We walked into the restaurant, bundled up in our winter coats, hats and gloves, standing a little awkwardly apart from each other, it was our first official date after all.
“Table for two,” I said to the hostess.
She led us to a square table right in the middle of the room, introducing us to our waiter who was in training. It was one of those two person tables that always makes me feel cramped and fidgety. There’s no booth to hide in and no extra space to look at or put your enormous winter coat on. It’s just you and whomever you for some reason decided to go out with. Oh, and of course the waiter who continually asks you “how you are doing?”.
We sat down, opened the menus, and at that moment, while my date was probably making some insightful comment about something I’d never noticed, my mind froze. It wasn’t the normal date anxiety about whether or not you’ll look cuter eating a salad (the answer is no because you’ll end up with lettuce sticking out of your teeth) or a grilled chicken sandwich (also no because the sauce to bread ratio is way too high). Instead, my eyes had latched on to a 3-digit number listed alongside each entree. The calories.
I couldn’t peel my eyes away and an unbidden but all-too-familiar voice was yelling in my head. 750 calories for a salad?! That’s over 7 miles of running, over an hour of exercise, where do you think you have time to fit that in? Salads are too difficult to throw up, out of the question. Suddenly I felt enormous in my white and blue striped shirt, my neck felt fat and wrinkly. I fidgeted in my seat, ED was right, I couldn’t afford to eat any of this.
Silence had fallen at our tiny table. I’d almost forgotten I had a real live date, not just ED.
“So do you know what you’re going to order?” he asked. Something told me it wasn’t the first time he had said that.
“Uhhh, still working on it” I replied, doing my best to not let ED’s thoughts on the subject slip out.
When the waiter arrived, our unwanted third wheel had pointed out that a sandwich would be the easiest thing to throw up, my date had made clear that he really only ever orders one thing off menus – burgers – and I had decided that there was a reason I had hardly dated up to this point. Food.
Food. Food. Food.
Why was having dinner together in public seen as a good first date idea? For anyone who has an eating disorder (approximately three percent of the U.S. population according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) it is a horrible one. Trying to impress someone (or at least act natural) in an environment where food is the main entertainment is close to impossible when all you can think about it your weight and the best means to not gain anymore.
That evening, and dozens of dates since then, I’ve spent more time standing in the bathroom in combat with ED, hands gripped into fists, willing myself not to do anything, then I’d like to admit.
“He thinks you’re beautiful like this,” I would tell myself, or more convincingly, “who wants to hold a hand that smells like vomit?”
If it were up to me everyone’s first date would involve minimal eye contact and absolutely zero food. Keep the awkwardness low and the food completely out of it. Like a trip to a bookstore (that was my first date the second time around with this guy and it’s working out much better).
But sadly, it isn’t up to me, and the dinner date will likely rain supreme for generations to come. Thousands more girls and boys, men and women will find themselves bringing ED along to harass and berate them about their dinner choices. Their date my have been for warned, but more likely, they’ll sit there wondering why the evening has gone so terribly wrong.
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner (as evidenced by the insane amount of chocolate crowding the shelves at CVS right now) the planning of the obligatory dinner date to celebrate is under way for thousands of couples.
I’m sure the vast majority of them will have a splendid time (or not, but it won’t have anything to do with ED), but let me just throw a little idea out there to anyone who has, is in recovery from or dating someone with an eating disorder – there are other ways to celebrate your love.
Snowshoeing or skiing, a concert or a play, a movie night snuggled up on the couch or (of course) a trip to the bookstore are all wonderful ways to spend the day.
But if you who must stick to the dinner date, just remember it may not be the romantic evening with you and your love that you wanted. You might have a not-so-cuddly, third wheel to watch out for: ED.
Many thanks to my boyfriend Dillon for putting up with both me and ED on countless dates – even the dinner ones.