Thursday, 26 March 2009

Hey, It's the Little Things

Tonight I went to a birthday party for a boutique I love – hey, there were free manicures and I am a poor shut-in freelancer now. (Actually, I should be more of a shut-in and maybe I’d get some actual work done. Instead have been trekking around London making the most of my only-until-March-31 private healthcare coverage.) I ended up chatting to two girls who, it turns out, worked for another magazine owned by my former employer.

“I thought you looked familiar,” one of them said when I told her where I used to work. “Did you used to take Pilates? Wow, you’ve lost so much weight I barely recognized you.”

I’ve lost that much weight since December? I couldn’t help being skeptical. I haven’t. Though when I saw a friend in Asia I’d last seen at Christmas, she shrieked: “You’re tiny!” (For the record, this was Friend Bearing Chocolate, who is certainly not sensitive to the weight issue and wouldn’t, I reasoned, be saying such a thing just to be polite.)

God, I feel boring just writing about my size. Except it still delights me. Possibly too much. Then again, I’ve had a really crappy couple of months. Is it so terrible that I get a little joy out of being, erm, not-fat? (I can’t imagine ever being at the stage where I call myself thin. Sidenote: I was flicking through some personal ads out of curiosity and most of them, of course, specified slim. But one specified that you could not weigh more than 66 kgs – 145 lbs -- unless you were at least 183 cm, or 6 feet tall. I can only wonder if he planned to mandate the exact latitude and longitude of birthmarks, for heaven’s sake. Asshat.)

* * *

Slightly against my better judgment – and with a little egging on from a friend -- I went on a date last night. Just a drink with E., the nice Jewish boy I met at the school disco on Valentine’s Day. Yes, the one who kicked off the breakup.

I didn’t fancy him that night and I don’t fancy him now. But he was nice plus persistent, a combination that’s slightly irresistible when one does not want to be spending nights at home alone.

He chewed gum through the whole date. Even while drinking his beer.

(If I’d fancied him I wouldn’t have cared about the above, of course. Only because I didn’t fancy him was I just looking for further evidence of what’s wrong with him.)

He also decided to judge me for the place I’d picked to meet for a drink – a cute little cocktail bar in Islington across the street from my old flat. Because I wasn’t remotely intent on impressing him, and was frankly a bit irritated that he kept texting me to ask me what we should do (why do men think women like to organize things? I certainly don’t), I pointed out that he hadn’t suggested anything at all.

We talked about Passover, Amy Winehouse, New York, his nephews and nieces, his friends coming to visit, my family coming to visit. All very nice, all very anodyne.

I drank half a glass of sauvignon blanc and tried not to yawn too much. I am so not ready for this.

* * *

My sister and aunt arrive tomorrow morning, and I’m both excited and scared. I dread conversations with my sister about my weight – the endless questions about my size, diet, whether I’m bingeing, whether she thinks I’m starving, how obsessed I am. I’d be willing to bet my next paycheck (whatever and whenever that might be) that at some point in some dressing room (I’m taking her to the Burberry sample sale) she will start trying on my clothes to see how she compares to me, size-wise. It’s always been that way.

I’d like to enjoy the weekend without losing my temper or feeling guilty. I’d also like to be able to enjoy the food this weekend without becoming a total freak show. Four days of eating out would make me anxious under any circumstances, but this has the added pressure of:

1. Someone (my sister) paying extremely close attention to every morsel I put in my mouth. Being watched is a huge binge trigger for me.

2. At least one person (my sister) and possibly two (my aunt) talking endlessly about all of the various foods they would like to eat. I’m also highly suggestible – put an idea in my head and suddenly I’m craving something I haven’t thought about in years.

3. Not a lot of control over what I’m being given to eat at some of the meals (I have a work-related awards lunch tomorrow, a big boat race lunch Sunday, and tea on Monday).

I hope someday to be at the point where I can just enjoy some of the above for what they are, instead of thinking of them as events to navigate successfully (or, let’s be honest, unsuccessfully). Will this be the time? Unlikely, but I guess I can hope.

Monday, 23 March 2009

This Is My Current Single Status/My Declaration of Independence

This past weekend is the first weekend I’ve spent in London in 15 months without seeing BN2 at all. Our first date 15 months ago was a Friday night, and our pattern at the beginning was Saturday nights.

