My boyfriend, Drew, and I have been together for almost four years. Last year, we cracked open the door to our relationship because he has a fetish I cannot fulfill.
Drew is 29 years old and a trim 145 pounds. I am 24 and stopped weighing myself when I began eating disorder recovery. Jessica (not her real name), the woman with whom Drew had his first external date, is 44 years old and over 600 pounds. I know this information because it’s displayed proudly on her dating profile. “Do NOT feel sorry for me,” her bio states. “I’m very much into being super fat.”
When Drew introduced me to his fetish, I was mesmerized by the newness of it all. His kinks fall into the categories of feeder and fat admirer. As defined by the social network/dating site where Drew met Jessica, feeders are “men or women who like the idea or physical act of helping someone grow bigger,” and fat admirers are “men or women who are sexually and romantically attracted to partners who are chubby.”
I met Drew when I was 20, a time when my bouts of uncontrollable binging, purging, and subsequent restricting had grown to feel commonplace. I’d spent my adolescence and fledgling adulthood believing my obsession with food was the least attractive thing about me, so, when Drew finally disclosed his proclivities, it turned my reality upside down.
At first, I desperately wanted to make our unique situation work, to take this demon I’d been living with and use it for good ― to please my partner. Drew and I experimented with feeding but, unsurprisingly, it was not something in which I could find pleasure.
About six months after Drew first told me about his fetish, he lobbed the idea of an open relationship at me. I now know his intentions were honorable; he wanted to initiate a line of honest communication about exploring this facet of his sexuality, in ways he knew would be too triggering for me to try. Drew is my best friend and life partner ― someone I cherish with a gooeyness I did not know myself capable until meeting him. But his pitch for an open relationship was graceless, and I did not take it well.
I cried for what felt like 24 hours straight. I became host to a fear of inadequacy and abandonment issues that had lain dormant since puberty. I began grieving in surges for a relationship that was still very much intact. I agonized over all the ways I could have been more fun as a girlfriend. I drafted a melodramatic email to my therapist. I wondered if dying my hair platinum blond would help.
If Drew had wanted to pursue an open relationship for any reason other than his fetish, I don’t think I could have stomached it. The specificity of our situation provided a safety net. Because weight has always been where my ego gets tied up, the idea of Drew dating other women ― as long as they were fat ― didn’t seem so bad. The simple fact of body mass softened the blow of my boyfriend wanting to see other people. My perception was undeniably warped and problematic. But it was one instance in which the diet culture and thin ideal I’d spent my life worshipping had my back, protecting me from the Wild West of “if you love something, set it free.”
I wanted my partner to feel sexually liberated and liked the idea of sampling someone else’s desire for me. But I first had to surmount the gnawing belief that I wasn’t enough for my boyfriend.
Following his failed proposal, Drew let the notion of an open relationship lie ― assuming it was dead on arrival. I was the one who revived it. I wanted my partner to feel sexually liberated and liked the idea of sampling someone else’s desire for me. But I first had to surmount the gnawing belief that I wasn’t enough for my boyfriend.
Over the next few months, Drew and I discussed the concept of an open relationship to a pulp. We mapped out every possible outcome until seeing other people felt devoid of spontaneity. I made Drew tell me over and over that in no way did the fate of our relationship ride on my willingness to be open. Only then did the possibility seem safe enough to attempt.
On an evening in late July 2019, near the end of a heat wave that had infiltrated our apartment and turned the air oppressive, we agreed to move forward.
I downloaded Tinder, realized it had saved all my old matches, and promptly deleted Tinder. I joined OkCupid and spent a few weeks trying to ignite something in my messages. Though sleeping with strangers sounded alluring in concept, everyone I matched with felt too figmental and I couldn’t summon excitement for any of my prospects.
Though Drew and I decided to open our relationship for physical reasons, what I desired most was the opportunity to feel novelty ― a fickle sensation that tends to dissipate if you are lucky enough to find yourself in a lasting, stable relationship. For me, novelty is a midpoint between the physical and emotional. To be able to enjoy the physical, I needed to first form an emotional bond. Something shallow would do, but I would require more than a foreign body to hold my interest.
