Readers: Here are two articles from our Spring 2000 issue on Finding Love. One article follows right after the other, so keep on reading and enjoying! --- Alice (editor)
--- by VICTORIA INGRAM
From Radiance Spring 2000
n the third day of my new job, I met the man who would become my husband. As I walked away from an introductory meeting in his office, my intuitive mind quietly and calmly stated, You came here to meet Carl. My rational mind, laughing in embarrassment, set about keeping me from the truth for almost a year.
And why shouldn’t that practical guardian of my life doubt such a rash assertion from my subconscious? I was thirty-seven at the time—fast approaching the age when some statistics keepers said I had a greater chance of being struck by lightning than by Cupid’s arrow. And I weighed more than 300 pounds, which I had learned to believe excluded me from the group of women labeled attractive and desirable.
As a fat woman and the child of an abusive father, my relationships with men hadn’t given me much reason to believe that a loving, supportive partnership was in my future. My trust shattered by those who should have been most trustworthy, I didn’t know how to build a relationship, how to determine when to trust, and when to walk away. At the time that I met Carl, I hadn’t dated seriously in four years.
Carl must have had his own resistance to overcome. After our first meeting, he dashed into my boss’s office, thanking her for hiring such a funny and delightful woman. Then it took him eleven months to ask me out on a date!
I’m sure that many fat women can relate to my relationship history. As an overweight teen, I was everyone’s pal but nobody’s choice as a girlfriend. I didn’t go to my high school prom. I didn’t even date until I was in college, and then only occasionally. An engagement in my mid-twenties was broken by a fiancé who explained that, for a wife, he wanted someone with a “more athletic body.” A series of less than desirable short-term relationships followed, always with men who had problems: some with alcohol and some with responsibility. All had trouble with communication, commitment, or showing up. Finally, I resolved to take a break from men, ending a long-term relationship that seemed to be more about me supporting him than him caring for me.
It might be easy to blame a culture that measures feminine worth by beauty and figure or to blame the men for lack of maturity and a shallow interest in appearances. But the truth is also that their problems were a reflection of my own. I needed to discover some truths about myself before I was fully ready to trust myself, trust someone else, and be a partner and wife. I needed to confront my image of myself as a woman and as a fat woman. Looking back, there were definite lessons that I learned and corners that I turned as I traveled toward the love of my life. Sometimes the road to love is winding and blocked by detours. Sometimes you have to make your own map.
Getting a Map
Although it was scorchingly painful at the time, I came to see the dissolution of my engagement as a great opportunity for growth. I began to awaken to some harsh and crucial realities.
My relationship with my fiancé followed a pattern, one I’d learned in my family. My father was mentally unstable, and I’d learned to cope by squelching my own needs and feelings. I was exquisitely skilled at sensing his moods and doing whatever I could to keep him happy, in the hope that his anger wouldn’t erupt. To calm my anxiety, I ate. I matured as an overweight woman, out of touch with herself.
I carried these coping strategies over to my relationships with young men. I was to put them first. I desperately wanted to be loved, especially because I didn’t know, accept, or love myself. As my awareness grew, I realized that for me, getting married would be a sign that I was acceptable. I thought of my fat self as lucky to have a man in my life. When things were going well, he was romantic and sent flowers. I tried to make sure that things went well, even though it was hard to predict what would make him happy.
When he asked me to marry him, I ignored my doubts and plunged ahead. When he wanted out, of the reasons that he gave, I remembered only the one about my less-than-athletic body. His words echoed in my head for months, taunting me that my fat body meant that I wasn’t worthy. I did feel worthless and depressed. Finally, I sought the help of a counselor.
As I worked with this supportive and wise woman, it seemed as though I were, at twenty-six, waking up for the first time. I began to see how the dynamics in my family of origin were playing themselves out in other parts of my life. I recognized the connections between how I felt about myself and the choices I made in relationships. I didn’t understand the implications of all I was discovering, but I moved from depression to experiencing more of myself. I now had a map, and I knew that if love came my way again, I’d see the landscape (my patterns) differently than I had before.
What You’re Looking for You’ll Find
Seeing your patterns and changing them are two separate things. Shortly after my engagement ended, I met a man whom I would be with, off and on, for eleven years. Because I was feeling particularly vulnerable, I appreciated having someone pay attention to me. Always lots of fun, Tom constantly pulled practical jokes and was willing to laugh. He was a large, heavy man, and around him, I didn’t feel uncomfortable or self-conscious about my fat body.
