It’s deeper than you think.
Farting. Flatulence. Gas. Tooting. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a normal human bodily function that is unfairly yet regularly shamed. We’ve all done it, it’s normal, it happens. But as a therapist and dating coach, I’ve seen time and time again how many of my clients are living in fear of making the first move — and I’m not talking about moves of interest. I’m talking about farting in front of their partner.
And even though I’m a therapist, I’m no different from my clients. I have the same fears. After all, I’m only human. But here’s how I usually navigate the issue:
I wait for the guy to initiate the farting, because they usually do. Then when I see that they let it rip in front of me, I feel more comfortable with farting in front of them. Awkwardness over, and we can move on and laugh at the dutch ovens of the future.
But that is not how it went with my current partner, Andrew. He made no mention of farting or burping, and he didn’t even do it in front of me. This went on for months in the beginning of our relationship. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I decided to make the first move.
I opened a dialogue with him. “Hey,” I said, “just so you know, I’m not weirded out by farting or burping. I actually think it’s really funny.”
“Yeah,” he said, “That stuff grosses me out.”
Grosses him out? What was I supposed to do, hold in my farts for the rest of my life? Live in pain every night? It was my greatest fear suddenly realized.
I let out an “Oh, really?” to his response, and the conversation dissipated. But on the inside, my mind was racing.
It wasn’t so bad holding in my farts and letting them out when he left or I went home. It was manageable. But after eight months of dating, we moved in together. And we went on living together for the next seven months. Seven months of holding in my farts, waiting until I was alone to let them out (alone time was pretty hard to come by in 2020) and frequenting my local CVS to pick up my new friend, GasX.
But it was at that point when I started to feel slight pangs of resentment. Our relationship was going so well. We moved in together during a pandemic, and we were navigating the sudden chronic illness of his father hand in hand. Even amongst the stress, we still loved each other’s presence, and we were nurturing an incredible relationship together that was easily the most fitting both of us had ever been in. But in the back of my head, I couldn’t deny feelings of frustration that I couldn’t allow myself to be completely comfortable in front of Andrew. What was I so afraid of?
I consulted with one of my friends on the issue. He gave me some sage advice. He told me that I was in a situation of quid pro quo: I was entirely too valuable of a partner to be abandoned over flatulence, so I should just let it rip and not give a shit. I contemplated this for a moment. I am a valuable partner. Did I really believe it was even a remote possibility that Andrew and I would break up over farts? And if that was the case, what kind of relationship did we really have?
As a therapist, I dealt with the issue the only way I know how: talking. I decided to have a conversation with Andrew about it. I get nervous before I’m about to bring up an issue, and Andrew always so keenly notices my shift in demeanor. We were eating breakfast, and he said to me, “Are you okay, babe? Is something on your mind?”
“I feel like I’m holding back from you,” I blurted out.
Suddenly, it wasn’t about farts anymore.
Andrew gently took my hand in his. “What do you mean? It’s okay, you can talk to me.” he reassured.
I took a deep breath. All at once, it hit me how much deeper the issue went than just the surface level of gas and bloating. “I feel like you have so much going on in your life. Your dad has been sick for months, and you’ve been working in an ICU filled with COVID patients since March. I feel hesitant to share with you if I’m having a bad day or anything I’m struggling with, because I don’t want to put any more burden on you than you already have.”
And there it was. Not only was I afraid that I felt like my farts are a burden to him, but there was also a part of me that felt like I was a burden, too. I hung my head down.
“Look at me,” he said. I met his gaze. He continued, “Just because I’m going through what I’m going through, doesn’t mean that you and what you’re feeling isn’t important. It matters to me, and no matter what’s happening at work or with my dad, I want to hear what you have to say and support you. Your life isn’t stopping just because I’m struggling right now.” I took a deep sigh of relief as we talked more about this and how he can support me while I’m supporting him, too.
Then he said, “Is there anything else that’s bothering you?” Here it is. My opportunity to tell him that in addition to holding in my feelings, I’ve been holding in my farts.
“I feel like I can’t fart in front of you,” I blurted. He immediately withdrew his hand from mine to cover his mouth and stifle hysterics. I started laughing, too. “I’m serious!” I yelled out.
“I’m sorry, I can’t believe we are having this conversation right now. What?” He asked, still laughing in shock and disbelief.
I let it all go. “Listen, I’ve been holding in my farts this entire relationship. A year and a half of pain, a year and a half of clenching, and I’m tired. I just want to fart in peace!”
“Okay, he said, “first of all, it’s not normal to fart that much and you need to see a doctor about that.” I mused. Okay, he wasn’t wrong. “And second, of course I’m not going to break up with you over farts, but I am grossed out by them. My family wasn’t the type where dad comes in and gets in the kids’ faces and farts and everyone laughs.”
A memory reel of this exact image from my childhood starts playing across my mind.
“And I’m just not used to it,” he said, “But I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”
I lit up. “So I can fart in front of you now?” I exclaimed. He gave out a reluctant “yes” as I cheered and looked up referrals for a gastrointestinal specialist.
So, is it really about farting?
No, it’s not really about farting. It’s about being vulnerable. Can you fearlessly show your partner all you are, put your heart on the line, and risk that you may not be accepted for who you are? And, can you feel worthy and deserving of receiving love when you are accepted?
It’s about feeling safe in your relationship. Do you feel safe to be your whole, true, authentic self? In order to lay the bricks of trust in your relationship foundation, you need to feel safe doing so. And part of that safety is knowing you will be embraced lovingly even when you aren’t showing the best parts of yourself (we all have a ying and a yang).
It’s about feeling comfortable to express yourself. What you have to say and how you feel is important, and you deserve to be received with grace and reassurance. But you have to believe that, too.
It’s about breaking images of perfection. You’re not perfect. You don’t shit roses and your breath probably smells in the morning. Whatever. You’re human. If someone doesn’t accept your human traits, how will you ever get through adversity together and still hold hands on the other side?
It’s about not taking yourself too seriously. And being able to laugh at yourself, even when you feel embarrassed. Life is meant to be celebrated and enjoyed. Make mistakes, boldly laugh at yourself, learn from them, move on, and repeat.
So, how do you start farting in your new relationship? There really is no right or wrong time to start. It’s something you just have to do. And when you take the brave, bold move to fart in front of your partner for the first time, I hope you know you are taking a bigger step in your relationship than you think you really are.