Dating a Woman with an Eating Disorder – What I’ve LearnedPosted: March 1, 2014
So last week, I wrote about Johnny.
This week, he wrote about me. He even came up with this week’s title. Ladies and gents, a guest blog post from the man I’m dating, Johnny Burkhart.
Beauty & The Beast
What It’s Like To Date A Woman Recovering From An Eating Disorder
When Amanda asked me to write a guest blog, I was hesitant to say the least. Could I really be honest about what it’s like to date a woman with a binge eating disorder and would she still love me afterwards? I pray that the latter part is true.
Another reason I was hesitant was because she wanted me to respond to an article entitled 5 Reasons To Date A Girl With An Eating Disorder written by an anonymous guy on the misogynistic website “Return of Kings”. The author of the article, who writes under an alias (ahem, coward), claims to “specialize in dating culture and social intelligence”. Before I read the article, I glanced at the comments below it which were strewn with hate for this anonymous guy and disgust for the article. Alrighty then, this oughta be great. After I read the actual article, I realized this guy had no idea what he was talking about. The article did not contain any intelligence, but was possibly his attempt at humor? One can only hope.
Apparently any idiot can spew out a bunch of nonsense and have it posted on the internet. So why shouldn’t I give it a shot?
This post is in no way a response to that article, and if you have any sense at all, you will totally ignore that article and not give it any more energy than it has already received. What I have written below is simply my experience dating Amanda and is not a blanket statement about what it’s like to date women with eating disorders or specifically binge eating disorders.
Honestly Though! – One of the things that most attracted me to Amanda was her honesty. I don’t think we would be together today if it weren’t for her brutal honesty. I read her blog before we ever went on our first date, so I knew what kind of craziness I was signing up for. I was in awe of how honest she was in her blog, and even face to face with people. It’s truly inspiring and sometimes a little scary, especially when she writes about me in her blog.
Something that came to me after reading her blog was that I had grown up with a binge eater. I had never called it that or thought of it in the terms she puts it in, but my mother was/is a binge eater. I watched her slowly put on the pounds as I grew up and saw the toll that it took on her body. She is now in recovery for it and working on getting healthier which I am incredibly proud of her for.
This realization caught me off guard, and I was afraid that if Amanda found out, she wouldn’t want to date me. I was afraid that she might think that I was trying to heal some old shit with my mother – which could be true, let’s face it – and that she wouldn’t want any part of it. I mean, we did meet when we were at a retreat center where she came to do some major healing around her ED. But I knew that honesty was the only course of action here, so I told her.
Honesty plays a big role in our relationship today and it has to. It has to go both ways. We have to be honest with each other. That could be said for any relationship really, but when you’re dating a binge eater that is especially true. Even when it’s hard and I feel that pit in the bottom of my stomach, no pun intended, I know that I have to be honest with Amanda. So bear with me as I get real honest about some shit here.
Shame vs. Accountability “You ate all the cookies?!!” – When we first started dating, Amanda told me that I couldn’t say “anything” to her about her food decisions. I understand that shame plays a big role with women who have ED’s, I get it! But there’s a fine line between shame and accountability when you date/live with a woman who is a binge eater.
There are times when I bite my tongue because I don’t want risk her feeling shamed by me. Look, I don’t want to sound like her mother or anything. But we do share food and expenses, so there does need to be some form of accountability for what we consume. So when I ask where all the Fudge Mint Cookies are, I am not trying to shame her. I just want some fucking cookies!
I have learned to know when to pick my battles. Sometimes you can’t win, no matter what, you just can’t! When she does eat all the cookies, I know better than to say “why did you eat all the cookies, what were you thinking?” That would be shaming. I have also learned that if she buys cupcakes and there’s only one left, I better not eat it without asking her first or there will be hell to pay.
Now, when she asks if we can go get some ice cream, I know better than to say to her, “Really? Ice cream? Is that such a great choice right now?” I either say “Yeah, let’s go get some ice cream”, or “No thanks.” It can be that simple. I know better than to try and play her mom and monitor her food choices – I think that’s part of the reason we’re in this whole mess in the first place. That’s not my job nor do I ever want that job. My job is to love her no matter what her food choices are that day or that moment and to try to encourage her to be the best she can be.
