she married his father, and I held her snotty tissues when she went through her divorce.She’s been there for me during tough times, too — when my husband and I had to live on separate coasts while he finished his military work, and when I found out I may not be able to conceive a baby.Despite all the changes we’ve gone through over the years, there has been one constant: I’ve always outweighed her by 50 pounds or more. Whether we were 12, 22 or 27, I’ve always been bigger — even when she was pregnant.
Preparation is keyWe spent a lot of time before I had surgery discussing that dynamic. We agreed that it would be different for me to be the thinner one, but as Amber said, “We’ve been friends too long to let something as petty as weight get between us.”Now I find myself amazed at me how right she was. Of all the relationships I have, ours has changed the least since surgery. Amber would say that’s not true; it’s just that our relationship is always changing, which makes it less noticeable. Maybe she’s right.She’s handling the situation much better than I thought she would.She gleefully gave me a couple pairs of slacks a month ago that were too big for her, but she’s just as excited to shop in my closet to pick out shirts that are too big for me. On the other hand, I’m not handling it as well. Though my weight loss isn’t straining our friendship as I expected, it’s causing me to dig deep inside myself to find out why being the same size as her is unnerving. I have no real answer to that question, except to say that I’ve never had friends bigger than me. I’ve always been the “fat friend.” And for the most part, that’s been a comfortable role for me. I’m embarking on new territory in my journey toward a new me, and the terrain is rough but not impossible.If anything, I’m learning that each day brings new experiences and challenges. Some I’m prepared for, but others I’m not. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m learning to accept that.Instead of pondering the hows and whys of my relationship with Amber, I should count my blessings. Not everyone is so lucky to have a friendship that can remain true through thick and thin.