Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hungry Young Me

When I was about 14 years old, I became infatuated with the guy who sat in the seat behind me. He always sat behind me because teachers arranged us alphabetically and our names were locked together in an unbreakable fashion due to the inflexible nature of the roman alphabet. On those rare occasions when a teacher didn't force us to follow this convention, he sat with other people. This gave me more than a small clue about the fact that perhaps he wasn't fond of talking to "the fat girl" at the start of every class.

Since I'm 45 years old, I grew up in a time when "the fat kid" really was only one in the class. In our small rural grade which totaled around 85 people, I was "the fat girl" and there was also "the fat guy". Everyone else was thin or not more than vaguely chubby due to the vagaries of puberty.

My lingering crush on this fellow lasted well over a decade. It waxed and waned. He was my friend during parts of it, and out of touch during other parts. It was quite literally a spell over me that I could not shake or break until I fell in love with my husband and I hated being controlled by my feelings for this person. There were days when I would have done anything to not feel for this guy the way I did. I did not want the burden it placed on me. Falling for my future husband finally shattered this sense that my affection was painfully tethered to a person who would never feel for me the way I felt for him. In my mind, this was the case because I was always "the fat girl" to him. Since he grew up watching me go from chubby to ballooning up to "big" and then close to what I thought was "huge", he'd never see me as sexually attractive.

Even when I lost weight in college, I was still too fat for "normal" guys and getting down to about 180 lbs. didn't change the object of my long-standing love's feelings for me. When I finally got the courage to admit to him that I was in love with him, something that I'm sure he had known for a long time, he told me he just didn't see me that way, and gave me a pity kiss on the mouth. I was around 21 when that happened, and it was the first time anyone had ever kissed me.

Fast forward to the future, where I have the benefits of 20/20 hindsight and over 20 years of blissful union with my husband who I adore and adores me back. I'm immensely grateful that my unrequited love never returned my affections because I can't imagine how that may have affected my potential future relationship with the man who is my perfect match. Either it would have "worked" enough to dissuade me from pursuing my future husband, or it would have failed and possibly left me too jaded or wary to give a relationship with my future husband a chance.

At the very least, I wouldn't be the open, fresh, and, yes, even naive, person who entered a relationship with a man she met and developed a distance relationship with. Frankly, I believe that a lot of people who have bad relationships are worse for it when they enter future ones. They are scarred by the things that went wrong and may be unreasonably wary of seeing the same things happen in the next relationship. My husband had the benefit of not competing with the memory of anyone from my past, either in terms of positives or negatives. He deserved this "fresh" and undamaged "relationship me" (the only part of me that probably wasn't damaged), and I'm grateful to have been spurned by the person who I focused my affection on throughout my youth.

I have been in touch off an on with my old friend throughout the years, and am currently in contact with him through FaceBook. He married a woman he met at a job he held a long time ago (about two or three years after I married). My husband and I met briefly with him and her about two decades ago and she seemed nice enough. My friend confessed that they were marrying at that time because his girlfriend had gotten pregnant, but quickly added that they were going to marry anyway. The pregnancy just hastened the time-line.

In the past several months, my friend had gone rather quiet on FaceBook, and what I suspected might be the cause turned out to be true. His marriage was ending. He and his wife have two children and the oldest recently finished high school and the younger one is a young teen. He told me that he had been unhappy for quite some time and felt that he couldn't "be himself" in their home. I concluded that perhaps the oldest child entering adulthood and the youngest definitively being out of childhood may have given him the courage to walk away from a situation he was dissatisfied with.

For many years, when I have been occasionally in touch with my friend, I have had a deep sense that his marriage would not last. This was not some petty notion that he would have been happier with me and that I wanted to see his marriage end to validate that. As I said, I'm grateful that we never ended up together. The reason I thought his marriage might fail was based in some information he confided in me a very long time ago when he was engaged to a woman from our small hometown. He cheated on her with not one, but two other women and eventually ended the engagement. I should mention that my friend is a lovely person. He is very kind, intelligent, artistic, talented, and very charming. He is not "good-looking", but has a very appealing personality. Many people are drawn to him because he has a particular energy. His actions with his long-ago fiancee should not indicate anything about who he is at his core.

