Tag Archives: being single

8 things I’ve learned from living ten years post-breast cancer

Ten years ago, on my 37th birthday, in the elevator on the way to pick up my 20-month old from daycare, the surgeon told me that “they found cancer cells,” and everything changed.

Did I imagine that I would survive and have the life I’m living now?  Did I have any idea that I would be working as an environmental lawyer for a state agency, living in a house in the suburbs, single, and with a middle-schooler who is learning to play the violin and loves detective and cop shows? Did I imagine that I’d actually write a memoir and start to take writing seriously?

I was afraid to imagine anything, afraid that my life would be snatched away and my daughter left without me, as an orphan.  I started listening to audiobooks in the car because I always started crying when I had too much time to think of the possible outcomes. All I knew was that I had to get through it.

I did get through it, through the slash, poison, and burn.  Through the “new normal.”  Through a number of boyfriends, an engagement, and then years of learning to accept my singlehood. Together, my daughter and I have made it through the terrible twos (and threes), kindergarten, elementary school, and ADHD issues for both of us.

But I am so grateful to have had these ten years.  Here’s what I think I’ve learned:

1. It takes more courage to be alone than to be trying always to meet someone.  I always thought I was being brave to put myself out there online dating and asking guys out, but dealing with rejection is easy.  There’s always someone new to distract yourself with, more profiles to scroll through, someone who may have just joined the site or walked into the bar.  What’s hard is to not have someone in your head to fantasize about, to think about what it will be like when you are together, or when the relationship takes that next step.  Not having someone in your head is the only way to truly get to know yourself, to take care of yourself.  When you’re always thinking about someone else, how do you know who you really are?

2. Flossing is important.  B.C. (Before Cancer), I was in denial and thought daily morning and haphazard bedtime brushing would be enough to keep my teeth and gums healthy. After diagnosis, I didn’t think I needed to floss at all because gingivitis is a long-term thing and so it wasn’t terribly likely I’d have to deal with it. But as the annual anniversaries started accumulating, I thought I’d add daily nighttime brushing, and then flossing.  Wow!  My mouth is happy, and so is my hygienist!

3. That restless feeling won’t kill you.  I remember feeling like I had to do something, anything, just to get out of the house.  God forbid I didn’t have plans on a Friday or Saturday night.  I would shop, or find friends to go out with. But now, it’s not that I don’t get restless.  I still do.  But I sit with it.  I pick up the notebook, write a little bit.  Or I go for a walk.  Or to the library.  Acquiring things or being with other people won’t calm my brain. My spiritual practices of reading, writing, and walking help the most.

4. Eat the ice cream.  Cravings don’t go away.  I try to practice intuitive eating, and life is too short to miss out on the pleasures of a quiet house, a good book, a soft bed with warm covers, and a bowl of Blue Bell to enjoy.

5. Don’t be afraid to question the assumptions you’ve made about yourself.  For years, I believed that I was an extrovert–I enjoyed being in front of people, talking to groups, and just interacting with other people on a regular basis.  But then I started to notice that when I walked with a friend at lunchtime, talking the entire time, I had a terrible time settling down and focusing afterwards.  I noticed how when the phone rang, sometimes I didn’t want to talk with the person on the phone, even if they were someone I cared about. I noticed how exhausted I was on days when I had multiple meetings scheduled.  It was like all of the interaction spun my brain out of control.  I tried putting my headphones on at work so I wouldn’t listen to the goings-on in the hallway and be tempted to join.  I started walking alone at lunch.  And so I honored the little girl who would rather read, alone, than do anything else.

6. Listen to your body.  There is wisdom there, whether it’s saying you need more movement or sleep or broccoli.  You just have to slow down enough to be able to feel it.

7. You can only do what you can do. Life is overwhelming, and sometimes things fall through the cracks.  We all make mistakes and don’t do things we’d committed to.  It’s OK.  Try better next time, or, don’t commit to doing so much!

