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For more info on sending in questions, see the bottom of this post. Now let’s get down to bossing people around on the internet! Today we’re going to talk about if and when you should tell your partner about disordered eating.
Q: When should I tell a potential partner about my eating disorder? Is it ok for me to wait until I’m comfortable or should I tell them straight up? I’m kind of scared of dumping this on them later on, but I dont want to scare them off either.
A: Telling new people you’re dating hard things about yourself is really scary! But at the same time, when they are things you don’t necessarily like about yourself, or at least feel like other people might perceive as being bad, we can feel like we have an obligation to tell the people we’re close to. It’s easy to feel like if they really know who you are, they won’t want to be around you, and so you have to be up front with them so they can make some kind of informed decision. Which, I guess honesty is a good policy. But obligation, I think, isn’t a particularly healthy thing to feel.
Try not to think in terms of what you feel like you owe this person, and just for a few minutes think instead about what you actually want out of this interaction, whenever it happens (or doesn’t happen). Are you thinking about this because it’s important to you to share personal parts of your life with a partner? Because you think talking to this person about your eating disorder would be good for you? Is it because you’d like support in dealing with it? Is it because you’re worried that they might find out without your telling them and be upset? First and foremost, what do you want from this?
When you say “potential partner,” it could mean a few things. It could mean a potential casual sex partner, or someone who you’re thinking of asking on a date, or someone who you’ve been talking to for a while now and you both feel like something really special could be happening and you’ve secretly already picked out a name in your head for the dog that you’re going to get together. If this is someone that you don’t necessarily have serious future plans with, or who you’ve been on a few dates with, I don’t think you need to tell them anything. In fact, I will go so far as to say that regardless of how seriously you view this relationship, you don’t need to tell them anything. Even if the best relationships often include high levels of sharing really personal things, that doesn’t all happen right away. There are plenty of things that it takes many people years and years to tell their partners, and that’s fine. Relationships are as much about what we owe ourselves as what we owe the other person.
I can’t tell for sure from your question whether you feel like it’s your responsibility to disclose your eating disorder to this person, but in case you do, I feel it’s important to note: your eating disorder is a thing you have, not who you are. If this person likes you and thinks you’re funny and smart and that you make good iced tea and have a lot of really cute shoes and read good books and know where the best thrift shopping places are and can do a really excellent messy bun, that’s all still true, eating disorder or no. All those things are just as real as your behaviors with food, and if they love all those things, then they really do care about you. There isn’t a “real” you that they don’t know — one that is somehow entangled with your eating disorder and that you’re hiding from them deceptively. You’re not lying to them, and you don’t have to feel bad. If you tell them, tell them because you want to and you think it will be good for you and for your relationship, not because you think you have to. Ideally, if this person is the partner you want them to be, there will come a time when you’re not only comfortable with telling them, but actually want to, because even the hardest parts of life are easier when you’re facing them with someone who loves you.
I think the key part of your question, really, is “Is it okay for me to wait until I’m comfortable?” Not to generalize, but in general, when it comes to relationships I’d go ahead and say the answer to “Is it okay for me to wait until I’m comfortable to X” is always “yes.” And a relationship that demands things you’re uncomfortable with isn’t one you need to be in anyway.
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