I’m flying to California for some much-needed vacation time, seated next to a window, with a rather large man solidly planted into the aisle seat two spaces away. Just prior to take-off, an attendant uproots and transplants him a row behind me, but before I can revel in the joy of having an entire three-seat row to myself, a couple approaches to silence my celebration: first, a man on whom I had my eye at boarding—tanned and dark-eyed, with a face sexily-reminiscent of Adam Levine’s, down to a distinct jaw that, like magic, would drop to reveal a dentist-approved smile—accompanied by, second, a woman shorter, plumper, and more dowdily-dressed than my row’s previous resident stump. She is large enough that I wonder if she has purchased two seats for herself, large enough that when I typed “way” in the first line of this entry, I subconsciously typed “weigh.”

The couple takes their seats next to me. (She sits in the middle, of course, right next to me.) When I notice their wedding bands, I wonder what many people who see them together probably ask themselves: what is he doing with her?

She opens her Wal-Mart paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, smushing next to him in such a way that I can’t tell whether she’s desperately trying to avoid brushing arms with me or, as I would like to believe, desperately squeezing every moment of affection she can possibly get with someone as good-looking as her companion while her opportunity lasts. She breathes heavily after lifting her arm to her eyes and re-tilting her glasses.

I check myself: why am I so alarmed by this peculiar picture of romance? I look at them, and I think: shouldn’t I be happy that love can be blind to such extreme differences in size and appearance? As someone concerned about holding high standards for The One, I should be ecstatic that there is the possibility of a Prince Charming even for those among us who may more closely resemble Shrek.

Okay: yes—pause. My quips may find me in trouble with karma after I post this. I’m not trying to be malicious; I’m playing Simon Cowell, saying what others may be thinking but don’t have the heart enough to say out loud. And if my desire for true love is for it to be intensely honest, then why pollute my own exploration and reflections of it with white lies?

I am glued to a personal theory connecting interpersonal attraction with the physical. While sexual racism has played and continues to play a large significant part of my journey through the dating world, my size and shape has taunted me as well. At 18, I was shopping for clothes at L or XL carts; in the months before I turned 21, I was more than forty-pounds lighter, wearing a shirt I could proudly say was from the cart marked S, even considering ones from the XS section. Because my high school was diversely-populated and nurtured multiculturalism and tolerance, I never attribute my lack of dating success to issues of race or ethnicity; instead, I blamed my weight.

I never did anything, though, to proactively change. It wasn’t until a strenuous summer working in the Berkshires that my weight began to, somehow, disappear. Only after I noticed that ten pounds had suddenly gone did I begin to purposefully keep up my weight loss “work,” complementing my meals with salads and entertaining the option of actually going to the gym. At the same time, I landed my first ever set of dates with Vince, who was—of all people—a frat boy from my college. It was the first time anyone had paid attention to me romantically, and I was surprised that I could rein in a guy from such a different—and perhaps more valued—social circle; I immediately attributed my newly-found success to my weight loss.

Although it seemed as if the doors to dating were slowly and finally opening for me, my former physique haunted me. The very first time I had my shirt off with Vince, he shocked me by saying, quite out of nowhere: “You’re a big guy.” Unfortunately, he was talking about my waistline rather than anything below it.

For the most part, I have since kept myself in a comfortable range between 157 and 162 pounds. The presence of my love handles (or preferably, the lack thereof) has always been the most variable aspect of my body, but despite my discernable hips, I haven’t inched towards the 200 pound mark in years.

This, then, is what frightens me: in the last eight weeks, thanks to a job that has paid for three meals daily throughout the summer, I have gained ten pounds that I am now very consciously trying to shed. I don’t want to return to who I was when I was eighteen: overweight and dateless. And while I understand that, theoretically, there’s a lot more to me than what people who might evaluate me as a date might see, my history has demonstrated otherwise.

Back on the plane, the woman rests her Palm Pilot on her companion’s thigh and folds down the tiny table in front of him. The attendant hands them their respective complimentary beverages, and the woman places both drinks on her companion’s table. Although her body may plead for more space of its own, she finds her comfort in the crampedness of their shared space, and I think I’m just jealous that my table, for now, fits only a party of one.

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