What I Learned from My First Romantic Relationship at 27
Content warning: In this post I discuss my history with dating, mine and other’s ways of seeing fat bodies, and assumptions and beliefs I held and hold about dating. My narrative here implies relationships are heterosexual and monogamous, which is just the way I envision and have my personal romantic relationships. I know that romantic relationships can be structured and experienced in multiple ways, so I wanted to warn about my limited discussion here.
Most people have entered the dating world long before 27, and I suppose I had my few experiences talking to and “dating” a few people throughout my late teens and early twenties. It wasn’t until late into my 27th year, though, that I met someone that I actually dated, someone who I talked to every day, saw multiple times a week, and formed a relationship with.
Dating and romantic relationships have had a complicated history with me. They always felt like work, and the not enjoyable kind at that. When I was younger, most guys I met in person who I liked were also liked by plenty of other girls, and they often found someone else more attractive than me. The rare guy that did throw attention my way did so behind closed doors – or in the safety of the internet. I never had the experience when I was young of being pursued by someone publicly with others knowing that he liked me. To be honest, that situation really messed me up. It drove home a lot of messages about desirability that I fully blamed on my body, not considering other things that also likely affected the way I was treated or seen. Having relationships that were secretive or never actually amounted to anything kept me safe in some ways, because I didn’t act on much, but it also made me feel intense shame.
To be fair, I think a lot of it was my body. I didn’t meet many guys at 18 who were into bigger girls, again, at least in public. Body positive spaces didn’t exist in my world, and there was a lot of cultural pressure to date certain kinds of people and to value certain kinds of beauty. Not like now (not that all of that has changed). Now it’s much easier to meet interested men. I started online dating when I was a senior in high school. I met one guy, C., who I went on a date with and felt enamored by – he was much older than me – only to have him “friend” some of my friends he met on MySpace (oh—MySpace) and message them privately. I had a big complex about this. I felt that my friends were 100x prettier, more interesting, better flirters than me. It actually took a long time for me to think I had something worth offering someone. I don’t think this is a rare story for women, and it just so happens that it’s also my story.
(high school prom my junior year)
In college I also attempted online dating. I had a string of bad first dates, lost hope, went on a couple casual dates with a guy in my science class, was told I was “too northern” for him, so that ended. I really lost hope. In high school I thought that I would be engaged or in a serious relationship when I left college. I honestly had some idea in my head that this was the place that people met their husbands (can you tell I grew up in the South?). It was a little humbling to realize I made it not only all 4 years of high school without ever seriously dating someone, but also all 4 years of college.
After college I went straight into graduate school. I quit dating. I focused on my studies and on blogging. I started this blog only a couple months after beginning my program, and those two years were an inspiring moment in my life. I didn’t need dating—I felt really fulfilled and very busy. Once life calmed down a little, after graduating and entering the work world, I decided to start online dating again. I work in a female-centric department, all my friends are girls, and I mostly talk to women all day. The likelihood of meeting someone in person felt slim, so online I went again.
(in the prime of my blogging days)
Online dating has both changed and stayed the same. There are still a lot of weird messages and approaches, but I also found at 26/27 that the men who were messaging me mostly knew how to start a conversation. I still had a string of first dates, but the ones I went on weren’t horrible. In fact, some were enjoyable, just none that made me want a second date.
When I met M. online, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to meet him. He was 24, and I worried about him being younger than me. Once he found out that I was a writing teacher, he used overly formal language with me – super polite, but that also drew me to him. I liked that he wanted to impress me and that he was persistent but polite. It felt like I was “worth” chatting to and meeting.
