Sunday, 26 April 2009

Otherwise Engaged

Email this morning from my best (male) friend from college: “I don’t have a Facebook page, so I just wanted to let you know that [Glitter Nail Polish Chick] and I got engaged.”

I guess I don’t have to tell you how I feel about Glitter Nail Polish Chick – the name says it all, doesn’t it?

A bit of history: For years I had a crush on this guy. He had a long-distance relationship with his high school girlfriend that was never quite right, and the two of us would spend hours together, often staying up all night talking. I spent my college years thinking we were perfect for each other -- and convinced if I were thinner he would figure it out.

I graduated; he didn’t. (He’s one of the smartest people I know, but he was a bigger procrastinator than I was and – I think the following didn’t help – his parents had much deeper pockets than mine. I struggled – both financially, and against my parents’ wishes – to attend the university I did.) The summer after graduation he came to see me in Washington DC. He’d broken up with the girlfriend; I’d lost a bit of weight. We walked around DC for hours and ended up in a bar in Georgetown, dancing and kissing. He left DC and we’d spend hours on the phone every day.

Things fell apart almost instantly.

I went with some friends to Homecoming that September. He was there, doing a fifth year and trying to graduate. I hadn’t told him I was coming – childishly, I wanted him to ask me to be there. He never did.

I called him when I arrived. I was the thinnest I’d ever been at that point – thanks to a starvation diet of peaches and running -- and I remember shivering in the pre-autumn upstate New York chill. He gave me his leather jacket; I loved feeling small in it.

We sat in a diner and he told me he’d had his first date with Glitter Nail Polish Chick that night. She worked at the college newspaper with us, and I remember his snide comments about her the previous year – including (don’t ask me why I remember this) the VPL she had with one spectacularly unfortunate pair of white trousers she wore.

For their date, they’d gone to a movie and for frozen yogurt, and then -- I can still hear his voice saying this -- "we kissed," he said. I think I pretended I didn’t care, but I’m sure I didn’t fool him. One of my good friends says I’m like a small child – you can see everything I’m feeling on my face, despite my best efforts to hide it.

This was almost 13 years ago. He’s gone on to be an enormously successful and well respected writer, and – with about a six-month blip about 10 years ago when we didn’t speak because I found it too painful -- we’ve stayed friends.

In recent years – except in moments when my life seems empty of prospect – I’ve stopped thinking about him as anything but my friend. The old feelings disappeared agonizingly slowly. He was like a disease for which I didn’t ever quite finish the antibiotics – a tiny bit of it would be left, and as soon as I thought it had all gone away, it would come back full-strength, and even harder to fight than before.

He came to London in December on assignment. Two weeks before I’d found out I was losing my job. We talked about his work and when he was going to get engaged – a subject we’d covered before. In some bar with a late license in Exmouth Market, I told him a little bit about BN2 and his eyes widened. “You can’t go back to him. Promise me you won’t go back to him.”

We talked all night until he had to leave for the airport. I went home, exhausted and hating what a sad wreck I felt like – no job, crappy boyfriend, far from home. I hated his feeling sorry for me.

When I read the engagement news, I didn’t feel great pain. I’ve spent a couple of years anticipating it, and I thought I’d feel sad at the thought of one door closed to me for good. I don’t, and in some ways, that’s a relief.

But again I feel this great sadness of watching someone else’s life move forward – a ship pulling out of the port while I’m waving forlornly from the pier.

I’m going to be 34 in three weeks. I’ve got to get out. I dread it and I fear it – actually doing it, and the aftermath. We’re supposed to take a trip to Venice for his mother’s 60th birthday at the end of May – a trip I ended up doing a lot of the organizing of, because I’ve been there so many times -- and I feel guilty at the thought of ruining that; guilty that I think she chose it because I knew it so well. I feel guilty about how much time I spend in BN2’s presence, thinking about how and when I’m going to leave. Whatever my feelings about what I owe him (and for some reason, I think I do), it is slowly sinking in that I don’t owe him being this unhappy.

* * *

BN2 hates my abrupt shifts of gear – especially when I, prattle on “like a teenager at a slumber party” (his words last week) -- and so would criticize me sharply for moving from weighty subjects to, erm, weight.

I got on the scale Wednesday or Thursday: 144 lbs. That’s 89 pounds down. 140 was always my don’t-even-dare-to-dream weight – my ideal weight on those miserable height-weight tables that taunted me as a child.

Reaching 150 was a shock to me, so I certainly never thought I’d get below it without starving (I’m not). Earlier this week I’d thought about writing a post about when it is one decides to stop losing weight, but I’m not quite sure I’m there yet – either in my head or in the number on the scale or how I look.

