Friday, July 7, 2017

Big Love: Dating as a Plus Size Woman in your Thirties




I've been single for a long time. Like a really long time. Like, it's getting embarrassing over here people. I've had a couple of conversations lately, where I have explored with friends (both single and coupled) why that might be. I am not sure that I know. I mean who does? A few weeks ago I was talking about being single, and dating, and the endless search for "the one"over on instagram stories (if you're not following me yet, you can do so here) and it turned into a really lively discussion with quite a few lovely readers. And that got me thinking - I have been meaning to write a post about dating, both as a woman in her thirties, and someone who is plus size, for the blog for a while now. So grab yourself a cup of tea, or an alcoholic beverage might be more appropriate, and settle in for the scoop on my dating escapades...

Let's got back to the beginning shall we...? I went on my first official ‘First Date’ when I was 28. Everything before that had usually involved drunkenly landing on someone's lips on a night out, or realising you quite fancied a friend or a colleague after too many tequilas. This date... It was awful. God I was nervous. I think I was most terrified that the pictures I’d put on my online profile were not a true reflection of me, and therefore he would think I was some sort of hideous catfishing hell beast, and walk out in disgust. I didn’t eat for two days before (whether this was because of nerves or a desperate attempt at last minute slimming, I don't recall) and so I was drunk after the first drink. Conversation was non-existent. It was at this point I realised that I in fact didn’t fancy him and if I didn’t have a Big Mac sharpish I was going to faint, and fled the pub after proffering some flimsy excuse about an ill relative. A rather worrying start to my dating career, and one that meant it would take me another year before I plucked up the courage to have another go at finding Mr Right.

My dating life in my twenties was largely non-existent. Most relationships (if you can call them that) usually began as friends first. This fitted in pretty well with my belief that you had to know me to find me attractive. That my physical appearance (in particular my body) was a barrier to overcome or a flaw to overlook, rather than an asset of any kind. I had lovers and partners, but I always assumed that all of this came out of me being a cool person (I was never in any doubt of this!) rather than a babe. I also spent a lot of these relationships and encounters worrying about what I looked like naked rather than actively enjoying the time I spent in the buff!

This isn’t suprising, and I believe it reflects the thinking of a lot of plus women. The narratives we have ingested since childhood have taught us that fat women are best friends or the butt of the joke, but never the leading lady in their very own rom-com. Believing you are worth loving or even lusting after is an important part of the heavy duty armour you need to take on the dating world.

Dating is largely about confidence. Something a bit thin (ahem, pun) on the ground for plus women, and often further stripped away by negative experiences.  I spent quite a bit of my late teens and early twenties in certain types of bars and pubs where I would regularly be hit on by men as a joke. Yup! A group of rowdy and unkind boys would spur one of their friends on to come over and tell me I was sexy, or the gang’s joker would pinch my arse (sexual harassment is so hilarious) while his hammered friends howled with laughter. Laughter that would echo in my ears long after I'd shifted the hangover.

From speaking to other plus size women I know I was not alone in this experience. Apparently there is something arseholes find universally amusing in this cruel and childish behaviour. And the thing is, if that happens to you enough times, your defences go up. You expect it. You are waiting for it to happen. So when a well-meaning dude makes a slightly clumsy move or lobs a bit of a lame pick-up line your way, you' re so used to dealing with idiots that your defence mechanisms kick in and you shoot him down straight away. And I’ve had this confirmed by quite a few men who tend to like bigger women – trying to show interest in a social setting like that can be really difficult. Apparently, it can be really hard to chat up a fat girl.

At about 30 my bestie and I were squashed around a really crowded bar while a snail-paced barman appeared to pour pints by the drop. I’d been there for 15 minutes trying to get a drink, and a guy next to me was cracking amusing jokes about the likelihood of getting a drink before the thirst did us in, and whether I thought there was a tortoise in the server’s lineage. Eventually I got my drinks and muscled away from the bar, my best friend in tow.

As soon as we got clear of the crowd she said to me, “What the hell is the matter with you?” I looked at her a bit dumbstruck, “Um…” She looked incredulous, “That cute guy has just spent the last quarter of an hour flirting with you, and you didn’t give him anything to work with! After spending half the evening bemoaning the fact you can’t meet any decent men”.  Seriously, I had no idea. Years of having my defences up meant I just no longer picked up on those signals.

It makes me super sad thinking of all the opportunities that Hayley missed out on. I comb through my past looking for moments I might have misread, or "ones that got away". I am pretty certain I was so busy making sure I never got hurt, or shamed, that I closed myself off to a lot of people and experiences. My dislike of myself, and my strong belief in this narrative of my undesirability was so strong that I actually thought less of people if they fancied me. My mind tagged people losers if they showed any interest in me. Now that is some fucked up shit! 

So having been a bit of a dating wall flower through-out my twenties, turning thirty had a suprising effect on me. The joy of ageing is that, well, you just have less fucks to give. And you definitely feel more comfortable in your own skin - having submerged myself in body positive spaces, filled with gorgeous women who had bodies like mine, I did feel a burgeoning confidence I’d not really had before. I also stopped frequenting those sorts of bars and clubs, which I realised were pretty toxic spaces where no one I wanted to meet hung out anyway. Recent years has also seen a much more relaxed attitude to online dating. Like most singletons my age, I am now reliant on apps and algorithms to track down my soul mate (oh, the romance!). No longer do you have to fill out pages and pages of questionnaires and spend hours reading through profiles. With the advent of Tinder, Mr or Ms Right is (supposedly) just a swipe away. Now, online dating iss the norm and apparently everyone is doing it. A few years back,  all my single girlfriends in the office urged me to try it, and it seemed almost like a group activity.

