“Oh. My. God! Your arms,” the waiter boomed, loud enough the patrons at the surrounding tables turned to judge my biceps for themselves.
“How much do you bench? No, seriously! How many strict pull-ups can you do?”
Across the table, my date shifted uncomfortably back and forth in his seat. I could see him weighing the rules of chivalry in the 21st century, not quite sure if he was supposed to intervene on my behalf, especially since I’d known him less than 60 seconds at this point. The server, a bear of a man with a beard, barrel chest, and muscled arms, turned to my fit-but-not-imposing 5’8″ date, and promptly made the situation even more awkward.
“Don’t worry, buddy, she’s all yours. I can just appreciate a fit woman.”
“I was worried I’d have to arm wrestle you,” the date laughed nervously, desperately looking for way to be a gentleman and also not get his ass kicked.
“I’ll have an Old Fashioned, please,” I interrupted.
It’s Like an Experiment, Right?
It took a long bout of singleness (not an illness, surprisingly), zero in-person date offers, and a couple of margaritas before I finally caved and let one of my friends download Bumble and Tinder for me. I slogged around the apps unmotivated and uninterested, mostly swiping when I was bored on her couch. We convinced ourselves it’s basically a giant crowdsourced social experiment, and who the hell are we to deny science, anyways?
I previously rejected online dating out of hand, convinced it was a shallow realm of desperation and hookups. My inner frontier-minded Montanan was convinced it was inevitable a “real” man would eventually ask me out, braving the possibility of rejection in person. That just never happened, but I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to sitting on bar stools with makeup on, or asking my friends to hook me up with their eligible bachelor networks. My short-lived foray into online dating pretty much boiled down to convenience.
Thankfully, I’ve been mostly proven wrong about online dating. While my experiences have ranged from a few great dates to … let’s call them “niche” requests (no, Sirs, I won’t send photos of my feet), it’s given me a pretty good idea of what’s out there.
“When you are dating online, you actually have a very clear idea of what the marketplace is like,” Ms. Carbino said. “You are able to have a visual idea of the pool in front of you, whereas the people who aren’t dating online are simply speculating as to what the pool may be like.”
I’ve made it a point to talk about my experiences therein, because (A) it helped me realize just how many of my friends / athletes / peers are on these things, and they usually have some aaaahhhh-mayyyy-ziiiing stories to swap. Hilarity and relief ensues. We can laugh about the unfathomable number of fishing trophy photos and gym selfies on this thing. (B) I know my friends / athletes / peers will see me on said apps and I don’t want to act like it’s a secret, because then it feels like I’m sneaking or doing something wrong. (No, I don’t date my athletes. No exceptions.) (C) I’m normalizing it. I don’t like feeling like I’m doing something wrong, even though most societal norms tell single women they’re doing everything wrong, especially when it comes to dating and being datable. Eff. That.
Are You Seriously Bitching About Being Fit?
Let’s cut this off at the pass. I know complaining about being “fit” is absolutely ridiculous, believe me. This is the world we live in. Really, ask anyone who’s not conventionally thin, and you’re going to encounter the same themes in dating.
I’d better qualify what I mean when I say “fit”.
What I don’t mean: A look. I don’t mean “fit” like your body looks like it could be on the cover of Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition or Shape Magazine without offending anyone. I don’t mean “fit” like you got your workouts from a Pinterest graphic with the text superimposed over a closeup of a sweaty six-pack. If you think “fit” and think of fitness models or celebrities, we are not talking about the same thing.
What I mean: Werk, bitch. I mean “fit” like your body is capable of getting shit done. Work capability. Lifting very heavy things. Running very long mileage. Jumping high, pulling and pushing, throwing. You could be counted on to do manual labor in a pinch. Your thighs might take up more space than is thought to be conventionally beautiful. You might need to use a callous razor to obtain hands people actually want to handshake without gagging. Body fat is just a thing, not THE thing.
Clearly, dating is just kind of hard and weird and awkward AF, no matter how you’re going about it. And it always has been, even as body ideals have changed.
Thanks to the blogosphere, we get a constant check-in of different perspectives of the quest for love. We know it’s a tough time to date when you’re curvy, when you’re a goddamn model, and even when you’re a world class athlete.
Three-time CrossFit Games athlete Emily Abbott received this message from a delightful man named Dave:
Remember, for a moment, Dave had to purposely match with her in order to go out of his way to send those messages. He went out of a way to be a dick and question her femininity, which is a ballsy move for a man with long hair.
So yeah, whatever skin you live in, you have to put it out there and hope you don’t match with a-holes like that who are just looking to be mean.
Swipe, Swipe, Swipe
Every once in a while, someone won’t do their homework and they’ll show up on a date with me. There’s the date who tried to convince me — “no offense to your amazing physique,” he said– that CrossFit “just doesn’t work”. Huh. There’s the seemingly lovely conversation I had with a local entrepreneur, who later told one of my friends my “traps were intimidating”. The inquisitive dude who asked me so many questions about deadlifting that I almost sent him an invoice afterwards. Last but not least, the hapless chap who sent me numerous photos of him flexing his biceps in the mirror because he thought it would get him into my spandex.
In the emotionally laziest of ways, online dating mostly shields me from body rejection. Most of my current photos are of me in a fitness setting, so I can put it right out there: “See? I do ‘manly’ things like handle barbells. I have what have been described as “linebacker shoulders” and an ass! Is that okay with you? Boob dudes, just move along.” And move along many do. I get to remain blissfully ignorant of the rejections I’ve received.
All this makes me aware of how apologetic about my body I’ve been IRL at times, like there was something to make up for because my figure has the audacity to exist in its current form. Like someone is going to have to like me in spite of my body.
“I’m so sorry I have thick thighs, but I swear I’m a great trivia partner!”
“I’m going to sweat my ass off wearing a dress with sleeves in Florida in June because I can’t take one more fucking underhanded compliment about my shoulders!”
“There’s no way that dude I like would be into me because he looks like he needs to be with someone who’s blonder and smaller.”
And oh man, that’s some buuuuullllshit. I consider myself to have pretty solid, healthy body image. But clearly I have some work to do on how I talk to myself.
We’d had a lovely dinner with polite banter, but it was clear there weren’t any romantic sparks flying. Any date that isn’t terrible, I chalk up to a win. It had been nice to get to know a new person. My date stepped away to the bathroom after taking the check.
The waiter descended upon the table, “Is that your boyfriend?”
“First date,” I leveled with him.
“Oh, God. Tell me it’s not a Tinder date or something like that,” he rolled his eyes.
“Uh, well. Yes. It is a Tinder date,” I responded.
“You wouldn’t believe how many of those I’ve seen even just tonight,” the server gruffed, clearly viewing us lowly online daters from the self righteous side of the fence.
“Yes,” I responded. “I think I probably would.” I turned to say farewell to my approaching date.
With that, I gathered up my purse and stepped out of the restaurant. I summoned an Uber to go home, luxuriate in my alone time, and take off the bra that was digging into my lats.