Dude, Eat Carbs While You’re Out: The Struggle for Body Confidence

Editor’s Note: After three years in the game, this is my 100th blog post! To honor the occasion, I’m stepping outside my comfort zone of humor and posting a thoughtful essay on body image. I’m also doing this because I skipped the gym twice this week and I’m pissed at myself for being pissed at myself about it, which sounds redundant because it is.

A few years ago I had a boyfriend – let’s call him Lionel – who accused me of being unfaithful. I wasn’t, but our relationship was in the process of unraveling and I had more or less withdrawn from him at that point, so I can’t say I was surprised by his bout of paranoia.

One day it led him to Facebook-message my ex-boyfriend.

“When you and Nic were together,” Lionel asked, “did you ever suspect he was cheating on you?”

My ex replied, “Nic? LOL.”

I’m able to quote directly because I uncovered the message history on Lionel’s computer one weekend while he was away for his army reserve duties and I was staying at his apartment. By then Lionel had already caved into his guilt and told me about the exchange himself, so these initial findings were more or less expected.

But then there was something else.

“By the way,” Lionel wrote right before signing off. “Nic is in really great shape these days.

“He’s super toned.

“Hot.”

I felt like he was insecure for me.

Throughout the course of our relationship, Lionel had always answered my habitual laments of, “Ugh, I feel really fat,” with military-inspired suggestions as to how to get in better shape. “So you agree?” I’d usually snap back, channeling my inner Regina George. “You think I’m really fat?”

I was 6’3” and weighed 170 pounds – thin – but that didn’t change the fact that I had some flab on me where there could have been muscle.

“Shut up,” he’d laugh. “You know I love your body the way it is. I’m just saying that if you want to tone up, I can help you.”

I eventually accepted the offer.

I love your body the way it is. I had always believed Lionel when he said this, but his comment to my ex-boyfriend that day suggested that perhaps he loved it more after I adopted his pushup routine. I mean, the proof was in the transcript. “Ha! You had soft-bodied Nic,” he might as well have declared. “But my Nic is better. My Nic is the one worth having.”

Of course. The One Worth Having: In really great shape these days.

Super toned.

Hot.

***

I’d always known men could be shallow.

When I was eight and nine years old, a few members of my dad’s old-school Italian family violently chucked fat slurs at my mom like jagged rocks at an innocent duck after she filed for divorce from him. “That fat bitch,” I heard them say to each other. “You fat bitch,” I heard them say to her face. “You’re divorcing him?”

Sometimes I wondered how much more diplomatic their divorce could have been if she had just dropped twenty pounds before filing.

It wouldn’t be too long before my friends expressed similar attitudes, openly discussing how they could never even think about being attracted to “fat chicks.” This sentiment pervaded my small hometown. I remember being at a friend’s house one day after school and getting caught up in a conversation about baseball cards or some shit when we accidentally left the television on whatever station aired the Rosie O’Donnell Show. His dad got home from work a few minutes later and asked, “What are you guys watching this cow for?”

I was a significantly overweight kid myself while all of this was going down, so I took everything a little more personally than I probably should have.

But! I’d tell myself. This is a female problem. Sure, some kids teased me for my weight, but the teasing never suggested that my fatness made me unlovable. When it came to love, it was always the men who didn’t want their women to be fat. Overweight guys got beautiful girls to marry them all the time; they just had to endure being jocularly called a fatass by their friends sometimes.

I’m ashamed to say that this fucked up, misogynistic double standard actually gave me comfort for a few years of my adolescence.

That is, until I’d remember that I was gay. Until I’d remember that I, too, would eventually have to possess a body worthy of male desire.

***

“I’m finally starting to realize that a good ninety percent of my insecurities stem back to my being a fat kid,” I lamented to my mom over the phone earlier this week. “And I’m so sick. I’m so sick of reflexively sucking my stomach in when I look in the mirror. And I’m so sick of hating myself on the days when I skip the gym. I’m so fucking sick of having to give a shit about any of this.”

“Believe me, Nic,” she said. “I get it.”

The craziest thing? I’m in really great shape these days. Super toned. Hot. People tell me all the time. Co-workers tell me after I casually turn down the birthday cake. Friends tell me after I yell, “If I have a double chin, we’re deleting this!” when we pose for group pics. My mom tells me when I call her on the phone having typical emotional upsets like the one referenced above.

People tell me I’m too skinny. In text messages and voicemails and Instagram comments.

starvingEat carbs while you’re out. Statements like these shouldn’t feel like compliments, except they do. The validation swoops me up and flies me around for maybe a good three seconds, but then it lets go just as quickly, flinging me down into a pit where the words GET YOUR ASS BACK TO THE GYM are etched into the surrounding dirt.

If the validation is coming from a man with whom I’m sleeping, maybe the high lasts closer to six seconds. But, oh. Since Lionel and I broke up, I can’t even tell you the number of dudes I’ve gone home with only to soberly decide in the eleventh hour that we can’t go through with hooking up because I don’t feel comfortable getting undressed with someone new and contorting into sexual positions that I know would make my stomach look – oh, my God – not flat.