Let me say that I don't believe my friend is some sort of Lothario or a "cheating dog" that can't be taught new tricks. The case in my opinion has been that he is deeply insecure on some level (a feeling I can truly identify with) and that it would be hard for any one woman to meet his needs adequately, and such a woman would have to be both immensely self-aware and other-directed. Also, he is moody and passionate, and that is a hard combination to live with on a daily basis. Frankly, though I am both incredibly self-aware and other-directed, I've realized in retrospect what a horrible combination his personality and mine would have been and that it would have been me who he would have been divorcing had we ended up together.

All of that being said, and here I finally reach the point of this post. There is a small nagging voice in me that wants to hear him say something to the effect of, "I wish I had married you instead". I am incredibly disappointed in myself for this tiny, little voice that whispers from a small corner of the immense cavern of my insecurity. It's my ancient need for validation of my value aside from my physical presence tapping at my psyche and asking to finally be fulfilled. The fat girl I was always wanted to be loved and accepted by this person because she was intelligent, witty, funny, kind, and loving. That girl was never accepted by any boy or young man because her body was a deal breaker.

Even though I am an adult now and am utterly validated as a desirable character by my husband's bountiful unconditional love and frequent professions of admiration for all of the qualities no one else appreciated, that tiny voice still whispers at me. Some part of me still needs validation from this friend of mine who I held affection for for so very long and I am ashamed of this need.

That shame is not because of the need itself because I think that anyone who has been so battle-scarred in life because of her weight may need a lot of pointless validation to help heal some of those old wounds. I'm ashamed of it because I want someone to profess some sort of wish to have had me in his life (but not to want me in it at present) when I have absolutely zero desire for him now and haven't had any since falling in love with my husband. This desire is incredibly selfish and self-serving. It is merely a need for a quick, pat stamp of approval that I never got when I was younger. I don't care about what the stamp means or brings, but I want to have it nonetheless, as if it completes a collection with a missing space that I just want filled for no good reason.

Recognizing that I have this need is not new to me nor unique. I'm sure that many people want the people they pined for to want them later even though they no longer want the object of their former affection. For me though, it's a little different as I'm not looking for spite or revenge at being rejected. I have some deep need for this friend to have "liked" me, but have been afraid to have acted on his feelings because it was too embarrassing to have a fat girlfriend. Frankly, I don't believe for a second that any such feelings ever existed. I don't believe he ever was attracted to me in any way other than as a friend just like his male friends.

It's this rather sad and pathetic need to feel that my character transcended my physicality and to have that verified with an assertion from him. At its core, it's me wanting someone to say, "prove to me that I was a good person who was worthy of loving, even when my body didn't allow me to be loved." That's the hungry part of me that has been pulled to the surface from this experience, and I'm going to have to work to reconcile the unfulfilled feelings of that very young me with the more mature me who is truly blessed to have it all when it comes to love and validation from a person she worships and adores in the here and now.


Anonymous said...

I suspect that now that there are more overweight children in the classroom, coupled with an awareness and appreciation for individual differences, the overweight child/children carry less of this baggage now as compared with our generation. (I'm 51 and was also the unique fat girl in the classroom until high school.) I base this suspicion on how socialized overweight kids seem to be...they participate in all the sports, including the ones which, in my day, were limited to the slim (cheerleading, swimteam, etc). My niece, an 8th-grader, is quite overweight yet has a "boyfriend", is included in social events, and doesn't seem to carry the stigma I did. Perhaps this is due to the democratization of the overweight child, now less an oddity and more the common body shape in her community?

screaming fatgirl said...

I hope that you are correct. However, with the broader societal pressure coming to bear on obese people, I can't know (particularly since I'm no longer living in my home culture). I do wonder if the more the media nags about weight, the more bias will be created. It's impossible to know, but I'd wager that it is quite region-specific. Kids in areas with a high number of obese and overweight people probably suffer less stigma than those in urban areas with fewer overweight people. You're better off fat in the mid-west or south than in New York City or Los Angeles.

I do know that many people 20 years younger than me grew up overweight, but with boyfriends. I, of course, never had one until my husband came along, and I was astounded that he wanted me given my weight when I was certain it would render me unlovable for the rest of my life. I think being in an isolated rural area didn't help matters as the "pond" as it were, was quite small.