But because I still didn’t trust myself, I never trusted Tom. It created a great deal of drama in our relationship. I was different with this man than I’d been with previous ones. Instead of ignoring my needs, I demanded that they be immediately and completely gratified. I questioned Tom’s actions and words, accusing him of motives that he hadn’t even considered. I found it difficult to believe that someone could love me, fat and imperfect as I was. Suspicious and often argumentative, I carried into our relationship the baggage of my past, throwing it up in Tom’s face at almost every opportunity, virtually begging him to leave and prove me unlovable.
My actions tried his patience and often were beyond his understanding, but he stayed with me a long time. Fortunately, I continued in therapy, and I started to see that I was indiscriminately projecting my past experiences, hurts, and traumas onto Tom. As I felt better about myself, I eased up my pressure on him. It became easier to believe that he loved me as my own self-love grew. I finally came to see that not every action of Tom’s was a reflection of things done to me by my father or anyone else, and I stopped projecting my demons onto him. I began to see Tom for who he really was.
Eventually, I realized that our relationship wasn’t truly meeting my needs. When we broke up, I told him how much I appreciated his patience and love. My second lesson was learning to see people for who they truly are. I’d developed many valuable skills for growing and maintaining a relationship, but I needed to spend some time on my own. I decided to take a break from partnering, to find out more about myself and try life on my own terms.
Seeing a Clear Direction
A couple of years later, a coworker encouraged me to accept a blind date with a friend of hers. She felt that our similar senses of humor would make us a great match, and she assured me that he was “understanding” about fat women. After much prodding, I said yes, and the date was arranged. We did hit it off and had a wonderful time together. We talked by phone regularly and dated for about a month. Then he initiated an interesting conversation.
One evening, out of the blue, he said that he couldn’t understand why fat women were always coming on to him. Further, he stated that he didn’t really want to be with a fat woman. I was a bit surprised by this conversation, because I weighed the same that day (more than 300 pounds) as I’d weighed the evening of our first date. It wasn’t as though I’d been “sucking it in” for a few weeks until I thought we had a chance together. What was this about? Soon the answer came.
If I lost weight, he said, he’d treat me “like a queen.” I’d have everything that I wanted: money, cars, houses, status, trips, clothes, and, of course, him. If I didn’t, well, he was sorry, but he’d have to move on. I had to make a choice.
It was time for my next turning point. It was time to trust myself. As I listened to this man spin his tale of future possibilities, I suddenly began to see how my life would really be with him: a series of compromises, a lot of uncertainty about the veracity of his “love,” and a constant battle over who would control my body. I realized that no relationship, no fantasy about being with someone, was worth abandoning my soul. It was a pattern that I now recognized as old and familiar, and one that I no longer wanted to follow. I told him, “No, thank you,” and I told him why. He was flabbergasted. He couldn’t believe that I’d declined his “generous” offer. As much as six months later, he continued to marvel that I’d “dumped” him.
What I knew at that point was that my partner in life would have to accept me for who I am, not who he thought I could be. I needed a partner who would encourage me to be my own best self, on my own terms and in my own ways. By saying no, I was clearly establishing some boundaries. For the first time, I carefully thought about what it was that I wanted in a relationship and I started defining my parameters and my preferences. I trusted that acting on what I knew was best for me would help me to create a happy life, with or without a partner by my side.
Throughout the next eight months, I dated occasionally, but didn’t meet anyone who really interested me. Each day I saw Carl at work. I observed him interact with other people, and he collaborated with me on projects. I was impressed with his respectful approach to people, his humor, and the quality of his mind. He got to know me, too. He’s told me since that he listened to me talk with clients and wondered what it would be like to be with someone so warm and nice all the time. Finally, early in August, he asked me to attend an art gallery opening. I already had plans for that evening, but his invitation opened the door of possibility. We went to dinner the following week on our first date.
As our relationship blossomed, I discovered the joy of being with a true partner, someone who loved and accepted the person I am, including my fat body. We found a great delight in being together, which helped during those times when we struggled to support and understand each other. We needed to invest in communication in order to clear up misunderstanding, to explore what was behind feelings, and to find a common ground that would work for us. I came to know that Carl is worthy of my trust: that I can be my best with him or my worst, and he’s still there.
Comfort, safety, encouragement, and respect are powerful attractors. As Carl and I grew closer, I found that I wanted to be with this man forever, and he felt the same way about me. We exchanged our vows in front of delighted family and friends on March 21, 1997.
