A few weeks ago I was talking to my cousin about dating. I told him that when it comes to romance, I believe in the "practice makes perfect" principle. I date to practice dating, to practice figuring out what I want, asking for what I want, to learn what it feels like when I get it, to know what it feels like when I respect someone and when I don't. I'm a pragmatist in a lot of senses romantically, and I truly believe that dating - like sex - is a skill. And that like any skill, it gets better with practice.
This is not a particularly popular opinion, it turns out.
My cousin virulently disagreed, saying that I'm over-thinking things and that I should allow romance to come naturally - magically, even. I pushed his theory, asking him how many dates he'd gotten through this magic. He thought about it: "one." One!? I countered with my dozens of methodically acquired 2013 dates, most of which I enjoyed. Interestingly, when we started talking about career, retirement and investments, he argued for a proactive, hands-on approach. I argued for surrender, patience... magic.
I realized that the attitudes and beliefs I carry into my career are at times significantly different than those I hold toward romance, and this fact puts me in strange opposition to cultural norms. I mean, not that I'm not already at odds with cultural norms, ghurl. Furthermore, what I sensed from my cousin's response was that I had tread onto hallowed ground: romance is sacred; the idea that I would claim power or attempt to practice control seemed almost offensive or anti-humanitarian.
So, as I do, I decided to think about my attitudes and beliefs and see if I could figure them out.
Let's start with romance.
It was only until really recently that I could unflinchingly say that I want to get married - in fact, I'm going to get married - blissfully married. But I didn't want marriage in my 20s and I have a feeling I won't be quite there until my late 30s. Because culturally marriage is so tied to baby-having (which I'm pretty sure I don't want), my desires didn't jive with the typical narrative/trajectory and it confused me - pushing me to pursue relationships headed in that direction and compelling me to leave them (read: sabotage them) when marriage arose as a possibility. Because my desires were at odds with the biological clock model, I felt shame and confusion about what I wanted. Because I thought my desires were wrong I tried to fight them, but when it came time to take the next step I would begin to panic. Rather than fight the "cold feet" I heeded what my body was telling me.
Panic is the body's way of screaming "NO!"
Perhaps because there is a dearth of boss lady/businesswoman narratives (especially for fat brown girls!), I didn't feel the same pressure when it came to my career. I mean, yes, I worried about what I was going to be when I grew up and I had moments of insecurity and complete financial instability (and I'm quite sure there are going to be some more of those). But because there wasn't a strong narrative in my head about the how and when of my career life, I felt freer to pursue my convictions and passions. I had those "cold feet" moments in my career life too. Like the time I got into this New York teaching program - full ride for an MA, life in one of my favorite cities, meaningful work with youth. I had already paid for the qualifying exams, already said yes to the program and even the principal who had recruited me to work at his school. Every time I sat down to book the plane ticket, though, I would clam up. I kept avoiding it until the very last conceivable day, and when I sat down in front of my computer to finally do it I began to cry uncontrollably. Rather than fight it, I decided to give into it. Even though I didn't have any other career prospects at the time, even though I was unhappily living with my parents, even though I knew it would be considered irresponsible, I wrote everyone emails expressing my regret and let it go. Not long after that a friend invited me to share her apartment in San Francisco for what was $350/month at the time and I got a job in radio.
I want to talk about "cold feet" for a second because this belittling misnomer really bothers me. "Cold feet" is your body saying no. It's your inner wisdom stepping in and telling you something I believe is worth heeding. Its prevalence in romance narratives is undeniable, and the culturally sanctioned impetus to "work past it" or normalize it is terrifying to me. If your body is saying no, there's a reason. What I've learned is that your body can't tell you why the answer is no, but it doesn't make the no any less powerful. You've got an oracle living inside you, ghurl!
In short, my belief system is part logic and part magic. As taboo as I know this is, I feel entitled to great dates and great sex and a career that makes me feel whole. I approach those goals differently, and that works for me for now. I believe that my body knows what it needs and that I am the best judge of what I want. I am not always right, but I know that the only way to it is through it.
So, this week say no to something you don't want and go after something you do. It'll be fun :)
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.