8. You don’t have to say “yes” to every social opportunity offered.  This is related to #5. I used to never miss an opportunity to meet a friend for lunch, or dinner, or to do something with other people.  I still enjoy the time I spend with other people, but I’ve come to appreciate limited time as a hermit.  These days, a great Saturday is one where I walk to the park, get to the gym to lift weights, and finish a book.  My brain is clearer, and my life isn’t as frazzled.  Sometimes it’s better just to stay home and get a few things done.  It makes the week go much more smoothly when there are clean dishes and clothes, and food in the fridge on Sunday night.

Can you imagine all the wisdom I’ll be able to spout when I get to 15 or 20 years? Here’s hoping!

Katie Heaney’s Memoir and My (Still Unfinished) Memoir

Katie Heaney wrote and published a memoir, Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date, before she turned thirty. Some people find that tedious, but I found it inspiring. See, Katie’s story is interesting because she has been single for her entire life. Yet she is heterosexual, and for most of her twenty-five years “there has been at least one boy [she] was thinking about and hoping to date, in the abstract….[and] there has been a specific theoretical boyfriend in mind more often than there hasn’t been.”

I wish someone my age had written this kind of memoir when I was in college, and that I had found it then.  I have twenty years on Katie, but I get her completely.  The writing that I’ve been doing is similar in scope and theme to her memoir.  She wrote about every crush from grade school forward, describing her experiences with boys and lack thereof.  I’m writing about every relationship, however ill-advised or doomed, to try to figure out why I’ve felt the need to do what Katie has done–have a specific theoretical boyfriend in mind most of the time–or go even further– have an actual boyfriend or husband a good portion of the time.

It’s funny how the image we have of ourselves when we are teenagers never seems to go away completely, or is really hard to change.  I was the boy-crazy one, the fat girl who was always chasing someone but never catching anyone.  Like Katie, I didn’t date anyone in high school, but in my case, it wasn’t for the lack of trying.  Many things came together so that it never happened for me.  And when it did happen, I wasn’t very picky about who was interested, how I really felt about him, and how he treated me.  That came much later.

Katie got to an “end to the era in my life when I might have felt the need to do something for the first time to get it over with” and ended up writing the book as a twenty-five year old who hasn’t had sex.  She refers to Tina Fey saying that she was twenty-four when she had sex for the first time because she “couldn’t give it away.”  I may not have had the exact same experiences, but I know the feelings.

Why am I writing and thinking about this now, more than twenty years later?  I’ve been deliberately single for more than three years.  This is the longest period of time since college that I haven’t been in a relationship or trying to get into a relationship.  I still think about men often, both specific men I might like to date and in general when I see them out and about.  But at the same time, being with someone after three years of not being with anyone makes it all seem theoretical, like it happened in another life to another person.  And I have a hard time imagining how a man would fit into my life with everything I have going on such as work, raising my daughter, my family and friends, and the things I want to do, like reading and writing.

But I’ve also realized that I’m writing about my sordid past relationships because I’m trying to change the story I tell myself about myself.  I’m not that fat girl who couldn’t get a date any more.  I have dated and married and divorced and broken up and been broken up with.  I’ve got almost two hundred pages with all of the gory details.  Katie’s memoir spoke to me because she has realized a lot of the same things I’m trying to, without the twenty-five-year detour.  That’s why I wish her book had been available to me when I was in college.

The status of a relationship, whether I am in one or not, or dating or not, does not define me.  Katie writes, about dating: “Why would I want to go out to dinner and a movie with someone I’m not completely crazy about when I already know how much I like eating dinner and watching a movie by myself?”  When a friend finally recovers from a bad breakup, she does so partly by realizing that “she could do whatever she wanted, work wherever she wanted, and live wherever she wanted…she didn’t have to think about anyone else’s goals or desires and then try to make them work with her own…It’s not that she wouldn’t do those things.  It’s just that she didn’t HAVE to. She could live for herself and herself alone.”  Katie realizes that her friend never felt this freedom before, but that it was “the same freedom I’ve always had, for my whole entire life.”

