I have always felt uncomfortable with my height when it comes to romance.
We are who we are in part because of how we’re built and in part because of what we experience and how we experience it. I’m 5’10″ and I experience the world from a vantage point a few inches above that of the average woman. Whether or not I notice a difference depends…
I can be less choosy of my seat in a movie theater and I never have an issue reaching for a bottle of olive oil on the top shelf at the store, but in high school, it was hard to hear the conversation when walking with two shorter friends through the noisy halls between bells.
I’m sensitive, too, to how my body looks and feels—specifically, how it looks and feels against a man of similar or smaller stature. I’ve dated shorter men; I’ve dated taller men and either way, I dated them because I liked them. That said, I have always felt a little uncomfortable—at times, a lot uncomfortable—with my height, when it came to romance.
I don’t believe that it’s entirely a social construct that has made a standard of the taller-male, smaller-female couple. Women are usually just built a little less than men. Maybe it’s the common reinforcement that this is the only way, the right way—not unlike the reinforcement that a hetero-normative union is the only and right way-that influences the way I feel. Rarely is another pair presented as an option.
I grew up with references limited to male-female romances, the woman always shorter and daintier than her partner. Books, movies, parents in my hometown, couples in my high school-everything was exemplary of the big boy, small girl gold standard.
I worried a bit, as a teenager, that my height would keep me from finding someone to chase, that it would keep anyone from finding me worthy of chasing. I’m tall, for a girl, and I recognized that while it meant good things for me in sports and grocery stores, my height also meant I’d spend some time outside the social mainstream.
There were a lot of reasons I didn’t date in high school, but it was easy to attribute my lack of a teenaged love life to physical, visible traits. The girls with love lives were petite, and the guys they hooked weren’t all that brawny, either. I felt like a windmill.
When things did start to happen for me, I compared myself to the person I was with and if romance failed (either to endure or even to begin) I wondered if it had to do with how I looked.
I have never cared to look at the new flames of old beaus, partly because I knew I’d feel rotten if those new girlfriends turned out to be pixies. It always hurt to see a college crush toting a tiny female accessory around, the monolith of my body casting a paradoxically unnoticeable shadow on his heart.
It’s been nine years since my first kiss. I’ve never thought that love was reliant upon anatomy, and I carry a little torch for the nontraditional couples out there. As long as love is true, it’s okay.
However, I have had a hard time convincing myself that the same is true for me. My beliefs about love unbound to size or gender apply to everyone but me. It’s hard for me to stare down a physical emotional connection and resist, but my shield of self-doubt is strong. I struggle to let myself love and be loved if there’s a possibility of my body getting in the way.
The man I’m in love with now is my height, smaller boned, bigger muscled, with smaller calves and bigger hands. He has 30 pounds on me, but it’s not enough, and sometimes the fear and shame of being the tall one, the big one (and don’t get me started on being the fat one) overwhelm me, leaving my heart shredded by nasty taunts and judgments.
Yesterday when a couple came into work while I was there. I was half-focused on people watching in the store and half-focused on the task in front of me. I was restocking a display of peaches when these folks caught my eye. Couples come into work all the time. Sometimes I notice and sometimes I don’t, but this one was remarkable.
The woman wore a striped skirt, girly flats and clunky black glasses; her boyfriend wore similar specs, and was appealing in a quiet-looking, fashionably nerdy sort of way. He was cute. She was…tall. Tall in a way that made me seem average. She was pretty, noticeable anyway, but with her arm around her boyfriend, she was beautiful. I loved to see her in love, shopping with her partner, hand in hand. Seeing that pair reminded me that what’s common is not all that there is.
I’ve met perfect couples in which the man looms over the woman, but I’ve met perfect couples, too, where the man is the waif and his partner is built and toned. I’ve met perfect couples lacking a man at all.
Of course I can’t know the guy and girl work well in every way, not after a mere glance over a display of fruit, but last night, in my head—they were perfect.
Frances Killea is a perpetual motion machine. She currently writes from Cleveland, Ohio. You can reach her at [email protected].
Editor: Olga Feingold