The Emotional Roller Coaster Ride – They say that women are ruled by their emotions, and having an eating disorder just adds to that equation. Dating a woman with an ED can be quite the emotional roller coaster. The ups and downs, good decisions followed by bad decisions, craziness and uncertainty make for some interesting times.
There are days when she feels good about herself and she makes good decisions. She’s confident and it seems nothing can get in her way. Those are the days when she loves me and I can do nothing wrong, she’s supportive and nonjudgmental. Even if I say the wrong thing to her she can just laugh it off.
Then there are the days when she doesn’t want to get out of bed, let alone get dressed. She makes unhealthy decisions, like eating cake just before going to sleep. She has zero confidence in herself or what she’s doing in life. Those are the days when if I make the slightest comment about anything she wants to kill me and I would rather be anywhere else but by her side. Thankfully there are less of these days and more of the good days or I might have to reconsider the situation.
Amanda is one of the most ambitious and positive people I have ever met or had the pleasure of being in a relationship with. But when she has bad days, there’s not much I can say or do to bring her out of it. As much as possible, I try and let her find her own solutions to things and encourage her to look inside at what’s really going on. I know from experience that people need to really sit in their shit and feel it before they are ready to come out of it.
The same fire that fuels her passion for dance and performing is also at the heart of her addiction in some way.
“It is a beast, this thing that stirs in the core of her being, but it is also the star of her innermost nature. We have to care for this suffering with extreme reverence so that, in our fear and anger at the beast, we do not overlook the star.” – Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul
Body Image & Sex – When I was 19 years old, I told my live-in girlfriend that if she got fat that I would leave her. OK, OK, put down your weapons ladies! That was a long time ago and I have learned to be more compassionate. I’d also like to think I’ve gotten a lot smarter about how to talk to women. Key word, “think”.
Many years later, I find myself in a relationship with a woman whose weight has slowly but steadily increased since we began dating. Now I would never say anything to her about this because it really doesn’t matter to me anymore. I find her just as sexy and attractive as when we first began dating.
Sexy to me isn’t about being rail thin or starving yourself or working out 8 hours a day. Sexy to me is about how you carry yourself, the love that you share with others and being emotionally present. Amanda has that; I mean did you see her Roar performance? This woman has got that attitude and drive that just does it for me and it doesn’t matter what the number on the scale says.
Amanda has asked me before if I think she is fat or has gained weight but I don’t take the bait. I’m not going to stand over her shoulder as she steps on the scale either. It’s not my job or place to say if she’s gained weight or needs to lose a few pounds. Again, my job is to love her just the way she is, fat, thin, clear skin, or broken out.
I’m not saying it’s always easy because it’s not. Having sex with someone who just engulfed a bowl of vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate chips doesn’t exactly do it for me. Then there’s the days she wants to make out in the morning with a huge whitehead on her upper lip from binging on chocolate the night before. “Um… hey babe maybe you uh… can you take care of that before we uh… um I mean have you uh… oh boy!” Thankfully those times are the exceptions and not the rule.
The “D” Word – Recently Amanda asked me if I would be willing to do an Intolerance Test with her. Not sure what she was talking about I asked her to explain what that meant. She proceeded to tell me how you weren’t allowed to have any gluten, dairy, corn, sugar, bread, processed foods, or bananas for 3 weeks. Oh, and no eating out at restaurants either, my personal favorite. “Well,” I said, “as fun as that sounds, I don’t really like doing Diets!”. Then the earth actually stopped spinning for a few seconds and she said “IT’S NOT A DIET! It’s an intolerance test don’t call it a Diet!” Yep, I actually said the “D” word to a binger, my bad.
Not realizing what the “D” word meant to someone with an eating disorder, I had some back peddling to do here. I proceeded to tell her that I would help support her in any way I could without actually doing the intolerance test with her the whole time. I’m willing to try some new recipes and things but giving all that up for 3 weeks basically amounted to torture to me. I’m of the philosophy of everything in moderation.