Last night, Friday night, there were two other possible things I could have done instead of what I did.  A female friend had an extra ticket to a gala that would have been so much fun, to get dressed up and go downtown to a fancy ballroom and people-watch.  And an online friend was in town with her husband and wanted to try to meet for dinner.  Either would have been enjoyable.  But my daughter isn’t old enough to stay home in the evening by herself, babysitting is expensive, and I am using a lot of my childcare “credits” with friends right now because of a two-week fall break.  So I didn’t do either thing.  Instead, after work, I changed into my sweatpants, made pizza from scratch, and then my daughter and I watched The Voice episodes we had DVR’d from the week, while I knitted a scarf I owe for a charity auction.  Then she went to bed and I read for a blissful hour of peace and quiet.  I don’t know how dating would fit into all this, and that’s all right.  Like Katie, I am “sure of who I am and what I want (and don’t want) in other people.”  I can take wisdom from anywhere, even from a tall, awkward girl twenty years younger than me.  Thanks, Katie.

 

Shadow on a Tightrope

I came of age in the 1980s. When Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression was published in 1983, I was fifteen years old. I was a smart, bookish, self-conscious young fat woman who had spent nine years in Catholic school, and whose biggest desire was to be swept off of her feet by a boy and live happily ever after.

My size acceptance journey started a few years later, with Big Beautiful Woman Magazine. I have spent most of the ensuing years struggling with relationships, with what I wanted to do with my life, and with circumstances beyond my control. I’m giving up the struggle, and am learning how to just be and to do things that make me happy.

I didn’t read Shadow on a Tightrope until Marilyn Wann (author of Fat? So!) suggested on Facebook a month or two ago a blog carnival for its thirtieth anniversary. Who knows why I didn’t read it before – maybe I was just finally ready.

I record each book I read in a book journal, so post-it note flags are a necessary companion to most books. I mark beautiful sentences or quotes that I want to remember as relevant to my life.

This is what Shadow on a Tightrope looked like when I was done:

photo (1)

I found something to relate to in just about every piece in Shadow on a Tightrope. Thirty years ago, the contributors expressed ideas and told truths that have been rolling around in my brain, difficult to admit and express. Each quote could spawn its own post.

We believe that our bodies’ sizes are chosen and reflect personal control and we ignore or reject all evidence that contradicts this belief…If you are fat, you can choose to count calories or grams of carbohydrates….the range of choices hides the fact that you are compelled to choose. As for the choices themselves, no matter which you choose you are choosing pain through hunger. If therefore you choose to reject all reducing options, you are punished with ridicule and social rejection.”

The Fat Illusion, Vivian F. Mayer

Growing up in the 1970s, the social rejection was real but never acknowledged. My mother remembers how, on the cusp of womanhood, I came home from school crying every day one year.

Women are divided into those who fear getting fat and those who are ashamed of being fat….[Thin women] are rewarded with male approval and with permission to feel superior to fat women.”

The Fat Illusion, Vivian F. Mayer

We used to have only these options. Now, thanks in part to these brave writers, fat acceptance is a third option.

Like the pressures to marry and bear children, the universal, self-styled concen for fat women’s health is rooted in the axiom that every female’s first desire is to attract males.”

Some Thoughts on Fat, Joan Dickerson

It took reading The Feminine Mystique recently for me to realize how ingrained this cultural conditioning is. And the expectations to be partnered and to be thin are intertwined. Fat, single women who bear children outside of marriage rebel against all of these expectations.

Society punishes fat men and women by taking their sexuality away. Fat women are punished most severely. For, in a society where women are chiefly sex objects, a woman’s sexuality is really all that she has to bargain with in the first place.”

Fat Women and Women’s Fear of Fat, Lynn Mabel-Lois and Aldebaran

I realized a while ago that one of the reasons I became a lawyer is because people listen to lawyers. Despite all of the jokes about greedy, unethical lawyers, you still call a lawyer when you are in real trouble. If I couldn’t be desired as a woman, I would have respect from being at least a decent lawyer.

