At the age of 33, Giselle Watson of New York City was still single, and for the life of her, she couldn't understand why.
"Actually, that's not quite true," Giselle admits now with an embarrassed smile, catching herself in her own lie. "I'd let myself go. My eating was out of control, soy lattes two, sometimes even three, times a week! And I was still running every day but I totally stopped doing yoga. I went from a size two to a six - in four months!"
She shakes her head in shame, remembering.
"And I'm only five-ten. I was huge! I rationalized by saying that the right man should love me for who I am, at any size. But it's only fair that a man wants someone who takes care herself."
Giselle also acknowledged that her career track had been less than impressive. She'd been with the same modeling agency, Ford, since the age of 19.
"And here in New York, everyone knows that IMG is really where it's at," she notes. "I'd done five covers in three years - ridiculous. It was clear I just didn't have much drive or ambition."
After taking a good, hard look at where she was - and wasn't - in her life, Giselle decided to do some serious self-improvement in order to make herself more appealing to the plethora of sane, mature, attractive, available men in the Big Apple.
She got a subscription to The Nation to bone up on current events. She dieted down to a size four, which, she acknowledged, "wasn't ideal, but it was something." She nailed a few high-profile modeling gigs as a health model, for which a size 4 figure was acceptable.
And it worked!
"One day," said Giselle, "an older man came up to me on the street in Midtown. He wasn't cute, exactly, but I thought it was nice that he started talking to me out of nowhere. He clearly had good social skills and was confident in himself. Those are qualities I admire."
At his request, Giselle gave the "street man," Dirk, her telephone number - which immediately led to a string of intense, highly sexual text messages.
"At first," Giselle recounts, "I thought the texting was inappropriate, even disrespectful, given that he'd just met me. But I realized I needed to loosen up. And I got really good at talking trash, if I do say so myself."
After a period of successful "sexting," Giselle and Dirk had their first date, a Saturday night dinner. At that time, a potential conflict arose, which nearly doomed the budding relationship. Giselle, a committed vegan, ordered the pasta primavera; Dirk selected the restaurant specialty: foie gras.
"I was appalled," says Giselle, "because I feel really strongly that in this day and age, there's no justification for killing and eating animals. Not when there are so many more compassionate options readily available. And foie gras, of all things!"
But through her own personal development work and cognitive behavioral therapy, Giselle had come to recognize that she could at times be judgmental and even a little controlling. For that reason, she made a conscious decision to overlook Dirk's morally-questionable entrée choice.
"It felt good to live and let live," Giselle said. "Well, of course, the dead goose wasn't doing any living. But Dirk didn't feel judged. And that was the important thing."
From that first date, Giselle's relationship with Dirk continued to blossom, or if not blossom, at least proceed. With a few bumps along the way. The two had some marked differences.
"I'm kind of a purist about the body," Giselle explains. "Whereas he was overweight, never exercised, and ate mostly junk. He smoked pot regularly, and drank a lot more than I do. He used amphetamines to keep his energy up, and I think he was taking Viagra. Plus, he was really into pop culture and television, whereas I don't even own a T.V.!"
Nevertheless, Giselle learned that with some self-discipline, she could turn a blind eye to her own values and standards in the interest of love. Or if not love, a solidly mediocre relationship.
As Giselle describes it, "There was a connection. We weren't officially boyfriend/girlfriend, and he was careful to avoid any public displays of affection in his neighborhood or any place there was any chance of running into anyone he knew. But we had something."
Giselle also realized that the age difference between her and Dirk (17 years) didn't bother her nearly as much as she'd expected it to.
"After all, what's 50?" she asks rhetorically. "Just a number. Who cares?"
A turning point came when Giselle realized the toll that her vegetarianism was taking on her and Dirk's relationship.
"Much as I didn't want to believe it, I could tell it was a drag for him," she says. "Not that he'd stopped eating meat, even around me, but I could tell that the fact that I didn't eat meat made him a little uncomfortable."
And so, several weeks later at brunch, when a waiter mistakenly brought a side of bacon with Giselle's tofu scramble, she gazed at Dirk with sincere affection - and picked up a piece of the fried pork fat.
"The look on his face when I took a bite was precious," Giselle recalls with a tender smile. "I knew then that I would do anything for an unofficial, uncommitted, but very special relationship. It felt wonderful to practice unconditional acceptance."
Unfortunately, despite Giselle's personal successes in learning to kind-of love the kind of person with whom she'd never before imagined wanting a relationship, her relationship with Dirk didn't end with a "happily ever after." After several heated disagreements over anal intercourse, Dirk told Giselle that while he "really liked her as a person," he wasn't comfortable continuing to see her. And the sort-of couple parted ways.
Giselle accepts full responsibility for the breakup.
"I'd made a lot of progress loosening up by eating animal flesh and drinking more and trying some pills," she says now. "But apparently I still had some sexual repression. I told Dirk I wasn't into ass-fucking, and I see now that that was a mistake. I should have been more open. I was making it all about me. I was selfish."
That being said, Giselle is at peace regarding the demise of her and Dirk's relationship.
"I wasn't perfect," she acknowledges, "but I tried. And I learned a lot. And that experience has only made me a better person for the next flabby middle-aged man who tries to get in my pants."