Luna Moth said...

Wow! I just found you, and so glad I did. What a well written post, and definitely something I can relate too. I'm in my 40s and was the token fat kid in my class for 12+ years. Still trying to resolve my feelings/issues from the past and stay grounded in the present, so like I just said, I can relate.

screaming fatgirl said...

Thanks for reading and for your kind comment, Luna. I'll be following your blog as well!

Anonymous said...

This post illustrates beautifully just how deeply wounding a culture can be to people who do not fit the social norms for beauty and/or gender, particularly for those who did not have early sources of unconditional love (such as mature and understanding parents). I am glad that you recognize this shortcoming in yourself and you see that--although it is a small and very human kind of flaw--nevertheless it is worth working through then leaving in your past, once and for all. Because you (and the the life you are creating) are worth the effort!

It's all part of being an adult. Not easy, but an important accomplishment in your inner growth and self actualization. We are always becoming...



NewMe said...

Although not exceedingly overweight, I was one of the few fat kids at school. What hurt me most was being always chosen last for gym teams. I think that gave me an aversion to exercise that I only recently overcame--unfortunately, at a point where my arthritis stops me from doing much of anything except walking (and I am thankful for that, at least).

I also wondered if I would ever find anyone who would love me, despite my less than perfect figure. I did, after a few relationships that did not work out for one reason or another.

One of these failed relationships still stands out in my mind (and I've been with my husband for 21 years now!). Although we shared intellectual interests and had, I believe, a great sex life, he did criticize me for my weight. He even told me that he had described me to his mom as overweight and Jewish, to which his mother responded, "You can do better than that." Yes, he told me, which was obviously a way to put me down even more.

I am ashamed to say that we stayed together (at the end, long distance) for a couple of years and I was always passionately attracted to him. In fact, even now, and loving my husband as I do, I still remember with great clarity that passion.

And I admit that I would still be pleased if he said to me that he regretted our having broken up. On the other hand, I know that I did much better by moving on and meeting a man who, though not perfect (and who is?), has loved me, stood by me, supported me in good times and in bad and continues to be a wonderful life partner and father to our children.

When we moved to the city where we now live (and to which he had moved some years before), I tried finding him, but failed. I guess part of me wanted to say "look how well I've done" (both financially and emotionally).

I don't think I've ever actually put down in writing these feelings and lingering thoughts. Thank you for giving me the opportunity.

Luna Moth said...

Hi again, just a quick response to your comment on my blog.:-)
I agree with you totally. Some people don't know when they are actually hungry or full. I'm trying to figure out if I am one of the, as you put it, "broken" ones. This is part of what makes this intuitive eating thing so darn scary for me.
There was this awesome book I read, and as soon as I can recall the title of it I will mention it either here or in my blog. Anyway, this book went into the whole science of food and the triple layering effect of most of our "food" today. Fat, salt and sugar. It makes us want to eat more and more, and no big surprise here, some of us are more prone to it than others.
So yeah, I totally agree with you on this!

screaming fatgirl said...

Thanks to everyone for their comments!

Rebecca: As always, thank you for your input. I actually don't think this is part of being an adult for most people. In fact, I think most people don't come to terms with such things at all but merely suppress or rationalize them if they experience them on a conscious level, or simply are unaware of them. One thing I do is put all of this out there so I can work through it. I don't think you find too many people who do that, because it's more than they can bear or more than they are aware of. It should be part of self-actualization as one matures, but it often is not.

NewMe: Thank you so much for sharing your story. I think there may be a lot of people who feel as you do for an old love, but won't admit it in the manner in which you did. I think often people who reject us in some fashion hold a special place which they didn't really "earn" with their actions or feelings, but we can't quite dislodge them from it no matter how much we try to do so rationally. Perhaps sometimes their rejection is something we cling to on a certain level because it verifies something we feel about ourselves, and it pushes us to strive for something else both to please those people from our past and the part of ourselves which we are still unhappy with.

Luna: Thanks for replying here where it's easy for me to find! Frankly, I hope you aren't "broken" in this way as it adds another layer of effort to life (having to monitor your eating all of the time), but I think it's good to find out. I'm nowhere near ready to try and test this. I may never be, but only time will tell.