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The Valentine's Day Post

Happy Valentines Day, everyone!

Yes, grumble grumble, I know it's a Hallmark holiday. I know it's a cynical attempt to increase the sales of red underwear - red underwear that may even be available in our sizes! - chocolate, and cut flowers. However, I'm always on the lookout for excuses to make a nice candlelight dinner with wine and have some fun my favorite person. So, I'm on board.

There were two things I've been thinking about touching on for the Valentine's Day post, and I don't think I'll come up with a clever way of tying them together in time. So I'm going to make two posts, today and tomorrow. Today, some thoughts on taking emotional risks and how it's worked out for me. Tomorrow, some thoughts on Lonie McMichael's newest post.

The Bitter Pill

When I was younger, I was terrified of emotional risk. I couldn't bring myself to take the first steps in relationships. Hell, I don't think I even knew what they were. Because I'd been a fat teenager, I'd missed out on learning the signals people send and how to respond to them. I assumed that nobody I was interested in could possibly be interested in me, and I completely missed the signs when they were interested. I should note here that I'm a straight woman. That should have made it easier. Everyone knows that men are easy, right? But I wasn't looking to be someone's fallback or pity fuck - and that's the only way I could see things progressing at my preppy high school and (for the first couple of years, anyway) at the "public ivy" I attended right afterwards. That's honestly how I saw my prospects, and it was pretty harsh.

I can think of several ways that the "spoiled identity" that Pattie Thomas talks about in a recent post undermines fat people - particularly people who grow up fat and have internalized society's negative messages - and this is one of them. It can be a difficult barrier to break through. Even if we relate comfortably to the people we're attracted to, even if we make friends easily, it can be hard to cross over into physicality if we've been taught all our lives that our bodies are ugly, disgusting, and asexual. If we've been brainwashed into thinking that ourselves, how can we expect better from our potential partners? And, if we're shy and have trouble connecting at all, it makes it that much harder.

The longer it goes on - not breaking through the fear of rejection, fear of being used, fear of putting your sexuality out there and having it laughed at or found repulsive - the more difficult it becomes. It's only now, with a 20 year perspective on it, that I feel reasonably comfortable talking about it. When it was actually going on and for years afterwards, it was just too painful.

Lessons Learned

This post is aimed at the people out there who might be where I was 20 years ago. I'd love to see comments from them, from people who managed to dodge it somehow, and other people who've gotten through it, especially people who may have had society even less on their side than I did (being not all that fat, being straight, being white, and being the kind of woman that make friends with men). Because, I fully realize that this was made easier for me by the extent to which I am conventional, conventionally attractive, and outgoing.

I wish I could say I'd beaten it through force of will and self confidence. But, it happened because someone took a risk with me, and then I took a risk with him. He was a new friend, he kissed me, and I sort of rejected him. A year later, I started something with him. It took me a year of occasionally thinking about our conversations and that kiss, and then randomly meeting him again, to decide that I was interested.

By the time I was available again, I'd gotten it through my head that although I'm not everyone's cup of tea, it's just not that big a deal. I'm attractive to a subset of men. Not a tiny subset, either. One that contains plenty of men who I could be interested in. But there are always going to be men who eliminate me from consideration because of my size, my personality; whatever. I don't find everyone attractive, so why would everyone find me attractive?

If you're both picky and not-conventionally-attractive, then you've really got to put yourself out there and meet a lot of people in order to find good matches. And you've got to be ready to reject people - kindly - and to handle being rejected with grace and understanding; be prepared to be (or at least seem) cool about it. I realized that when it comes to emotional risks, I have to accept them consciously and to think about the worst case scenario and how I'd handle it - what I'd say, what I'd do - before the fact. And, it's generally something that can be managed. Hiding from risk is often worse than than handling the fallout when things don't come out the way you'd hoped.

The Heart-Shaped Candy

Taking a series of scary and difficult (to me) social risks led to meeting and getting together with my husband. I moved to a new city by myself. I showed up at a coffee shop for a "New in Town" meet-up and didn't see any sign of it. It occured to me that there might be other people wandering around with no way to recognize each other, so I thought "What the hell? Who cares if I look like an idiot. Nobody knows me here, anyway." and I took a piece of paper out of my purse, folded in in half, wrote "New in Town Meetup" in black pen on both sides, and sat down at a large table by myself with it in the middle. Fifteen minutes later, there were ten people sitting at the table. Three years later, I was married to one of them.

