The washing machine alarm went off, and suddenly I was overwhelmed with the semi-infrequent urge to be proactive about the laundry. My boyfriend and I live in an apartment without a dryer, a normal scenario in the relatively dryerless urban landscape of Seoul. Walking through the city, it’s not uncommon to see wet clothes hanging from windows, doorframes, balconies, and even public stairwells.
Luckily, we have access to a private rooftop, where we are free to hang our unmentionables without the risk of them being manhandled by the locals.
I made my way up the steep concrete staircase to our roof, feeling smug and self-satisfied about my choice to help Dan with his laundry while he was at work.
“I am a beacon of domesticity and kindness,” I thought to myself. “Dan will come home, see what I have done, and become overwhelmed with gratitude. He may even cry.”
But as I began to hang our clothes on the line, I was faced with an emotionally crippling realization, a fact that I had known to be true since the beginning of our relationship, but was finding difficult to accept.
On the left were Dan’s pants: slim khakis and fancy denim cut for a modestly heighted man with a 32’’ waist. On the right were my pants: long black ASOS denim in a size 18.
Had my pants been hanging alone, they would have looked like chic, effortless casualwear for the modern big-girl-on-the-go. Next to Dan’s pants, though, they took on a new identity, a big black deathtarp of denim, dwarfing their counterparts and forcing all of the surrounding clothing to appear as if it belonged to an aging hipster My Buddy doll.
I sat down and stared at the clothing for a while, and realized that these disparately sized pants, and my horror at seeing them together, were representative of the deep discomfort that I’ve felt throughout my entire relationship, but never wanted to admit.
The facts? Dan is 5’6’’ and 155 pounds give or take, depending on the amount of bratwurst he’s had that day. I, on the other hand, am 5’10’’ and 190 pounds give or take, depending on the amount of bratwurst I’ve fought him over that day.
Our size difference is so noticeable, in fact, that when a mutual friend introduced us, even she couldn’t get behind the idea that we’d somehow form a relationship.
“You’re going to love Dan,” she said. “He’s really smart and funny and wonderful.”
When she noticed the hopeful gleam of the lonely horndog in my eye, though, she quickly followed with “But not for dating, just for friends. He’s too damn little.”
Of course, once we started spending time together, that theory was quickly dispelled in favor of the way he made me laugh, the food he cooked for me, and the drunken debauchery we enjoyed participating in together. I wasn’t completely comfortable with our size difference, but it didn’t matter as much because we only saw each other once a week, and we weren’t close enough to display public affection or place our pants side-by-side.
If anyone on the street gave us a funny look, I’d “comfort” myself with the thought that they probably just assumed he was my sidekick, my friend’s boyfriend, or (despite his bald head and moustache and the fact that I had recently touched his penis) my son.
Once we moved in together, though, I could no longer ignore my own discomfort with our size difference. Our lives/belongings were completely intermingled. Unfortunately, the differences stretched far beyond the pants that hung before me on that fateful day. I walked back into our apartment and felt like the panicked heroine of a horror film, eyes darting wildly around our home.
“His TOOTHBRUSH is shorter than mine,” I thought, running wildly from the bathroom to the kitchen. Then I noticed our coffee mugs sitting on the counter, his short, simple and serviceable, mine tall and wide and unfortunately patterned. I ran to my room, hoping to dramatically throw myself into my bed and sob, but before I could, I saw the mismatched nightstands that flank our bed were also in on the joke: his a minimal, sleek, utilitarian wood and mine a tall, lime green celebration of the discount furniture store where I bought it and the shoe I used to beat the nails in.
This may seem like an overreaction to the idea that my partner is smaller than me, especially since I like to celebrate my size, considering myself big and brassy and unapologetically large. If it were anyone else in my position, I’d probably go off on some kind of rant, telling them to forget their prescribed heteronormative gender role bullshit: Who says that a man should be bigger than a woman? BEYONCE IN HEELS WOULD NOT APPROVE.
The truth is, though, that despite my best efforts, I still have plenty of absurd, flailing moments of insecurity surrounding the size gap in my relationship, moments where the only real problem that seems to exist between us is Dan’s wee stature and my fear that next to him I am perceived as a scowling, nipple-clamp-wielding dominatrix.
Over the last year we’ve spent living together, I’ve had to work a lot harder at managing my tendency to put our size difference under a microscope. I have had to work to remind myself that when it comes to love, size just doesn’t matter.
But every once in awhile when it’s laundry time and the wind is just right, the minimal breeze created by his teensy doll clothes reminds me that I still have a huge amount of work to do.