Ask Polly: Do I Have to Lose Weight to Find Love?
By Heather Havrilesky

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/FX
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Dear Polly,

How do you make yourself ready to drop your defenses?

Let me explain. I’m a single lady in my late 30s who has been pretty much on my own for the last few years, since my only long-term relationship broke up. I have a decent-ish career and a fairly active social life. I guess I should start dating, but the idea of Putting Myself Out There in That Way fills me with dread — blame it on a childhood where I was mocked for having crushes, followed by a post-childhood where dudes I felt sparks with would date other people because I was too chickenshit to make anything even resembling a move. (The long-term relationship came about in a kind of roundabout way — the old “hanging out at the same bar turning into spending a lot of time together and then developing into a Thing after resistance on my part” plot. Which is not very serviceable at my age.)

I watch friends of mine find partners and I feel like they’ve been given access to a manual that will only be open to me if … well, if I lose weight. I’ve always been heavier than normal, but after maintaining in the 12–14 range for a long while, through all the teenage and twentysomething trips to Weight Watchers and ambient sucking-up of information that I don’t even want to read from the beauty-industrial complex, I have landed in that gray area where the top of “regular” sizing and the bottom of “plus” sizing overlap. I have spent most of my dating-age life hoping to ignore my corporeal self in the hopes that it’ll go away, somehow, or that my other characteristics — my wit! my compassion! my ability to throw a really good party! — will at least serve as mitigating factors. I haven’t even watched That Episode Of Louie because I feel like hearing the words in Sarah Baker’s monologue spoken aloud, instead of just in my head, will make me legit break down.

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“I’ll lose the weight,” I think sometimes, “and that will make people less repelled by me.” But I have trouble exercising because my schedule is unpredictable and sometimes I need to be working for unbroken stretches to tackle big projects.

And in my darker moments (which often come after I screw up my regime in some way), I despair and think that I’ll never lose it because what’s the point. Friends suggest people I should date and I laugh it off because yeah, right, who would want to take a chance on me? I develop romantic interests and subsequently get super anxious when I’m around them; all that energy eventually settles into friendship, which is fine! I have met lots of great people, and I have been very lucky in that sense. I am just tired of feeling like a fuck up, even WITH the high divorce/etc. rate. And the idea of putting myself out there on OKCupid or a site of its ilk is low-level terrifying for multiple reasons, from the sociopathic spammy way that some dudes operate to someone I know finding me on one of those sites and rolling their eyes at the idea of me being even casually dateable.

What is wrong with me? Why am I so freaked out by even voicing the desire to look for someone out loud? Am I just preemptively rejecting anyone who would love me for me? Or am I just being practical?

Signed,

I Wanna See Me Be Brave

Dear Brave,

Fuck being practical. Practical about how you measure up to the other women on the dating market? Practical about the imaginary notion that people are repelled by you and roll their eyes at the idea of you being even casually dateable? Practical about exactly how your dress size will mathematically compute in the mind of the modern man?

I would rather live in the real world, which is ruled by a wicked laugh and a faint whiff of honeysuckle and a chilled pint hitting a man’s lips, along with the vague sensation that he’s brighter and stronger than he usually is, because he’s sitting across from a woman with beautiful eyes and a sick sense of humor who really, really gets him. The reason the beauty-industrial complex kicks up an acidic taste of contempt in so many of our mouths is that it can never quite capture the intoxicating magic of real-life intrigue and attraction and romance. Flat, glossy images of size-0 teenagers can’t come close to conjuring the sensation of being alive in the company of TRUE charisma and sensuality and courage, that electric feeling of being close to someone confident and witty who, for some unfathomable reason, hasn’t been loved nearly enough.