Dating is full of highs and lows — in an increasingly isolated age, it feels hard for all single people out there. For fat or plus-size people, the trials of dating can be made more acute by navigating them in a body that much of Western culture projects extreme ideas of morality, health, and human worth onto. Politics of desirability may mean struggling to feel — or be treated — like you deserve a healthy relationship, even while being fetishized simultaneously. How to make sense of these challenging experiences dating as a fat person?
Let your dating experience inform your litmus tests
Fat people, like many other marginalized people, can face a range of microaggressions when dating. It can make the process of trying to meet someone exhausting and demoralizing beyond the usual reasons that dating can be hard; it’s one thing to not connect with someone, and it’s another thing to not connect with someone and also have them ask you if you’re sure you don’t want to order a salad.
For this reason, it’s completely fine and even advisable to respond to your dating experience by developing your litmus test(s) for potential dates. Notice what’s coming up for you most often, what makes you feel dehumanized or turned off, or what tends to indicate a date who doesn’t treat you well. Maybe it’s pick-up lines or “compliments” that are overly fixated on your body type; maybe it’s coded language about fitness.
It can be difficult to give yourself permission to trust your instinct on these issues and turn someone down, especially if you’ve been conditioned to believe that you should be appreciative of any romantic attention — but it’s worth it to take ownership of your own dating experience and curate who makes you feel actively good. Some people choose to be proactive on this point; if you use dating apps, one option is including language declaring explicitly that you’re fat and/or don’t plan on losing weight in your profile, mostly to weed out people who would respond poorly to that at the very first stage.
Get clear & committed to your red flags
It’s a common myth that thin people aren’t attracted to fat people — but many thin people may be hesitant to navigate the social implications of openly dating a fat person, and this may translate into giving you treatment that’s less than you deserve.
For this reason, it’s important to be your own advocate and be ready to set and maintain boundaries at the first sign of disrespect or mistreatment. Take time to think about what important red flags are for you — unwillingness to introduce you to family and friends?
Disinterest in dates that don’t involve sex?
Some issues that may be red-flag-worthy may not be visible in the first weeks or months of dating someone — for instance, someone who may wish to pressure or manipulate you into unhealthy weight loss, or end up bodyshaming you, may not lead with these behaviors. It’s a good reason to have upfront and direct communication early on; don’t feel shy about asking dates directly about their values, where they see the relationship going, and what you can expect from them.
Don’t lose sight of your green flags
Dating can feel like endless dodging bullets (or bad matches); for fat people, this can go doubly so. In the process of trying to weed out people who don’t approach the opportunity to date you with the appreciation you deserve, it’s important not to lose sight of what you’re actually looking for in a relationship.
You deserve to be cared for, celebrated, and prioritized, and to have your emotional, relational, and sexual needs met. What does that look like for you? What are the concrete elements of your ideal relationship? Thinking about this question is how you determine your green flags — material characteristics or actions you’re looking for in a partner to signal their compatibility.
What makes you feel supported and listened to in a relationship — a partner who asks a lot of questions and engages in active listening?
What makes you feel desired and safe to be sexually free? Is it important to you that a partner has a healthy relationship with their own body/body image, so they aren’t projecting their internalized issues onto you? Make an actual list of these traits if possible, and date with an intentional mindfulness toward seeking these people out and noticing whether they can show up in these ways.
The hard part of relationships isn’t necessarily finding someone who wants to date you; sometimes, it’s more difficult to engage in the constant process of discernment about whether the person who wants to date you can actually give you what you want and need — but it’s a crucial path toward the relationship you want.