The secret life of dating with an eating disorder
A few weeks ago, I sat at a wedding rehearsal dinner and I attempted to flirt with a man who looked strikingly like Hozier.
“So, what do you do?” he asked.
I paused. “I work in public relations.”
Overhearing our conversation, my male friend/date chimed in. “She writes too!”
Immediately, I watched Hozier-man-bun-doppelganger perk. “You write?” he said. “What about?”
I fumbled. “Er, uh,” I said. I watched his eyebrows rise. “I write about eating disorders,” I muttered.
To my relief, he smiled. “Cool. Assuming you had one?”
“Yes,” I said. “BUT-I’M-SO-GREAT-NOW-I’M-FINE,” I followed up in some octave level I couldn’t process.
He paused. I mentally slapped my forehead. We changed subjects. I did not broach it again.
I’ve struggled with eating disorders for the better half of my adult life, and I’m the first to admit that there is no clear indication of how to date and bring this fact up. Dating is vulnerable for everyone — recovery or not — but there’s an extra layer to it when you have to tell someone, “I can't buy cereal because I’ll binge-eat it like a monster.”
Inevitably, there's that moment on a date when I have to explain my history. "Grew up in Texas, moved to New York, worked in public relations, binge ate two boxes of cereal at a wedding and went to rehab... the normal stuff."
It’s not easy. Do you say it over appetizers? Over wine? Do you wait three dates?
Will they respect me? Will they want to fix me?
Unfortunately, rehab and eating disorders continue to have a culturally negative ring to them, much like "cow dung" or "tinder dating,” and while I've never had anyone respond to my recovery plight with anything but empathy, it's still an explanation that I struggle to deliver.
At 27 years old, I am two years into recovery and — admittedly — relearning how to date. In the past, I simply didn’t share. Instead, I hurled myself into mutually abusive, codependent relationships in order to blanket the secret world I inhabited in the bathroom, under my pillow and on the treadmill. My eating disorder was my boyfriend, and the more it progressed, the less able I was to be a functional partner to anyone else.
I didn’t trust myself, and therefore, I didn’t like myself. Countless times, I attempted to secretly recover on my own, but 15 miles later, there I’d be on the treadmill like a hamster on its wheel. I felt powerless, and so inevitably I shielded myself from real relationships.
In turn, my dating history is filled to the brim with people who were equally sick. You walk me into a room of 100 people and I will likely be attracted to the addict. These people liked to be cared for, which validated my lack of self-worth, and as a cherry on top they were so preoccupied with their own addiction that they ignored my “odd eating patterns.”
In college, I had a three-year off-and-on relationship with an addict. We were intense from the moment we met and destructive from the beginning. His best friend died, as?had mine that past year, and I should've known something wasn't right when the first conversation we ever had took place drunk off whiskey at a bonfire — spilling our grief into a fire pit.
We?went back and forth for years, and we fought viciously. We “needed” each other, yet we didn't trust one another. He was drunk most of the time and I was purging. Our codependent relationship became an easy way to misuse intimacy. I wanted the validation of caring for someone (since I was incapable of caring for myself), and he readily abused it. In turn, we were self-destructive separately and toxic together, and we made a lot of declarations we only minimally understood because neither of us was willing to acknowledge or challenge our behaviors.
Patterns like this defined my relationship history, and as part of the recovery process, I’ve had to learn to forgive myself for the disastrous dating sagas in my life and develop my self-worth to accept that I am truly worthy of a healthy relationship. Over the past two years, I’ve dated a lot of different types of people in an effort to understand what I truly desire and need out of a partnership. It’s fun and it’s hard and it’s vulnerable.
Perhaps Hozier twin and I are meant to be. It’s been a few weeks and we’ve seen each other frequently since the wedding. He has since asked about my eating disorder and there is a connection and transparency there that feels healthy. However, as I open myself up to my past (and all the dirty details of it), I understand that to be a good partner I have to be content with both the person I’m becoming separately from him and with the people that I think we might help create together.
So take me to church, Hozier boy, but I can’t promise I’ll give you my life.