I’ve had a few moments in my life ― no more than I can count on my fingers ― when I’ve locked eyes with someone and immediately wanted to be at their erotic mercy. But now that I was primed (i.e., sexually confident, on birth control and emotionally ready for meaningless sex), these options dried up like a mirage in the desert. I found myself in a bind because I wanted to have a crush, something I couldn’t assemble from an app.
While I was swiping, Drew spent his time on a platform specifically for “feeders, fat admirers, and BBW/BHM (big beautiful women/big handsome men).” As his online conversations solidified, I burned out on apps and decided to text James, a guy with whom I went on one great date in New York about two weeks before Drew and I first met in Los Angeles.
I sent James a simple Hey. 51 minutes later, he responded: Wow hey. Long time no speak. I explained the bare bones of my situation and asked if he would be interested in talking. James promptly let me know he was “down.”
Whether by fate, luck, or coincidence, Drew’s first date was with Jessica ― a matriarch of the feederism community who founded a successful softcore website featuring BBW and SSBBW models, one of the first of its kind.
Drew and Jessica went out on a Sunday night in August. I spent the day in a haze of disbelief, trying to wrap my head around the fact that my boyfriend was going to spend the night with another woman. We kissed goodbye and my body flooded with a jealousy that felt chemical.
Drew texted when he arrived: I’m here! I feel like I need to go through with this, but I’m very excited to come home to you. I took a moment to let my heart swell for the man I loved, then began digging in my closet for a matching set of lingerie.
I sent James photos of myself and basked in new compliments from a fresh set of eyes. Our banter quickly devolved to sexting, and I let myself be as dirty as I wanted. I fell asleep on top of the covers and didn’t wake until Drew unlocked the door around 2 a.m. He reeked of another woman’s perfume and I groggily told him to shower before getting into bed. He kissed my forehead, then walked to the bathroom to scrub himself clean.
I spent the day in a haze of disbelief, trying to wrap my head around the fact that my boyfriend was going to spend the night with another woman. We kissed goodbye and my body flooded with a jealousy that felt chemical.
Summer turned to fall and Drew grew comfortable visiting Jessica’s home, a large property outside of LA she shared with her husband (open marriage), and a rotating cast of friends, lovers and BBW models. Drew and Jessica never had sex but they were physical. I coped by texting James, an antidote available via iMessage.
In December, I flew home to New York for the holidays. James was living in Brooklyn and we made plans to go out.
As my date approached, Drew bristled and grew callous ― the laissez-faire attitude slipping as reality encroached. His texts became curt and I picked up the phone to call him, my fingers fueled by indignation.
“Do you realize how childish you’re being?” I asked him.
“I know … I obviously have no right to act like this.”
“This was your goddamned idea,” I reminded him.
“But James is a normie.”
Drew meant that he had something specific for which he was leaving the relationship ― I didn’t. He was grocery shopping with a list while I embarked empty-handed, my stomach growling.
On Christmas Day, I met James in the bar of the hotel where I was staying for my final night in New York. As I waited for him to walk in, my heart hammered diligently at the base of my throat. I moved from one end of the bar to the other, trying to assess the most flattering way to sit. I texted a friend to ask if I should move from the bar to a table. She said no, but I did anyway.
James arrived and we caught up affably over a few rounds. Soon, he was asking if I wanted to go back to my room. I nodded, my heart grinning with pride and guileless hedonism.
James kissed me and I couldn’t help but feel present. His tongue seemed out of place against mine, but we undressed and our bodies felt easy together. As I fooled around with someone who wasn’t my boyfriend, I realized how silly our jealousy was. The intimacy in which I was partaking was cheap ― fun but entirely synthetic, like a shirt from Zara that worked for one party but unraveled at the seams after its first wash.
Of course, my moment of enlightenment was less valuable since I came to it on the winner’s podium, gripping my prize.
I left for JFK the next morning feeling unreliably giddy, like the contents of a medicine cabinet had been spilled open inside my chest. Airport security was a breeze, and I didn’t mind walking from one end of the terminal to the other when a last-minute gate change was announced. I was on the rush of uppers supplied by any successful tryst.
