National Eating Disorders Association

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Long distance ED, long ago

Hi everyone,

First, I just wanted to let you all know how great it is that this kind of support forum exists. I could have done with it a long time ago, when I was with my ED ex. For many years I felt like a freak for what happened to us, and it’s both disturbing and comforting to know it’s, unfortunately, not so seldom.

I’ve been needing to tell this story for many years, so apologies for length.

When I first met her we were young, I had just turned 20, she 19. We were both on vacation, and I had never had much success with women up to that point. But she was beautiful, funny, very sweet and incredibly smart. I must confess at that point I already noticed the small scars on her arms, and while I was naïve, I knew they were from self-harm. She told me as much, but that it was from her early teenage years. I didn’t push the cause of it, I just assumed it was behind her. I figured what’s past is past.

We lived a significant distance apart, and she had a demanding study program. However, we met frequently, spending all of our vacation time and breaks from college together. Those years were wonderful, and we were incredibly close. She was everything I had ever imagined, and more. She took a keen interest in me, and my interests. On reflection, I think she was determined to be the best girlfriend she could be. She was my first love, and I fell deep. Looking back now, those years were like some incredible dream.

At some point her behavior started becoming erratic. There were initially small things, petty arguments that seemed to take on a significance beyond what they were. One time we were watching TV and she was staring strangely at some dancers on a music video. I asked her what’s up, and she replied ‘I’m trying to figure out if they’re skinnier than I am’. Things kind of slid down from there. Her self-harming resumed. She started losing weight, kept a diary of what she ate, and when she ‘purged’. On the one hand, I tried to encourage her to get help, on the other hand I was in denial about her illness. I didn’t think that something as horrible as an ED would be disrupting our relationship.

Eventually she did get help. She’d gone back home from college and her parents immediately took her to the doctors. There she broke down and was admitted to the psych ward. Visiting her there was one of the most horrible experiences of my life. I stopped sleeping and struggled to deal with the realization that the woman I loved was so close to death. Eventually she regained enough weight that she could be allowed home for the Holidays, but it was too much for her and she ended up with an overdose. I found her that evening, and bringing her to the ER with her father was another dreadful experience. It did bring me very close to her family. We always got on well, but now we had something more.

Eventually she gained enough weight to be transferred to a specialist clinic, and there things seemed to take an upward trajectory. I landed a job much closer to where she studied. It would still be a long-distance thing, but we could manage weekends as well as vacations. We had some joint therapy sessions together at this specialist clinic, and I felt we started to regain some closeness between us.

However, I was struggling with my own problems. The stress of her ED weighed heavily on my heart and mind, my parents were divorcing, and my grandmother had a neurodegenerative disease. She moved to therapy closer to her home town, and we had planned a holiday together for the summer. On my birthday she called to say she had met someone in therapy, and it was over. One of the things that sticks in my mind is how cold she was during the call. She just told me ‘I have to think of myself now’.

I tried speaking to her on several occasions, I couldn’t accept it was over just like that. I felt that over the past year or so I had poured my heart and soul into our relationship. Just as things were getting better, she was ending it. She never showed a flicker of emotion during our calls, which only caused me to show more emotion. This is something I really struggled with. She had always been so kind, so affectionate, and now she was as cold as ice.

In the end, I still took that job, still moved my life. It was a great offer, and I was ambitious. We never lost touch completely. I guess I needed to know she was OK. However every time we were in touch there was no emotion from her. I guess it was also difficult for her. Nonetheless she shared some things with me that indicated borderline personality disorder, in addition to her self-harm and ED. I tried to fill the void she left behind with various relationships and affairs.

Eventually, and quite unexpectedly I met my wife, and I could finally (or so I thought) let go of my ex. Fortunately my wife is the very model of health and stability. It’s amazing how much we value such things when they’ve been lacking. My wife and I built a great life together, and my career developed well.

This year a death in my family caused me to reflect deeply upon my life, and I was reminded of my ex, critical turning point in my life. I started asking myself questions, asking if I could not have done more at that time? What if I had moved to be with her sooner? I am convinced that the pressure of the long-distance relationship was a major factor in her ED. I fear that my selfish need to be with her was an instrumental factor in her problems. I feel terrible guilt for this, for having maybe damaged this wonderful person. I have tried reaching out to her, gently, to try to address some of those issues from the past. I needed some answers to gain closure. She wrote back, promising answers; but these never came.


Things like this are a rough deal alright. I've been though some of those same things ( the mental hospital, and seeing someone we care about continue to go downhill) so I know how trying it can be.

One thing that I learned though - Things like EDs have a life of their own.

And as much as we wish that it could, the "Love is all You Need" cure is often not strong enough to break through them.

I hope you won't question yourself too much about what you could have done differently. EDs are mysterious, and if we can tell ourselves that we brought good-will, and the best that we could to the situation when we were in that stage of life, then we really should be OK with ourselves about that.

I also know what you mean about wishing for resolution. By writing to her, hopefully that helped a little bit. Saying the things that we wish that we'd know how to say at the time - It's good that you've done that I think.

As far as her getting back to you, it's hard to know about that. The answers that she may have for you…they still may be too difficult for her to think about clearly. Or without shame, and emotions like that.

But she knows that she has your good-will, and that's still something I think.

The surprise

Thanks, Bob, for your answer.

Remarkably she not only wrote back, we actually talked.
She apologised for how she had behaved, that she deeply regrets so many of her actions, in particular causing me pain.
There was genuine feeling there, but it was also very difficult for her, for both of us.
I wasn't able to broach the topic of whether my actions, our relationship, lead to her problems. I fear I know the answer already.
I'd like to think we could even talk again, but I think, paradoxically, it would be harder for her than for me.
I'm grateful that she finally reached out to me, and that she's doing well.



"I wasn't able to broach the topic of whether my actions, our relationship, lead to her problems. I fear I know the answer already."

When it comes to life and our own behaviors, one thing to keep in mind is that we're just human. As a result, we won't always do everything right, or in the ways which years in the future we might wish that we had.

So I think that we have to reflect on our good will instead. If somehow we were mean or cruel, then that might be one thing, but if we were trying our best at the time, then that counts.

"Self-forgivness" you know ? Getting ourselves through life in healthy ways can involve a measure of that.

I'm really glad that the two of you were able to talk, even if the emotions were difficult ones.