Being alone – with acres of time to fill, now that I don’t even have a regular job to go to – is scary. And yet I feel like someone has removed his heel from my stomach so I can breathe again. I did exactly what I wanted to do this weekend, without checking my watch and worrying that he was going to get annoyed. I think it’s going to be a few months before I feel completely like myself again – even in my dealings with him via text and email, I can feel my stomach clenching the way it always did when I feared I was going to say something that would make him angry (which was often).

It is over, really and truly, and I’m more OK with it than I thought. The other times we broke up I think I hoped we would work it out, and there’s been a slow (very very slow, for I am a slow learner) dawning that not only can’t we work it out, but that we shouldn’t. Or I shouldn’t. I have not been myself for months, so busy have I been twisting myself every which way to try to make things work. I often speak in a waterfall of words, all of them tumbling over each other when I’m excited. I don’t speak that way with him, because I have to choose my words so carefully. And then he would get annoyed with how long it was taking me to express myself.

He’s not a monster, and there are some very real gifts I’ll take away from this relationship. Were they worth the extortionate price I think I paid? I’m not sure, but there’s no refund on time, alas. Over the past few weeks I’ve come across various writings of mine from the past year, and they all have the same theme about him. I remember a friend visiting this past summer telling me I had to get out, and I couldn’t, or wouldn’t. I always was a slow learner, and I always did have to wait until things were unbearable to do anything about a problem. (As a side note, I think that is related to binge eating. It takes so much energy and effort to be a binger, and you’re so damn tired from it, that you can only muster the strength to solve a problem when you’re absolutely forced.)

While downloading my 900 (!) photos of Cambodia and Laos, I came across some photos I took with BN2 in France last August, and our trip to Venice, when he tagged along for my work. I was sad and nostalgic, awash in rosy memories, until I remembered the thorns in both of those trips, and indeed, in just about every happy memory I have of our relationship. Let me remember that when I’m tempted to go back.

Yes, sometimes I am tempted to go back, and I expect those cravings may get worse as time goes by – get worse before they get better, anyway. He rang the other day to ask me how I was, and I suddenly got choked up. I’d been fine until he’d asked.

I told him that earlier I’d been looking at the France photos, and wondered if he had copies of them.

“Neither one of us has died,” he said, almost sharply.

He’s right, neither one of us has died, but something else has: our relationship. I think it’s going to take some time to grieve.

* * *

When I look back, perhaps I will attribute the dissolution of our relationship not to the fact that I didn’t invite the Bertrams to dinner, but to the fact that I didn’t buy him dinner.

I had agreed to do him a favor last Wednesday evening and look after his daughter while he did a shoot. It was a pretty damn big favor if you ask me, considering how he behaved while I was away (sleeping with all of the women we used to fight about, which is somehow more painful than if he’d just gone out and found himself some random women). I raced around town in order to get to nursery in time to pick her up, and as he wouldn’t be home until 9ish/10ish, I had to get myself some dinner.

I didn’t pick up any for him.

Yes, it was selfish and not particularly thoughtful, and if I am totally honest, I didn’t even think about him when I picked it up (I bought a double portion of what I was having for lunch that day). Maybe it’s justifying it in retrospect, but I figured he’d have eaten some pork pie/trifle/Cornish pasty/general rubbish before the shoot and probably some more rubbish during it. (I shouldn’t judge, but I do. I’ve written before about how his eating habits – and what he feeds his daughter, and when – really push my buttons.)

That night he wouldn’t let the dinner thing go. I admitted to him I hadn’t thought of it, and apologized. But when I told him I thought he’d have eaten already, he accused me of bullshitting him. And it went on and on. And I was annoyed – very annoyed. I’d just done him a huge favor – could he not for once express his point (that he was hurt, if that’s indeed what he was) and let it go, for heaven’s sake?

We went to sleep and the next day we went to see a counselor, a last-ditch attempt to save our relationship. We’d already argued about what the rules might be while we were sorting things out – he, of course, wanted the right to sleep around. I refused to give in on that point, telling him he was either in or out. You either decide a relationship is worth saving and you put everything into that, or you go off and find someone else – but you don’t have one foot on one side and one on the other.

Of course, that issue still was unresolved when we went to the counselor.

