Between the “Dating While Fat” post and the “Should I Date While I’m Losing Weight?” posts, I’ve received a few e-mails asking me about my real position on the matter, because it’s obvious that I managed to date and even become engaged along my journey even though I discourage dating during a weight loss … so what gives?

As my most recent e-mailer put it, “I am going on this journey for me and am SCARED TO PIECES that even after accomplishing so much, for any of us, dating could still be hard… because someone was a former fat girl.

I think dating is complex when you’re going through this kind of journey, but I think I also have to be real about “journeys” in and of themselves. For someone like me, that includes getting beyond a lot of negative experiences that I was clinging to, understanding my emotional eating habit, getting to know my new self, and essentially redeveloping who I am to be a person who values activity, fitness, and eating healthier. Like, that’s a lot.

But for someone who simply has five, ten pounds to lose, theirs isn’t much of a “journey,” to the extend that the word implies seriousness, discovery and depth. For them, it may just be “Damn, I need to lay off the beers.” And that’s okay, too.

Journeys are different, and just because mine was some giant, convoluted situation doesn’t mean that everyone’s will be, but some are, and that’s what I’m talking about now. Dating will be easy to embrace for some, but if you’re carrying “the secret” of being a formerly obese emotional eater around, it feels like hell. It feels like your partner isn’t embracing the fullness of what makes up who you are. That being said…

Because of the nature of my journey, and because I’d have to explain so much about my emotional eating and where it stemmed from, it’s something that I never shared up front. I don’t think anyone should. It’s a personal thing that requires a lot of vulnerability, and I’m a staunch supporter of protecting yourself – not everyone can be trusted with your vulnerability. Not everyone can be trusted to do the right thing when left in the presence of someone vulnerable and, sometimes, helpless. If I couldn’t trust him with the keys to my house, where my child and I sleep at night, I wasn’t going to trust him with that story. (As with all other things, your mileage – and standard – may vary.)

My past experiences with emotional eating are a part of me, in some ways a big part, but they aren’t the totality of who I am. I’m a mommy. I’m a pianist. I’m a teacher. I’m a computer programmer. I’m a food snob. I’m an [amateur] economist. I’m a lot of things. All of which can be cannon fodder, and when things start to get serious, I’d gladly share my past experiences with being obese and being an emotional eater.

Now, I am, by no means, a relationship expert… but there are a few things that I think people should realize when it comes to dating:

1) Develop some boundaries. Everyone doesn’t need to know everything, and a little mystery is always better than information overload. To me, dating is all about making a new friend – because, in my experience, being a good friend is a requirement for a “good relationship” – and there’s more than enough to talk about between one another prior to becoming serious than that. There’s no reason to put everything on the table up front. It’s dating, not employment. I don’t need his emotional resume, and he doesn’t need mine. In the beginning, I’m trying to figure out whether or not I can stand being in your presence, and likewise for my companion.

2) People go into dating for tons of reasons – looking for a life partner, auditioning for a friend with benefits, just to have a good time, so on and so forth. Be realistic about which one of those you are, and then make sure that your boundaries are set accordingly. In short, someone you’re not serious about shouldn’t have so much information about your personal life, anyway.

3) Think about what the ideal response is to what you share when you share it, and be ready to walk away if the response is unfavorable. If your journey is anything like mine was, and it’s filled with landmines and pot holes that make things both bumpy and overall rocky, then you want someone who is going to be supportive… not someone who is looking for a trophy to reward themselves with, only to run when you experience a set back. We always talk about “down ass chicks,” but how often do we talk about someone other than “the woman” being “down?” Perpetually supportive under any circumstance? Do we not deserve that? Should we not demand that of our partners, and be comfortable walking away when they cannot offer that?

4) Be very clear about who you are – in other words, don’t present a facade – and do not change just because you think you’ve found the perfect partner. Be who and what makes you happy, and look for someone attracted to that. It makes dating much more enjoyable, more fun and less likely to result in blabbing away about things you really can’t trust someone with in the first place.

It was a long time before I opted to start dating during my journey. I had already lost about 110lbs, and felt like I had figured out my emotional eating thing. I remember going out on a date with a friend, and he took my daughter and I to a restaurant. He’d already known about my past experiences because, well, we were friends… but I was finally single and ready to date.

I ordered a giant salad with grilled chicken on top and requested that the dressing come on the side. My daughter got her usual, grilled cheese with fries, and I didn’t touch her plate once (something I used to do incessantly.) The friend commented on how proud he was of me, and specifically asked about “what I was doing to keep it off.” I mean, I won’t lie. He had much more finesse than most when it comes to that topic. To a lot of people, there’s nothing worse than being involved with a rabid yo yo dieter, because “you can’t guarantee what you might wind up with months down the road when they get sick of the diet and binge on something crazy.” I told him that I’m not a dieter, but that I prefer to cook everything from scratch. I told him that I didn’t “do” processed food, that I stayed pretty active, and I did what I could to constantly learn about myself and keep myself from falling back into my old habits. I’m an honest person, and because he was a friend and not a stranger, I felt comfortable being vulnerable in his presence. He responded in kind, by being supportive and encouraging.

While he was tactful and supportive of me, many were weirded out by it. As I’ve shared before, I’ve gotten everything from “So… you’re not gonna get fat again, are you?” to “I could never get fat like that, what happened to you?” and I’ve answered, matter of factly, “I just had a lot of learning to do… but I know now, and thank goodness!” However, because I need more sensitivity and finesse than that in a partner, they’re no longer in the running.

Ed, my fiance, handled it beautifully. He and I were friends for months before he came on my radar and he was even a supporter of my blog. One night, I just innocently slipped him my number, and the rest was history. We spent hours talking, and we talked about my past with emotional eating. Very calmly, he asked, “So… what do you look for from your partner to support you with that?”

I was sold.

He actually was with me, and supported me throughout another 30lbs and a few more emotional roadblocks. He was all the support I could’ve ever needed.

If it isn’t clear, I’ll say it plainly: Be realistic about when you’re truly ready to do this. Planning to invite someone into your life is a big deal, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Be honest, deliberate, and afraid of nothing. You are who you are, and you want someone who is going to accept you as well as support you onward toward being who you want to be. Be well-versed in the art of self-protection, but be yourself, and be okay with walking away from a bad situation. It’ll make your life happier, and enrich the life of any person[s] you bring into it.

Thoughts, y’all?

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