Don’t Gaslight Me With “Self-Love”

After six years of living in fear of seeing my ex on the L-train — because he chose to hunker down in communal living space in trendy Williamsburg while I purchased a home in the South Bronx where I worked as an educator — I agreed to meet up with him for margaritas to “reconnect,” or as I put it, to “face my fears.” I honestly couldn’t tell you why I was so afraid of seeing him after we broke up. The split was expected and emotionless on his part while I suffered greatly after years of convincing myself that he could been “the one,” which, in retrospect, seems like a pretty average experience for a 24 year old woman. But that night, while swilling tart tequila after six painfully silent years, he announced to me, “When we broke up, I had been cheating on you for several months. You didn’t know that?” And when my clumsy response turned into a girlish, shameful chuckle (for I in fact did not know that he was cheating), his response was a relieved, “Whew, I feel a lot better after telling you that.” My value to him was zero.

The worse was yet to come. In my sad-drunk, distracted state, after listening to him blab on about his new polyamorous, hyper-sexual lifestyle, I decided to test his obvious availability. I turned to him and asked, “Well, what would you say if I asked you to come home with me tonight?” I know. I’m more ashamed of this than maybe anything else in my life, especially because his response was a wrinkled nose and an apologetic, “Eh…I don’t think that’s a good idea.” My value to him was below zero. There wasn’t enough tequila in all of Manhattan to relieve the shame of that encounter, so I sobbed. I sobbed that night after hearing about my expendability, I sobbed another night when a long-time crush told me he had always been kind of interested in my sister, and I’ve sobbed each of the three times since when good men have suddenly stopped communicating with me, rendering me helpless; a victim of choice.

After hearing a tequila-fueled confession that I had been cheated on.

Meanwhile, I have watched my female peers partner with delightful men and talented women. I have listened to their hilarious horror stories of wading through the murky waters of dating and I have delighted in their vows. I have made myself as open to love as many times as they have in my life, so open and thirsty that I’ve actually written a solo comedy show about being single which involved panhandling for love on the A-train in New York City. You would be surprised and saddened — as I have been — to realize that this kind of story might not have a happy ending. You might even negate — as I have for so long — that my never having been asked out by a man or my being treated poorly by partners or my being ghosted by great matches has everything to do with my lack of value and attractiveness as a big bodied woman by the modern white patriarchy.

It was to my own awe that when I began discussing this phenomenon with other women of size via a new podcast I’ve been hosting and producing called Woman of Size, they echoed similar experiences. And I assume that this experience is occurring to a similar if not greater degree to women of color, making it very hard for me to comprehend the challenges in dating that fat women of color must endure! In fact, I’ve been listening to the hilarious podcast Why Don’t You Date Me by Nicole Byer, a fat Black comedian, where she asks friends and former fuck-buddies/makeouts in interviews, “Why won’t you date me?” Good god, it makes me bite my nails and pick my skin to listen to the men on Nicole’s podcast dance around their answers to her. Nicole Byer, a woman who radiates confidence and humor to a degree that her instagram account is packed with images of her in a bikini in her own swimming pool with hilarious hashtags like #SoFatSoBrave, is still asking this question as a single woman in her 30s! And she’s so graceful about taking on her part of these interactions on the podcast. She retells a past of random hookups and hoin’ it up in New York with a lot of fun winks, but frankly it’s stressing me out that after all of the “putting herself out there” she has done in her adult life, not a single man has snagged this woman and treated her like solid gold.

But then again, not a single man in my adult life has offered me the like. And I’m a complete package…if I do say so myself…and I do. Why is that (I ask you with a sarcastic head-scratch)? Here are some answers to my lack of love questions that you might be wanting to toss my way right now:

  1. “You need to put yourself out there more!” Got it. But how much more “out there” does one need to take it beyond writing a solo show, taking said show to three different major cities and then literally panhandling for phone numbers on a train? All of this has been paired — by the way — with a strong online presence and consistent use of dating apps.
  2. “Well, you may have to be more vulnerable.” Okay, but I’ve done several rounds of online dating and it doesn’t get much more vulnerable than meeting up with strangers who‘ve chosen you because of a few pictures. Also, did I mention I have a podcast about my body? Yeah, it’s pretty raw.
  3. “Okay, maybe send an email to your girlfriends and ask them to hook you up with someone.” I would but even my thin friends don’t have success with that tactic anymore and not one single friend of mine has ever once tried to set me up with someone so either no one has cool friends or no one has single friends anymore. Either way, I don’t want to continue to put my dear friends in a position where they have to feel apologetic about my singleness.
  4. “Perhaps men are intimidated by you. They like the chase so maybe be more…feminine.” Oh yeah because femininity is in fact just a helpless, open-mouthed idiot-lady forever standing with a shrug about her life. THIS IS 2018! I COULDN’T FAKE BEING A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS IF I TRIED! Also, there’s nothing that encourages “the chase” more than literally taking my single ass off the market.
  5. “True. You know what? When you truly love yourself, you’ll radiate self-love and that’s when men will start to notice you.” Aha! There it is. There’s that white patriarchy veiled in a shallow sense of self-esteem.

This. This answer is the most common and also perhaps the most pointed and offensive answer to what is clearly systemic romantic exclusion. That you assume I do not love myself negates my entire adulthood, and especially after years of your reliance on my friendship, my leadership, and my acceptance of you, all things that stem from a love of myself! What are you hoping I still have left to fall in love with about my own life? It couldn’t possibly be my career of which I’ve developed over the course of 15 years with endless hours of graduate school, self-teaching and embracing of opportunities. It couldn’t possibly be my art, with which I have developed collaborative partnerships, a clear voice and leadership. Could you possibly be talking about my body? My appearance? Could you perhaps be touching on the very issue that I confront every single time I make myself vulnerable enough to meet a stranger and engage with him romantically?

You would like me to truly love my body, to truly accept my body — this marginalized, politicized mess of fat and skin; this incredibly durable sack of muscle and bone that has been colonized and threatened with violence and scrutinized daily in advertising since it was old enough to remember? If I can truly love…this ol’ thing? And when I do, you say, come to love this rotund, jiggly instrument that can’t find fitting clothes, that bleeds each month and that I have to support with metal wires and thick fabric and time flat on my back, I am going to radiate some kind of golden fat-girl glow that makes men’s jaws drop? That turns heads and changes minds and makes everyone say, “Wow, she’s really got it all! I think…by George I think she’s attractive!” Is that how it works?

Please clarify because I already very much appreciate this silly fucking skin suit and my self-loving glow hasn’t turned a single damn head. If you find yourself wanting to tell someone, especially a woman of size who is very clearly not what folks are jerking off to these days to “find love within in order to gain love from others,” kindly evaluate your positionality and instead just believe me when I say that my experience is one of exclusion from romance. It is harder for fat people to experience the love and respect of others and the sooner we can unwrap that unpleasant construct, the sooner we can actualize a world that finds all kinds of people attractive. *Takes a shot of tequila*