National Eating Disorders Association

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stinkmystery
Advice: Girl I'm Dating Has Withdrawn

Having read through the forums, I know that this withdrawal is the number 1 thing that guys bring up. And BobJ's posts have been helpful (I'm hoping he responds to this also).

Here's the background / context:
We've been dating for 5-6 months, and things were going great. As December and the holidays came up, I started to notice that she began cancelling more and more plans with me last minute and her communications because much terser and seemingly less caring. Very transactional (i.e., no longer telling me about her day and plans, no longer asking questions about me - - just very terse responses that may answer my question but basically end the conversation). She mentioned to me that December is a tough month for her and that she will struggle (due to domestic abuse situation from prior relationships during this time). I had no idea the extent to which the withdrawal would happen - days without direct communication (although she will post stories on Instagram for the world to see), cancelling of plans last minute (sometimes literally one minute before we are supposed to meet), etc. This is now the 3rd week where this is happening.

We typically meet at least once a week on the weekend...we met the weekend of the 5th twice and had a great time, then silence and cancellations for the weekend of the 12th, then we saw each other on the 17th and the 20th (she cancelled and rescheduled a few times and mentioned difficulty with ED that week, so something may have triggered her, and also that we were feeling "relationshipy" - - again, I know...very common per BobJ's experiences), and then she basically cancelled our Christmas plans and has let me know via txt that December is really hard for her, she knows it must be confusing for me, and to bear with her. I told her that I would absolutely be here and continue to be, and that I'll be flexible for her based on when she wants to meet. I may have then done a faux-pas as I then noted that I feel that this month she's been in a funk because of her struggles with the time of year and ED rearing its ugly head - - I also offered to provide her with any support or help she needs to fight ED (someone to talk to, setting up first appointments, etc.) and then I said "pls take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, and know that I'm rooting for you in every way possible way and hope to see you sooner than later". I realized later that since this is over txt (it's not ideal, but how we communicate when we aren't together), all that may have been overwhelming. I took a page out of BobJ's book and sent a text later that simply said "I'm sorry if my actions today were overwhelming...I'm not perfect...so pls bear with me too! I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you. Thank you for reiterating that this month is tough and asking me to bear with you - I will!"

I'm trying to balance giving her space and letting her know I'm here for her. Since we've met, I've always sent good morning and good night texts - - I've continued to do so. She's also consistently stated that she likes that I'm persistent in communicating with her and when I explicitly asked her if she would like me to continue texting, her answer was "yes - as long as you're ok with me not responding all the time."

I'd appreciate thoughts on the following:
1. I've read that consistency in relationships is important for people in ED recovery. Is my consistent texting helping or hurting?
2. When I text, should I continue to invite her to do things together and meet (even if she doesn't respond)? Does that make the person with ED feel better knowing that they are still being thought about and included or does it create undue pressure?
3. Is the silence something she is choosing or is ED making it difficult for her to communicate? I think it's the latter...although it's hard for me to understand why she can't take a minute to let me know what's going on - - I'm guessing it's the shame aspect of ED there too.
4. I've written a letter to her that I'm on the fence about delivering...would it be ok for me to share it here (names and things like that removed) and get opinions on whether it would help or hurt if I shared it with her? I don't know whether I should put it in her mail or hold on to it and read it to her together.

Sorry for the ramble, but I'd appreciate thoughts and sharing of experiences on how to best interact with her during this time.

BobJ48
Stinkmystery

Hey. I'm glad you took the time to write.

And yeah, the "what to do" part. When the responses we get are…"inconsistent"...it can be really hard to judge if we are doing OK with our end of things or not.

And how about the part where you can get together and have a good time, and then, like some kind of switch gets thrown, it can seem like they don't want our company at all. So you are right; how are we supposed to know how we are doing ?

This part too: "...days without direct communication (although she will post stories on Instagram for the world to see)," So sometimes being really open, and other times being closed off.
So there you are, in a situation where it seems like she's in control of the relationship, but at the same time, she'd probably tell you that she doesn't necessarily have it figured out herself. Which means that you are probably OK with following your caring instincts, and try not to question yourself too much.

What she said about December being a hard month, if people have had intense negative experiences in the past, it's not uncommon for them to become unsettled every year, around the time that those events happened. So what she's telling you about that is not unusual.

Anyhow, I'm rambling myself, so about the questions you asked :

1. I've read that consistency in relationships is important for people in ED recovery. Is my consistent texting helping or hurting?