What I learned as I traveled the long road to love helped to create this solid, supportive partnership. The first turning point was awareness: finding out what’s important for building a trusting relationship. The second was learning: pulling my own projections back and then developing and practicing the skills that create and maintain a good partnership. The third turning point was self-respect: setting boundaries and standing up for what I knew was right for me. From where I stand now I know that all of my relationships had something to teach me. After all those miles on the road to love, after all the twists and turns, detours and roadblocks, this marriage is a happy and fulfilling final destination. I’m glad I made the trip. ©
VICTORIA INGRAM, Ed. M., teaches, consults, and maintains a private practice in career and life coaching. She partners with her husband Carl in WayFinders Group, an executive coaching and organizational development consulting firm in Oakland, CA. Victoria is the coauthor of Imagine Loving Your Work, Childhood Dreams Career Answers and Executive Coaching: Resource Book 2000. She and Carl enjoy traveling, gardening, and finding new ways to play and have fun. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
--- by MINDY BELLER
From Radiance Spring 2000
I read somewhere once, “If you think that you are not in a relationship because you are fat, you are wrong. Look around. There are all kinds of fat people in relationships.”urs is a love story. We met more than ten years ago, when I was in my twenties, slender (after losing thirty pounds one more time), pretty, just finished with graduate school, and new in town. He was tall and thin, with carpenter’s muscles and playful eyes. On opposite sides of a room full of people, our gazes randomly connected, and ka-bloom!
Nothing happened at all, though the stories and the movies and the diet commercials insist that’s how it’s supposed to happen. You are thin and you are cute (and, after all, what else did you starve yourself for, if not to be loved?), and in that moment, your beautiful future begins.
In this case, however, nothing happened.
Life went on, and he slipped handily from my consciousness.
Years later, my thirty-two-year-old body had ripened to the size and shape of a fertility goddess. I was trying to love myself, and was succeeding, most of the time, except when I would accidentally fall in among a group of skinny women going on about how fat they were, or when I’d hear a report promising that ten pounds of excess fat would kill you (and probably all your neighbors, too), or, worst of all, when I was longing to be in a relationship.
I had had some serious boyfriends in my twenties. The last relationship had ended a few years before, when we’d looked deeply into each other’s eyes and said, “I love you but I want a completely different future from the one you describe.” My description included a family, children, and a house: a “til-death-do-us-part” kind of situation. His, in short, did not.
Toward the end of that relationship, my body began to blossom into its current goddess like state. At thirty-two, I found myself full of life and truly happy in many ways—with close friendships, a lucrative career, a growing sense of spirituality, and some ability to have fun. But now I was fat and plagued by doubts about ever finding someone to love me at this size.
What was I to do? Years of dieting, following food plans, and embracing restrictive “cures” for compulsive eating had served only to make me fatter in the long run. My efforts to lose weight, though sometimes “successful” for a while, always finished with me heavier than I’d started out. In exhaustion, I had turned my back on dieting and eating restrictions. I was also disturbed by a growing sense that trying to lose weight mainly to “get a man” was a kind of a lie, little more than a form of self-merchandising. Even if I could, losing weight for the purposes of partnership would be a sorrowful unkindness to myself.
Self-acceptance seemed, if not the answer, an answer. My mind opening, I found myself encountering new ideas: notions such as women of all shapes and sizes can be lovable. Perhaps my belief that a large body stood in the way of my sharing love was a falsehood. Could I hope to imagine that the kind of quality person I would like to get to know would give me a chance in the dating game, roundness and all?
Intellectually, I understood. I saw that the diet and fashion industries were advertising starvation. Get thinner! they told you. The thinnest one gets all the love, so buy our products, get thinner, and get love. I understood that skinny mania was a very recent U.S. phenomenon, that at no other time in the history of humans had humans hated girth so much. I understood the connection between U.S. women growing in power during the twentieth century and the pressure on us to obsess relentlessly that we were too “big.”
In my mind it was all very clear, but in my heart I struggled to hold onto my sense of lovableness. I tried to stay on the path of self-acceptance, but it was slippery. I would determine not to let shame and skinny mania rule me, and I’d go along all right for a while. Then, before I knew it, I would lose my footing, and the next thing I knew, I would be splashing around in the dirty river of self-hatred again. Friends tried to be encouraging: “The best guys don’t care about weight anyway,” said one happily married medium-size chum. “Believe me.”
