Monday, June 6, 2011

Learning to live a philosophy

Over the past week and a half, I've had a few experiences that have struck me as rather odd, at least in terms of my own personal comfort and my reactions to situations.  Allow me to explain.

Growing up, after I hit puberty, I began to worry constantly about how fat I was.  My mother, whom I love very much, didn't help.  And by "didn't help," I mean, "actively and knowingly contributed to my insecurities surrounding my body."  When I weighed 130 lbs, she was worried that I needed to lose weight, since I now weighed more than she did, and was about 5 inches shorter.  As the years passed and my weight continued to increase, she worried more.  I'm currently at the point where I'm about ready to issue an ultimatum when it comes to her commenting on my appearance at all.

The end result was that I was miserable about my body.  Contributing to my insecurities was the fact that I had been sexually assaulted when I was 14.  While I didn't experience PTSD, the take-away from the experience, and from plenty of other experiences that weren't non-consensual, was that I was unattractive and should be damn grateful for whatever attention the opposite sex wished to bestow upon me.  My physical appearance and my sexuality had become entwined in a very obnoxious way.  I was fat, and therefore my sexuality consisted purely of being lonely most of the time, and grateful for whatever attention I got.  Consensual or not.  I was supposed to consider street harassment a compliment.  I was supposed to go out on a date with any dude who thought I might be worth his time.

It was totally uncool.

Over the past few years, I have worked extremely hard to live out the feminist philosophies that I find so amazing.  I knew that I needed to learn how to love my body, not necessarily regardless of what it looks like, but in a general, holistic way.  Don't love IN SPITE of flaws.  Love, including the stuff other people think are flaws.

I also understood that I needed to be more gung-ho about being true to my sexuality.  I needed to stop going on dates with guys I didn't want to date (or even more specifically, I also needed to stop wasting my time in IM conversations on OKCupid with guys I wasn't remotely interested in).  I needed to stop issuing cop-out excuses, like, "I can't go out on Saturday, but you know what?  I'll get back to you when I know my availability," when I really mean, "Sorry, I'm not interested, best of luck."

The issue here, of course, is that there are some actions I can take to combat these issues, but often, there are mental obstacles to get over.  It's one thing to declare war on fat hatred by going sleeveless.  It's another to be able to look in the mirror while wearing a sleeveless dress and think, "Wow, I look fab."  Likewise, with sexuality, it's easy to turn down guys at the club.  But it's hard to control feelings of inadequacy when all of your other female friends, who all happen to be slimmer, are getting male attention.  You almost feel like a failure because you can't break the hold that the patriarchy has over your brain.

Within the span of one week, I managed to have some significant break-throughs with these mental aspects.

Last weekend, I got a gorgeous new dress from*  It's relatively short, bright purple, and sleeveless.  I loved it instantly.  I tried it on, praying to the baseball gods** that it would fit, since not everything from Modcloth fits me, even if it's the "right" size.  It didn't just fit, it looked amazing.  I was so excited, I decided to wear it to my sister-in-law's bridal shower on Memorial Day.

I just somehow forgot that my mother was going to be there.  Like I said, she's my biggest critic when it comes to my appearance, even making unwarranted comments about my hair after I had just walked home in the sweltering heat from Longwood.  I instantly got nervous when she came to pick me up.  But she LOVED the dress.  And more importantly, I loved the dress.  And I wore it the entire afternoon at the shower, without a cardigan or shrug, showing off my arms in all their glory.  It felt fantastic.

Like I said, it's one thing to go ahead and go sleeveless.  But to get over the mental block, at least temporarily, and feel great about myself was completely unexpected, and completely awesome.

Cut to this past weekend.  Saturday night, a girlfriend and I got all dressed up and went out to a club in the Fenway area.  It was a mistake; the music was bad, the floor was sticky, and the majority of the dudes appeared to be in their 40s or fresh from the Jersey Shore.  Very weird.  My friend and I spent a while dancing together, just having fun, grabbing a couple drinks.  There were a few cute guys, but they all seemed to be hanging out amongst themselves, trying to look super cool.

Halfway through the night, a guy started dancing behind my friend.  Almost instantaneously, another guy, his friend, started dancing behind me.  My reaction?  I immediately moved, turned around, and said, "No thanks."  Twice.

This was new.  Usually, my first reaction when this kind of thing happens is fear and discomfort, but just to keep going with it for a few minutes.  Now, I was just ending it right away.  Weird/cool.  But I was finally living my philosophy, which is that if a guy is going to just start rubbing up against me without giving me an opportunity to consent or not, I'm not interested.

