6.) Relationship Status- It’s Complicated with Bulimia: A Letter To My Future Spouse
It’s week 2 day 4 – and you’re laying sprawled out on the rehab community room couch one afternoon when someone finally asks about relationships. You knew it was coming – someone bound to ask.
What about them? you say, staring up at the ceiling, picking at your cuticles.
Do you date a lot?
Yeah, you say. I don’t have serious relationships, but I date.
Me neither, someone says. I always fuck it up.
I don’t, you disagree. I just don’t know how to do them. Don’t know want to feel indebted.
I don’t feel indebted to anything, another girl says.
We know, badass. You roll your eyes.
And now it’s 3:23 on a Thursday – and your therapist is asking you to write a list of every person you’ve dated.
Every person? You reiterate. What if it only lasted like 3 weeks?
Well, she pauses. Judging by what you’ve told me, that seems fairly protocol for you so yes – those too.
You sigh. 24 years old, you think, and here you are feeling like Elizabeth Taylor’s 8th divorcee.
It takes you nearly 20 minutes.
Alright, she says. Let’s talk about these relationships.
So you do.
You tell her which ones mattered, who the first relationship was all the way to the last.
And when you’re done – you feel like a stiff drink.
What you wouldn’t give for a Pinot some days.
Do you know what it means to be intimate? She asks when you’ve run out of stories to share.
You say you’re not sure, but that you try.
You don’t set boundaries. You share things – you think that’s being intimate;
You know what it is to hold someone;
To love them for who they can’t be but maybe one day could –
I’ve loved before, you say. I think I’ve loved more definitively than most to be honest.
Alright, she says, dismissing you. But your relationships, she asks. What made them intimate?
Think of one person.
Think of another.
Remember waking up to the morning –
Rain against the roof; sheets around your shoulders.
Tucked into the crevice of someone else.
You think you know what it is to be held; reaching out as they stir and roll away from you.
Come back, you wanted to say then, your legs around theirs. Don’t leave.
What if I did? they said once – their face level with yours. What if you woke up and I was gone?
You’d smiled, teeth dirty, hair in your face.
I’d still know you were mine.
This person grabbed your hand from under your head; drew circles in your palm with their fingers.
I wish I could always have you, they said – sweeping the hair from your face.
You know this person is gone now, but you think about them sometimes.
That they would end, you say finally. I always knew they’d end.
Okay, your therapist says. I’m going to ask you to explain.
You really do hate when she says that.
You appreciate things when you know they aren’t permanent, I guess. Appreciate the tiny things more. Make yourself aware of them so you can hold on to them when you know it’ll leave.
Why do you think things always need to have an end?
I don’t know, you admit. I just don’t trust myself or anyone else to keep their word on anything.
Do you think your eating disorder plays into this?
Sure, you say. In part. But, in part because I personally never have. I’ve never been faithful to anything – no one. Even when I loved them.
I think it makes sense.
I don’t. I think it’s awful, you say. I think it’s horrible. I’ve loved people – loved them – in whatever way you can love another person, flaws and all, and I still cheated on them. Was always looking for something else.
She eyes you from her desk chair. Do you think you’re real in your relationships?
To a degree, you say. But isn’t that how everyone is? I give what they need me to. I’m intuitive, you say. I read people well.
She nods. But do you know what you need from them?
I never know what I want from anyone besides attention.
You realize you set your relationships up for failure before they ever begin, she says. You throw yourself into them without really giving anything – you just donate yourself.
You shake your head. I don’t know if I believe that.
What are your needs then? She asks. What do you want from someone?
You say ”lots of things,” and she nods.
Right, but you don’t ask for them. Your problem is that you only ask “What can I give to you?”
You smirk, I’m not that selfless- believe me.
No, she says. In fact, it probably means you can be pretty selfish because you’re constantly looking for validation.
Okay, you agree. But doesn’t everyone?
To a degree, she pauses. But the difference is that you don’t like who you are and don’t trust yourself enough to know what you need, or even think it through.
You make a face.
When you don’t accept who you are, you can’t know what you need from other people- so you become the version you think they’ll want, she pauses. It makes you feel better that way, doesn’t it? To be accepted.
I want everyone to love me, you admit. I’ve always been that way.
Well, she says. You probably get that then. You have it here. You’re an enigma. You have a personality that draws people in.
Thanks, you say.
Not here to compliment you, she shakes her head. I see how you are with the other girls – hugging on them, asking questions, playing with their hair, making sure they’re okay. It’s charming. But I’m not sitting here to tell you that you’re charming because you know you are.
You don’t say anything.
The problem is that when you live your whole life like this, floating from person-to-person, seeking approval-
But approval for what? you interrupt. Like I don’t really know what I’m looking for.
