A bunch of years back, I realized I needed to prioritize my love life in the same way I’d been prioritizing my education and career. That impulse turned out to be dead on: dating requires deliberation. Goals. It demands to be prioritized.
When I tell you that I’ve been working on my body positivity for a long time and that I feel that I’ve gotten pretty far with it, I mean that I’ve been working on it for over a decade. For several years now, I’ve been relatively un-phased by many of the daily microaggressions I face on a daily basis as a fat woman. Relatively. Meaning, I feel ‘em less than I would have back in 2002.
But last weekend challenged every ounce of body positivity I’ve got. Because for the first time in my life, I didn’t fit into the seat on a ride at an amusement park. Granted, I don’t go to amusement parks much, so it’s not that remarkable of a phenomenon, probably. But it was the first time I felt excluded from an activity that everyone else in my group could do, no problem.
Okay, let’s back up and start at the beginning. Here I am with my partner, sister, brother-in-law, and aunt, all of whom are straight-size. We’re hanging out, exploring Universal Studios’ newest attraction, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We’re sipping on butter beer while we wind through the 45-minute line for a ride called “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.”
Right before we reach the ride, a park employee calls me out of line. “We will need to make sure that you can ride the ride safely,” she says loudly. Dozens of onlookers gather, stopped, waiting for the line to move again.
She motions me to a sample seat. I sit in it. No problem. “Everything good?” I say.
“Not yet,” she says, and pulls a safety harness over my shoulders. “Pull this down as tight as you can. Let’s see if the machine gives the green light.”
Rows of onlookers watch as the machine fails to give the green light that indicates my acceptability. I wait for the verdict.
“I’m sorry,” she says, “you are not able to ride safely. Please continue to the waiting room where you can wait for the rest of your party once they finish the ride.” She gestures to a stuffy room full of exasperated parents stuck with screaming toddlers.
I try to be a good fatty as I scan the faces of the crowd for judgment. “Of course!” I say cheerfully. “I understand completely.” And then I burst into tears.
My supportive companions leave the line in solidarity with me as I slink to the exit in disgrace. “That was humiliating!” I wail.
I’ll tell you, the experience put a damper on the rest of the Harry Potter experience. But my family was incensed on my behalf.
“This is new construction!” they say.
“Half of America is plus-size! Why wouldn’t they build size accommodation into the park as they were building it!” they fume.
“This is discrimination,” my aunt says. “You should ask for your money back.”
And she’s right, they’re all right. It’s so easy for fat people to dismiss experiences like this as “well, I just didn’t fit in the seat.” We’re expected to. The story of another too-fat-to-ride fellow I found online described how he used the humiliation of his experience to lose some weight. Blah blah, same old same old. Humiliation and exclusion are supposed to be good for us in the long run.
Fast forward two days later, and I’ve completely forgotten about the experience. Thank you body positivity, for setting me free from weeks of ruminating on stuff like this. And then I get a completely unexpected call from my aunt.
“Great news!” she says. “I called Universal Studios, and I let them know that I was deeply disappointed in the size discrimination they’ve incorporated into their new attraction. I demanded that they refund your money since you had no way of knowing before you bought your ticket that they wouldn’t be able to accommodate you.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Wait,” I say to my aunt. “You called? On my behalf? To advocate for me?”
“Of course I did,” she said. “I was outraged. As a smaller person, I’d never realized that this kind of discrimination exists. But when I saw it, I couldn’t just let it be.”
So I got a refund, which was really the least Universal Studios could do. But my aunt…I couldn’t believe it. My aunt, who grew up in diet culture like the rest of us, in a family whose female members have “struggled with their weight” their entire lives, took a giant step outside of her thin-privilege world view and advocated for me. Never once did she suggest that I lose weight to make myself fit in the ride.
We’d never discussed body positivity before that moment, and I had no idea what her feelings on the topic might be. I never knew she was a secret superhero.
It can be hard when we’re surrounded by weight-loss types and body-negative types to imagine that there are people out there who can love us just the way we are. It can be impossible to imagine anyone taking care of us in this way, sticking up for us in this way. But they’re out there. Waiting for you to discover them. Don’t give up looking for your superheroes. And know that someday, you’ll be the advocate, the superhero for someone, too.
A reader asks:
What if you've unintentionally started chatting with someone who's "good enough," but in whom you have no real interest? How do you get out of it without coming off as a horrible person?
Lovely, I’m so, so glad you asked this question! Because saying goodbye to “good-enough” (but ultimately NOT good enough) fits may be the most important dating skill you can learn.
