I remember towards the end of college, visiting my Dad’s stepmother, who I knew as “Grandma.” She was one of the only people I remember ever saying anything to me specifically about my weight as a child. She was in a nursing home by then, and she told me, during one of the last times I spoke with her, that if I didn’t lose weight, that “I’d never find a boyfriend.” I responded by telling her that wasn’t a problem, because I had a boyfriend. I don’t remember if I actually did, although it was plausible, because by the time I finished college, I had finally begun to experience some attention from men. (I was a late bloomer.) What I didn’t say was that never finding anyone was my biggest fear, too.
Until the past two years, and for a few other brief times in my life, I have always had a man in my head: I have been either in a relationship, or have been searching and trying to get into a relationship. I was always thinking about what I could do to meet someone, after which time life would be perfect. This may seem strange to those of you who know that I became a single mom by choice. Most women who make the decision to have a child on their own without a partner go through the process of grieving the happily ever after, or the idea that you would meet the right man, get married, and have babies, in that order. My biological clock wouldn’t give me enough time to meet the right man, so I figured that I’d just switch the order. I’d have a baby, keep on dating, and then meet him. There was no reason I couldn’t have more kids with him.
Then cancer got in the way and I realized that I would only have one biological child. I feel grateful to have her, but I still wanted to meet the right man. I tried online dating, joining groups, but after months or even a couple of years, relationship after relationship didn’t work out.
Before the last relationship, I struggled with letting go of my constant attempts to date or to find a man. I remember one therapy session where my therapist grabbed one end of a scarf, while I grabbed the other to tug of war, to symbolize the struggle I was having. When she asked what happened if I let go, I got it, intellectually, that the struggle would be over. But emotionally, I wasn’t there yet.
In the last two years since that last relationship ended, I’ve been voluntarily single. Sure, I’ve had crushes, but what I used to do never worked, so I thought I’d try something different. I’ve not made any attempts to date. I haven’t gone online. I haven’t given anyone my phone number. I haven’t asked anyone out. I haven’t asked friends to set me up with blind dates. I thought that if a man becomes interested in me, that he will let me know. Until then, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy, even if it never happens. My daughter, my job, my family and community, my health, my reading, and my writing take up every possible moment of my waking hours, and some of my sleeping hours as well.
I’ve made some amazing discoveries by clearing out the space in my head that used to be taken up by a man.
First, I discovered that I really didn’t need to always be thinking about someone else. I could put my writing in the back of my head–where I wanted to go with the book, or a blog post, or an idea for an article. The mental and emotional energy I used to spend thinking about how to take the next step in the relationship, or whether he was interested in me, or why he did the things he did, could instead be spent on something I had control over and was a productive, creative activity–my reading and writing.
It’s only been in the past month or so that I’ve been able to discern something else: One of the reasons I had such a hard time letting go of the need to be looking for a relationship or in a relationship is because I’m fat. Being fat and being single have always been intricately linked in my mind. I was always so boy-crazy and intent on finding a man because it was a way for me to belong and to be like everyone else. Being with someone, anyone, was a way for me to show the world that I wasn’t a freak, that someone would love me and that I could find someone to love, too. I could accept my body at the size it is currently, but when someone else did, too, then that was something the world could believe. The conventional wisdom is that if you’re fat, no one will love you or find you attractive, and you’ll be single forever. When I had a husband or a boyfriend, I was proving that conventional wisdom (including my Dad’s stepmother) wrong.
Intellectually, I know the conventional wisdom is not true. I see plenty of fat women around me who are partnered and seem to be happy in their relationships. I used to think to myself—why hasn’t that happened for me? Don’t I deserve that, too?
I’ve realized that I do deserve it. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. So many things go into a successful relationship: the timing, the chemistry, factors outside each person’s control. I think I believed, but was afraid to admit that I believed that I was a loser if I was both fat and single. I believed in size acceptance and accepting my body as it is, so that wasn’t going to change. So I had better be in a relationship if I wasn’t going to be a loser.
The pressure to be looking for someone is everywhere. Last week, when asked if I was joining a group farewell at a bar for a departing colleague, I told a co-worker that “I don’t do bars.” (a topic for another post)
“That’s how [a co-worker] met her man, don’t you want one?” she asked.
I told her that I didn’t, but that’s not exactly true. After past relationships ended, I used to say to my best friend “I’m not going to date until my daughter is grown,” and when I said it, I would cringe and not believe I actually said it, like “Omigod how will I ever survive that long?” I always eventually started dating again, probably sooner than I should have. This is the longest time I’ve ever not dated, and it’s good–I wouldn’t trade the things I’ve learned about myself when I’m not constantly thinking about someone else.
I think that the way I feel about it now is that I’m open if something were to happen naturally and organically, but right now, I’m not going to go looking for anything. I’m going to try to not look at a man’s ring finger as soon as I meet him, but I can’t promise anything because old habits are hard to break. I’m going to continue to live my life, fat and single and fabulous. And if someone wants to join me, we’ll see.