I want to be held but have no lover, and when I have no lover I don’t feel loved. Even though I know I’m loved by friends, I don’t feel loved . . . I tell myself it’s not true. My friends love me. I am lovable even if I’m alone in bed.”

A Day in My Life, Judy Freespirit

I have felt like Judy Freespirit often, but I have been trying to get past it, as I wrote here.

Dieting, not unlike foot-binding, is a male-created institution which obsesses, weakens, sickens, and kills womyn; enforces class oppression and the assimilation of ethnic peoples. It’s easy for us in this country to condemn cultures which practice clitorectomies—and not so easy for us to look at how we participate with our “own” patriarchy in defining a natural condition among womyn as a disgusting sickness.”

Traveling Fat, Elana Dykewomon

Fat oppression is still so ingrained, most people don’t even recognize it as a problem. There is still a lot of work to do.

Amid the sexual revolution sweeping my generation through the late sixties and early seventies, I remained on the sidelines – permitted to cheer the participants on but never to join in.”

Attraction and/or Intimidation: Fat Women’s Sexual Dilemmas, Karen W. Scott-Jones

Like Oscar Wao in the Junot Diaz novel, and this author, my adolescence was like being locked in the closet on Venus when the sun came out every fifty years. 

When I first began to translate my experiences into politics, I realized how my anger and frustration . . . was directly related to fat women’s status as sexual pariahs. This “status,” in turn, is, (directly or indirectly) responsible for our oppression. Certainly most, if not all, of the discrimination we face is based on our failure to measure up to the looksist standards of acceptability for women today. . . All this intensely negative conditioning toward fat female bodies programmed into just about everyone, fat or thin, male or female, is at the root of our feelings about ourselves as women as well as a basic cause for our mistreatment; dealing with our sexuality, then, is fundamental not only to becoming “sexually liberated” but to confronting the socially enforced taboos we encounter in other areas of our lives as well.”

Attraction and/or Intimidation: Fat Women’s Sexual Dilemmas, Karen W. Scott-Jones

The challenge is to be a fat, sexual woman who expresses her sexuality in a healthy way. It is almost impossible to do this without finding an emotionally-healthy and fat-accepting man.  

My naivete in underestimating the pressures on fat women, in social and/or sexual opportunities “offered” them, to attempt to satisfy not only their physical needs but their need to be validated as a woman by being chosen by a man – (as one woman in NAAFA told me, “I don’t feel self-conscious about my weight if I’m with a man because I’m advertising to the world that somebody finds me desirable”) – has, I think been corrected through firsthand experience since then. . . . I have become increasingly aware of the double bind facing any sexually active fat woman: the more options we create and/or take advantage of, the more we realize what the conditions attached to these options are – what we must, in effect, give up to get laid (or have a relationship, or get married, or whatever) this time.

Attraction and/or Intimidation: Fat Women’s Sexual Dilemmas, Karen W. Scott-Jones

I realized the ideas in this quote independently not too long ago, and wrote about it here.

These quotes are just a sampling of what the contributors to Shadow on a Tightrope wrote that I wish I had been able to learn and assimilate thirty years ago.

Maybe it’s taken me so long to get here because I came to feminism, like so many other ideas I now find critical to my worldview, in a roundabout way. As the first generation in my family to attend college, my female role models worked outside the home but didn’t discuss feminist theory. I knew generally about feminism through the news of the Equal Rights Amendment, but in my family, feminism wasn’t really discussed. There was too much work to be done. They taught me that I could and should work, and that I should be prepared to take care of myself. As the oldest child, I was expected to help both my Mom in the house and my Dad outside and with the car. Women were supposed to do it all: work to support the family, take care of the house, and raise the family as well. Three out of my four grandparents had been turn-of-the-twentieth-century immigrants or the children of immigrants, and women had to work. But I’ve also realized that, even though the women worked, the only unmarried female role models I had were the nuns who were my teachers.

The dominant paradigm and expectation that I grew up with was that I would go to college, get a good job, meet a man, and have a family. As far as relationships, I was always told there was someone for everyone.