Why? Because if you can’t say goodbye to the bad fits, the terrible fits, the just-okay fits, and the maybe-this-is-as-good-as-I-can-do fits, you’re gonna get STUCK. Maybe for months. Maybe…for years! And then, when it finally does end, you’re going to be starting right over from square one, just the way you are now, only you’re going to be, like, eight months older and twice as cynical.
But think about the flip side. If you CAN say goodbye, then you can take a chance on anyone! You can email that sparse-profiled hunk, or that comedian whose match percentage is a bit lower than you'd like, knowing that if it ends up going negatively, you CAN say goodbye. And you should be taking those chances!! You never know who's going to end up being a wonderful fit!
So how do you say goodbye when you're not feelin' it anymore with your good-enough person? Here are my thoughts.
No Easy Way…Many Bad Ways
There’s no easy way to do it, honestly. You’re going to have to hurt someone’s feelings a little bit. And I know, Lovely. You can’t STAND the idea of hurting someone’s feelings. You know how it would feel if someone did that to you.
First, let me suggest some ways NOT to do it.
- Don’t write a long email to them, outlining their areas for improvement and the reasons they’re not a good fit;
- Don’t pretend to be into it once you’re not into it anymore;
- Don’t offer to hang out as friends.
Those types of actions just complicate things and slow the process down. You’re going to want to keep this simple and short, just like that old cliche of ripping off the band-aid.
So okay, how DO you do it?
Ghosting is an Option
Ghosting, where you just stop responding to someone you’ve been chatting it up with, gets a bad rap in the dating world. People talk about ghosting as a reason NOT to use online dating. What if you get ghosted! How horrible.
But why? Sometimes the kindest thing you can do is just quietly disappear. If you’re up to, say, one date in, a simple non-response to their next message is probably the best way to go. It’s a clear way of saying goodbye without making a big thing out of it.
Think about it like you’re freeing them up to find the babe they’re really supposed to be with. Cause it ain't you, babe.
The Honest Goodbye
Okay, so you’re not into ghosting. Or maybe you’re, say, two dates in and ghosting is really poor form at this point. Or maybe you’ve tried to ghost, and you’ve gotten a few more messages from the person saying, “hey, you still out there? Want to get drinks this weekend?”
My sweet, caring friend, you’re going to have to give the Honest Goodbye.
I recommend something scripted so you’re not burning yourself out thinking of brand new ways to say goodbye for every bad fit you come across. Here’s my script – feel free to copy and paste this puppy and use it as often as you need:
It was so nice meeting you. I had a great time, but I’m just not feeling a romantic spark. I wish you the best of luck in this crazy dating game! You’re awesome, and it was really nice getting to know you.
It’s clear, it’s honest, and…I know, I know. You might cry, or fume, or spend three straight days ruminating on your every flaw if someone you liked sent that message to you. I did all of the above, the first few times I got the Honest Goodbye. But you know what?
You don’t want someone who doesn’t want you. And yep! They don’t want someone who doesn’t want them. We’re all looking for someone who’s crazy about us! I mean, craaaaazy in love with us! We don’t want the lukewarm folks, the "good enough" folks.
Every second you spend pretending to be excited about your so-so fit is a second that they’re NOT putting themselves out there and finding their crazy-in-love fit. You’re taking up their girlfriend space. And that’s much worse than the temporary sting of a quick, honest goodbye.
Dealing with Pushback
Okay, so you’ve ghosted, or you’ve sent your honest email, and now the person is MAD. Or they’re CRUSHED. They’re reaching out to you like, “why? Whyyyyyyyyyy? Just tell me! What did I do wrong?” You’ll definitely get that message…and hey, I probably sent one or two of those in my time, too.
So here’s what you do: you have your script ready! Here’s how it goes:
I really want to say, this has nothing to do with you. It’s just about spark. You’re a wonderful person, and I know you’ll find the girl who’s right for you. Don’t give up! You’re awesome!
And at that point, your work is done. They may try messaging again, but you can go ahead and ignore it. It’s simpler and quicker that way. Ongoing responses, or second guessing your decision to cut it off with them, will just prolong their moving-on process.
And remember you can block or report them if their language becomes abusive (which absolutely happens). Even if they think you're a horrible person, as you worry they might, you CERTAINLY are not a horrible person -- your caring email to me proves this for sure.
