The lady in the street

NUTELLA!
NUTELLA!

Four years ago, I had a short-lived but substantial binge eating problem. I’ve been thin all my life, but that shifted slightly in 2008, the summer before things really got out of hand. Right before junior year of college, I was living and interning in D.C., which was humid, hot, and totally unusual for me. I wasn’t used to working eight-hour days or the buttoned up look of the East Coast, so I took more comfort than ever before in food, often eating lunch at 11, snacking throughout the afternoon, and overindulging at dinner, the highlight of my day. My stomach expanded and suddenly I was having multiple servings of food for each meal plus dessert every night. Various friends and acquaintances noticed I was getting heftier, but it wasn’t until the following summer that I totally lost control of my stress eating habits.

I spent summer 2009 in Paris, where I was studying abroad with an intensive college program through the University of Arizona. As much as I enjoyed seeing the city and getting to know my host family (which I documented in my study abroad blog here), I felt trapped and cheated by the endless restrictions and rules of the program. Though I admired the woman in charge, a native Parisian, we clashed and fought. On one occasion, I actually yelled back at her, much to the surprise of my classmates. She sparred with pretty much every single one of them, and they all trash talked her constantly. Even when we weren’t getting along as a unit, we could all join in solidarity of our mutual disagreement with the way she was running the show. We’d joke that her French background made her so difficult and unpleasant to be around, but in retrospect, I regret making her out to be a high-strung, bullying coordinator. She had to manage a dozen college students who wanted to party and drink up for an entire summer. That would make anyone a little hostile, and rightfully so. I would have been a lot meaner than this woman, as I’m just not cut out for that kind of job. Nevertheless, she and I hated each other, and my big escape was French food.

I devoured anything I could get my hands on: baguettes, white bread, Nutella, cucumber soup, cold tomato soup, fois gras, chocolate, pasta, ham, chips, the list is endless. I couldn’t feel myself gaining weight, but I noticed it in photos after posting them to Facebook.

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Once I was back in the states, I had to buy a new wardrobe, but rather than purchase several pairs of jeans and shorts, I decided to exercise all day. I would log in hours on the treadmill and leave the gym with bruises all over my body and aching limbs. I couldn’t even get out of bed some mornings due to the pain I’d brought upon myself. I lost five pounds in less than two weeks, but still went back to college significantly heavier than I’d been the previous semester.

After I started editing for the school paper, socializing at bars, and blogging again, I returned to my pre-France figure. I also stopped wanting to snack all the time. Eight hours at the college newspaper office will do that to you. How could I eat when I was so excited about everything else going on?

I’ve taken the “eat to live” approach to life ever since, and though I certainly feel better about the way I look now, the way I consume food has been hurting my relationships. I’ve recently been hanging out with a gentleman from the northeast, and though I can’t say for sure what’s going to happen, I worry that my lack of appetite is going to be a problem. The first time we met up, we migrated to a Mexican restaurant after a round of cocktails. I wasn’t hungry, as I’d had dinner earlier, and he assumed I didn’t like him because I barely touched the chips and salsa in front of us. This weekend, we had Swedish food and I took about 75% of my dinner home in a bag. I know it looks rude, but I swear I don’t try to be like that. I’m just not much of an eater anymore. I’d rather talk and sleep than eat, and I don’t engage with new people by eating heartily next to them. It’s not that I don’t want to eat in front of others — that’s never been a thing for me — I’m just not all that jazzed by food anymore.

I like being taken out for dinner and drinks, so hopefully I can find it within myself to acquire some of that appetite again — the appetite I had four and five years ago. My cheeks were rosy and I was borderline overweight for my 5’6 height, but people gravitated toward me because I ate whatever they put in front of me.

If someone really likes me, I won’t be written off for being a slow, mostly disengaged eater. My issue is that I like talking more than chewing, and with all this in mind, I do wonder if it’d be easier to just go back to the casual dating I was used to for so many years. A short while ago, a person with whom I’d been involved asked me to “come over” late at night, and literally a day later, he took another romantic interest to a wedding, at which he was a groomsman. There’s a classy way to date around, but that.isn’t.it, not for anyone, even the options you like most. Even so, this is how I saw it: A golden girl is flashed around like a shiny, overpriced Birkin bag while I’m shoved in a dark closet corner with dead mice, centipedes, and dust. Maybe I overreacted, but it felt like the biggest F You I’d ever received, and because I’d just been drinking on an empty stomach, I threw up all night, disgusted, sad, mad at myself, and gutted. I wasn’t in a good place to begin with having just lost my job, and then that. Such selling points for New York City, right? Thoughtless guys and a cutthroat workforce.

I ranted about the whole debacle to my buddy Adam, whose eloquent response went a little something like, “To paraphrase Ludacris, the other girl is the lady in the street and you’re the freak in the bed. She gets to be courted and all that’s left are the desperate, self-loathing requests for you.”

“But I am the lady in the street!” I yelled to Adam. “I wear flowers, headbands, and ice cream cone pins in my hair. What part of that image screams BOOTY CALL? Am I not good enough to be shown in public?”

“Laura, I was very attracted to you when we first met in D.C.,” he said of our introduction three years ago. “I’m sure normal, non-rotten douchebags would love to bring you to weddings.”

I took Adam’s advice and wound up seeing someone who, get this, text messages me DURING THE DAY EVERYDAY to see how I’m doing. Again, it could all blow up in my face and prompt me to write the next great Taylor Swift song, but I do appreciate being treated with respect by an accomplished, well-mannered young man for once, even if I’m now solely the lady in the street.

It’s odd that I have to be both extremes to people. One person sees me as the sludge on the sidewalk while the other is very polite but perhaps reading too much into my day-to-day behavior. Maybe I sought the former for so long because it was the only way to avoid being scrutinized for my peculiar antics. A guy you hook up with isn’t going to know you eat like a bird or watch shows such as Wilfred and New Girl on the weekends.

In my world and Ludacris’s, you’re either the lady in the street or the freak in the bed. Some are both, but if I had to choose, I’d go with number #1, even though I’m beginning to see it’s not as simple or easy as I once suspected. You may be wined and dined in the early evening, but when you go home, the same person who took you out might be booty calling another girl who has been wondering why he ignored her all summer. Does it suck more to be the one who gets asked for sex at 2 a.m. or the stupid female who actually thinks she means something to the guy that holds her hand in daylight?

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