When we met up, I was instantly attracted to him. He had a big smile, and he was easy to talk to. He seemed nervous, and I was too, so that was helpful. It was one of those dates that you’re a little sad when it had to end, which was a great sign. In the beginning, we had a lot of excitement about getting to know one another. After Christmas, it was a little harder to keep up that excitement. We had both experienced some disappointment of things not panning out the way we wanted, and financial struggles kept us to only visiting one another at home. We got into a rut. I tried to talk about that rut and wanting to move forward, and we did some things toward that, such as me meeting his friends. I was also sick. Anemia plus some other things. It moved into a “friendly” relationship, and eventually it came to us talking and deciding we were better off as friends. I think I waited all that time for a reason. I’m happy that the first person I dated like this was M. because he was thoughtful, and he was kind. He respected me, and I respected him. I figured out a lot about myself in the process of dating him, which I want to share here:
- I feared not knowing how to be in a relationship, and that fear wasn’t really needed. Having never been in a committed relationship before, I worried that I wouldn’t know how to be part of a relationship. I wasn’t used to talking to someone every day. I was very independent – most of my choices only have to involve Lola and myself. Would I be able to care about someone else? Would I be able to handle having someone as such a constant in my life? Would I be what they needed as a partner? Could I be supportive? Yes. Yes. Yes. I could! The thing is that when you really like someone, you want to talk to them often. You look forward to hearing from them. You’re honestly curious about their day. I worried it wouldn’t feel natural, but it did. I think in general it’s hard to tell what someone needs as support, even your friend, and as you become closer you just have to communicate to find out things. It doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but I know now that I can try my best to communicate issues and attempt to resolve them.
- I have a very specific way of thinking about my fat body. It’s rooted in a history of experience and years of reading fat activist and body positive work. I didn’t show up one day with this view—it’s been developed and it’s nuanced. A new person in my life isn’t going to understand this fully right away. They probably don’t have the same knowledge that I have in regards to fat activism. M. had experienced body positivity, but a lot of his frame of reference was body acceptance oriented rather than fat activist. A lot of it was from popular curvy models. Sometimes he would ask me questions that I thought were really off, and trying to explain it without coming off as insecure was hard. He didn’t know what would trigger me, and I had to think through those triggers and my responses. For example, early on he asked me how I got so fat. That probably sounds like a horrible question to ask for many women, but he knew the extent to which fatness was something I thought about and wrote about. I was put off by the question, so simply stated and so “cause” focused. It’s a weird question to be asked – how did your body come to be – when you’ve had 27 years in a body that’s complicated. I had learn how to navigate these moments when I thought he either asked a question that I found faulty in and of itself or talked about my body in ways I didn’t agree with (like assuming that people looked down on me, etc.). I think it also reveals a lot of assumptions people hold about fat people. Individually, I had to figure out which assumptions I could challenge of his and be okay with him having held that assumption in the past. People don’t exist in a vacuum. Anyone I date will have heard non-ending messages about fat people. This is something I know that I will have to navigate again, and I think I am capable of making good decisions about how to handle it.
- I am not used to physical touch. While I learned to receive touch fairly quickly, it was much harder for me to give touch than I thought. I felt like a young, inexperienced person, and sometimes my insecurities of doing something wrong kept me from touching him. And when I talk about this, I mean resting my hand on his leg or holding his arm. This is something I will continue to work on. Intimacy can be hard, and even these little signs of affection can feel like hurdles (and small successes!) if you’re not used to them.
- I have to date someone who is considerate of my space and what I need body-wise. I have definitely had numerous occasions where my body size or my abilities have shown to need accommodations and/ special considerations. I’m used to navigating this on my own, whether that’s getting the appropriate chair or kindly reminding someone that I cannot walk as fast as them. Because M. was very considerate about what I could or could not do, what I needed in a general situation, or at least not making me embarrassed about something (such as breathing hard after walking up a big hill at the zoo), I now know that this is something I need in my relationship. I do not want someone who makes me feel ashamed of these little differences, and it was reassuring to have someone else think through some of these things along with me. It makes a big difference to not have to constantly speak up for yourself, and instead have someone think a step ahead and make sure that this accommodation or body-thing didn’t become a “thing” interrupting our time together.
- I am attractive to someone. I knew this, but I’m not sure that I thought it was possible to meet someone where there was mutual attraction. I mostly had dated guys who didn’t have a preference for big women, and dating someone who did definitely changed the way he approached my physical appearance. I want to be with someone who is attracted to me as I look at that moment – not a thinner me.
- I am smart. I don’t fall into a bad process of needing a man’s attention for my worth. This was something my mom mentioned to me. She’s seen people before who don’t often date get completely caught up in someone that does give them attention. I think she had a little fear that my lack of experience would lead me to bad decisions or getting totally caught up in M. in an unhealthy way. Instead, my age and independence helped me better decide what was okay with me and what wasn’t. I never felt dependent on him, just affected by him. I knew when to end it because it naturally went there and was no longer the relationship we had wanted it to be.
I will go into the next relationship knowing that it does take work, but it is also really enjoyable. I felt a little sad going back to my world of 1, but I am hopeful that I will meet someone great in the future.