The hard thing is the right thing to do here, Lovely. You can’t spend the rest of your life pretending to be into a “good enough” fit – and you would NEVER want someone to do that for you. So just walk away from that convo like the wonderful (non-horrible), caring ghost you are. Or take a deep breath, copy and paste your script, hit the send button, and move on with your life.
You got this, Lovely.
Curvy (aka Krista)
Recently I glanced over old emails between me and some of my early dates. And when I say glanced, I mean I looked at them all squinty-like, out of the corner of my eye, while also watching Gilmore Girls in the background and checking Facebook on my phone, hoping that not-quite-looking at those old records of my early dating life would make them less…nauseating.
Remember when everyone used to email each other? Like, before texting took off? You’d type out a pithy, two-paragraph correspondence and then wait days for a response? Yeah. Those are the emails I’m talking about. At the time I felt like my exchanges with these fellas were so breezy, so confident. But oh…ten years later, my vulnerability wafts off my words like the smell of sliced onions, making my eyes water.
I sure was trying hard to be the most forgiving gal in the world. I mean, dudes could be blatantly uninterested, date someone else at the same time they were dating me, talk about themselves nonstop for two hours, insist on splitting the check and take home all the leftovers, blow me off, forget to get back to me, say something sexist, admit to having a “dangerous” crush on someone else, humblebrag about their sexual prowess – and I’d be all like, “that was so fun! You’re just SO awesome! Let’s do it again sometime!”
Now…why? What made me compete so hard for the title of Best Doormat? What could turn a feminist, capable, high-ish-functioning woman into an invertebrate?
I’ll tell you what force had the power to do all that.
It was fatphobia.
It was internalized fat-hate. Some small but vicious part of me knew – not worried, KNEW – that I wouldn’t be able to be loved at this size.
I mean, I was determined to put myself out there. The idea of being single for the rest of my life scared me to my very soul; it wasn’t an option.
But it wasn’t worth it to date for real, because as long as I was fat, I was…half-human. Laughable. Comedic. Unworthy. Not ladylike. The kind of chick you’re polite to for as little time as possible over a cup of coffee, because she’s not a real contender for a relationship.
I half-assed almost everything in my personal life. Shopping for clothes took a backseat (not that there were many good plus-size options back in the day). I wore old, torn, and stained clothes to work every day, waiting until I was thinner before I bought “real” clothes. My one pair of pants (just the one!) had a ripped hem that I never fixed, assuming no one would notice. I thought flip-flops were appropriate business-casual footwear until a coworker complained to human resources about the volume of my flopping shoes as I passed by her cubicle on my way to the copy machine.
My dating attempts were the same. I put up old (read: thin) and carefully-angled photos of myself for three reasons:
1) I wasn’t looking for someone who wanted to date me for my looks; I was looking for someone who would fall in love with my personality. Which I assumed would happen if I could lure them into a first date using thin pictures of myself.
2) Some magical-thinking part of me hoped that if they saw thin photos on my profile, they’d miss the fact that I was fat when they actually met me.
3) I didn’t expect to really meet my soul mate through online dating at the time – I was too fat! And everyone knew that online dating was sad and pathetic, anyway. I expected to, you know, practice.
I accepted poor treatment because I expected poor treatment.
I expected that men would look at me and see a walking fat joke. A stupid person. Someone who was easily used; someone who you could hook up with and not tell your roommate about.
I wish I could sit my younger self down, put my arm around her, and tell her:
It gets SO much better than this. Do NOT settle for indifference, scorn, and cruelty.
No more explaining and subjugating your needs and ignoring insulting behavior from a partner, I’d say. Expect only perfection, and walk away from any date that doesn’t match up.
Don’t try. Don’t practice. Date for real, right now, because you’re worth a real effort.
I wish I could tell her that fatphobia was just bigotry, not truth. That it gets so, so much better than the guy who asks you not to tell your mutual friend (your BEST friend) that you’re hooking up because…he…uh…doesn’t want it to change the way people see him.
Whew. This was a surprisingly hard blog post to write – although I’ve felt pulled to travel back in time to those early exchanges with dates for awhile. I wish I could look at those emails straight-on, no distractions, and see in them how far I’ve come. I wish I was there. But recovery from internalized fatphobia doesn’t feel like an inspirational life lesson today. Today, I am reminded that it was a clawing, grasping, desperate struggle for survival.
Today I reflect on how learning to honor and value myself enough to date for real, with high expectations, knowing that I might have to wait a long time to find the respect I deserved, knowing that I was setting myself up for disappointment and heartache and hurt – learning to date deliberately was a personal revolution.