Trying to Shake Off My Complacency with Singleness

Yesterday, I received a “love yourself” care package from my dear friend Lucy with books and goodies and journal supplies. The gift was prompted by our last phone conversation because we talked about how two men have re-entered my life that I had complicated relationships with once-upon-a-time (which is the reason they have been out of my life for the last few years). She gave me some practical advice that day about how to establish some healthy boundaries with them and mentioned three of her favorite books on the subject of self-love and dating: Daring Greatly, He’s Just Not That Into You & How to Get a Date Worth Keeping. She sent me all three with little post-it notes on them telling me the order in which to read them.

Unfortunately, the mug she sent got a little chipped in transit.

Lucy knows me so well that in her card she even wrote in parenthesis, “please, don’t brush [these books] off even if the titles seem abrasive/annoying/offensive—they’re so good, so totally worth reading.” Of course, she was referring to those last two because there’s nothing offensive about encouraging me to dare greatly. I can’t say that the title for the second book doesn’t sting a little or that the third book doesn’t make me bristle. At the same time, I’ve gleaned enough from our conversations about these books to know they are worth reading.

I started last night with the third book on the list (I’ve never been good at following instructions). I have heard so much from Lucy about Dr. Henry Clouds dating advice that I was impatient to see what more I could learn from actually reading How to Get a Date Worth Keeping. So much of what he has to say at the beginning are things that I have already learned. While I am going to keep reading and faithfully make my way through Lucy’s fall reading list for me, I feel like I’m in a different place than I led Lucy to believe during our phone conversation.

In college and grad school, I didn’t take much responsibility for my stagnant dating life. When my pattern of developing pseudo-relationships cropped up I felt like it was some sick fate that God was condemning me to. It was easy to blame my weight and the shallowness of men so I did that a lot publically. Deep down, I felt like there was something essentially wrong with me.  A fundamental truth I believed was that I was too exhausting to love. Or, to steal a line from my favorite Shakespearean play, I felt like I was too expensive to wear every day. Thus, I was relegated to be “the other woman” (though my affairs with men were only emotional because I don’t mix emotional intimacy with physical intimacy).

I’ve come to believe what Dr. Cloud espouses in his book: it is our own mental road blocks that prevent us from dating and developing the relationship that we want. If we want a different outcome, we have to change our mindset (I’m paraphrasing, of course, and being somewhat reductive but that’s the gist). I know that I have been the one holding myself back.

The summer I turned 25 I proved Dr. Cloud’s thesis. I felt beautiful and desirable. I had my heart set on getting my first official relationship and I left myself open to dating. For months, it seemed like I couldn’t go anywhere without meeting a guy who would eventually ask for my phone number.  It was great and led to that short-lived relationship with a younger guy.

It wasn’t discouragement or heartbreak that cut that season of dating so short. I’m the type of person who only needs to prove something to myself once. After I proved that I was dateable and loveable I was left with the question of whether or not I actually wanted to date or have a man in my life. At that time, I decided that the answer was No. I wanted to be single. My weight gain over the last year has been an external indicator of this internal truth. I wanted to clear my head. To learn how to be comfortable just being me without needing the validation of my male relationships. To focus wholeheartedly on getting back out on my own and out of my parents’ without distraction. It’s so exhausting trying to defend this stance (and, frankly, a very personal decision) that I’ve coped out and made excuses when undergoing scrutiny about my singleness. It’s so easy to blame my singleness on a lack of available/eligible single men. I’ve know that it’s a smoke screen. I could even list a number of opportunities that I’ve passed up during this time.

The re-entrance of these two men in my life has awakened a hunger in me that’s been dormant for almost two years–I forgot how nice it is to have a man in my life who will call me on demand and chat my ear off as I drive home from work so I stay alert. I forgot how easily my barbed wire can come down when I’m talking to a man I really click with. I know all of this is what is worrying my friends. It’s worrying me a little too. I don’t want to fall back in our old cycles. I don’t want to have my heart set on them. But I also know that it isn’t. I’m not as concerned as my friends are because that old pattern doesn’t tempt me anymore. Though I am still the same person and though I still care about these men, I have grown up. I’ve learned that I’m loveable and dateable. I know that I can live a full, rich life on my own. That knowledge makes it impossible to be willing to settle for someone who is just not that into me. Even though these men are reminding me of what I miss, even though they have awakened this hunger, I haven’t forgotten our history and I don’t expect them to satiate my hunger.

