Learning to Love in the Wilds of Our Bodies
On learning to accept love after losing it
I met you after my first breakup.
My first girlfriend was all jagged edges and sharpened remarks. She tossed off acidic judgments and curdled her relationships with my friends. She spoke with gleeful disdain about rivals who had gotten fat. Friends bristled at her comments but still congratulated me. You’re so lucky to have found someone. Thin people are lucky to find the one. Fat people are lucky to find anyone.
But for nearly two years, I stayed. I stayed when she rejected my friends. I stayed when she told me she’d been sleeping with someone else. I stayed, because that is what fat women do. Our value is fixed; we earn autonomy only when we become thin.
I stayed until she dumped me. She emailed an itemized list of reasons she was leaving, copied to our friends. It would’ve been too much work to tell everyone individually. I was doubly heartsick: blindsided by a harsh breakup and ashamed of being heartbroken over someone so unkind.
Then I met you.
I don’t remember our first date, but I remember the racing heartbeat of our second. My flimsy flats slapping on cobblestone, running to meet you. The way your warm face shattered into a smile when you saw me. Your fingertips carried a current, something electric that spread through my veins every time you touched me.
On that second date, we traced the contours of one another’s lives. You told me about how hard it was to witness your mother’s acute and steady ache when you told her you had a girlfriend. She said she loved you too much to let you go to hell. Your body, you said, felt like a home built for someone else, and you were its uninvited guest. You knew you would be the cause of your mother’s pain again soon, but the words and fortitude hadn’t quite come to you.
You smiled sadly at me as I laid my hand on yours. At 21, you had already learned to sit with pain, not forcing jokes or subject changes, never wishing it away like so many dandelion seeds. You stayed, and you grew.