Dear Rosie and Sherry

I've been dating a wonderful man for the past several months. We're both very marriage- and family-oriented. He is sweet, funny, hardworking, active, and has a wonderful family. He says he adores me, but the problem is this: I think he's insensitive, and he thinks I'm over-sensitive.

In the beginning of our courtship, he constantly put pressure on me to lose weight, even though I'd joined a gym, hired a personal trainer, and was working out and losing weight. He was embarrassed to introduce me to his family. He makes comments about my appearance, which he then defends as jokes, and when I express to him that he's hurting my feelings, he gets irritated and tells me I'm being too sensitive.

Examples of the comments are:

• "As soon as you get down to a size X, I'm going to marry you."
• "I still love you even though you're divorced and overweight."
• "We could put your photo on a billboard to sell a certain product, but we'll have to get your teeth fixed first."

He tells me I'm beautiful and smart and would make a wonderful wife, but yet he still makes these awful comments to me. When I express my discomfort at these comments, he says that I need to thicken my skin and stop being so sensitive.

What do you think of all this?

Jenna

Dear Jenna,

We don't think that you are being too sensitive. This man's comments are hurtful, even if he intends them to be lighthearted. They reveal an unfortunate truth -- that the man you are dating cannot accept you for who you are.

He has told you that he adores you and that you will make a wonderful wife, and we believe that he means it. However, as he is having a difficult time accepting certain things about you, this is only going to become more of a problem as time goes on.

In an enduring relationship, each must accept the other's imperfections.

One of the basic foundations of a long-term, enduring relationship is each party's willingness to accept the other as an imperfect human being, without insisting that he or she change. One can acknowledge that while the other person has many qualities we like and admire, they have some qualities that annoy us. One can be attracted to someone even though they may look better if they lost weight or fixed their teeth. One can think it would have been even better if the person we are dating was wealthier, dressed a little better, or had a family that was a little warmer to us.

Yet the key to a successful, healthy relationship is that when we look at the entire picture, we're happy with the "package" and want to build a life with the other person without feeling that he or she needs to change before we can be happy with our choice.

It seems clear that the man you are dating is presently incapable of this. It doesn't matter if it's because he's never been able to let go of the expectation that the woman he chooses to marry will have "the look" he always dreamed about. And it doesn't matter if he's attracted to you but still feels that your appearance is not good enough to "impress other people." The bottom line is that he can't accept you, and the little "digs" he makes show how much trouble he is having with this fact.

We often are approached by people who struggle to come to terms with something that really bothers them about their dating partner. They'll tell us how much they like and care about the person they are dating, and how good a spouse he or she will make someday, but they can't seem to come to terms with something about their personality, lifestyle, goals, value system, appearance or background -- no matter how hard they try. [It's usually a quality that the other person cannot really change even if he or she wanted to.] Many times, they drag out a courtship in the hope that with more time, either they will be less bothered by the flaw, or that it will disappear or diminish.

In our experience, if a person is unable to come to terms with these issues early in a courtship -- within the first several weeks of dating -- they are never able come to terms with them.

Occasionally, we've seen someone who can't accept the "package" decide to get married anyway, and hope that they will be able to change the other person afterward. In doing so, they unfairly set themselves and their spouse up for disappointment, because when one spouse has a hidden agenda for change, change usually doesn't occur.

One must be comfortable with, and capable of, making the change.

That's not to say that a man or woman shouldn't agree to try to change something about themselves that can be changed, in order to please their fiance/spouse. People agree to stop smoking, become more religiously observant, fix a chipped tooth, drive more responsibly, go back to school to finish a degree, eat more healthily, move to another city.

But the key factor is that the change is something the person is comfortable with and capable of doing.

As much as we'd like to say that your efforts to lose weight and change your appearance fit into this description, we can't. That's because of the disrespectful way this man treats you. His criticism of your appearance masks a larger problem. The fact that he is "embarrassed" to introduce you to his family tells us that he cannot accept you for who you are as a complete person, and that even if you achieved the look he wants there will be something else that he'll find fault with.

Someone who adores another person, as he says he does, is proud to be with her. He tries to please her and does not want to hurt her feelings. If his "jokes" cause her pain, he stops making them at her expense. People tend to be on their best behavior when they are dating. If this man is hurtful to you now, you can expect his hurtful comments to increase as time goes on.

It seems like your beau expects a lot of change from you and doesn’t want to make any changes himself –- in his behavior toward you and in his appreciation of the effort you are going through to make him happy. The change you are working on should be made because it is important to you… not because it will win you the respect and admiration of this man. You deserve that anyway, even if you decide to stay the way you are.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze,

Rosie & Sherry