I think you're right about that, and even if she seems to be ignoring you, I wouldn't feel bad about keeping it up. Because I do believe that the consistency has meaning for her, as long as you don't act upset that she isn't replying. She kind of told you that herself, so I think you're OK to believe it. I mean, you like her, right ? So somehow you're supposed act otherwise ?

2. When I text, should I continue to invite her to do things together and meet (even if she doesn't respond)? Does that make the person with ED feel better knowing that they are still being thought about and included or does it create undue pressure?

You know, I'm not sure how helpful it is to treat the situation with kid gloves. Granted, she may feel some pressure ,but what, you guys are just supposed to give up on the world, and let ED run everything ? " I know you might not feel in the mood, but I thought we might go on a hike this weekend, if you find that you feel like going." Remember that people with Eds can be put-off by the idea of eating, so you might say " I know you might worry about the food angle, but I hope you won't worry about what I'll think of that." What I mean is, if you can convey the fact that you understand what some of her worries might be….that you "get it"…then it might help her feel more comfortable.

3. Is the silence something she is choosing or is ED making it difficult for her to communicate? I think it's the latter...although it's hard for me to understand why she can't take a minute to let me know what's going on - - I'm guessing it's the shame aspect of ED there too.

I think it's that with EDs, there are periods of time where pretty much everything just feels overwhelming. Being asked to "be normal" can just seem like too much. Folks generally aren't too happy to admit that, so there may be some shame going on too. So the person ends up just avoiding the whole thing. But no, I don't think she's doing it to be mean, or to send some kind of message that you're just to dumb to figure out.

4. I've written a letter to her that I'm on the fence about delivering...would it be ok for me to share it here (names and things like that removed) and get opinions on whether it would help or hurt if I shared it with her?

Sure, let's hear it. My guess is that you've probably done a good job, but we could check it out if you'd like.

" I don't know whether I should put it in her mail or hold on to it and read it to her together."

Let's see what it says first. You know how it goes I suspect; if something feels challenging in the moment, we can impulsively say things that we might not say, if we'd had more time to think about what we'd really want to say.

And just to say, the fact that she's been as open with you as she has…that's kind of hopeful I think. Not that anything about EDs is easy, but it sounds to me like she's not in denial about her situation, which can make things easier than they could otherwise be.

Bob J.

stinkmystery
Letter and update

BobJ - thank you very much for your response. First a few updates.
1. She texted me a fair bit today and noted that she had a better day today...did some exercise and is trying to make the best decisions possible to keep it a good day. So that is promising and helps calm my mind.
2. We set a plan to meet this weekend, and also tomorrow...fingers crossed that all of that happens and she continues to have good days!
3. I've hemmed and hawed about the letter and have decided not to share it with her for now. But I've included the contents below. I think it serves more as a good reminder for myself about what she might be going through and how I should actually feel about the periods of silence if I'm in her shoes. I'm sharing it below in case it helps anyone else who finds themselves in my position. I think sharing it with her at this point might make her feel like I'm overanalyzing her...and for somebody with ED and wants control, that can be very scary and "relationshipy". I will share it with her one day if she feels like she has recovered or gotten a good handle on ED.

Here's the letter - I would love your thoughts on it, even though I likely won't share it with her for now.

Dear <Name>,

The holidays - - I understand and know that it is a really tough time for many people…and specifically for you. I understand that you likely feel awful about withdrawing, cancelling, etc, and I forgive you - - I am assuming it is ED and/or the trauma rearing its ugly head. And I want you to know that I’ll be patient because you’ve told me this will happen and set that expectation early as you shared your struggles with me over the past months. I want to be with you through this to help out any way I can. I’m firmly on your side – whatever you do.

Here are some things that I think you may be feeling or going through:
• You may worry that you are somehow not good enough or perfect enough or have anything to offer
• You may sometimes wonder if you’ll ever get or feel better
• It must be difficult to believe good things about yourself
• You must be feeling really terrible
• Sometimes, you probably feel like you hate yourself
• I know things must feel really awful right now, and how discouraging it must be to feel like things will never be able to change and/or relapses will always occur.
• Thinking about the future is scary
• You might feel a sense of guilt about causing others to worry or feeling like a burden
• You might feel like a disappointment or that you will inevitably disappoint
• You might feel like you don’t trust yourself
• Having someone authentically care about you is scary, because of many reasons – namely expectations or obligations that you (or sometimes ED) might feel you can’t or don’t want to live up to

Any of the above may or may not be true, but I imagine that you’re feeling some combination of them during this time. I want you to know that I continue to read and learn about what you’re going through and will keep doing so.

