Earlier this evening, a friend of mine posted a great post from Jezebel about the reaction to the most recent episode of HBO’s Girls, a show that I thought I would hate, but have since come to love. Her posting this article reminded me that I hadn’t yet seen this week’s episode, so I sat down to watch it.
And I was bowled over.
“One Man’s Trash,” which was a beautifully written and directed episode that was mostly a two-hander starring Lena Dunham and guest star Patrick Wilson, examined a two-night stand Dunham’s Hannah has with Wilson’s separated, lonely Joshua in his immaculately decorated NYC brownstone. Yes – shocker of shockers – Hannah has sex and is invited to spend a lovely couple of nights with a ridiculously handsome doctor. The episode was primarily about the search for happiness and the fact that everyone, no matter their pedigree, is caught up in it. It was about two people at different points in their lives looking for the same thing and finding solace in each other. Yet, as the Jezebel article discusses, the reaction to the episode was all about how no one could believe that someone “like Hannah” could end up with someone “like Joshua.”
I’ve spoken recently about body image and how, while it seems to affect women disproportionately (people often criticize Hannah’s self-indulgence and nudity, but no one talks about what an enormous asshole Jessa is, because she’s prettier and has cooler, more bohemian outfits?), it affects men, too. I wonder what the reaction to this episode would have been had 40-something Joshua been played by a Billy Gardell type rather than a Patrick Wilson type. Would a man like that being a successful doctor with an amazing brownstone have been “believable?” Would people have been able to accept a relationship between Joshua and Hannah enough to focus on what the episode was actually about then?
This discussion was likely the point, or at least a huge part of it. I’m sure that the casting (and the nudity) was all very purposeful. Dunham’s smart enough to know that this kind of conversation is inevitable, and I love that she’s brave enough to write something like this.
And it got me thinking about the “hottest guy I’ve ever been with.”
I was never one of those fat girls who owned their bodies (I like to think I own it more now), and I’d always freeze up around guys I found attractive. In my most insecure moments – which were more frequent in my twenties – I always made sure to remember that, if a guy likes me, I should give him a chance no matter what he looks like, because, well, you never know when you’re gonna get this kind of attention again. Now, I was never so bad off that I fooled around with guys I wasn’t attracted to at all, but I was also very aware of my “league,” and my mission was to find as attractive a guy as I could “in my league,” and to remember that I didn’t have the right to anyone past a certain level of hot. Because let’s be honest. Those guys would never be interested in me, right? Then I met Scott*.
I was at a house party as a guest of some friends in Philadelphia a couple of years ago. I hardly knew anyone, but I’ve always been a decent mingler, so I flitted around the party talking to people and ended up talking to this guy named Scott – 6′ tall and change, soccer player body, tattooed, and super-cute. He was an animator and graphic artist, and really sweet to boot. We ended up spending a lot of time together talking about everything from our aspirations to our families to geeky stuff to politics, and I found myself starting to exude flirty energy, something I did rarely, because I was generally afraid to. Yet all the while I “reminded” myself that he was probably just interested in me as a friend. Don’t get too excited, Teresa. This isn’t going anywhere. It never does.
Later, as I continued flitting, I saw him talking to one of the hosts of the party – a gorgeous, petite blonde girl in cut-off shorts and a guy’s undershirt. They were talking really close and I thought There it is. You’ve lost him. All the humor and intelligence in the world can’t compete with cut-offs and a wifebeater. I resigned myself to spending the rest of the evening in non-flirt mode, and wandered over to a crate of vinyl records in the living room. As I flipped through a really decent selection of music, I felt a pair of lanky arms wrap themselves around me from behind. It was Scott, and he’d been wondering where I’d gone.
A dance song I can’t remember now came on, and we started dancing in the middle of the living room. Suddenly, we were grinding and ended up kissing as we danced. This was not something that happened to me. Ever. As we kissed, I noticed that everyone who had been in the living room got up and left the room to “give us space,” and we ended up making out on the couch. Now, already this was shocking enough to me. Here I was, making out on the couch with one of the hottest guys at this party. Me, Teresa Jusino, the fat girl with the huge ass. The girl who went to her Junior Prom alone and to her Senior Prom with a friend. The girl who was called Hungry-Hungry Hippo in junior high. And it wasn’t even the product of a romantic comedy transformation where I got rid of my glasses and magically became hot. I was still just me. Fat, with a big ass. But he was all over me.
As if that wasn’t shocking enough, he uttered six words I, at that time, never thought I’d hear in my whole life. Wanna go back to my place?
