I've suffered, for most of my life, from what the Brilliant Loree Erickson refers to as "Undesirability Blues*": That is the perpetual single-hood, lack of sex or intimacy, unpleasant social interactions, and limited-to-no romantic prospects that comes with being very far removed from the mainstream norm or ideal of beauty. It's something that goes way beyond the daily oppression and microaggressions that we all, but especially those who are female, disabled, of Colour, fat, bald, etc., have to deal with. You know what I mean: The constant visuals of "beauty" (white and thin) to which we're supposed to aspire, which resemble no one, ever; the never-ending stream of weight-loss ads, constantly conflating weight and health, in every platform imaginable; the "health" movement, which has room to depict only the most abled of bodies; the constant and pervasive ads whose sole intention is to point out non-existent flaws which make you hate your body, in order to sell a superfluous product that no one really needs.
Undesirability Blues is the feeling that, despite loving yourself for the awesome, fierce individual that you are (in spite of constant messages telling you why you're wrong/ugly/gross/unlovable), and despite having found a community that accepts you as you are, and despite doing everything you've ever been told you should do (from parents, peers, and even radical queers) to attract a mate, that social norms ultimately dictate the amount, and quality, of romantic love you're able to attract into your life. It's also the isolation, crippling depression, loneliness, internalized doubt, anxiety, and feeling abnormal that comes from not being able to access something it seems everyone else has access to. It's the endless doubt, and wondering "what is WRONG with me?" when really, there is nothing wrong with you. It's the rage, born of the hypocrisy of so-called progressives or radical queers and anarchists who are SO DOWN with body positivity/anti-oppression, etc., but just don't find fat/disabled/Black/Trans folks attractive (though of course, in our minds, we call this a "preference").
It's like, yeah, a lot of us get that anyone so entrenched in mainstream ideals will either never be attracted to us, or will be paralyzed with shame on the rare occasion they get aroused after looking at some radical queer Crip porn (which is totally fucking hot, btw *ladyboner*) but this shit happens in queer/radical/body-positive/sex working/tree-hugger communities too, and when it happens in those spaces, it stings harder and longer, because you don't see it coming. At first. It also stings when you learn to expect it, everywhere. The Undesirability Blues are what happens when you realize, after 15+ years of online dating, that guys are never going to treat you as anything other than an object, a sex toy, a pair of tits or a fat ass that happens to be attached to a body, or as a moped (fun to ride, but don't let your friends see you) to be mounted on drunken nights after the bar when all the hot chicks took your free drinks and turned you down. It's the small, agonizing moments when you realize that, unless there is a radical shift in popular media's depictions of humans (but especially females), you will likely be unable to find a partner who will be strong enough to endure the stares, judgment, mockery, and stigma that come with dating someone "undesirable". It's also the intense frustration that occurs when well-meaning friends suggest Yet Another Dating Site, or a way to just "love yourself more", when those people have never, and likely would never, love someone like you (or a body like yours), and as though you haven't fought extremely hard for that self-love, and as though moments of self-loathing exclude you from dating. It's also the anger from mansplainers, who think that men have it harder than women, and who say things like "guys love BBWs", not even realizing the fetishism and de-humanization present in that dynamic or in their statement.
And honestly, I feel that as a fat, pretty, white woman, I still have it easier than a woman in a wheelchair, or than someone fatter than me, or than a fat Woman of Colour, or than someone with more serious mental or physical health issues than my own. And that is some bullshit. It makes me so sad that anyone, anywhere, can feel worse about romantic relationships than I do, but they do. And compared to some folks, I have it super easy: while casual sex isn't personally satisfying to me, it's still something, given the rampant fetishization and sexualization of my particular body type, that I can easily access. So at least I can access human contact and touch for free if I need it. And usually, when I do have sex, it's because I'm being paid by some conventionally attractive man.
I used to have casual sex all the time, for free. I knew it was all guys wanted from me, but I often listened to their lies, ignored my intuition, and gave in, and of course, they always disappeared once the condom came off. And it made me feel like shit. It made me question myself, a poly-amourous queer radical, and why I wasn't cool with just "going with the flow". And then I decided, a few years back, that I was going to stop having sex with people who weren't willing to either pay or date me. I figured that if I just "respected" myself more, I would find a mate. But it didn't work that way. Now, I had no dates OR casual sex. I just wasn't worth the effort to get to know, apparently.
