“Would you ever consider dating a guy who was shorter than you?”
It was a year after college, and the person asking me that was a guy I had just started casually dating. He actually was a couple inches taller than me, but the question caught me off guard. It was as if he had peeped in on my mental conversation earlier that afternoon, when I was debating whether I should wear wedges or flats.
“I don’t really know . . . probably not,” I awkwardly admitted, embarrassed that I had gone with the two-inch wedges. While he probably just asked this question out of banal curiosity—he wasn’t exactly the tallest guy in the world—little did he know how loaded this question really was.
And little did I know how my answer would change.
Years before this, I went to an all-female high school, which meant that if there were going to be boys present at a dance, we had to invite them. I distinctly remember brainstorming who I was going to invite to my first dance as a freshman. “What about your friend Mark?” my mom asked. Sure, Mark was my buddy from childhood—we talked on AIM all the time. He was cute, friendly, funny, and pretty much the ideal first-dance date candidate except for one thing: He was a couple inches shorter than me. I looked at my mom, completely outraged. “Mom! I couldn’t wear heels with him!”
She laughed at me and said, “Oh, I promise, your priorities are going to change.”
“Not about that,” I replied.
And for a while, I was right—and adamantly so. When Mark asked me to his dance months later, I not-so-politely declined—“Oh, Mark, you know we are just friends”—and instead accepted a later invitation from his significantly taller but significantly less charming friend. Through high school and college, and even into my early twenties, with beau after beau, height was one of the defining characteristics in what I found attractive in a man. If I still felt petite wearing four-inch heels with my frame of 5 feet 6 inches, he was worth my attention.
Slowly, this extreme standard of height waned, but I still felt awkward if he was near as tall as I was. After all, shouldn’t the right man make me feel feminine and small?
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad in finding your man’s height swoon-worthy. Yet, when I think about why I thought tall guys were more attractive, I found that it boiled down to one thing: my own insecurities. Tall guys made me feel dainty and lithe. While I didn’t exactly have an eating disorder, I can’t recall a time during my adolescence when I wasn’t on some sort of diet. Prioritizing height on my checklist seemed like an easy way to avoid my issue with my weight. Looking back, it was all about me.
I came to realize that this idea of the right man fixing my insecurities permeated my dating criteria. When I dreamed of my future romances, all I thought about was how he’d make me feel. I imagined looking up at him, feeling his large muscular build protect me from the world. In one swift swoop—like a scene out of Hercules—he’d lift me up with one hand, and I’d laugh. And he’d tell me I’m tiny.
While describing this vision might sound absolutely ridiculous (please, someone, laugh at me), I know I was certainly not alone in this opinion. Hang out in any girl’s college dorm room for long enough, and you know: Height matters in dating.
“I just want to be smaller, like you,” I remember one college friend—one exceptionally tall and exceptionally gorgeous college friend—telling me as I slid on my heels for that night’s outing. “Then maybe I would feel less like a giraffe and more like a girl.”
Since when did true femininity have anything to do with size? Why do so many women feel the need to shrink away, as I did, when I was wearing those wedges? Is it because we are constantly comparing ourselves to a tiny female archetype, in order to complement the prevailing tall and muscular male ideal? Or have we bought the idea that we need to be smaller in order to be loved? Whether it’s weight or height, one thing is for certain: Women generally don’t like feeling big.
Life has a funny way of working. Only weeks after that guy asked if I would hypothetically be interested in a man shorter than me, I unexpectedly met the man who would become my husband at an Iron and Wine concert in Chicago. During the night, I was so engrossed in conversation with him, I didn’t even notice that he was a whopping one inch shorter than me.
What I did notice was his sharp wit and his smile. His kindness, his confidence, and his laugh. And while he makes me feel feminine, one thing’s for certain: He never makes me feel like I need to be smaller.
If you told me five years ago that the man I’d end up marrying would be shorter than me, I’d laugh in your face. But as Julia Hogan eloquently points out, sometimes we really don’t know who’s good for us until we meet him. I met Jason a year before Tinder existed, but upon reading Isaac Huss’ article about how dating apps leave us restless for the perfect option, I cringe to think that if I had seen him on Tinder, I probably would have swiped left after seeing his height.
In a weird twist of fate, a year into dating Jason, we were at another concert together, and we ran into my old childhood friend Mark. When Mark shook hands with my husband, I realized that they stood at the exact same height. I think fate has a sense of humor—and some awesome lessons.