Please remember the following:
1. I know that you care about me. And you know that I care about you. Let’s use that as a strength and trust each other (scary – I know).
2. I’m planning to stick around. I think you plan to also and per your text, I will be patient and bear with you. Let’s get through the holidays!
3. I’m trying to strike the right balance between reaching out so that you know you’re valued / wanted and giving you space. I’m not perfect and likely am not striking the right balance (I’m sorry)…Just know that whatever I do, it’s rooted in #1 - - we both care.
4. I’m here to support you - - Please let me know, when you’re ready, what would be most helpful. I hope you take the risk to continue trusting me and take me up on my offer of support and help. I understand that sometimes it’ll be to find ways to go along with your ED / trauma or it could be helping find ways that might help you fight it and get better or it could simply be to do fun things completely unrelated to take your mind off things - - Either way, I’ll support you and trust you (note that doesn’t mean I won’t challenge your thinking)

I’m around and not working this upcoming week. So, reach out whenever you feel like you can meet and we will meet. I’d like you to receive and open your Christmas presents, hike / walk outside with me, hit the range with me, or just hang out – no need to talk about ED or anything like that unless you want to! It’s an open invitation. I’m on your side, be kind and forgiving to yourself, and I’ll be here <Name>! I do want to see you and just be with you when you’re able.

BobJ48
Letter.

SM,

Regarding the letter, you wrote :

"... I think it serves more as a good reminder for myself about what she might be going through, and how I should actually feel about the periods of silence if I'm in her shoes. "

This is just what I was going to say, but you've said it yourself. When we write things like this, we are reminding ourselves, just as much as we are speaking to the other person.

And boy, it really sounds like you've been doing your homework. The list of bullet points are right on the money, so I believe you can have confidence in the things that you wrote.

One suggestion though. That thing you always hear about "You" statements. And how we should make "I" statements instead. For example :
• You may worry that you are somehow not good enough or perfect enough or have anything to offer. Instead you might say :

"I know it must be difficult to worry if you'll ever be good enough, or worry if you'll have anything to offer."

Maybe it's just semantics, but using "I" statements gives more of the impression that you "get it", and hints at the fact that other "perfectly normal" people can worry about those same things too. Which is kind of true, I think, for anyone who's personally reflective.

That's one of the things with EDs, I've always felt. The emotional issues they attempt to address are not that far removed from what many thoughtful people think about. Are we "good enough" yet ? Are we deserving of a good life ? What sorts of trials should we be expected to put ourselves through, before we are finally "worthy" ? You can begin to understand why people often say "It's not about food."

So yes, I'd keep all the things in that letter in mind, and pull them out when each one of them seems appropriate. You guys may not be at the point where it's comfortable to talk about these things face to face, but in your texts and such, sometimes it's easier that way.

Also, one other concept to keep in mind, and that's "risk taking". Various things are going to feel risky to her. Sometimes going out with you is going to feel risky. Anything that seems like it may have to do with eating can feel…unsafe. Being around other people can feel risky. My guess would be that she's probably reached the point where she resents the fact that her ED constricts and restrains her like this. So keep the "being willing to take risks" part in mind. Not that you need to urge her to take them, but just that you know that she's having to take them sometimes.

Otherwise…well, as perhaps you've noticed, not too many guys take the step of coming here and talking about these things. Trying to dope the situation out, I mean. So I hope you can feel good about your efforts to do a good job.

Even that can not be enough sometimes. But to be able to say that we're trying our best - That's a thing that help ourselves too.

stinkmystery
Follow-Up

Thanks very much Bob! Thankfully, I was able to see her yesterday and we had a good time together opening presents and talking. We also seem to be able to talk about ED in person - - it's actually much more difficult over text. Her perspective is that talking about it is a key step to taking away power from ED, which is a great headspace to be in. She's also told me that "she'll always be back" - - I hope that's true! We now have plans this weekend again, which is really positive - hopefully as we get past December, whatever caused her to withdraw becomes less of an issue...

I appreciate the "I" statement examples - I tried, but can clearly do better with them! And the way you framed the "risk" piece is great - I'll keep that in mind! I agree that she's reached a point where she wants to fight ED and resents it.

You stated that:
"That's one of the things with EDs, I've always felt. The emotional issues they attempt to address are not that far removed from what many thoughtful people think about. Are we "good enough" yet ? Are we deserving of a good life ? What sorts of trials should we be expected to put ourselves through, before we are finally "worthy" ? You can begin to understand why people often say "It's not about food.""