We left the counselor’s after an hour and a half with nothing concrete. (She did immediately pick up on how controlling he was, which I found interesting.) On the way home I started to suggest time apart, since he needs to decide whether he wants to be in a relationship at all, let alone one with me. We got back to his place and again started arguing about the dinner, this time because I was using it as an example of him never letting anything go. (He was telling me how I needed to accept his dealings with other women, which I cannot.) He called me a bullshitter and told me I was being a bitch. I told him he was being an asshole, something I’ve never called him. He told me I needed to leave. And so I did. I didn’t cry, I didn’t rage. I just said I was sorry, and goodbye, and I walked out his front door and ate an apple pie Larabar (it was 4 pm) and thought that for once I was not going to call him to apologize. I thought about how I was free, and how I would not be climbing back into the cage again.

I got an appallingly bad upper lip wax (there are still marks, and it still hurts) and headed home. A couple of hours later I received an email from him telling me I was “the most wonderful woman” he’d ever met, and saying he wanted to be friends.

Which is what I’ve always wanted – for this to end nicely. Is it possible I’m going to get what I want? I guess we’ll see. I still feel like he’s trying to manipulate me from his texts…

* * *

Oh yeah, so I went to Cambodia and Laos. And Hong Kong, where at a bar (and after several hours of chatting) I snogged the most gorgeous English expat, which was fantastic for my ego. (Then he didn’t text, which was not so great for my ego.) Can I just say I have never ever ever been the girl who ends up with the hottest guy in the bar and it was really fun?

As for the weight: I struggled with food and exercise out there. It was insanely hot and I didn’t have loads of control over what I ate and whether I could get any exercise. I also was having some, erm, digestive system issues, which made me feel huge and bloated in the heat. All of this made me rather panicky, to the point where I wanted to jump on the luggage scale at the airport in Luang Prabang, just to check. (I didn’t.) And despite my request for new batteries (granted), I still couldn’t get the scale in my hotel room in Hong Kong to work.

But I’ve been 10 stone 6/10 stone 7 (146/147 lbs) for the past couple of days, so apparently I lost a couple of pounds out there. I had some cake with icing Saturday night, and some drinks here and there so I’m not sure how long I’ll stay here, or if it’s possible to stay here, especially with my sister and aunt arriving for four days on Friday. My goal is not to obsess – to eat the way I have been eating, and to just let the scale land wherever it does.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Postcard from Cambodia

Just a quick one, as the Internet connection here is poor:

I know I spend an awful lot of time thinking about food and weight and exercise, and sometimes I'm ashamed of it. After all, I am the person who managed to binge while covering the tsunami in Indonesia -- a place where there certainly wasn't much food. (For the record, I didn't take anyone else's -- just binged on some of the provisions I'd brought, and on my Singapore army rations, which were designed for men's calorie consumption needs, not mine.)

I've been to poor countries before, always overweight and/or bingeing, so maybe I was too busy stuffing down any shame. But here in Cambodia, I can't stop thinking about it. How frankly lucky I am to have a problem like needing to lose weight, and probably, how lucky I am that -- though it's been pretty crap lately -- my life is good enough that I have the luxury to worry about bingeing and putting on weight (plus the ability to procure the food to do so) and the resources to attempt to treat the problem.

I went to the gym in Phnom Penh -- I actually enjoy going to local gyms (as opposed to hotel gyms) to see what's on offer. (In Madrid I once took a fantastic samba aerobics class, not to mention learned a lot of very interesting vocabulary.) It cost two American dollars to go there in a tuk-tuk, and my tuk-tuk driver was perfectly happy to sit outside the gym and wait (at no extra charge) in the 40 degree hit-with-a-hot-wet-towel-humid heat for me to come out and pay two dollars to go back to my hotel.

On the elliptical trainer in the lovely air conditioning, I felt like more of a pampered swell than I've ever felt at any spa. I thought about how absolutely crazy most of the people in this country -- 18 percent of whom live below the poverty line, and some scary number of whom live just at it -- would find it that I have to pay money to go somewhere special to expend energy because I eat too much. Or put more gently, because I like to eat and I can and do.

Today outside Siem Reap we drove past loads of small children (nearly half the population here is under 18), many of whom don't go to school because their parents can only afford to send one (and six children is the average here). Some -- no more than age 5 or 6 -- were carrying their younger brothers and sisters. Every time one disappeared from my sight, another child would appear. I watched and watched and watched, and then finally, I dug in my bag for a cereal bar. It was nearly 4 pm -- snacktime for me -- and I was hungry. And I felt ashamed.