Dating as a fat 20 something, specifically online dating, is just atrocious. Today, I had this conversation with a man on OkCupid. Could you help out myself and other women learn how to better handle this kind of fat-shaming-bull-shit?
So, the hardcore feminist separatist who lives inside me wants to tell you to walk away from internet dating, gather as many like-minded women as you can, find an old haunted Victorian in Maine where you can build a commune, and fortify the walls with copies of Inga Muscio’s Cunt.
I want to tell you that.
I want to do that very thing all the time.
In fact, for almost ten years, I was a straight woman who had (somehow!) unknowingly adopted a militant lesbian separatist worldview. I literally had no idea why I wasn’t meeting dudes at any of the Valerie Solonas parties I was attending.
I only managed to figure it out because I went on a date with a guy who was generous enough to explain that it was going to be difficult to meet dudes if I only hung out with ladies. Obvious in retrospect. Even after this realization, however, it was hard to change my social behaviors because I was so stoked to have found a community of women who made me feel safe.
I knew I needed to diversify the social gatherings I attended and expand my friendship circle if I was going to interact with a dude ever again. I was intimidated because I knew I was going to have to deal with a lot of cluelessness, a lot of communication barriers, and a lot of moments of being flabbergasted by entitlement.
But I did it. And I survived, girl!
What makes the early stages of dating men so difficult?
Most men will never have an intervention into the fucked up legacy of misogyny they inherited. Most men will never understand that they are often not the most interesting person in the room. Most men will never know what’s it’s like to have their body commented upon in a way that really hurts them to the core.
Most men will never have the privilege of being a feminist.
And that’s a bummer in a lot of ways, but the situation is not hopeless.
I want to give you four pieces of advice that I think will help you with online dating.
- It’s ok if a dude doesn’t get your politics right off the bat. What matters is his willingness to prioritize what matters to you.
Most people (of any gender) do not have access to good politics. Most people just go along to get along. It takes a special and strong person to adopt feminist politics, and the truth is that it also takes some amount of access to community and an ideological education. The privilege of masculinity prevents your average dude from ever having to think critically about his privilege or how something like fatphobia or diet culture harms women. And even though that makes him privileged, it doesn’t make him a terrible person necessarily.
That’s why early communication is the time for open-mindedness.
It’s ok if you meet someone who is a little clueless to your politics because what matters is his willingness to listen to you, hear what matters to you, and let it into his worldview.
Even if you decide a guy isn’t a keeper, it’s ok for someone to make a blunder as long as they’re open to recognizing why they hurt you and are proactive in changing their behavior. I knooooooow. It suuuuucks not to have a nifty tool we can use to eliminate prospects, but the truth is that online dating (like all dating) is complex. Being willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt at the beginning of communication is important.
This does NOT mean I want you to lower your standards. On the contrary: PRESUME that dudes will rise to the challenge of understanding you. Don’t presume that they don’t get you and don’t want to get you.
2. Trust your gut
A lot of times we feel we must adopt axiomatic rules because we are afraid that someone will hurt us down the line. What we forget is that our body and brain are picking up on all kinds of signals, and we owe it to ourselves to listen to them. Be open to liking someone even if they aren’t the perfect feminist, and be open to passing on someone who maybe seems to be. Rules can help protect us, but they can also limit us.
3. Sometimes a semi-clueless dude has more potential than a dude who’s got all the feminist lines.
Let me tell you a story about the last dude who broke my heart. He was a self-identified feminist. He had worked in food justice for years before entering the tech industry in San Francisco. He’s a man of color with an anti-racist critique. He knew about 1000 corn puns (omg. I love corn puns). He had a basket of sex toys that were just for me. And he also ended our “thing” over text. The last text he sent me literally said: “True story: fell in love.”
Yes, with someone else, girl!
I was devastated. All of his feminist, anti-racist, corn punning brilliance created a false sense of security. I ignored my gut (which was telling me something just wasn’t right about him) because he had passed “the test.” A month later I started dating someone who had very different politics from me, but he fucken respected me. He didn’t have the feminist lines I craved, but he wasn’t a liar or the kind of person who would break up with me via text.
4. Let dudes do more work
I’m going to tell you right here and right now. Are you ready?
DATING MEN IS HARD.
Girl, I hate to tell you this. I HATE to tell you this. It’s important to recognize that misogyny is a big problem that we can’t escape when we’re dating. It’s important not to let misogyny steal from you the power of authenticity and the fun of dating. So allow your potential date to offset some of the misogyny.
It’s exhausting being on the defensive. It’s exhausting being hella suspicious all the time. So, let them do some of the work! Allow interest to come to you. Rather than explaining yourself, have them tell you about themselves. Rather than rephrasing your ad over and over, tell them to read your ad and then get back to you. It’s like de facto feminism, girl.
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.