What It's Like to Fall In Love When You Have an Eating Disorder
My eating disorder was my first real relationship. I spent my days consumed by it and the hold it had over my life. Night and day, day and night, my anorexia was there by my side. Instead of a warm embrace at night from someone I loved, I felt its grip tighten over my bones while I struggled to find solace in my sleep. I did not love myself, and I feared that my obsession with my outward appearance would forever be the only one by my side.
People like to tell you that in order to be loved by someone else, you have to love yourself first. How toxic it is to make someone feel as if they are unworthy of being loved because of their own struggles with their mental health. We all deserve to feel love, even if we can’t quite love ourselves yet. I often could not see my own beauty, but luckily, one day, you did.
You were the first person to show true romantic interest in me. I couldn’t believe that love was finally happening for me, after all of these years of feeling so alone. You were patient and kind with me when it came to my eating disorder. You accepted that big fancy dinners and ice cream dates might never be something we could enjoy together. I shared more of my body with you than with anyone I ever had before, and I do not remember ever feeling uncomfortable in your presence. You brought me peace and love, and I thought that maybe I had finally found my person.
I am not sure how I ignored the signs so easily, when there were sirens blaring all around me. You broke up with me and not just because you found someone else. You were frustrated with my eating disorder and the fact that you couldn’t take me out for dinner like all of the other girls. You didn’t know what to do with me. I was boring, awkward, and not someone you wanted to spend your free time with anymore. The comfort I found in you was decimated, and again, I was back in the arms of my eating disorder.
I struggled for years after you left to jump back into a dating scene that looked like a war zone to someone struggling with an eating disorder. How could I go out for drinks when they had so many calories? How could I go out for dinner and eat in front of a stranger? How could anyone ever want to be with someone as disgusting as me?
Every time I thought I met someone, it always fell through. Until one day, I finally met you.
You were all in before I even had a chance to show you the darkness I kept so well-hidden. I did not realize it then, but I had finally found someone more toxic to be with than my anorexia. At first, you were supportive, understanding. But soon, my eating disorder began to fuel the fire that would eventually destroy us.
I was in love with you, and I like to think that you were in love with me, too. For the most part, you were very patient with me and my need to take things slowly. I have never loved my body, so how could anyone else? The idea of someone seeing you naked is one of the worst things someone struggling with an eating disorder could ever imagine. During one of our most intimate moments, just when I was finally beginning to feel comfortable enough to share myself with you, you saw my body and told me that I was disgusting.
Complete and utter devastation. Shame. Those are just the highlights of the way you made me feel that night. How could someone I love so much and who loved me so deeply see me as so repulsive? I know that I will never see my own body for what it really is, but having the person you love tell you that your body is disgusting is enough to fuel your self-doubt forever.
It took me a long time after that night to feel comfortable enough to share myself with you again. I wish I could say the next time went any better, but all you did was solidify how much I hated myself and how much I was beginning to hate our relationship. Some days, you told me I was too thin. Others, you told me I needed to start working out. You didn’t like the way my clothing fit me. And you certainly did not want to stay with someone who couldn’t even take care of themselves. Eventually, I left you, but not without emotional scars I fear will never fade.
When you love someone, you decide to love them for their good and their bad. And while you may not condone the bad, you certainly should never shame them for it. Shame never saved anyone. Patience, understanding, and support are what those of us struggling truly need.
So what is it like being in love when you have an eating disorder? It is like you are drowning and can see the hand trying to pull you back out, but no matter what you do, the current keeps pulling you under. It’s like finding the light only to be cast back into the darkness because the flame didn’t last as long as they said it would. It is like fighting a battle, but forgetting what side you are rooting for because sometimes, everything feels wrong. You never know when love is real, and you never trust anyone to stay. You are afraid for how they will react when they see you for who you really are, so you do your best to hide yourself from them. But sometimes the hiding is what makes them leave in the first place. You start to wonder if love just isn’t in the cards for you. But then you remember that you used to think you would never make it to the other side of your eating disorder. You used to think that recovery would never be for you. We become so used to finding comfort in the toxic because sometimes the toxic choice is the easiest one that we forget that a little bit of fight can yield beautiful results.
Loving someone with an eating disorder means loving a person who cannot love themselves. It means supporting a person who sees a different image reflected back at them. But just imagine the strength of that person you are loving. To get through every day hating what you see reflected back at you, but persevering because you know there has to be something better than how things are right now. That is true strength. And love needs a strong foundation to blossom and thrive.
Being in love when you have an eating disorder makes a challenging aspect of your life come center stage. But love is also the way out of your pain. So please, fall in love. Feel loved. And don’t be afraid when the first few don’t work out. Because if your eating disorder has taught you anything, you know that you are stronger than you ever thought possible. Don’t let it or anyone else’s toxic love convince you otherwise.
This story originally appeared on Thought Catalog.
Getty image by Archv