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Love. It’s a short word- four letters, one syllable, one breath. Looking at such a small, insignificant formation of letters, it’s hard to imagine just how much meaning and weight it can hold. The burden, the laughter, the heartache, the desire, the best and most painful feeling in the world, all of it, encompassed in this tiny word. Love is incredibly scary. It’s all around us, painted as something precious and magical and we are all expected to find it and hold unto it with a death-like grip. We are taught it’s the end all, be all. TV shows and movies and love songs don’t tell us just how much work love can be, how much you have to put into it to get the same feelings back. What’s even less talked about are how someone with an eating disorder might view romantic relationships. Obviously, I am about to make some hardcore generalizations. Every person has their own unique experiences which might impact how they go about navigating romantic relationships but it would be ignorant of me to declare that having an ED has not had any impact on my romantic life.

The truth is, for me, it’s hard for me to separate the two. My ED came about partially because of how I thought others were seeing me so for a long time, I never really expressed interest in anyone because I figured I wouldn’t have a chance- denial for me was way easier than confronting any emotions. In my first ever relationship, during a time in my life when I felt confident and strong and healed, my ED weaseled its way back into my life, spurred on by my body insecurities and the prospect of physical intimacy. My ED became a third wheel because it was always there, in the back of my mind, reminding me why I wasn’t good enough. I had a very supportive boyfriend, but it didn’t matter because I felt like I’d already committed to my ED. That insecurity kept manifesting itself until I broke it off with him completely. For me, it just wasn’t worth the pressure.

That relationship took an immense toll on me. I felt so weak and pathetic and I preferred- still prefer actually- to remain independent, to make sure how I view myself and how I feel are determined by no one but me. If I don’t let anyone in, I can’t get hurt, right? Alas, i’m wrong. Love is scary. Love is terrifying. Love can cause so much pain and suffering. But love can also be amazing and wonderful and make you feel like the most amazing person in the world. It just takes a hell lot of courage to get there.

I still struggle to remind myself that being involved with someone does not mean I get to put myself and my health second. That just because I am with someone, in whatever capacity, I suddenly have to conform to what I think they might want. I think most humans instinctively aim to please and that desire makes us put ourselves last. In reality, though, how can you have anything real with anyone if you’re not taking care of yourself first? The answer: you can’t. It’s also just as important to remember that if you’re with someone, and they make you happy, they chose you because you make them happy too. They chose you for you and not for anybody else. They don’t want whatever version of yourself you’ve constructed based on the opinions of others. Be open to love, be even more open to loving yourself. In the words of the fiercest queen of all: “If you can’t love yourself, who in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”

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