The Challenges Of Navigating Dating In Eating Disorder Recovery
After ending a long term relationship a few months ago, I’ve reentered the dating world. While dating as a 21-year-old woman in today’s world can be a challenge in and of itself, dating while recovering from an eating disorder (and other mental illnesses) has proven to be even more complicated.
One of the trickiest things for me to figure out has been how and when to share my eating disorder with someone I’m interested in. Personally, I am very open about my mental health in nearly all aspects of my life. I talk about my struggles with mental health publicly because it helps reduce the shame I feel, and it helps others feel less alone. However, opening up to someone you’re just getting to know about your eating disorder can feel like the most vulnerable act in the world.
While I have had many positive reactions to sharing my story with people I’ve dated, I have also had negative, stigmatizing reactions. It’s always a risk choosing to open up about my struggles with someone I’m interested in, however, I know that it is something that will always eventually come up. Getting it out of the way early gives the other person time to process the information, and it always gives you control over how they’re learning about your struggles.
Another challenging part of dating in recovery is learning how to validate yourself and not slide down the slippery slope of relying on validation from others. While it is totally normal (and expected) to find validation through dating, it becomes dangerous and unhealthy when that is the only place you can feel validated. Checking my intentions and learning to truly validate myself has been crucial in the dating process because I want to make sure that I’m in the dating world for healthy reasons, not just to seek external approval.
One more struggle that I have faced is becoming comfortable with dating in my “recovery body.” I started recovery while I was in a long term relationship, so, every other time I have dated was while I was in the depths of my eating disorder. Learning how to be comfortable dating in a body that still often feels foreign often feels like an impossible task, however, I’m slowly realizing that it isn’t worth my energy to obsess over it.
Navigating the “wonderful” world of dating while in eating disorder recovery can be extremely daunting. Whether it’s freaking out over how to disclose your eating disorder to your romantic interest, trying not to fall into the rabbit hole of external validation, learning how to embrace your ever changing body, or any of the other tricky aspects of eating disorder recovery, things can get pretty complicated. If you’re struggling to navigate the dating world while in recovery, you’re not alone.
Colleen Werner is a writer, dancer, and future therapist from Long Island, NY. She’s studying Psychology at SUNY Old Westbury and plans on going to graduate school for Mental Health Counseling. She aspires to start an eating disorder treatment program for dancers. Colleen’s experiences in recovery from an eating disorder and anxiety disorder have inspired her to share her story in an effort to help others, end the stigma, and create a sense of community. She is a National Ambassador for Project HEAL, a Campus Editor-at-Large for HuffPost, and a contributor for HerCampus and The Mighty. Colleen’s Instagram, @leenahlovesherself, inspires thousands every day with her posts about authenticity and mental health.