What other things do EDs often think or obsess about? Also, when EDs withdraw or disappear for a day or two, can you help me understand what EDs are going through? Why might they post on social media but not take the time to communicate with close loved ones?

BobJ48
Follow up.

Hey there SM,

"What other things do EDs often think or obsess about?"

OK, what I said about how "It's not about food" ? One of the nastier aspects about eating disorders is frequently people obsess about food all day long. In fact, often when people finally start thinking that they might be in trouble, they'll tell you that that's what did it - " I realized that that was the only thing I was thinking about 24/7." Food, what food they were going to eat next, how many hours until the could eat, how many calories, and etc. They'll tell you how bad it can be ; Their studies go to hell, they didn't have room for friendships or hobbies anymore - they have this sudden realization that it's like their brain has been taken over by ED.

Which…all this restricting and self-discipline was supposed to be about being in control, but instead now it's controlling them. This is when a lot of people go "Uh oh" and can begin to have depression and such.

People can have lots of trouble with self-hate too. And the idea of not wanting to be a burden on others. Which may be what's happening when you don't hear from her. Like that trying to keep a happy face on…it just gets too hard sometimes.

Also, she's going to be thinking "He wants me to recover", which to be honest, sometimes they don't feel ready to do. So they can worry about being a disappointment to you. The "not being ready" can play a role in withdrawal I think. They don't want to be put in a position where they let you down.

With social media…sometimes it's anonymous. They can say what's on their minds, and there won't be any consequences. Whereas if their loved ones knew what they were thinking…there might be. I work on a message board that can't be mentioned here, and people are always worrying that people they know will somehow find out who they are, and read their stuff. I'm not sure what the context is as far as the social media that she's on, but if she knows that you are reading it, I think you can count on the fact that she want's you to know all that stuff, even if she can't tell you in person.

LOL, and the "I" statement thing. Yep, it can take some practice, yes ? And feel a little unnatural to begin with. But maybe you can see how to the other person it sounds…a little less challenging, I guess ? Like when we say "I" it's like we are taking some personal ownership for the ideas ? Rather than getting all "You you you" at the person.

What you said about the two of you being able to talk about ED in person - That's something that's really worth being encouraged by I think. Because a lot of people can't do that.

So…the "taking risks" thing that I mentioned, she's already doing that. Which is always a good sign I think.

And I hope you guys have a good time on the weekend. EDs can be lonely and isolating, so being able to do normal sorts of stuff and stay connected with the world, that's a legitimate area where partners can help I think.

Let us know how things go if you want to.

And yeah, the December thing. There was probably some traumatic stuff that was involved, so it's probably best to wait until she feels safe talking about that. When I talk with people who've had trauma, for myself, it's generally enough for me to understand that "something bad happened" without really needing to know the details.

stinkmystery
Talking about avoidant behaviors

Thanks Bob!

Can you (or others) possibly give some advice about how to have a conversation about how the last minute cancellations and changes affect me? I'd like to have that conversation with her in a way that's as productive as possible and want to prepare for it.

For example, most of our get togethers are one-on-one and I carve out a good portion of my day to be with her. When she cancels last minute, it creates anxiety for me knowing that something is probably wrong on her end, and it also (in the moment) makes a lot of different things run through my mind (e.g., does she not want to spend time with me, did I do something wrong)?

Another example: When we communicate about plans, in person she's very enthusiastic. And on good days (when we aren't in person), she'll commit to things. However, as our get together approaches or on bad days, when I try to confirm logistics or time, she starts uses terms like "maybe" or doesn't respond - - again, causing anxiety because I don't have confirmation from her that she will show up. Sometimes I won't know until the time we are supposed to meet. With anyone else, I would probably have a conversation about "respect" (respect my time, respect our interactions), but I feel like with ED, this conversation could be seen as very negative or triggering, so would appreciate some advice on how to possibly have this conversation in a productive way.

From what I'm learning, this all may be somewhat common behavior for folks with ED - is it? And what are some ways to talk about this to identify some of the root issues and talk about changing some of the behavior (e.g., cancelling earlier, communicating why they need to cancel, or even better - finding ways to still meet up in a way that might reduce their anxiety (i.e., i'd still like to meet with them even if what we do is different and much more low key)?

Or...with a loved one, is it better to just be patient, not talk about it, and let them come out of their shell on their own? If it's this, that's so extremely hard...