I remember being told stories of aunts who had been fat as kids, but lost weight when they got to high school. Both were beautiful 1950s brides, slender, with handsome husbands, married before they turned 21. It was expected that I would meet someone and get married, too.

But here’s where the expectation collided with the reality of life as a fat woman. I never got thin. After I discovered BBW magazine, I decided not to diet, and so, I have never weighed under 200 pounds for as long as I can remember. There has never been a time that I could have passed for thin. (Although I know that I have experienced thin privilege when compared to many other fat women. I can buy clothes at a mass-merchandise store, and my body fits in chairs and standard seat belts.)

I never dated in high school, and had few, mostly casual sexual opportunities later.  By the time I was in my early twenties, I was so hungry for a real relationship that I made a terrible choice and let a man I met move in the day after I met him.

I’m a different person now, thankfully. Finally reading Shadow on a Tightrope showed me that what I experienced is not atypical for a fat woman. It sucks and it needs to change, but knowing that others before me have felt the same way gives me companions on my journey.

And knowing others feel the same is the biggest change since 1983. The internet and the rise of social media have allowed an ease of communication that could not have been imagined at that time. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and fat-positive Tumblr pages help by connecting us so that we know that we are not alone.

Vivian F. Meyer wrote in the Foreword that

“we have lacked a way to communicate with each other. Under the triple stresses of fat oppression, isolation, and the disinterest or even hostility with which our pleas for support were often met, fat activists have all too often taken the frustrations out on each other and destroyed our own organizations before they could take root.”

Together, we can make continue to make change, with Shadow on a Tightrope as our inspiration.  All we have to do is tell our stories and open and awaken one mind at a time.

Why I Became a Single Mother By Choice

This post is appearing simultaneously here, on OMG There’s Three, a blog written by Sarah, a single mother by choice of triplets.  For the entire month of September, she’s collecting stories of women who have decided to become a single mother by choice.  She says “the decision to become a single mother is often made for similar reasons, but the paths leading to the choice are as varied as the women who make it.  Here is a collection of stories answering the not so simple question “Why did you decide to become a single mom by choice?”

It is a wonder that I didn’t get pregnant when I was a teenager. Not because I slept around, because I didn’t date at all in high school. But I was obsessed with both boys and babies. I had crush after crush, almost as far back as I can remember. By tenth grade, I was full-on boy-crazy, so much so that one of my nicknames was derived from the way one of my crushes looked. (Don’t ask which animal people thought he looked like.) The notes that have survived from that time are cringe-worthy. But all of my obsession over the boy of the month was unrequited. I turned 16, 17, and then 18 without a single guy showing romantic interest in me. My aunt supplied my cousin to take me to my senior prom, and I wasn’t kissed for the first time until after I graduated from high school. Because I didn’t date, I had plenty of time to babysit. I babysat for neighbors and for my cousin—I loved babies and little kids.

College was slightly better. I was still boy-crazy, having graduated from passing notes with my girlfriends to putting up centerfold posters from Playgirl magazine in my dorm room. (My more modest roommate made me place a construction-paper heart like a fig leaf to cover up the goods.) I still chased boys, but this time my love life wasn’t a complete drought. I had one relationship that lasted six months, but otherwise went to dances with friends and continued to keep a man in the back of my head to crush on all of the time. I chose my major—Chemistry—because most science classes were filled with men.

All of this romantic obsession and deprivation led me to marry when I was twenty-four, in a whirlwind of feeling like I was swept off of my feet. I met him through a personals ad, when I was living a thousand miles away from most of my family, and had just moved cross-country three times within fifteen months. We talked on the phone for twelve or sixteen hours over four days before we met in person. After he came to see me the day after our first date, he never slept in his apartment again. We were engaged within a month and married within nine months. I wish I was kidding.

On the surface, I enjoyed the rest of my twenties, traveling around the country for my job and spending money with my husband, even though he was showing the troubling tendency of getting let go from job after job. He had already had two kids by two previous women, so my rational mind kept me on the Pill. I thought we would eventually have kids, maybe after I went to graduate school when I figured out what kind of graduate degree I wanted.