Amanda used to tell me about her experiences with trying to cut out sugar and desserts and how that would just lead to more bingeing. So I wasn’t so gung ho about this intolerance test to begin with. She would always say that it’s better to have some of her favorite foods around just in case the cravings came on and she could try and hit them off at the pass before full bingeing mode kicked in.
So a few days later she started her “intolerance test” and the fun began. I really should have seen it coming. It hit me like that magical visit from Aunt Flo each month. When you take away sugar and all the deliciousness of most foods away from a binger, it’s not a pretty picture at first. Luckily that only lasted a couple days.
I was surprised that she even wanted to try it, given her history of trying food restriction, and I was honestly skeptical of the whole thing. She eventually settled into it though and seems to be hitting her stride now. She really is handling it amazingly well. It speaks volumes for her recovery that she is able to stick with it, and I am so proud of her for that.
So #Blessed – One of our closest friends, John Reardon, was the catalyst for our relationship. He is always saying to me how blessed Amanda is to have me in her life. I can literally feel Amanda’s eyes roll back in her skull and cringe every time he says this or texts it to me. But like, it’s true. Some of you know or have experienced what it’s like to be in a relationship where you don’t feel supported by the other person OR their behavior just seems to trigger you into doing things you shouldn’t. When you find the “right” person, they should lift you up and encourage you, not trigger your bad habits and addictions. I think, (again, key word, “think”), that I lift Amanda up instead of triggering her, and that’s why John always says how blessed she is to have me in her life.
I am also so blessed to have Amanda in my life. Her love and enthusiasm for life are infectious and I am so inspired by her. So much so, that I agreed to learn a duet tap dance with her for the May recital with the dance studio she’s teaching at – in front of an actual audience. I have mixed feelings about this decision, but it’s all happening now, so I’m just gonna go with it. I was also inspired by her to write this post and put it out there to you all. All of her passion and love for life make all of the craziness of her ED seem so insignificant.
“The uniqueness of a person is made up of the insane and twisted as much as it is of the rational and normal.” Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul
You see, Amanda and I are both a little twisted and insane, but in a way that supports each other. And for that, we are both so blessed.
Seriously Though! – Dating a woman who is recovering from an eating disorder isn’t as scary as it might seem. As I started out saying here, the key is really all about honesty. Like Amanda always says, “everyone has their shit” that they are dealing with – some more than others. But if you’re honest about your shit, it makes all the difference in the world. Hiding your shit really only makes things worse in the end.
So ladies and gents, if you think that hiding an eating disorder or an addiction from the person you are dating is a good thing, or the safe thing, I want you to reconsider. I strongly encourage you to share your shit with your partner. It may help explain some of the crazy shit you do from time to time. I know that if I didn’t know what Amanda was dealing with, I would have been out the door a long time ago. Knowing what she’s going through allows me to be more compassionate with her when she’s acting like a crazy bitch. Seriously though!
I don’t try and heal Amanda. That’s not the intention here. You are honest not so your partner can help fix you, but to bear witness to what you are going through. I’ve dated, and was even married, to women who were a closed book and would never reveal what was really going on, not even to a therapist. They carried a lot of extra baggage around to basically try and save some face. It eventually catches up to all of us at some point. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m thankful everyday for Amanda’s honesty – even when things are rough between us – because it’s the foundation of our relationship and the reason our love is so strong to this day.
Let me just remind you – like I remind Amanda often – of the second agreement of The Four Agreements: Don’t make assumptions. You cannot assume what your friends or your significant other will think if you open up to them about your issues. Never assume. And if you open up to them, and they make an ass out of you, then seriously though, they are NOT worth your time.
Well, I think I covered all the ground I wanted to here. I’ve been trying to come up with a good way to close this all up, but I’m a little stuck, so I’m just gonna let Bob Marley do the talking.
Lots of aloha from Hawaii,
Next Week’s Posting:
I’m not sure but I’m sure Amanda has something good to say