WHAT?! How was this happening?! Stuff like this didn’t happen to girls like me. It happened to girls in movies. It was reserved for other girls who got this all the time. Who got offers like this so often they rolled their eyes at them because their sheer persistence had become boring at best and annoying at worst. And the few times I had been approached for nookie like this, it was always by guys I wasn’t remotely attracted to.
But fuck yeah I wanted to go home with the hot guy! I thought about it for like a second. A virtuous voice in the back of my head said something about You don’t know this guy! Don’t do it! Don’t be one of those girls! But then the voice in the front of my head was all Shut up, Voice! Do you see how hot this guy is?! Get it, girl! GET. IT.
So, I went home with him, and I got some. And let me tell you something – that guy loved my shelf of an ass, I tell you what.
After some quality naked time, we lay on his bed talking with our legs up against the wall and our heads dangling off the edge of his twin bed. (Yup, his twin bed. Awesome.) I looked over at his lithe, tattooed body (and I never thought I could be into tattoos until him – they suited him, and they were hot) draped gracefully across the bed and thought Holy shit. You are the hottest guy I’ve ever been with.
It wasn’t until later, though, that I got the Mother of All Ego Boosts. Scott took me back to my friend’s place where I was staying early the next morning. He held my hand as we walked to his car (no guy had ever held my hand in public before!), we talked the whole ride, and when I left the car, we said things like “Philly and New York aren’t that far away! Maybe we can see each other again!”
I was already walking on air when my friend later informed me why hot, blonde host in the cut-offs and wifebeater was upset. You see, as I left the party the night before, saying goodbye to my friends and to other people I met at the party, I noticed that the host was really curt with me as I said goodbye. I figured she’d had a bad night or something, so I just ignored it. But apparently, Scott had been invited to the party by her roommate for her. It had been a set-up. And he’d taken me home instead.
I’m kind of ashamed of myself for having been so happy about this fact at the time, but you have to understand that this was not something I ever thought could happen. “Stealing” hot guys from hot girls was not something that had ever been in my repertoire. It was not something I’d been taught by others, or by Life, to expect. I was always the “safe” friend. No one was ever threatened by me hanging out with their boyfriend. My not being a homewrecker wasn’t a sign of my moral fortitude, it was a default. Because who the heck would want me, right?
Well, he did. And I was fucking happy about it. We never did meet up after that, but that doesn’t matter. I didn’t need for him to end up my boyfriend for it to have been an amazing thing that happened.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re absolutely right. I fell prey to the same way of thinking that had hurt me in the past – the way of thinking that classifies “hot people” and “not-hot people” rather than just “People I’m Attracted To.” Hey, I’m not immune to The World. Never said I was.
However, as time passed, I took away a very important lesson from the time I “stole” a hot guy from a hot girl. First of all – I didn’t “steal” him at all. No one “steals” anyone from anyone. He was attracted to me and pursued me, and I accepted. Secondly – the experience taught me that things like “leagues” are bullshit. People are attracted to a broader range of people than the media might have us believe. Just because someone is “conventionally attractive” doesn’t mean they only like people that are the same kind of attractive that they are; and just because someone is “average looking” doesn’t mean that there is a limited pool in which they can date. Attraction, like humor, is something that either hits, or it doesn’t, and chances are we are all attractive to someone we’d also find attractive. What we need to do, then, is stop looking to books and film and television as guides for our dating lives, and just look around in the world. Look at all the couples you “don’t get” and realize that you should be applauding them, rather than judging them. They are walking around together bravely, no matter what anyone thinks, because they are attracted to each other and make each other happy. I remember this really attractive student teacher from high school – all the girls had a crush on him. One day, his fiancee came to school to visit him, and we were shocked to see that she was a chubby, average-looking woman. But it shouldn’t have shocked us, because it fucking happens. All the time. We should all be brave enough to be with the people we actually want, rather than with the media-sanctioned partners others expect us to have. And we should all be loving enough to stop punishing each other with the tired idea of “reachers” and “settlers.” Because when two people are drawn to each other, each one feels that they won a prize, and each one deserves to feel that way.
A wise, male friend of mine once told me, when I was complaining to him that a certain guy I was interested in wouldn’t be interested in me “because he was into women like Julie Delpy,” that “Every twenty-something artsy straight guy with a pulse is into women like Julie Delpy, but just because a guy likes coffee doesn’t mean he doesn’t also like tea.”
Here’s to realizing that our palates are more diverse than we give them credit for.
*Name changed to protect the not-so-innocent.