Then I turned twenty-nine. My husband didn’t remember my birthday. I drove to work that day in tears because I was beginning to realize that I would not ever be able to have the kind of life I wanted, while I was married to him. By then, I had decided that I wanted to go to law school. But my biological clock was ticking, and I was afraid to keep hitting the snooze button. I wanted a baby and a family. But I was overwhelmed living with my husband. He was dramatic, co-dependent, and disrespectful to me. I had to do everything. The house was a mess if I didn’t keep it clean; I paid the bills, scooped the cat litter, and walked the dogs. We had accumulated a lot of consumer debt, so we had trouble keeping up financially, especially since he kept spending money even when he wasn’t working. I could not imagine taking care of a baby, along with work, the pets, and the house, while he just sat on his ass looking at porn on the internet.

I started seeing a therapist because I thought I needed help making the decision of whether I should go to law school or have a baby. I decided to go to law school at night, while I worked my day job.

We divorced between my second and third years in law school.

I was beginning the process of listening to myself and to my instincts. It was slow going, because I had always been focused on doing things that would make someone else love me. I didn’t really know what I wanted.

When I graduated from law school, I was in another relationship. But this time I was thinking more clearly. He was a sweet man, but when it became obvious that he never wanted to become a father, the relationship ended quickly. Having kids was a deal-breaker for me.

Now I turned to my therapist for help making another choice—should I become a single mother, deliberately, while I wasn’t in a relationship? I had turned thirty-four in April, 2002, and after this birthday I had a plan. If I hadn’t met anyone with good prospect of turning into a serious relationship by the beginning of 2003, I would do anonymous donor insemination and try to get pregnant on my own.

Something inside was telling me that if I didn’t become a mother now, I might not have the chance. I didn’t want to miss out on motherhood as I had missed out on adolescence.

Wasn’t thirty-four still young? Why didn’t I continue to try to meet someone?

My track record with men wasn’t great. By that time, I had only had three or four relationships that had lasted longer than a month or two, and I hadn’t made the best choices. My thinking was that I would separate marriage from child-rearing. I was certain that I could be a good mother, but I wasn’t yet confident in my ability to choose a man who could be a good father.

I had heard of women who had decided to have a child on their own, so I think I always knew in the back of my mind that it was possible. Becoming a single mother made a whole lot of sense to me for several reasons: I feared that if I didn’t have a child soon, I might not have the chance; I had already delayed motherhood once to go to law school; and I could afford to have a baby on my own because I was working at a large law firm. Becoming a single mother by choice was not a very difficult choice for me. My family supported my decision, and I had a network of friends to help.

As far as having a man in my future child’s life—I thought that I could take care of that later. I could meet a man who I could have a relationship with anytime. But my fertility had an expiration date. I also thought that I would make better choices in men if I had someone else to consider when I was making my decision as to whether a man was “relationship material” or not. I might make a bad choice for myself, but, if I was thinking about whether this man would be good for my child, I would make a better choice.

I thought that bringing a child into a bad relationship, or exposing him or her to someone who was abusive and would cause emotional damage, was far less preferable than deciding to have a child on my own when I wanted and desired a child with my whole heart. No, I couldn’t be a perfect parent and bring a child into a perfect relationship. But I had the belief in myself that I could be a good-enough parent.

I went to the doctor’s office for insemination on December 30, 2002. I couldn’t wait until the beginning of 2003—I had just ovulated, had decided on an anonymous donor, and thought I might as well try it. The chances of getting pregnant with frozen sperm are very low—only about 13%, or a one in seven chance with each cycle. So I was prepared to try for several months.

I got pregnant on the first try.

My daughter turned ten last month. Her middle name is Aislinn because it means “dream” in Gaelic.

It has been quite a ride, so far, bumps and all. When she was twenty months old, and still nursing, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and did the whole shebang—surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and reconstruction. A couple of years later, I had to have my ovaries removed.

I was never so glad to have trusted my instincts.

This was just a few months after she was born.

This was just a few months after she was born.

Fat and Single

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.