At 3 A.M.on a sticky Alabama summer night, a phone call shocked me out of a deep sleep. It was George, the guy I'd been casually dating off and on for a few months. He was out of breath. "After I left your house tonight, a guy named David followed me home, insisting he's your boyfriend," he said angrily. "Have you been lying to me? Who is this guy?"
I fumbled for an excuse. "He's just a crazy ex," I said, feeling my heart race as I started to panic. I heard a knock on my door and quickly got off the phone with George—then opened the door to a very angry David. "Mollie," he said, his dark eyes burning holes through me. "You're cheating on me! I loved you!"
"What? We never said we were exclusive!" It was true. We'd never had a conversation about it. "Seriously? Are you a total sociopath?" David shouted, storming back to his Jetta.
Clearly, I was in over my head. I was new to this.
A year earlier, I'd lost 180 pounds. After being the "fat girl" for my entire life—with a laundry list of impending health problems, a stagnant social life, and only one (tumultuous) relationship under my belt—I underwent gastric bypass surgery at 24, going from 320 pounds to 140 in a year. All the health risks I faced fell away with the weight. I felt like my life had been on hold up until that point, and I had a lot of catching up to do: I suddenly had size 8 jeans and no plans to settle down with anyone. I wanted all the attention, all the boys, and all the sex. I flitted from bar to bar in my native Birmingham, ready to take on the night, now that my 5'4" frame was no longer at risk for diabetes or chair-breaking.
Everyone said my life would "begin" after I lost weight, but aside from flinging myself into my city's nightlife scene, I didn't really know what to do. I still felt like a fat person, just in smaller clothes. My brain hadn't caught up with my body. It was like I'd been given the keys to a Porsche, only I didn't know how to drive. "Fake it till you make it," my girlfriends said, so I did. I still waited for people to figure me out, to see the way my butt sagged in a pencil skirt, or the way I always kept my upper arms down to avoid flapping in the wind. I wanted to meet expendable guys who wouldn't look too closely at my flaws. For so long, I'd struggled with an addiction to food—from cupcake binges to Chinese buffets to ice-cream marathons. Now that I couldn't indulge in those foods anymore, I started indulging in a man buffet, ratcheting up from one star on my sexual punch card to double digits. No feelings were attached. The guys I was sleeping with—jerks, OK, but jerks who fed my ego—would never have given me a second glance before. Now I had power over them, and I loved it.
Then I met David, who looked like a young Frank Sinatra, with thick black hair that fell in his face in all the right ways. Unlike the other guys I'd been seeing, he was sweet—but he wasn't boyfriend material; he was two years younger than I was and his parents still paid his rent. We'd date for six months; it would fizzle out. Three months later, he'd text again. I was always so surprised at how much he missed me that I took him back, thinking he was just a "heavy rotation" kind of guy.
During one of our downswings, George, a guy I worked with at the local public library, asked me out to dinner. He listened to French cabaret music, smoked cigars, wrote award-winning poems about the sea, women, and large fish, and drank massive amounts of whiskey every night. After a few dates, I discovered that I was having a casual relationship with Hemingway. Cool! I thought—until it became clear that his marathon drinking led to pompous rants and passing out on my lap by 9 every night. Oh, I realized. I'm having a casual relationship with Hemingway. While he was intellectually stimulating, he was also exhausting.
For two months, I bounced between George and David, each of whom seemed to think he was seeing me exclusively. I didn't correct either of them because, on some level, I knew I was scared of a relationship. What if it failed? What if I was incapable of actually devoting myself to someone? It was easier to keep things casual than to deal with my insecurities. If there was a line between uncommitted and cruel, I didn't see it.
And I didn't want to decide between David and George anyway. It was unfair, sure, but guys juggle women all the time, right? A year earlier, I couldn't have imagined one guy being seriously interested in me, let alone two.
Then David followed George home from my apartment that night. After David stormed off, I called George back. "Mollie, if you wanted to date other people, you should've said so," he said. We'd been talking circles around each other all night; when I looked outside, the beginning daylight illuminated the trees like an omen. David and I weren't official, I told him, but George wasn't interested. "It doesn't matter," he said. "You still lied to both of us. How do you expect anyone to ever take you seriously if you're not serious with them?" I didn't want to admit it, but he was right.
George and David both stopped calling and texting. At first I thought I could just move on to another guy, but I missed them. I couldn't shake the feeling that my fancy-free-ness had translated into not taking anyone's feelings into account—including my own. Meeting random men wasn't appealing anymore. David and George may not have been perfect, but they were decent guys. I thought I was impervious to having feelings for anyone because I had "made" it; I was thin, and I could do whatever I wanted! But frankly, I felt ashamed. I realized that my self-worth wasn't being validated by any of these encounters: They were like empty calories. I was ready to give them all up for something more filling, more real. What I needed was to start over—not as the "former fat girl," but as someone ready to truly begin her life, comfortable in her own skin.
I've since moved to California, where I've found a great job as a librarian and a stable relationship with a guy I met at a mutual friend's birthday party. When he hugged me good night and politely asked for my number, I was hooked. This time I've made honesty a priority, and I no longer need to catch the glances of men at bars to feel good about myself. "Good" is as simple as accepting myself as I am and treating my boyfriend the way I want him to treat me, as elementary as it sounds. I now know what it means to be something more than a jeans size—and the importance of respecting relationships when they are real.
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