Because I love numbers and all things mathematical and symmetrical and perfect, my head is saying: Let’s go for an even 100 pounds lost. My head also knows this is an extremely bad idea. It’s easy and familiar for me to get caught up in weight loss goals when the rest of my life seems tough and like I’m not achieving much. A little cutting here; a little cutting there – this I know how to do. And a little cutting and suddenly you’re me, teleported back in time to the Summer of a Thousand Peaches, aka starvation. Which leads directly to bingeing.

I’m reasonably happy with the amount of food I can consume – I eat a good 2,000 calories per day (600 per meal plus two 200-calorie snacks, and I’ve reached the point where I don’t obsess too much about going slightly over). I exercise 5-6 days per week, hard, but not in excessive amounts. And mostly, I enjoy it.

Since I’m OK as I am – and because I hate change – I’m going to keep things as they are for now. I’m going to need this part of my life to be easy and familiar while I try to make changes in other parts. So it’s decided: I’ll keep things as they are until June 1 (arbitrary date) and then reevaluate. If I keep losing weight, great. If I don’t, that’s fine (I think). And if I start putting some on – well, that’s a whole other problem.

Thanks for listening. Leave a comment with your address and I’ll put your payment for therapy in the mail.*

* A joke, in case that wasn’t clear. Though feel free to comment!

Friday, 17 April 2009


First, an apology for the bitty-ness (bittiness?) of late. I’m struggling with some difficult decisions of the sort that cannot be summarized neatly (or even messily) in a blog entry. There is too much history, and frankly, too much present. And I am so very, very tired.

I need to do something about BN2. I know that I do. And yet I can’t. I am a reasonably intelligent 33-year-old woman who survived life perfectly fine without a boyfriend until BN2 came along. In fact, I think I survived better. I said to him several months ago – with the sort of honesty I am increasingly less inclined to, given the results it’s brought thus far – that I wasn’t myself around him. I’m not sure I’m myself around anyone these days. Who am I? I’m not sure I recognize this person who… this person who is too embarrassed to finish the sentence because it isn’t pretty.

A friend got engaged today and I felt – reader, I am ashamed to say – an overwhelming dose of self pity. Her life is moving forward and mine, it seems, is moving back. I know that the longer I stay in this relationship the more damage it is doing, and the longer it will take to recover and maybe, just maybe, find my own happy ending.

Why is it that I cannot just say: “I am unhappy. I’m leaving”? Why do I think I need a smoking gun to leave – something I can point to that is so glaring and awful that of course I would be justified in leaving? (A couple of friends who’ve heard my stories would say that he’s already given me plenty of justification.) Why do I feel the need to have external sources (my friends, my counsellor) ratify my feelings? As a good friend said at dinner the other night: “It doesn’t matter if other people think what he did wasn’t normal. [I was asking her opinion on an incident that has disturbed me deeply.] You were hurt by his behavior, and that’s all that matters.”

I fear the emptiness and the loneliness. I fear the unstructured days with not enough work – or not challenging enough work – to take my mind off things.

And yet. Last night BN2 insisted on a night apart (something he never does, which made me instantly suspicious). I didn’t want to sit in my horrible messy little flat and I wasn’t sure who to call: Frankly, I’ve cancelled on so many friends at the 11th hour (see “who is this person?” above) because of him and some fight or another that I’ve been feeling isolated. (A vicious circle…) And around midday, I got an email from a casual acquaintance I’ve met up with a couple of times. I’d emailed her a couple of days ago about a 10k I’m planning to run (the British 10k, in case anyone else is doing it) to see if she wanted to join. She wrote back saying if I wasn’t doing anything that night, I should come up to Hampstead for drinks with she and some friends.

I thought then of a conversation I’d had with my counsellor, about my need to over-control things because I fear not getting what I need. (Or because I fear there won’t be enough.) Because of my Troubled Childhood (capitals to show I am aware this phrase is somewhat ludicrous when most people would consider it privileged), I grew up believing the universe was not a benevolent place – that I’d have to fight to survive, and that I could only count on myself.

“You need to let go a little and trust that you’ll get what you need,” my counsellor told me.

Last night wasn’t a remarkable night – it was some banter with four other people at a (ok, slightly remarkably cute) pub. As we left the moonlight on the damp cobblestone path made it look otherworldly – not out of place in a Harry Potter or Twilight ad, frankly. It certainly seemed like another world to me – one in which I had, just a tiny bit, started to trust.

Friday, 10 April 2009


I have a plaster on my left index finger from a zipper injury.