It feels so good to be regaining the desire to have a man in my life. Every time my exuberance is met with concern I get a little more annoyed because what I want my friends to pick up on is that I’m starting to shake off my complacency with singleness. I think that’s great news! I plan to put Dr. Cloud’s book and Lucy’s self-love kit to good use.

Feature image by William Stitt.

So Much More Than a Physical Transformation

I must confess that I feel a little guilty about all that I’ve kept from you this summer. Though I definitely think some of my titles (“If You Don’t Want to Be My Boyfriend Maybe You Shouldn’t Act Like You Are”…”Taking Applications for a Male Sidekick”) sort of screamed ‘I’m a little bitter and let down,’ I hated not being able to bring you into what was going on behind them. The timing wasn’t right though. Both because I hadn’t had that final conversation with my friend and because I’ve needed to catch up with how my life is changing.

Yesterday my mom got after me for stating that I’ve transitioned from the “heavy girl I was to the beautiful woman I have become.” She was offended by the implication that I was not beautiful 85 pounds ago. I respect her opinion, but that isn’t what I was implying. What my statement reflects is not simply how losing weight has changed me physically, but how my definition of myself has changed.

85 pounds ago, I firmly believed that I was pretty and absolutely believed that I was desirable but I didn’t think of myself in terms of beauty. Losing weight alone didn’t change that.

Two years ago, when I was basically the same size I am now (minus 5 pounds or so), I felt less attractive and less desirable than I ever did at 240lbs/260lbs. Even though strangers were hitting on me and asking for my number frequently, there were days when I didn’t want to change out of yoga pants and my sweatshirt or leave my apartment because I felt utterly unattractive. For the first time in my life, I was pretty convinced that I was ugly.

There were a lot of contributing factors to this crisis. Overall, it happened because for years my identity had been wrapped up in being heavy. And all of the great things that it implies, like that I stake more value in who I am than in what I look like. Like that I have a big presence and an insatiable love of life. For about a decade, that term meant more to me than being beautiful. I didn’t know who I was or how to love myself without that qualifier.

In the process of rebuilding both my confidence and sense of self, I discovered that I’d never believed I was entirely beautiful. I thought I had beautiful legs and hair and eyes but I didn’t think the whole package of me was beautiful. I thought that aspects of my personality are lovable but not all of me was. I accepted partial attraction because I only believed I was partially attractive. This has changed.

As I’ve come of age over the last two years, I’ve come to believe that I’m entirely beautiful and entirely lovable. When I say this I don’t mean to imply that I’m perfectly beautiful and perfectly lovabe. Let me tell you, my body is still not flawless. It is not “bikini ready.” My face is not completely clear of acne. I still think too much. I’m still too loud. I can still be petty and tempestuous and impossible. I can still be completely awkward and totally graceless. But we all have flaws and faults. As a whole, I think I’m lovable and beautiful. That I am well worthy of being wanted and desired in my entirety.

The fact that my desire for my friend died the moment I found out that, like all the leading men of my past, he just wanted part of me and not all of me reflected this change. Even so, it’s been hard not to believe that all men who seem interested in me will just follow in these footsteps. As my dad has said, there is a rule of three. Once you’ve had three similar experiences, they set your expectations.

Though, over the last two months, I’d noticed different men’s interest, I internally doubted my instincts. Men have always seemed attracted to me. And all that attraction has ever boiled down to is an insane amount of admiration or respect or whatever. While I’ve never let this stop me from humoring hope (how boring life would be without some petty crushes), I wasn’t going to believe it until I knew the actual nature of their interest.

I think it was that need to know which prompted me to bring up the topic with two of my coworkers this weekend. When one of them asked me to name off the guys I thought liked me, ‘cause he could tell me if I was right or not, part of me expected that he’d disillusion me. Instead, I was dead-on.

It’s surprising to me how much I’ve changed through these years and how much my life has changed as a result. When I said that I’ve gone from being a heavy girl to a beautiful woman, I am referring to a transformation that has been so much more than physical (technically, my BMI isn’t even “normal” yet-though it’s very close). What it reflects is how I have redefined myself, as well as how others now define me. It’s important to remember that beauty is not merely a physical attribute. When I use that word, I mean it in that much broader sense.

I am much more beautiful now than I was two years ago. Not because I weigh less (which I hardly do). But because I know myself and love myself better. That has happened because I’ve fought to find the beauty in every bit of me. Despite flaws and imperfections. It’s happened because I know that I’m desirable to God, no matter what, and that means I must be deeply and essential beautiful. I think that the men in my life are responding to this as much as they are to my physical transformation.