The beauty of Tinder is that it has made itself seem like a game – swipe right if you fancy, left if you don’t. And someone only finds out you were interested if they are too! So no awkwardness!
Apps like Tinder (Happn and Bumble are similar) are largely based on aesthetics. Users can add a number of pictures of themselves, and while there is usually a space to include a short bio, the focus here is definitely on looks and attraction. It may seem suprising but I actually found this quite reassuring. It meant that the people I matched with were, in fact, attracted to me.
I had no interest in misleading anyone, so I made sure to put attractive, but realistic images on my profile, and stated that I was plus size and body positive in my bio. And this took a lot of the anxiety about dating out of the equation for me. The first few were terrifying, but I am a bit more matter of fact about it all now.

I get lots of Tinder messages asking me my bra size (eye roll followed by pressing unmatch), some that fixate on my size, and others that genuinely seem to be interested in starting up a conversation. I’ve been on some lovely dates that have led nowhere, and on some awful dates that have made me text my friend so she can call me to say she was locked out of the flat. I’ve had a couple of guys who still seem to be perplexed by their own desires, and still can’t believe they’re into fat chicks (literally, a guy who said to me "I don't know what's wrong with me?! I've tried to like normal girls, but I just don't fancy them as much. It's so weird.") And I’ve had dates with men who like all sorts of women and like me because they think I am attractive – not because of or in spite of my size, but just because they fancy me.

I am aware that I definitely get less matches and chat ups than some of my straight sized friends. That’s not suprising in a society that values certain beauty aesthetics above others, but I certainly have no shortage of dating opportunities. In fact, if I wanted to (and was a LOT less picky, and not as dedicated to my Netflix subscription) I could be out with someone different several times a week. And a lot of my dating experiences have been very similar to those of my straight size friends. I’ve been courted by married men, as have they. We’ve all been on horrendous dates with no chemistry, and we’ve all found ourselves making out with someone in a dimly lit bar after the third drink. I have been approached by weirdos who  are clearly only interested in me because of my physical attributes, particularly body type (“I love big girls because they jiggle"), just like an Asian friend of mine regularly gets approached by guys with the line “I’m really into Asian chicks”. It seems that today, if you go with mainstream dating apps then dating is just dating. And arseholes are arseholes, and we all have to deal with a few. I haven't strayed into the world of strictly plus size dating, as in sites dedicated to plus size men and women and their admirers. For me, being plus size is just one facet of me. I want someone who wants to date me, not just a fat girl because she is fat. That would make me (personally) feel more like a fetish than a girlfriend. Because I don't date people solely based on body type, hair colour, height etc. And I don't really understand having so much of a type that you would want to date only that to the exclusion of all possibilities. But that's just me... 

To date my rom-com has been a lot more Com than Rom. Tinder, and apps like it are hilarious. People let their guard down, and really let it all hang out. And at first that is pretty overwhelming. Part of the problem is that these apps are used by people with a wide spectrum of purposes – everyone from one night stand seekers, to those looking for the one. But there are some good people on there, although admittedly it takes a bit of looking. You don’t necessarily have to kiss the frogs, but you have to left swipe a hell of a lot of them.

My main problem with these apps is it has almost made dating too easy. It's like a quantity over quality thing. When you can have another date lined up with someone else tomorrow, who is going to make the effort to go through the two or three dates it can take to really suss someone out. When some minor flaw or incompatibility crops up, why not keep swiping until you find 'the whole package'. And then there's the hope and promise of someone who seemed great over text, but in reality there just isn't anything there, or they just stop texting, or they actually have a wife, and from the dizzying heights of possible romance, you crash down into the reality of another Friday night Netflix and Chill for one. Modern dating is exhausting. Dating fatigue is a real thing. And everyone I know who has been single for a substantial period of time suffers from it, and has to take regular time outs, or risk losing faith (and their minds) altogether. And the only reason we keep trying? Because the pay off, the end game, promises to be worth it. 

I have been on some pretty great dates, met some interesting people and had some good (and some hilarious) experiences. And now I think of dating apps (and dating in general) largely as practice. I know now that I am definitely worthy of love, and of being lusted after. Going on those dates, seeing that people find me attractive has been good for an ego that has been battered and bruised since adolescence. My flirting game is sharper, my confidence is brighter and more obvious,  and I’m a lot more open to the guy who hits on me in Starbucks or waiting for the tube. Because now I know it’s not a joke, and he might just be the one.

**This piece is a (much longer and adapted version of a) piece I wrote for SLiNK magazine last year.**

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2 comments

  1. Oh my god - I hope you spilt your drink over the moron who said that he doesn't know why he doesn't fancy "normal girls" - what a pillock! Also for what it's worth, you are a total fox and it totally sounds like you have the right attitude towards it all now! :) x

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  2. Putting yourself out there takes courage at times but you're worth it lovely girl!

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