I haven’t had a zipper injury since before November 2006, when I began This Thing I’m Doing. (Or lard-busting, as Shauna would call it. Has it really been over two years? I can hardly believe it.) I used to have them all the time, accidentally gouging the skin on my index finger when trying to zip up too-tight jeans/trousers/dresses. When times were particularly desperate – when said jeans/trousers/dress was the only thing in my closet close to fitting – I could do such damage to my finger it would take days to heal. And the injury would smart when I typed and when anything touched it, reminding me throughout the day what a fat pig I was – that I’d eaten my way out of fitting into a single thing I owned.

It was grim.

Today’s injury was from trying to zip the damn £7 Temperley dress. It fit once, when I tried it on in the morning, before I ate anything. Now I’ve become slightly obsessed with it (you would, too, if you were sitting at your computer, procrastinating on writing two stories you wish you’d never pitched in the first place). Not good. I was doing just fine carrying along as I have been – don’t need to start getting into the cutting back here and there behavior that will no doubt lead (do not stop, do not pass go) directly to a binge. I’ve vowed not to try it on again until May 1. If it doesn’t fit then, I’ll either investigate letting it out a bit or eBay it.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Tea and Sympathy

So I survived the sister-and-aunt visit without any massive fights or bingeing. (To be fair, I never feared the aunt, only the sister…)

My sister behaved almost entirely as predicted. She quizzed me about my food, my weight (the actual number) and my exercise. She asked me – in a tone I cannot describe, except to say how much I loathe it – if I were “still bingeing.” She glowered and sulked when – at a boutique off Portobello Road – the designer told me I so suited the pencil skirt and corset top I tried that he’d give me a discount because he thought it would be good for business for me to walk around in it. (Really, I’m not making this up. I couldn’t believe it myself. Even if it was just idle flattery I still appreciated it.) My sister withdrew further when the stylist suggested she also try on the outfit. My sister didn’t say it didn’t fit, but her face when she came out of the dressing room was enough. It reminded me so exactly of her face at the academic awards ceremony my senior year of high school, where the announcer joked at one point that I needed roller skates since I had to come up to the stage so often. The evening – for me – was ruined.

Seeing my aunt – my father’s younger sister -- was painful for another reason. She’s almost always been varying degrees of overweight (except for a stint in the 80s, I think it was, when she took black beauties), but I don’t remember her ever being this heavy: a size 26/28. It was difficult for her to move, and although I was never quite that heavy, I recognized the fear in her face almost everywhere we went. She worried about having the right clothes for the events I took them to (among them, drinks at a private members’ club and the prĂȘt-a-portea at the Berkeley), knowing perfectly well that she wouldn’t be able to pop out and buy another outfit anyway. After hearing me rave about it, she asked specifically to be taken to Rigby & Peller for a fitting, but I could tell by the nervous jokes she was making that she was terrified she’d be humiliated by them not stocking her size. She was relieved when they did, but the euphoria quickly dissipated when I took her to Duo Boots to be measured for knee-high black boots. But her feet were just too wide for the styles she liked.

Then there was her behavior around food, which pained me only because I remember so well trying to do it myself. She was careful to choose healthy options, she never finished anything, and she’d remove the top layer of bread from her sandwiches. I’d say I ate at least 50 percent more than her at every single meal. (When I was overweight, I always tried to moderate my eating in front of other people, but lots of times I just couldn’t. I’d try to mentally cut my portion in half or leave a few bites over and then think grumpily: Well, they know from my size that what I’m eating now isn’t all I’m eating. And then I’d eat more.)

She talked about watching an episode of Dr Phil – or maybe it was an Oprah on which Dr. Phil appeared, and how scornful he was of a very overweight lady, telling her: “Look what you’ve done to yourself.” She says she looks at herself and thinks the same thing, and knows her ex-husband (she’s just gotten divorced) thinks the same thing. And she spoke about how she’s sure my father deliberately leaves her out of the frame when he’s taking pictures.

She said this last bit calmly, matter-of-factly, over Louboutin Pigalle shoe iced butter biscuits and Smythson maze bag banana cake at the Berkeley Hotel. It would be a lie to say it took my appetite away, but it did make me extra-careful about what I was eating. (I’d vowed that – although the tea is unlimited – I’d only have one of each kind of cake.) I don’t want to go back to the place that she’s in.

* * *

Public service announcement: Thornton’s white chocolate Easter eggs are utterly tasteless. Don’t bother. Also, Waitrose’s Bramley apple hot cross buns don’t taste like they’ve even slept next to an apple.

* * *

BN2 and I have been seeing each other, and I don’t want to go there right now except to say that I am seriously wary. I think it’s a sign that when we were walking by the charity shop on my corner and I spotted a £7.99 size 10 Temperley dress in the window – yes, I too thought that designer labels at charity shops were an urban myth – he said he’d never seen me look so excited.