When I do allow myself to go there with guys, I avoid bringing up the subject of fatness altogether out of fear that if they knew how much I really cared – how anxious and conscious and aware I can sometimes be of my body – they’d scrutinize it that much more.

Plus these aren’t just any men I’m dealing with – these are men like me.

***

Insecurities make no sense, and yet they do. Depending on your mood and vantage point they can either be silly little clowns or great, intimidating monsters. Sometimes both.

Most days I’m able to just point and laugh at how utterly absurd and hilarious my fat issues are, acknowledging all the bullshit that called them into existence in the first place and saying to myself, Wow. I’m so glad none of this shit actually matters in the end.

But then catch me on a shitty day and I’m capable of breaking down under the weight of it all – sometimes even to the point of calling my mom in tears and/or writing self-pitying personal essays about the Struggle for Body Confidence.

Of course I’ve perused enough self-help to know that everything is just a choice. At any moment we can choose to stop caring about other peoples’ perceptions and start loving our bodies as they are. Right. Fucking. Now. We can claim our power. We can strip ourselves of our clothes – whatever their sizes – and stand proudly, flipping off anyone who’s ever made us feel like the shapes of our stomachs have anything at all to do with the worthiness of our spirits. We can stop letting wounds get in the way.

On my best days, I’m actually capable of this.

Because deep down I know I’m worthy and important and loved. Because I know I’m talented and empathetic and smart. Because I know just how much more than a body I am.

But also — and it fucking kills me to say this — because I’m in really great shape these days.

Super toned.

Hot.

 

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I Accidentally Made Out with a Closeted Married Man, and Now I’m a Hot Mess

First and foremost, I feel the need to assure you that the events I’m about to recount actually took place. Like, in real life. Which you’ll soon realize is insane because one) I have already written extensively on the subject of falling in love with hot suited strangers during my daily commute on the Metro-North train, two) I once even blogged about a fantasy sequence in which I made out with one of them but he ended up being married, and three) that is somehow EXACTLY what happened to me last Friday night, in real life. IR-fucking-L.

There’s a lot to discuss here, so let’s just start from the beginning.

It was the end of a long week, so naturally I went out for post-work Sangria in the city with one of my best girlfriends. One pitcher turned into two, and before I knew it I was a little tipsy on a late-night train back to Connecticut. The train was delightfully empty, so I got cozy in a four-seater all by myself and prepared for the fifty-minute ride home.

Then he showed up. Hot businessman guy. He was wearing a grey pinstripe suit, fancy watch, and (according to my tipsy-goggles, at least) was ruggedly handsome – kind of like Brandon Walsh from 90210. Except manlier. And thirty-something. And, again, in a suit.

I took about five seconds to observe and appreciate his hotness, texted my friend something like “OMG, this man on the train is my everything,” glanced his way again, and then went back to staring at my phone (lest he catch me looking at him and interpret my stalkerish gazes as reason to desert me and switch to another train car that wasn’t crawling with predatory gay bloggers).

As we pulled out of Grand Central, the conductor came on the intercom and was all, “Please make all seats available,” and then the hot businessman opened up a roadie Coors Light, took a swig, and responded (to everyone and no one), “Uh, the train is empty!”

In my mind: He totally just opened the floor for conversation!!! Should I respond? I should definitely respond. No. That’d be weird. Wait, but he was weird first to even make the empty train remark to begin with. OK I’m doing it! No. YES. NO. Yes.

Out loud: “I know, right? The train is so empty!”

To my surprise, he looked my way and smiled warmly as I mentally congratulated myself for being capable of putting words together quickly enough to respond to his declaration. (Even though, let’s be honest, all I did was say exactly what he said except with a “so” in front of it.)

From there, we engaged in a bout of small talk about our commutes (we live in the same town, turns out!) and jobs (we work in the same part of the city, turns out!) and interests (we both watch football, turns out!).

While all of this was going on, I started developing the hopeful feeling that this guy was maybe gay, maybe into me, and maybe meant to be my husband. I mean, why else would he be so friendly? But then I told myself, “No. Calm yourself down, Nic. This dude probably thinks he’s just having a man-to-man discussion about Eli Manning and meanwhile you’ve let your mind go to that ‘ohmiGod is he gay and in love with me?!’ place in not even five minutes. GET A GRIP.”

After a few moments, we reached a lull in conversation. And then some random ass creepy guy in a black trench coat showed up out of nowhere and took one of the seats directly in front of me in my four-seater, despite the fact that there was a whole train car of empty seats available to him! James (the hot businessman guy — fake name, FYI) and I immediately exchanged glances to acknowledge how bizarre this was.

The creepy guy must have realized that James and I were telepathically discussing his weirdness (or maybe he just had to pee), because he abruptly got up and went to the bathroom, leaving me alone to wait for him to return and maim me take his seat back.

But then.

Like a knight in SHINING fucking ARMOR, James got up, swooped over into my four-seater and asked, “Would you like me to sit here instead?”

And so of course I said, “Yes!” and officially moved on from the “ohmiGod is he gay and in love with me?!” place into the more confident “My life is a romantic comedy and James and I SHALL BE MARRIED AND THIS SHALL BE THE STORY WE TELL OUR ADOPTED CHILDREN’S CHILDREN!” place.