As the plane took off, I took a moment to bask in my success. How cosmopolitan was I? Leaving one lover in New York to reunite with another in LA. I looked around and wondered whether my seat mates knew the sexual royalty next to whom they were jostling.
One holiday rom-com and four episodes of “Veep” later, the plane began its initial descent and my mood followed suit. I wanted to take my night and shut it in a hermetically sealed container, safe from my mind’s analytical automatons. By the time wheels touched tarmac, my high had deflated and regressed into nauseating anxiety. I turned my phone on and, self-indulgently, let my heart sink when I didn’t see one (or five!) texts from James appear on the screen.
The problem with grocery shopping sans list is you don’t know when the excursion has come to a close. Because I needed a base level of emotional investment to enjoy the physicality of a tryst, I was having trouble extricating my feelings once the experience was over. Though the structure of our interaction couldn’t have been clearer ― me, disentangling my limbs from his and rolling out of bed to hail a cab and board a plane that would return me across the country, to my long-term relationship ― I texted James, hoping to breathe life back into the spark of desire we had created. His replies were unmemorable and peppered with too many “lol”s.
Drew and I aren’t insatiable extroverts with high sex drives, we are partners who wondered if it was possible to scratch the itch of novelty without scarring our relationship. At the end of the day we just want to come home, order takeout, and teach our cat how to play fetch.
Emotional input at the beginning means equal output at the end, a comedown that needlessly occupies the mind. I had fun for a moment, returning to the world of dating as a tourist, but I couldn’t imagine experiencing any lasting enjoyment.
My open relationship never officially ended but it lost steam and slowed to what looks like a halt from afar. Drew and I aren’t insatiable extroverts with high sex drives, we are partners who wondered if it was possible to scratch the itch of novelty without scarring our relationship. At the end of the day we just want to come home, order takeout, and teach our cat how to play fetch.
To emerge unscathed, we had to become our own cool parents ― letting each other know it was okay to sample the apple of sin as long as you stayed truthful, communicative and available via text.
Drew’s relationship with Jessica waxed and waned. They currently stand as “just friends” who text now and then. From time to time, I find myself wanting to pursue someone else. I flirt because it’s fun, and sometimes I fantasize about sleeping with other people. But because I know it’s not not allowed, there’s no urgency fueling these thought experiments. I’m no longer stricken with the fear of shattering something inflexible. Drew and I have proved to ourselves that what we mean to each other is transcendent, influenced by but not at the mercy of lust and impulse.
Though I’m not ecstatic about Drew’s lasting communication with Jessica, I have found that it serves me in unexpected ways. Because Drew is relentlessly honest and open with me, I feel safe on my all-knowing throne. From that space, I can let the notion of “my boyfriend texting another woman” rile me up in a fun way. It ignites flurries of jealousy and consequent desire ― seeing Jessica’s name light up on Drew’s phone screen sends my body into a state of “he’s mine.” Ultimately, it injects our dynamic with the excitement of dating someone new.
Much to my chagrin, a partner is not a magical piece of gum from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory that automatically provides a three-course meal with all the fixings. As much as I want to be everything for my partner, and I want my partner to be everything for me, such omnipotent expectations are unrealistic and unsustainable.
Drew’s fetish forced us to have uncomfortable conversations early on and for that I am extremely grateful. His proclivity isn’t something that can be checked off a list, it is an integral part of his sexuality. Though it was terrifying to admit I may not be enough for my partner at all times, it was equally freeing ― in doing so, I’ve relinquished the fantasy of being a contortionist girlfriend who can serve every want and need that blows by. Catering to whimsy can be fun, but it shouldn’t be an obligation. When I’m with Drew, I only feel compelled to be myself.
Letting our relationship be malleable has been paramount to its success ― like any living thing, it needs room to breathe, grow and shirk expectations. For as many twists and turns my relationship with Drew has taken, it rarely feels dramatic. I have no idea what comes next but I trust us to figure it out.
Sophia is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and New York Magazine’s The Cut. She is on Twitter at @Sophia__Ortega.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.