I dislike my body. I haven’t always felt this way, but I’ve also never liked my body either. The best relationship I’ve had with it was a kind of neutral unawareness. There was a time when my body was just something I happened to inhabit, a means to youthful ends. As a child, that’s all the thought I gave it.
As I got older, I became uncomfortably aware of my body and its many faults. I hated that I was fat, that my cheeks were always red, that I sweated like crazy, that my skin was weird and bumpy, etc. I’d use my nails to scrape away my skin, but there’d always be another layer of myself underneath: just as rough, but redder and more sensitive. I convinced myself that I was so disgusting that no one would ever want to touch me or let me touch them. I was an incel in the making (vomit).
My first real physical contact came when I was 22. I met my online girlfriend in New York City, and we were sitting in the backseat of a taxi. She was wearing a skirt; I placed my hand on her thigh. I’ll never forget how smooth her skin felt. But that only amplified my own feeling of self-disgust, and the contrast between the two was so overwhelming that I started to sob. I lost my virginity to that girlfriend in a hotel room with the lights off.
“I really miss that personal contact. It was the one thing that calmed me when I got stressed. It just felt humanizing . . . daddy horny, Michael.” George Bluth Sr. to his son, Michael Bluth. Arrested Development, S01E06
Even though I had finally found a level of physical acceptance, my views on my body didn’t change. I just learned that most people won’t notice how rough and weathered my skin is when they’re making out with me. I always notice, that and all of the other things, but I try not to focus on it.
What did change is that I decided to enter the world of online dating. I’ve wanted different things at various points in my dating life, but the foundation that those wants are built on is always a desire to touch another person. Here’s how that’s played out recently:
Girl #1 was the most serious relationship that I’d had in a long time. A lot of our free time was spent watching TV, but when we did, she would always bundle herself up at the end of the couch. It was impossible to cuddle with or even sit next to her. We said that we loved each other, but that small act of being physically unavailable made me feel ugly and undesirable.
My relationship with Girl #2 was much more casual, but also much more physically intimate. And that’s not code for having more sex, it just means that we both enjoyed physical contact. The two months that we were together was one of the happiest times of my life. I cried when it ended, of course. I tried to explain that I wasn’t crying because a romantic relationship was ending (as I said, this was a casual thing), but because I knew it would be a long time before I had that level of physical comfort with anyone else. I don’t think she understood me, though.
Girl #3 is a coworker of mine. I’ve always thought she was pretty cute, and I suspected that she liked me too, but I never acted on those beliefs. That was true until a few weeks ago, when we were having a going-away party for her at a bar. She was drunk by the time I showed up and I quickly got tipsy too. I resolved not to do anything that would make work awkward for the weeks between her going-away party and her actual going away. I also am not dating for the foreseeable future, so I didn’t want to lead her on.
Then she leaned against me, so I put my arm around her waist.
I don’t think I will ever be able to describe just how much I enjoy putting my arm around a person. There’s a sense of comfort and acceptance so powerful that it always makes me smile. And it had been so long since I last felt that. But anyway, I wrapped my arm around her, so she turned to lean into me, and then she looked me in the eyes. The nearness of her, the warmth of her body against mine was greater than my resolve could hold off, so we kissed,
I instantly regretted it. Not because the kiss was bad, but because we had done it in front of several coworkers. And because I was pretty sure I’d have to find a way to explain to her that I’ve banned myself from dating without hurting her. Unfortunately, I don’t think I did a very good job of that. And of course, a lot of people at work kept asking her about what happened. She would later tell me she was “just traumatized lol” because everyone knew we had kissed. Great job, Zac.
Touch, I remember touch.
Pictures came with touch.
A painter in my mind,
Tell me what you see.
Daft Punk, “Touch”, Random Access Memories.
So here’s how things currently stand: I am desperate for touch. But I’ve also self-imposed a moratorium on dating, so my opportunities for that are very limited. It’s a pretty miserable place to be, but I’ve decided that it’s a type of misery I can feel some control over, which I prefer to the alternative.