I'm not a stranger to being single, and it's not something I used to mind all that much. Aside from a small handful of problematic douchebags, and one supremely awesome guy who's now my best friend, I've always been single, just as my dad predicted I would be when I was an insecure, smelly 9-year-old ("men don't date fat women"). I bet many of you are saying "ah, she has daddy issues, that's her problem". And sure, my issues around being emotionally abused and/or mocked, by family, media, peers, teachers, employers, colleagues, and basically every single person I've ever met has, and still does, affect me. It's something I still struggle with (because it's still so fucking rampant everywhere I look), and something that all of my privilege has probably prevented me from enduring more productively. But LOTS of people have "issues" and still get dates. We all have insecurities, closet demons, and unattractive qualities, and yet are still deemed worthy of love.
And the issue, for me, isn't even really that folks get to know me, dislike my personality, and then lose interest, though that happens, for sure. The larger issue is the culture that de-values someone who looks like me. It's the blatant sexism, sexual harassment, and casual misogyny that I have to deal with. This is par for the online dating course, though. ALL WOMEN on dating sites deal with that crap. For a woman like me, it's compounded by the fact that almost any man who does find me attractive is either fetishizing my fat body (or worse, is a controlling feeder), making assumptions about my docility or level of desperation based on my fatness, or is just a breast fetishist. RARELY do men on dating sites, or in real life, see me as a human being worthy of dating. And really, the chance to date someone and maybe fall in love and maybe get married is all I really wanted. But I'm crossed off the dating/girlfriend list before the first date. It's obvious in the way almost every guy who makes contact with me will eventually want to start sexting, or "come over and hang out" (like, fucker please. Would you suggest to a thin, hot woman that on a first meeting you come over to her place to "hang"? Fuck no.) And I'm not saying there is anything wrong with keeping it casual. But, it's obvious after reading my profile and/or speaking to me for five minutes that I am looking for substance, dating (in public), and to be treated with respect.
This has eluded me for most of my life.
And so, a couple of years after I somehow managed to fall in love with a problematic former client (who's been emotionally abusive, judgmental, dishonest, among many other things), I decided to just settle for what I had. I got tired of being alone, all the time, and never getting dates. I missed the feeling of sleeping with another human. I missed having breakfast after hot sex. I missed going to movies, cuddling, and doing shots of Jack with someone I could also make out with. "Surely you can do better than someone who's abusive" my really awesome, and well-meaning friend (who also rejected the idea of dating me in the past) once asked me. Sadly, I told him, no, I can't seem to get dates. And I gently reminded him that even he, who's really unpacked a lot of the shit all North Americans are saddled with, including how physical attraction is formed, also rejected me.
I got really fucking tired of the constant, never-ending rejection.
And so I settle. I settle for less than I feel I deserve. I settle for a man who hates the fact that I do sex work. I settle for a man who's hurt me countless times, slept with other sex workers that I know, cheated, lied regularly, and even hit me once. And I know this sounds really sad. And I know that when, my other well-meaning fat-identified friend asked about him, looked super sad, and told me that there are guys out there who love fat girls (for her, perhaps, who is a mere size 16), she didn't mean to suggest that it was my fault I can't get dates, or that I just wasn't trying hard enough, but that's how it seems to come across to folks who don't suffer from the Undesirability Blues. It's like, great, I hear these people exist, but I've never been able to find them (except for that one guy, ever), and they may like fat girls, but they certainly don't want to date me. And I know, after searching for romantic love my entire life, that being fat, and more recently, a sex worker, is what makes me, in men's eyes, undateable.