My husband and I hung out with that group of people for a while. We went out and did a lot together as friends, and after a while I got to be very attracted to him and was pretty sure that he felt the same way. Birds sang. Flowers bloomed. The sun shone bright on the skyscrapers. And I pretty much propositioned him.

He almost feel over from shock (because women aren't supposed to do that, I think) and then he was elated. And it went from there. He was the one to propose, unexpectedly, so I guess traditional gender roles were eventually satisfied. We galloped off into the sunset together and are still having adventures in new places, still very happy and in love, still feeling very lucky.

Back to Basics

But I remember being young but feeling old and far behind everyone else; thinking of myself as damaged goods and not being able to see the way forward in my personal life. Learning to take the risks I needed to in order to change that was difficult and scary, but the rewards were huge.

If you're stuck and scared, but wanting to have sex / be in a relationship / whatever, like I was so many years ago... my advice is to think through the risks and how to manage them, and then put yourself out there.

If you're alone tonight? Dance to or just listen to some music you love. Take a nice bath. If you drink, have a glass of bubbly or a cocktail. Make yourself a lovely dinner. Wear something that makes you feel good. Call an old friend. Go for a walk somewhere beautiful. Hell, buy a new sex toy. Pay attention to your own wants and needs and resist to urge to hide in fiction, in work, or in routine.

If you're fortunate enough to be in a loving relationship, consider putting aside any cynicism and having a cheesy, sexy good time tonight.

We're a 'Tsunami' now | Another Type of Love

Viola's picture
Viola
February 14th, 2011 | Link | Thanks, that was really

Thanks, that was really helpful to read. I can relate to a lot of what you said, and your early experiences were a lot like mine. I met my husband online back in 1995. It wasn't until the ability to meet people without having them see me first that I could actually relate to people well. I've been in situations where I was supposed to meet new people--moms & kids on a playdate--but I was too anxious to go up and introduce myself to people, so I just let my child play until she was ready to go.

DeeLeigh's picture
DeeLeigh
February 14th, 2011 | Link | Thanks for commenting,

Thanks for commenting, Viola, and for reading that. I'm still trying to clean up that sprawling, stream of consciousness post. I've been wanting to say something on that topic, and it seemed like a good day to take the plunge. Because so many people in the fatosphere are in good, solid relationships or are otherwise competently navigating their sexuality, it's easy to forget how hard it can be to get to that point in the first place as a fat person.

There's no doubt that being heavy can exacerbate social anxiety. For me, I got along pretty well with people in general and wasn't too shy socially, but there was this glass ceiling at the point of physical contact - in a sexual context, anyway. It was really difficult to get past that.

MichMurphy February 14th, 2011 | Link | The first time I got naked

The first time I got naked in front of someone and he didn't run screaming from the room -- as I was CONVINCED would happen -- my entire world changed.

Taking risks is so hard when you feel like your self worth is on the line. But, truly, your self worth is also on the line when you DON'T take those risks.

I'm babbling, but this was wonderful to read.

DeeLeigh's picture
DeeLeigh
February 15th, 2011 | Link | Thanks so much for the kind

Thanks so much for the kind words, Michelle. It made me sad thinking about that stuff (though there's a happy ending!) and I don't usually post a lot of personal details online, so it means a lot that it resonates with you. Hopefully, it somebody out there will find it helpful.

DeeLeigh's picture
DeeLeigh
February 19th, 2011 | Link | Thanks, Debra. You know, I

Thanks, Debra. You know, I talked about that risk because it paid off in a way that I wasn't even expecting (I was just looking for a group of people to go out to the bar with on Fridays, to be honest).

I've taken other risks that haven't paid off, where things have gone badly or been tepid. Even if social risks only pay off a minority of times, they're worth making. It's just a matter of learning to take the failures more or less in stride. At the meet-up, I was ready to leave if I was still sitting there alone after finishing my coffee, and I'd spotted an interesting shop that i wanted to stop into on my way home.

I probably wouldn't remember the incident today if that had happened. There was another meetup that I had in mind to try the following week, but I never went to that one. Maybe if I had, I would have met a different group of people and that would have led somewhere. Instead, I ended up in a pub with my future husband, having a two hour conversation about science and politics.

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