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.