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Question # 9: Eating Disorders & Dating

Posted Oct 12 2009 12:00am
Question # 9 is the last one from Licketysplit.

"When you were dating at what point did you feel it was appropriate to bring up your ED? I don't want a guy to think I'm being deceptive or closed off (because realistically my ED is a pretty big part of my past and NOT talking about it at all can get difficult) But I don't really want to scare him off before he even gets to know me."

You've heard of intuitive eating.... try intuitive speaking.

Seriously.

I'm all about letting yourself feel when the time is right. You don't want to stress over how to tell and when to tell. When you are talking to the guy and the something comes up that makes you feel like opening up, you will know. You might not even be talking. One day, when you're with him, you can just sense that the time was right.

Maybe you're afraid that the time will never be right. If your mind isn't telling you to speak, then just hold off--go with your intuition--and wait as long as you feel is necessary. If you've entered into a serious relationship with him months down the road and still haven't felt the time was right, then you'll need to analyze your feelings and fears, but chances are that this won't happen.

There are the inevitable worries, like that someone may think you have too much baggage. And there’s the plain and simple fact that telling someone about your eating disorder is a weird thing to just bring up. But if you are feeling receptive towards the person, you will know when to tell...and what to tell...and if the person doesn't accept it as a part of you, or thinks it is too much baggage, then s/he isn't the person for you. I know that kind of sucks, but it's true. You'll want to be with someone who can understand and support you.

With my husband, when he wasn't my husband, I told him almost randomly. Not nonchalantly...but just as part of conversation. I didn't sit him down and tell him I needed to tell him something serious. I just felt that the time was right and the words rolled out of me.

I remember it well. It was very early on in our relationship. We were lying in his bed, not ready to sleep or do anything--just talking and holding each other, really enjoying the moment, sharing little pieces of ourselves. And I said, "I'll tell you something you don't know about me yet." (We were still learning things about each other.) "I suffered from anorexia and I'm doing okay now, but it was really difficult in the past." And then he looked at me—as a man will when you say something like that and he cares even remotely about you—and he looked like he wanted more of the story (obviously). So I just kind of told him a little about how I was recovering and dealing with things and that I considered myself to be doing really well, but that I still had a few weird habits (not behaviors), etc. (This was about 3 years ago.)

The best advice I can give you is not to think of it as something shameful. It's part of your past and its remains are still part of your present. It's like someone you're dating telling you about his/her childhood and how his/her father died, and what happened to the person from there. Just a different situation. You know?

My husband, back then, after I told him that...he was great and it wasn't a big deal at all...and what’s most interesting to note is that he told me about how his dad had left them (my husband, his younger brother, and their mom) back when my husband was 15, and about how he stopped being a straight A student and had next to no relationship with his dad until he was much older. That was a big thing to him, you know? Same as my past. Everyone has something they are worried about sharing. Everyone has a story that is something that don’t share with just anyone.

I’m going to go in another direction here for a moment even though Licketysplit didn’t mention this in her question. I think a lot of people can relate to what I’m about to discuss, though, and it’s completely relevant to the question at hand.


The other thing about dating someone who knows your history (or present issues) is that as the relationship deepens it’s important that your eating disorder not be a secret, because then you can always fall back on it when times are tough and no one is the wiser. It helps to have someone in your court, especially if that someone is becoming important in your life.

Telling everyone everything isn’t going to magically help you recover. But you have to be honest with yourself or you will never get anywhere. And sometimes, being honest with yourself means that you are more honest and open with others in your life. When it comes right down to it, the only one really INVOLVED in your recovery is YOU. Everyone else is just a support...or an instigator. A therapist is somehow “involved,” but not really in the process itself, as it takes place inside you; a therapist is only involved in helping and supporting you and offering knowledge. A significant other is somehow “involved,” but not really in the process itself, as it takes place inside you; a significant other is only involved in helping you and supporting you.

So much of eating disorders are tied up in secrecy—whether it’s about secrets you hold inside of you, or keeping the eating disorder secret and thereby hanging on to it and maintaining “control.” You don’t have to come clean about every little thing in order to recover, in order to date someone or maintain a stable long-term relationship.

There is secrecy that stems from saying that the past and there is moving on. They are very different. If you feel like you are keeping something hidden and can't get past it...and if keeping it from certain people hinders your recovery or makes it easier for you to fall back on the eating disorder, then it's secrecy. If you have done things in the past but don't go into detail about them with people in your life and you are trying to get past them AND are NOT keeping them a secret for the sole purpose of falling back on them, then perhaps it's not important that you spill the beans about it all. Does that make sense?

I'm fairly open when it comes to my past eating disorder behaviors and such, but I didn't make it a point to tell everyone in my life everything I ever did or struggled with. As long as I am being honest with MYSELF, and I could be honest with myself and determine if I was strong enough to plod ahead without going into detail about things, then it was good. If I was honest with myself and thought that I was holding things in for a particular reason, then I needed to assess that and go from there.


Back to the main concerns...

People worry about “how” to tell romantic interest. Does it need to be verbal? Person-to-person? Written down? A letter? An email? By bringing the new person to therapy with you?

I think it needs to be done in whatever way is going to make YOU feel better and more comfortable. You need to be comfortable with it. But you also need to take the plunge sometime and put your REAL self out there. People want to date a real person, not a fake one. And remember: the anticipation of telling someone is so much scarier than the actual conversation itself. How many times do we worry about something that is impending that we become stressed and upset and nervous and scared... but then when the actual situation is over, realize that it wasn’t nearly as bad as the build-up? Our emotions are what make us afraid. Relief will follow.

I'm recovered and in my opinion, recovery is a personal journey...and no two journeys are alike. So in order to fully recover, you need to work within yourself to do what feels right to you. We've all had different pasts and different behaviors and backgrounds...and recovery means different things for all of us. It's your call what you decide to tell, and when, and how.

There is no appropriate time. Or rather, the appropriate time will be different for all of us. For me, it happened very early on when I was dating Rick. But that was because the time felt right, I felt good with him, I wasn’t ashamed. I listened for the little bell of the “right moment of comfortability” and let it all out there. Be secure with yourself. Say what you need to say. And if s/he doesn’t react properly, you’ll do it again with the next person. We can only bank on ourselves. We cannot predict what others will say and do and think. We must “go with the flow,” take a deep breath, and have the hope that things will work out the way they’re meant to work out.

You'll know what to do. Go with your instincts and your intuition.
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