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Carlos Lopez, a trim and handsome 28-year-old chub chaser, knows how he'd react. He says he recently broke off a two-year relationship after his partner had gastric bypass surgery and dropped 100 pounds. "Allegedly the doctor told him that he wouldn't live for more than a year, which I didn't believe. He had mild diabetes and he lives a very stressed life. I was supportive — I offered to help him exercise and watch what he eats — but I told him probably what the consequences would be."
The former partner is six feet tall and now weighs 250 pounds. That's about 30 pounds below Lopez's cutoff. Lopez says he is still attracted to the man's personality, but for him the physical draw evaporated. "I had to place some sort of guilt on myself because I'm the one who is attracted to these guys that have to be in this certain range," he says. "It's not something I can change and control."
So Lopez is back to the chase. It's what he calls "extreme dating," since his interests are so specific. And that can be frustrating. "You go to a gay bar, and they're all skinny or steroid queens," he says. "You're not going to find anything."
Sidelines, the gay sports bar in Wilton Manors, is said to offer a little more variety than the typical gay bar, but on a recent Friday night, as Lopez drains his whisky, the clientele looks gaunt to him.
Is there really no one in the bar whose looks he likes?
Lopez nods toward a blond man with a linebacker's build. The man has wide-set eyes, an upturned nose, and plenty of padding. But he looks a little young for Lopez, who prefers father-figure types. So he heads down the street to Scandals, a gay bar with a country and western theme behind an O.K. Corral façade.
The men at Scandals just might be the best line dancers ever. At first glance, they appear to be a bunch of firemen who left their wives at home for a night on the town, but they have an extra spring in their steps when stomping their boots in unison or turning 45 degrees on cue.
At the back of the bar, on a small platform, stands a big white teddy bear in a cowboy hat. In front of the stuffed animal sits a pair of really hefty men, watching the dancing from a distance. They sit with arms crossed and legs spread wide, like sumo wrestlers trying to find their balance. They're even bigger than the men Lopez is usually drawn to, but he knows one of them, Billy Parrella, who is five feet nine inches tall and 400 pounds.
Parrella, age 42, says his weight fluctuates but he has never been as thin as he'd like. "If I were 300 pounds, I'd be happy." He would also like to be in a relationship, he says, but the men who pursue him are all wrong. "It's always some bony, skinny toothpick. Or then you have some guys who like big guys because they think you'll do anything they want you to. And I'm a give-and-take kind of person. Some of them can be abusive."
Parrella says he is considering gastric bypass surgery, like his buddy Anthony Raiola had 10 years ago. Raiola, age 43, is standing nearby, wearing a sleeveless plaid shirt and grinning mischievously. Before the surgery, Raiola, who is five feet nine inches tall, weighed 420 pounds. Now he's 199 pounds. His partner, who weighs 165 pounds, feared Raiola would lose the weight and then dump him, Raiola says, but once he was reassured, he was supportive.
Losing the weight hugely boosted his self-esteem, Raiola says. "Honestly, if I had to do it again, I would. It brought me from here" — he holds his palm a few inches off the ground and then raises it to eye level — "to here."
The line dancers are beginning to head home. Lopez calls it a night, as do Raiola and Parrella. There's only one fellow left in the group, Russell Dutra, who has been quiet all evening. He looks like he's in a bad mood.
Actually he was just uncomfortable with Lopez around. As soon as Lopez exits, Dutra gushes like a teenager, confessing to a massive crush on the high school quarterback. His friends say he's exactly Lopez's type, he says, but Dutra says Lopez doesn't pay him any attention. "Whenever I see him, I get so nervous I feel nauseous," he says. "I think he's gorgeous. He walks on water."
Dutra, age 44, has salt-and-pepper hair and a trim goatee. He is five feet ten inches and 375 pounds. Some chubs carry their weight in their bellies, but Dutra is more evenly proportioned. He is stylishly dressed in camouflage cargo pants and white sneakers. He wonders if perhaps he isn't big enough to suit Lopez, although he is actually a little too big for Lopez's taste.
Perhaps not for long, though. Dutra has been attending Overeaters Anonymous meetings for about four months, he says, and in that time has lost 35 pounds. It's a struggle. "I've always been heavy," he says. "I've always turned to food to feel better; for every emotion, there's a food to quell it."
Most of the men he meets seem to want one-night stands with a large guy, he says. But he's optimistic the right guy is out there.
"I want to find somebody that, if I'm able to lose weight, they won't be like, See ya!"