Body image can be a false front. (Johanna Goodman, For the…)
The first thing people often said when I told them that I, single and 30, was moving to Los Angeles: "Aren't you worried about dating? They're even worse out there than they are here."
Implicit in this statement was a reminder that I was already too fat to captivate quality New York men. Did I really want to punish myself further by trying to find a husband in L.A.?
When I hit 35, I decided it was time to venture online. On dating sites, where one can control one's image with the precision of a world-class branding firm, I could lead with "I'm not skinny." I could ensure that I'd never find myself in a position to be humiliated by a fat-phobic jerk.
I've been as skinny as Fat Jennifer Lopez and as fat as Skinny Queen Latifah. When it came to building my profile, there was one serious problem: I looked better — OK, thinner — in photographs than I did in real life. Whether because of some fluke of bone architecture or a natural ability to "find my light," as Tyra Banks would say, it meant that I was built to over-promise and under-deliver.
I chose photos that made me look more goofy than glamorous and went hipster-idiosyncratic with a dash of sincerity for my personal essay. As every girl with weight issues knows, the foolproof method of self-protection is to beat the crap out of yourself before someone else has a chance.
I got a surprising number of bites on what was a low-key, decidedly unglamorous profile. But as I scrolled through the guys who'd expressed interest in me, I felt nothing but disappointment.
Just when I was ready to give up (it had been a whole week, after all), the site OkCupid suggested a handsome cookie jar designer from Tustin, user name BroccoliMustDie. I sent him a message. "93% match!" I said. "Too bad you live in a city of which I've never heard."
He responded with 500 hilarious words about being a fish out of water in the county of Orange, describing one piece of local architecture as "gaudy, designed presumably to evoke the refined opulence of a Roman palace, but instead coming off like something you might see in a particularly low-rent gay porn." I fell for him immediately.
We spoke for the first time to make dinner plans. Discussing options, he casually dropped that he was "off sugar."
"I'm training for a half marathon," he said.
My gut plummeted. Off sugar. Oh, God. I knew this man was too good to be true. Half marathon? He hadn't said anything about being a runner on his profile. If he had, I would have written him off after imagining myself sweaty and red-faced, struggling to keep up on the hike that headlined his fantasy date.
I considered canceling, but before making any rash decisions, I needed more information.
We became Facebook friends. I prowled through his photos and discovered someone who looked nothing like him. In one picture that both disarmed and unnerved me, he was climbing a statue of a giant sloth, carrying a purse. His was not the body of a marathon runner.
I scrolled through the photos he'd been tagged in and found a bearded man twice the size of the clean-shaven guy in the OkCupid profile. BroccoliMustDie had lost weight. A lot.
For our first date, at the Beverly Boulevard restaurant Jar, he picked me up in a Nissan Cube, a cookie jar on wheels. When we got out of the car, I noticed his shoes were too big. Maybe it hadn't occurred to him that when your clothing gets smaller, so does your shoe size.
At dinner, I noticed how careful he was about eating. He kept apologizing for it. His body was like a regular thin person's, but his posture wasn't. He hunched his shoulders forward in a permanent shrug, the way a chubby high school kid might to cover his belly.
In his sheepishness, I saw myself, and my heart broke a little.
After dinner, we returned to my apartment in Beachwood Canyon, one-tenth of a Disney-ish castle underneath the Hollywood sign. I grew sort of embarrassed when he started talking about his half marathon training and regaled him with all sorts of self-deprecating "jokes" that were really apologies for my body.
Sitting next to him, drinking mint tea and leaving a plate of ginger cookies untouched, I asked if it was OK to broach the weight issue. He said sure, and suddenly we were having the conversation I feared most.
"Did you feel awful about yourself when you were fat?" I asked him.
"Not really," he said. "I didn't start losing weight out of self-hatred. I just felt like I wanted a change."
"Well, even when you were heavy, you were still really handsome," I said, feeling liberated enough to flirt.
"I've never thought of myself as handsome," he said, and I could feel his vulnerability as deeply as my own.
BroccoliMustDie and I have been together more than a year now. This week I moved in with him. But lest you think I've learned from his weight-loss example and gotten down to a size 8 once and for all, know that feeling so comfortable and happy has led me to put on weight, not lose it.
Recently, he told me that he hadn't really liked my photos on OkCupid all that much.
"You're much prettier in real life."
DiLiberto, formerly an editor and a Hollywood correspondent for InStyle and the Boston Globe, writes celebrity memoirs. L.A. Affairs chronicles dating, romance and relationships. Past columns are archived at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have a story to tell, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.