Here’s the honest truth about what dating and having sex with new partners is like when you’re rocking a thirty something, post babies and breastfeeding and more than a few nights of drowning your divorced sorrows in wine and chocolate and all the feelings you can eat body:
Not all the time, and usually not for long. But every so often, I catch myself engaged in a panicked inner dialogue about my body.
What if he didn’t realize I was fat? What if he is totally turned off? How big do my arms look, right now? Did I shave behind my knees?
Look, my body is beautiful. I know this. My body is soft and curvy and its got stretch marks and scars and usually a bruise or two because someone keeps putting my bedside table right there where I’m trying to walk. My body has brought life into this world, nurtured it. My arms have been a haven for my children and my lovers and my friends. My breasts fed two children for a total of four and a half years. My hips have been the ledge for my children to see the world from the vantage point of a mother who loved them and would carry them anywhere. My legs have let me walk along some of the most awe inspiring streets and beaches and trails in this world. This body is a good body. I am pretty in love with it.
But you know, there was something easier about having a less than perfect body when I was married. Because the soft curves, the stretch marks, the heavy fullness of my breasts – they were made making my former husband’s children. Our children. My body was a testament to the love we made go walking around outside both of our hearts. So he loved it. And he loved me.
Now, there’s always that little voice in the back of my head, whispering – did you warn him?
My dating profiles include a full length shot of my body. When I can choose a body type, I started with one of the best black dating sites and chose “curvy” (because really, what woman in the world would choose any of the other options like overweight, obese, a little extra? Curvy can at least translate to sexy in the minds of those who are attracted to it). I comb through profiles for hints that a man who prefers a slender woman – looking for a gym partner, an active partner, someone who takes their health “seriously” (Really, guy, really?). Those are all dating code for thin. I drop hints during that initial contact about my body after a babies, about curviness, about having never been thin. Now really, at some point, it would probably be smart to realize that a man would need to be blind to believe I was thin. But I still can’t stop myself from mentioning it.
When an old boyfriend from my late teens resurfaced in my life, I texted him before we met up again after 12 years of absence – “I don’t look like I did when I was 17, anymore.” His response? “Neither do I.”
Of course, right?
I’m an adult woman with an adult body. Every single body is shaped differently. Every single body has been shaped and formed by experience and history and genetics and they are all rather wonderfully different. And not only our bodies, but our hearts have been shaped by our experiences.
Which brings me to sex. (Yes, the sex is the heart part of this equation, and not the body part.)
Because by the time we get to the point where we’re pulling off each other’s clothes, he has a pretty good idea of the fact that the girl he’s about to pull into bed with him is not thin. But what is scaring me is remembering all those times where my body wasn’t good enough. Where it was repulsive, or unnattractive. Every single inch of me remembers sucking in my stomach every single day of high school. It remembers struggling to change for gym class without removing your shirt (Remember that trick??). It remembers being called Sasquatch. It remembers the hurts, and those are the things that spring to the surface for me when I’m about to have sex with a new partner (sometime feels like that use perfumes for men to drive women crazy).
What if today is the day that I am repulsive, or unattractive? What if the pooch of my belly or the dimples on my thighs are just not what he was bargaining for? What if, what if, what if?
I am at my most insecure when I am getting naked in front of someone new. The possibilities are endless, it seems. The imminent danger to my self esteem at the forefront. I have become the expert at pulling the sheets up just so, insisting I keep my bra on, setting my hand on a part that is jiggling “too much”, pulling my clothes back on with my back turned. And all of that comes with a cost.
I’ve paid in my own inner turmoil, in questioning, in hesitating. I’ve gotten so wrapped up worrying about how I looked that I’ve forgotten entirely about that whole mutual pleasure part of sex. I’ve analyzed to the point of paralysis every move, every motion, and the minutes/hours/days it takes for him to text me again. Did he try to take my shirt off? Did he kiss me goodbye? Did he turn me over onto my belly so he wouldn’t have to see it? I worry and I fret and I wound myself with the story I’ve written in my head. Maybe he was disgusted. Maybe the fat girl he found under my clothes turned him off. Maybe later he’ll joke with his friends about me. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
I’ve been wanting to write this piece for several months now – and have always stopped myself. I think it was because in the end, I don’t have an answer for how to solve this in my head. It is easy to remind myself that chances are, the men who date me, the men who want to sleep with me – they are both aware of and totally okay with the shape of my body. It is simple to remind myself to love me. That I am sexy and vibrant and gorgeous and yes – curvy. I AM. And I also know that this is not the exclusive domain of the fat girl – thin women, all women experience this same kind of emotional slip and slide when we’re back on the market and meeting new people. Men too, I’m sure. Harder work though is to interrupt the inner dialogue once it gets going – a freight train crashing through enjoyable, pleasurable moments and leaving it all under the rubble.
Several months ago, I wrote The Fat Friend, and in it I mentioned that I’d often be wary when men approached me, assuming they were approaching to talk to my friends, using me as the ugly duckling friend like a wingman. Over the last three months, more and more men are now coming up to talk to me, and I caught myself, again, falling into that old pattern of belief. Dismissing and diminishing myself in favour of pointing out the obvious beauty of the friends I am blessed to have, and trying to shrink myself down, to disappear. My inner voice has been screaming some serious bullshit at me lately. The irony here is that over the last few months I have also lost almost 20 pounds.
So, I look great, I feel great, my hair is shiny and I discovered the magic of the curling wand….. and I still don’t believe any of it, when I’m naked.
This is the disconnect. I’ve been learning over time that we get to be many things at once – and that sometimes even the strongest parts of us are challenged. You can be at once full of healthy self image, bucket loads of confidence, and endless quantities of self love – and you can still worry about whether the light is hitting your cellulite wrong when things start steaming up. In the end, the true underlying fear is in being rejected for who we are. For the things we can’t change. I’m not afraid of my body. I’m afraid of my body not being good enough.
And even that is a self imposed measure. What would good enough mean? Thin enough? Waxed enough? Just the right amount of turned on enough? Loud but not too loud? Not too vanilla but not too freaky? Jiggling a bit but not too much? Enjoying myself without being too into it? At some point, I started taking stock of these ideas and then I started giving them weight. I started making them matter. And in the end, they don’t.
What does matter? That I’m an adult woman, with a body that works all kinds of magic. That I’m beautiful and confident and smart and funny and sexual. That the man who desires me isn’t thinking about any of these things, and when I get caught up thinking about them, the really good stuff is lost. Connection. Intimacy. Orgasms!(Seriously, when you’re in your head too much, orgasms might as well be unicorns). That nothing kills a moment more like trying frantically to cover yourself up afterwards. That in the end, if a man believes any of the bullshit I’ve been torturing myself over, I don’t want him, anyways. Best to find out right after I take my shirt off than three months down the road.
I don’t think the moment of terror ever disappears. I think there will always be that breath held moment, the heartbeat of time where I’m braced for rejection. My goal from now on is to ensure it passes quickly, and get on the with the good stuff.
I’m a communicator. That’s a PC way of saying I like to talk, but I also spend a lot of my time listening, and over the years, I’ve developed a sense for subtext – how one or two words can change your entire message, what people are really trying to say and how to weave the varied layers of your story into one cohesive brand message that your clients fall in love with.
When I'm not acting as editor in chief for Vivid & Brave, you can find me geeking out over words here.
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