My friend seemed to be enjoying the attention she was getting from the first guy, so I went and grabbed a drink and spent some time texting a couple of out-of-town friends until she was done with the guy.  I had to reassure her, when the guy left for the bathroom, that I was okay with her dancing with him; I just didn't want to dance with his friend.  Later on, her guy came back, and I guess his friend decided to try his luck with me again.  He actually asked, so I said fine.  Within the first minute, I told him that I just wanted to dance tonight, thanks;*** that got him to stop playing that annoying game where the guy keeps trying to make out with you.  After a couple songs, I was bored and my feet hurt, so I said thanks and went to sit down till my friend was ready to go.

What was so weird about this?  I wasn't grateful for the guy's attention.  I didn't find him particularly attractive, I wasn't interested in doing anything with him, and I felt a serious combination of uncomfortable and bored while dancing with him.  You're probably nodding along, thinking, "Of course you were uncomfortable!" but I'm more interested in the fact that I was overwhelmingly BORED.  I was not interested in dancing with him, and I didn't enjoy it.  I was finally out of the mindset that would leave me feeling bad about myself for not getting "enough" male attention.  I know it might sound obvious that I shouldn't do something if I don't want to, but what's more important to me right now is the nuance of the situation.  I didn't dance with the guy because I felt obligated.  I danced with him because I was feeling bored while my friend danced with someone else.  And to my surprise, I didn't enjoy it.  Not because the guy was any more creepy than any other guy I've danced with at a club.  Not because I was too sober.  Not because he was a bad dancer.

Because I just wasn't interested.  And that was enough for me to realize that I didn't even feel any sort of thrill at having attention.  Didn't want it from him.  Didn't feel flattered.  It was a combination, where I finally feel great about my body, and where I finally don't feel obligated to give a guy anything just because he paid attention to me.  That combination did mean that I was bored more often than I'd hoped on Saturday night.  But otherwise, it rocked.

Finally, I seem to be getting more attention on OKCupid lately; fine.  Not thrilled or disappointed; just been noticing.  I got an IM from a guy over the long weekend, and he seemed okay.  I wasn't excited about our conversation, but he hadn't made any obviously stupid/sexist comments, and I figured I'd give him a chance.  During the second conversation with him, during which we made plans for a date, I got seriously uncomfortable.  Looking back over the chat logs, I could find several small red flags.  He didn't seem like a jerk, and (importantly) did not seem like a rapist.  But he did seem like ... a Nice Guy.  He seemed too familiar with me already.  Too presumptuous.  Too desperate.  Too excited.

I know what some of you might be thinking.  "Too excited?  Haven't you ever been excited for a date?"  Hell yes.  But there are ways to express excitement about a date TO the date without going overboard.  In this case, the guy was badgering me about taking the T to the restaurant together.  To me, a first date starts and ends at the restaurant; I don't want a ride, I don't want to travel with you, and for the love of all that is good in this world, I don't want you to know where I live.

I canceled the date and didn't feel that guilty about it.  I know the guy was disappointed, but I don't feel guilty.  I was dreading the date so much by Thursday afternoon that I was feeling panicked, and who the hell wants to feel that for a first date?

Last night, another guy IMed me.  Right off the bat, I wasn't that interested; he made a sexist comment about how I seemed to be smarter about tech than the average girl,**** and he also badgered me for my personal contact info.  He got blocked the moment the conversation ended.  And it makes me feel really good that I can make these calls.

By loving my body, I don't feel like I'm unlovable by default.  By sticking up for my sexuality, I can enjoy it instead of being obligated to dudes.  I'm aware of the fact that by refusing to diet myself tiny, and by refusing to give a guy whatever he wants, I'm decreasing my getting-laid-ness.  But there's good getting-laid-ness, and there's bad getting-laid-ness, and I only want the good kind.

* is a clothing website for women that sells a lot of retro/vintage apparel, as well as apartment items.  They tend to be pricey, and their items tend to run small and run out of stock quickly.  However, I've had excellent experiences with their customer service, and the items I've purchased and kept are fabulous.  If you have the extra money, and see anything you like that's in stock, it's worth a go.

** Yeah, I'm a skeptic/atheist.  But I'm also a baseball fan.  So I have a deal with myself that if I have to pray, it's ONLY to the baseball gods, as they are the only real gods.  They don't like me right now, I think I have a five game losing streak.

*** As I was typing this, I first typed, "I asked if we could just dance."  Then I realized, with glee, that I had not asked him if we could just dance.  I had TOLD him I just wanted to dance.  I began typing it wrong because usually the story goes more along the lines of, "I wish I had said something dfferent."  Finally, not this time.

**** First off, sexist.  Second off, whoever things I'm tech savvier than the average person is an idiot.  I'm tech savvier than your grandparents.  That's it.

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