And so I settle. For an insecure man-child who treated me pretty badly for almost 4 years. I settle because despite all of the bullshit, he has some amazing qualities. He's passionate, funny, and our mutual attraction is powerful and explosive. We have amazing sex (now, it wasn't always good, and it was a struggle to get him to go down on me at first), and good times together. I settle because, while it wasn't always the case, he loves me too, and keeps coming back to me. But still, even though he's changed in the past few months, and has begun to treat me better, and actually show me love (beyond the physical variety), he's still ashamed of me, won't add me on Facebook, won't introduce me to anyone he knows, and he still has boundary issues. A lot of it is cultural differences (he's Saudi, I'm Canadian), but a lot of it is just plain ole' projection of his insecurities onto me. Though I met him as a client, he still judges my work. I always set him straight, and I know that on occasion he learns something, but still. I most definitely deserve better than a complicated, quasi-relationship that takes place mostly inside the walls of my home.
And this is a choice I made. This isn't me seeking validation, or trying to change him. It's me making an active choice to take love, joy, and happiness when I can get it. Everyone always says "there's plenty of fish in the sea" but when you're "undesirable", there really aren't. There's a tiny little puddle, all muddied up, and full of a bazillion other "undesirables" all fighting for the same bland, tasteless, mercury-laden fish. "There's no lack of love" is something folks with lots of dates and sweeties get to say and mean. My experiences make it impossible for me to believe that.
It's a choice I made for me, because part of what makes my life happy and vibrant is having someone to share my body and physical love with. This is not a choice I would recommend to anyone. Settling for someone who doesn't necessarily love or respect you can be damaging to your spirit and self-esteem. It helps that I've never had any (long-term) illusions about this man, in the past, present, or the future. I know that one day, he will want a house, babies, and a wife, and that it won't be me. It will be a more subdued, less overtly sexy woman. And that's OK. As much as I love him, I know it's not forever.
And yes, it can, at times, be pretty fucking sad. Sometimes the illusions I build around our relationship come crashing down. Like when we get to the shawarma place, and he says the man inside is a "good Muslim" and he can't bring me in there. When I'm reminded that he, too, is ashamed of me, I cry. Those moments when the signs of human addiction are present are sad. That someone as amazing as me feels it's better to settle than to be alone is sad.
And honestly, since I decided to accept our imperfect relationship for what it is, and just accept him despite his numerous flaws, he's started to become the kind of ideal man I imagine for myself: sweet, romantic, generous with time/money/love/affection/words, present, invested, and committed.
I know that a lot of folks reading this are judging the fuck out of me, and anyone who settles. And I get it. I would have judged me even a year ago. My mantra for a long time was "I'd rather be alone than settle for less than I want". But enough conversations with friends about this relationship have made me realize why it's so hard for me to give it up: I don't want to give up my lover, and I don't want to be alone forever. I want his body close to mine, and to see his smiling face in the morning. I want to feel tingles all over my skin when he touches me. I want to get lost in his eyes when he pulls my face towards him gently. I want his hugs, kisses, laughs, and sighs. I want to sleep, entwined, and hear him call me "baby", "beautiful", and "darling" as he slides his arms around my waist. Waiting for perfect didn't work for me. Seeking perfect didn't work either. I want the support of a lover, and to maybe have someone to come home to one day. I want to have sex with someone I know I will see again and again, who I know will not forget me after he has an orgasm. It's perfectly normal for any human being to want these things, and I'm tired of feeling ashamed for doing what I need to do to attain them.
Will I settle again after this relationship ends? Maybe. Maybe what I call "settling" others would call "compromise". Maybe this is all the universe's way of teaching me to love someone unconditionally, to resist the urge to abandon ship when things get rough. Maybe this is all training for my fierce, feminist, future husband, who, according to all evidence, actually does not exist. Maybe this is me coping with a fat-phobic, hateful world that loves to remind me, hourly, that I'm a piece of shit unworthy of men's love.
Except that I'm not a piece of shit. I'm a beautiful, intelligent, powerful, kind, and generous woman, with a ridiculous amount of talent, and if I want to choose a less-than-ideal man to spend time with because I can't find a more suitable paramour, that's my choice, one that folks who don't suffer from Undesirability Blues may not easily understand.
*Use of the term Undesirability Blues is meant to denote society's definitions of desirability, not my own personal view of what's attractive and desirable.
I feel it should also be said that folks who don't love themselves, or haven't reached a level of self-love that they're content with, are also OK, and still deserving of love and respect.