I am so damned skittish about dating, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. History Lessons is my occasional series looking at my past experiences with dating in general – and dating as a fat girl in particular.
Ah, Gunther. He who provides me with my best-ever dating story. You see, when our relationship dwindled to its end, Gunther put the final blow in it by telling me that he’d met someone else… William. I knew he was bi when we started seeing each other, but I usually leave that part out when I tell the story. It’s so much more dramatic to imagine that he sprung that on me in the final moments of our relationship. He has hereafter been known as Dumped Me For A Guy Gunther (DMFAGG).
But that’s not the story I want to tell here. The story I want to tell here is about my weight and my spinelessness.
When I met Gunther I was young and serious about myself and the world. I had just ended a sparks-flying relationship with the hang-glider, and I had decided I wanted something quieter, calmer, saner. Gunther seemed just the thing. He was in graduate school to become a teacher, he worked at a bookstore, he was cute but not heart-stoppingly so. We talked about philosophy and literature and culture. It was all very civilized: we liked the same books, so we were together.
The trouble was, I was just never quite good enough for Gunther. There were all sorts of things he didn’t like about me – including both that I was fat and that I was ashamed of my size. One time, out to dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant, we were seated in a balcony looking over the dining room. As we walked to our table and got to the stairs, Gunther stood back and indicated that I should go before him. I refused. I didn’t want him to see me from behind and below. I didn’t want him to see the rolls of fat on my back, or the width of my ass, or the way my thighs rubbed together in my jeans. Sitting down a few moments later, he called me on it. He asked why I didn’t want to walk in front of him. I didn’t have an answer and he knew the truth anyway. I was double ashamed: ashamed that I was fat and disgusting and ashamed that I hadn’t been able to hide either my fat or my discomfort from him.
Weeks later, at a Vietnamese restaurant, he told me that he didn’t think he could be with someone of my size. He just wasn’t attracted to me, he said, and he didn’t want to be with someone who didn’t respect herself enough to take care of her body. And what did I do? Did I give him the finger and walk out? Tell him that my body was my business and if he didn’t like it he didn’t have to spend any more time near it? Wonder out loud who he was to talk to me about respect? I did not. I looked down at my hands and I assured him that I was “working on it,” I was on a diet, I was going to the gym, I wanted to lose weight as much as he wanted me to lose it, I promised I would be better. I positively oozed a lack of respect for my body, but he seemed pleased with my response.
It went downhill from there. I don’t remember what happened when or whether we had any more conversations about my body or my diet. I do remember that the relationship crept toward its end, and when he came back after visiting his family and told me he was leaving me for William I was mostly relieved that I didn’t have to end it.
It was years before I realized how messed up it all was. Messed up that he thought those things, way messed up that he thought it was a good idea to say them to his girlfriend, extra-super-messed up that I tied myself up in knots to try to prove that I didn’t deserve his criticism. I was years away from fat acceptance, then, but I would have liked to think that I would have had some sense of self-preservation.
I’m not sure how I would respond if that happened to me again today. I would like to be able to say that, in the Mediterranean restaurant, I’d walk in front of him. I wish I could tell you that, in the Vietnamese restaurant, I’d stand up and on my way out the door tell him that I may not be as slim as he liked but I did respect my body enough not to let him insult it. But I’m not that brave yet, and that’s why I’m writing this here.
(Oh, and? Yeah, Gunther’s his real name. Well, kinda. He changed it to Gunther shortly before I met him. Something to do with being named after his asshole of a grandfather. I never got clear on the reason, but I did suffer quite a bit of teasing from my friends. “What do you call him in bed?” they’d squeal. “Oooooh, Guuuunty!”)