For the remainder of the ride home, James and I talked. About our educations, occupations, hometowns, hobbies, and dreams. At one point I told him how I was working toward becoming a full-time writer and he responded with, “That makes sense; you give off a crazy-creative vibe,” and I had to pinch myself to ensure that I wasn’t just train-hallucinating this whole situation.

When we got to our stop, we walked off the train together.

“Alright,” I said as we approached the escalator, “I guess I should get on my way. Got a bit of a walk home.”

Then James was like, “Do you want a ride?” and I was like, “Yes!” (Because an exclamation-pointed “Yes!” had clearly become my go-to answer to any and all of James’ questions that night.)

I know what you may be thinking: Nic just accepted a ride from a stranger? Is he fucking nuts?!

Yes, I did. And yes, I am. And this is why hot people are dangerous. Because had this dude been gross looking or even just average, there’s no way I’d have said anything other than, “No, thanks.”

Still, as we walked to his car, there was a small voice inside of me that was like, “Uh, Christian Bale in American Psycho, Nic. He was hot. He wore a suit. And he killed bitches!” But I was able to quiet it down by asking James flat-out, “You’re not a crazy American psycho, are you?”

He just laughed adorably and said, “No! Trust me, you’re in good hands. I never do this. At all. Is this weird? This is weird. But I feel comfortable with you.”

And so we hopped into the car and continued talking for the duration of the ride to my apartment while our hands almost touched on the center armrest and I realized that I still didn’t have any conclusive evidence of his gay or straightness. There was a part of me that truly wondered if James was just a really nice straight man doing me a favor… but then there was another part of me that wanted to believe we had been flirting all night long.

Either way, when we finally got to the front of my building, I didn’t want to say goodnight. I considered inviting him up to my apartment, but then I was like, “WHO ARE YOU?” (to myself, not him) and instead settled for exchanging cell phone numbers with the intention of hanging out on purpose sometime soon.

And then.

I thanked him for the ride and reached out to shake his hand goodbye.

AND THEN.

He leaned over and went in for a kiss!

And so before I knew it, I was living in a dream and we were making out. And y’all — it was good. This man clearly knew what he was doing. Which is why it was so jarring to me when he abruptly stopped mid-make-out, said, “I don’t know what I’m doing!” and freaked the fuck out.

“What?” I asked, acting as if everything about this whole situation wasn’t bizarre enough to begin with.

“I don’t do stuff like this,” he nervously responded. “I’m married.”

So then my heart kind of casually just stopped, no big deal, and I said, “Wait. You’re married?” [Dramatic pause.] “To a human?”

“A human, Nic?” he replied. “Yes. I’m married to a woman.”

Jaaames!!!” I whined. “WHY?”

And then I punched him. (Playfully and on the chest, but still.)

He proceeded to apologize for not telling me about his wife before kissing me, and then he got this really sad look on his face, and for a second my heart felt incredibly heavy for him. Because I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to be trapped in a straight life and married to a woman and have to deal with inner demons and family pressures and tempting little hot pieces of ass like me just occupying four-seaters on trains on Friday nights.

But then I felt more bad for his wife, because I’m friends with quite a few women and I know for a fact that none of them want their husbands to be repressed gay men.

But then (and maybe I should be ashamed of this?) I felt mostly bad for me. Because seriously, WTF? I meet this perfect-in-every-way man — the old-fashioned, technology-free, just-like-in-the-movies way, even! — and we hit it off tremendously, and he’s the most passionate kisser in the history of the world, and then he’s somebody’s husband? How did I forget to check his left hand for a ring? How did he think it was okay to pursue me in the first place? Do any quality, available men even exist anymore? WHERE HAVE ALL THE COWBOYS GONE?

After about thirty awkwardly silent seconds of sitting in James’ car post-wife-confession, I decided to just start making out with him again. This was desperate and not okay, I know. But again: his kiss. It was delicious. Delicious and forbidden and sexual and hot. And I knew that he was a very dangerous person to even think about getting involved with, but I wanted to pretend for just the shortest moment that he was good and genuine and mine.

And so we kept making out in his car for about ten more blissful seconds, but then — and I think this may have been my conscience resurrecting itself from the low-self-esteem-y grave I’d just dug for it — I started wondering what his wife’s name was and what she must be doing and what she might think he was doing and what her Pinterest might look like. And so I finally mustered up the strength to say, “Dude. This is fucked up. We can’t do this.”

“You’re right,” he replied, not fighting me at all. “I understand if you want to just lose my number. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” I sighed. “It’s fine.”

Then I got out of his car, walked up to my apartment, and aggressively slammed my bag against the floor in a fit of rage. I ran to my window to see if his car was still on my street, but he had already driven off. Regardless of all the reasons not to, I wanted to call him right then and there to ask him to come back so we could try and recapture whatever the hell it was we had both just discovered and lost, all within the past hour.

But then I walked into my bathroom, looked at myself in the mirror, and realized that I really, really needed to take his advice — and just lose his number.

2014 UPDATE: We ran into each other at Dunkin’ Donuts and it was weird.

 

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