BobJ48
Uncertinaties about getting together, and things just in general

Hey Sm,

Boy, this is an interesting question. By that I mean, how much are we supposed to pander to the person's ED ? Granted its' tough for them to be plagued by the sorts of doubts and uncertainties that result in them acting this way. I'm sure your friend would RATHER NOT behave in ways that leave you in the lurch when it comes to the plans that you've made. So I think you can count on the fact that she's not doing it one purpose, and that she might actually feel some shame when she treats you this way. In fact, you'll often hear people with EDs bemoaning the ways in which their EDs impact their relationships. I guess what I mean is…I doubt that she's happy about this either.

Given that, to what extent should they try and challenge their feelings in situations like this ? Do they just give in, or do they have a certain responsibility to try and fight back ? Being able to keep your life going in day-to-day ways, I tend to think that it's something that a person needs to mindfully work at, if they aren't going to totally let ED rule their lives.

So maybe it's the "dare to take a risk" thing again ? "Gosh, I don't really feel like going out ( because I feel too fat and ugly, or I may have to look at food, or I'm too filled with self-hate ) so it will be easier if I just cancel."

Not sure what we should expect of people in situations like that, but I do think it's usually one of those situations where they are giving in to their ED and it's negivitve messages. Whereas if they took a risk, and when out, it might turn into a pleasant situation instead ?

I'd try not to lay too much guilt on her for the disrespect she's showing towards the plans that you've made yourself. No one likes to get stood up when they've set time aside, and made plans. She probably knows that already, so I'd try not to rub that in, as it could just serve to feed the "I'm a terrible person" thing that's REALLY common among people with EDs.

But I think it would be OK to say " I know you may not be feeling good about yourself".

Which is likely to be the reason she cancels. And something that she'll ultimately need to fight back against.

stinkmystery
Food impacting meet ups?

Thanks Bob. One of the things you mentioned in an earlier post was saying things like "I know you might worry about the food angle, but I hope you won't worry about what I'll think of that."

She asked whether instead of dinner we could do a light lunch, which was totally fine to switch up. My question is what sorts of behaviors should I model and things should I say to show that she shouldn't worry about the food angle when we are together?

Is the point that I should let her know that no matter her eating choices that I won't judge her?

BobJ48
Out for lunch.

Hey SM,

".. what sorts of behaviors should I model and things should I say to show that she shouldn't worry about the food angle when we are together? "

In my experience, folks with EDs aren't that upset by other people eating. If you are prone to stuffing yourself, you'll obviously want to avoid that, or (as I've come to understand recently !! ) if you make a lot of chewing noises, you'll want to avoid that too. Otherwise, I think normal eating on your part should be fine.

" Is the point that I should let her know that no matter her eating choices that I won't judge her? "

Yes, I do think that's the point, and something you may want to mention to her before you go out.

Because….some people with EDs can be hyper-sensitive to the idea that other people are watching them eat. So you may as well say that you understand that she might be self-conscious. I had to sit directly across from a person who I instantly had suspicions about at a Thanksgiving dinner one time, and had to watch her push her food around, and then hop up and run to the bathroom as soon as dinner was done. I knew for a fact that she would have had a fit if she knew I was watching her, so I really had to pretend that I didn't notice. Which having worked on ED boards for so many years that I don't care to mention it, was difficult for me to do. This person was a total stranger though. If it had been my date, I would have told her beforehand that I understood that she might have certain "eating habits" and that it would not put me off if she did.

Otherwise, it's kind of silly to pretend that people don't eat food. While the food scenario may be uncomfortable for the person, I'm not sure how helpful it is for you or I to pretend that we are somehow frightened by eating too. Granted, some people may find the eating out situation intolerably stressful, but from how you've described things, it sounds like your friend isn't totally feeling that way ?

stinkmystery
Eating out

My friend will eat out, but it depends on her mood and how she is feeling. Generally, she seems to have good habits at the table and when she is done will ask for the rest to go.

Unfortunately, I didnt get to see her this weekend. She rescheduled our Saturday and then on Sunday, the family member she cares for needed care (went to urgent care, etc.). So things didn't work out. After the stress on Sunday, she went silent again so I'm waiting for her to start communicating again. I've sent texts of encouragement and let her know when I'm available for her to come over if she feels up to it and her family member is doing better.

Guess that is all I can do at the moment...

BobJ48
As you said...

It does sound like her weekend would have been tough for anyone, what with the events with the family she helps. So you are probably right about the stress she was under. And I think you did good with the texts you wrote.

"Guess that is all I can do at the moment…"
Yes, coming to terms with what we can and can't do is a big part of this. And it sounds like you are handling that part pretty well.