Believe her? I wanted to, but how? The lie had a hold on me, and it wasn’t letting go, no matter what I did.
ometime the following summer, something changed. The turning point came when I found myself in a support group for people afraid of relationships. That’s right: afraid of relationships. Not “too fat for relationships.” Not “unworthy of relationships.” But simply down-to-my-toes terrified of ever letting another person really close in. It wasn’t a complete shock to me that I might have some resistance to intimacy, because I’d been raised in a highly controlling and uncommunicative family. I had been to therapy and had worked through a lot already. But now I was starting to feel just how petrified I truly was to open my heart and to trust.
Yes, I was afraid of being rejected for my size. I knew that if it happened, it would hurt. Yet I found that deeper inside, below the fear of rejection for appearances and body size, was fear of another kind: fear of rejection for who I am. That kind of rejection, I worried, would cut to the bone, cut to the soul. That kind of rejection, I thought, would crush me. Unconsciously, I found it easier to obsess about my size, to decide for sure that my weight was going to be an obstacle to relationships and that there was no point in even trying.
Deeper inside still, I encountered something I’d never imagined: the fear of not being rejected at all, but of being loved. This was a tremendous surprise to me! I had always wanted love, had always hoped for it, fantasized about it, and sometimes even chased after it. But what I discovered, hiding out beneath the conviction that no one could truly love me, was the desperate hope that nobody actually would. I shook as I began to feel the terror in my body.
What could be so scary about being loved? The impatience inside me demanded an answer. I’ll tell you, answered the quiet, quivering part of me that understood. When somebody loves me, he gets in close. Close enough to love means close enough to injure. Furthermore, if somebody loves me, then he might need too much or want too much. He could overpower me with his personality and desires, and I could lose track of mine in the process. Everything could go all wrong. Intimacy could be overwhelming, and I’d rather just find ways to avoid it.
As I began to hear the quiet voice and feel the emotions, something inside of me shifted minutely. Though I had been in plenty of situations with interesting and available men, I had been keeping a big, heavy door in front of my heart. Now I was starting to find a little bit of courage to crack open the door just a teensy bit and see what would happen.
What happened was that he, Mr. Playful Eyes, Mr. Carpenter’s Muscles, suddenly resurfaced in my life. Truth is, our paths had crossed a number of times throughout the years, but I had barely noticed. Now, all at once, just weeks after I’d uncovered the terror that had been driving me and had begun the process of making peace with myself, he knocked on my big, heavy door, and I peeked around it quickly to see who was there.
Who I saw was someone that I wanted to know better. As we began to speak on a regular basis, I saw myself liking him a lot. Then he asked me to go to church with him. I knew he liked me; we had become friends. But was it a date? I couldn’t be sure. After all, I was still fat, and the body hatred was ever ready to spring into action when I needed it to keep me from feeling too exposed. I wanted it to be a date, but he hadn’t let on whether he was interested in me romantically. The next day we got together again, and when he reached out to take my hand in his, he told me that he’d wanted to for a very long time.
n the weeks that followed, a relationship was born, and I was indeed afraid. A wonderful person was loving me, wishing to be close to me, and I felt so deeply vulnerable. I was also immensely happy. And, because I understood the meaning of my fear, I could tolerate my fear enough to continue dating him.
We courted and we fell in love. Then we became engaged. When we moved in together, it was very sweet. I had never lived with a cherished other before. Fear and delight were my twin companions as we grew closer and began to make a life together.
Then, while planning our wedding, we hit some rough spots in the relationship. I was devastated. This was my reward for facing all that fear and taking such enormous risks? I shook my fist at the powers that be. How could this be happening? The powers that be, however, were busy seeing to it that the wonderful man, who loved me for who I was rather than my dress size, was hanging in there. They helped me hang in there, too, and with a little support and some very hard work, we navigated our way through the challenges. On the other side was more love and intimacy than ever.
On May 23, 1998, we married. Our commitment was rock solid, because we had already weathered a storm together and had grown in the process. The wedding was divine, held outdoors in a grove of redwood trees. Guests told us that it was the most beautiful that they had ever attended. And there I was, a fat bride, happy and beloved—and knowing something about how to love as well. ©
MINDY BELLER is a technical editor, freelance writer, and poet living in Fremont, California. She and her husband are now the proud parents of a beautiful baby daughter, another dream come true.
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