Years and years ago, I lived with my best friend J in Washington D.C. I was in graduate school. She was working as an artist and at a coffee shop. We were poor and lived cheaply and everything was fantastic.
At some point, we decided to set each other up on blind dates, via craigslist. Neither of us knew enough people in DC – at this point, we had only lived there for a few months – that we could set each other up with actual acquaintances, so instead we wrote up ads describing each other, posted them, sorted through the billions of responses and picked two each.
The men she sent me out with were wonderful. She knew me well, knew what kind of guy I would like, knew how to find out what kind of man was behind the neatly written emails she received.
The first date – Matt – took me to fondue restaurant, to a wine bar, to a comedy club, and kissed me sweetly and put me in a cab home. I went out with him a few more times (we saw a movie, went ice skating), but in time we realized that there was just no mojo.
The second date, whose name I can’t remember, was uncannily perfect for me. I was in grad school to study democratic development in Bosnia, a field that includes, oh, a few hundred people in the United States. Date #2 worked for a democracy-building nonprofit and had just returned from making a film about the development of Bosnia following the war in the Balkans. He took me to my favorite restaurant, without knowing that it was my favorite. He was lovely-looking, the conversation was great… but again, no mojo. (This may have had something to do with how terrible I looked that night. We had been trying to make plans for ages and, at the last minute, realized we were both free that night. I met him straight from work, wearing utilitarian black slacks and a formless sweater, no makeup, hair a bit greasy from being tied back all day, possibly smelling of ink.)
The men I chose for J were decidedly less fantastic. One was utterly forgettable; I cannot remember even one thing to tell you about him. She never made it out with the other. Instead, after they had exchanged a few flirty emails, he sent me a note to say that he had decided he wasn’t interested. She had mentioned the name of the coffee shop where she worked. He had dropped by without telling her. J was a striking and unusual-looking girl: short, fat, bright red hair, always a big smile on her face. Unmistakable. He took one look at her and got the hell out of there. In his note to me – which was classy of him, I guess? to tell me that he was ditching my friend? – he said that he didn’t want to go out with J because she – in his words – “had a weight problem” and was “too flirtatious.” He could handle one or the other, he said, but not both.
I never told her what happened. I made up some story and picked someone else for her second date (about whom I also remember nothing). But what that man said, that man that neither of us ever met, has stuck with me all these years. That he was bothered by the combination of her size and her brazen flirtation. That he would have been comfortable going out with my fat friend if only she had been meek, quiet, shy. That her fat was inoffensive as long as he didn’t have to think of her as a sexual creature. It’s the nightmare that I have every time I approach a man, drop a line on a dating site, show up for a blind date: that no matter what he says out loud, no matter what he believes about size acceptance, he’ll take a look at me and get queasy at the thought of sex.
(This story does not have a happy ending. My friendship with J ended dramatically, in part – but not mainly – because of a man that she and I both loved. But that’s a story for another day.)