I don’t know either, she says. But when you go around giving 10% of yourself to this person, 5% to that one, another 7% to this one- what are you left to give to someone new at the end of the day?
You recross your legs.
You draw people in, she says. With no real intention of keeping them close – how can you? You’re so busy running from person to person making sure they still want you that you can’t really be with only one. Am I somewhere on the dot?
I don’t know, you say. Probably. It’s a joke with my family that I can’t date anyone longer than 6-8 weeks, you pause. It’s incredibly accurate.
Alright, so go through the cycle with me, she says.
I meet someone – “love” them. Love everything about them. Think I can be their perfect mate.
They’re into me. I can feel it, we’re jiving, you pause. I’m enthralled with their life, love that they’re ”different” from the last one – think it’s gonna work, you say. And then something happens. Something happens and I’m done. I check out. Don’t answer calls- don’t answer texts I just leave. I always leave.
Okay, she says. Why do you think that happens?
It gets too serious; that’s the thing. I can talk about anything, but I can’t stand when someone starts making me a priority. Scares the shit out of me. Makes me feel like I’ll never be myself ever again.
Makes sense, she says. How can someone make you a real priority when you know you’re only giving them a piece?
You nod. Seems logical, doesn’t it?
It’s always easy to say things, she smiles. Harder to do anything about it.
You agree. My best friend always says that. She always makes a point to be like ‘yeah, you’re a great girlfriend for the 8 weeks someone knows you.’
Do you agree?
Yeah, you say. I’m the coolest girl around for 6-8 weeks. I’ll be anything you need me to be.
You see the problem with that?
Of course, you say. The whole time I just let shit build up in my head and don’t say anything. I lie. I lie and omit and it just feels terrifying to have someone start relying on you when you’re creating a world of bullshit.
Have you ever been honest with anyone about your eating disorder?
You think about the times your exes caught you.
When you snuck up the stairs at one’s house, and threw up in his mother’s porcelain toilet.
Vomit splashing back up on your face.
And you standing there in front of the mirror wiping snot from your nose.
Reapplying concealer around your chin as your boyfriend rapped on the door.
You’d opened it then, your eyes watery.
And he knew.
You both knew.
But he let you smile then, and throw your make up back in your purse
Let you walk out in front of him.
You can’t be honest when you’re sick, she says. You can’t know what it is to be truly intimate with someone when every day you’re pulling yourself away bit by bit.
You just do it though, you say. You do it and get numb to it and you don’t think about it anymore.
But what happens later?
You resent them. At least I did. Resented everyone for not figuring it out.
You want your relationships to save you? she asks.
In a way. I want them to make me feel better; resent them when they can’t.
She looks at you. You know, you’re one of the scariest patient I have, Linds. You’re smart.
Not true, you say. Not really.
You know people. You know how to reach them – you manipulate.
I have to check myself with you.
I’m a chameleon, I know.
She agrees. You’re also one of the most defensive patients I work with.
You make a quiet face, but don’t say anything.
You know what I mean, don’t pretend like you don’t. I have the nurses check on you twice the amount of times at night, she says.
You can’t help but snort. Nu-uh.
Yeah, she says.
I’m really not doing anything, though. I’m not throwing up.
This bothers you that I don’t trust you, doesn’t it?
Well, yeah, you say. I mean you’re the golden ticket for me.
You’re your own ticket, she says. I don’t think you remember that sometimes- that this is your recovery. This is your treatment – not mine. You don’t have to prove shit to me, your parents, your friends. My job will still be here when you leave. Their lives will still move forward whether you’re sick or not.
You agree. I’ve just always been defensive.
I know, she says. You put yourself out there the way you do so you can control what people think – have you noticed that?
Sometimes, you admit. I think it’s why I don’t have any boundaries.
She nods. Think about that this week. Where your boundaries lie.
You say you will and notice the time.
Get up from the couch.
I want you to do something for me, she says. A homework assignment.
I want you to write a letter to your future partner.
You sigh, standing in the middle of her office.
Write a letter to this person and tell them what you want – everything you think you want for a life that includes someone else. So you’ll have it somewhere to keep yourself in check.
You tie your sweatshirt around your waist. Alright, you say. Will do.
It’s later that night- wrapped in your white blanket on the couch- Titanic playing in the background with your friends- that you write this- and you hope you mean it:
You beautiful person. I’m writing this to give you a chance to exist.
So that when I discover you – when I see your potential with mine –
I’ll read this and remember that it’s you I want to sit at a kitchen table with.
Brush my teeth next to.
Drive in a car and flip radio stations with.
This seems crazy, doesn’t it? To imagine a life that you can’t predict with a person you haven’t met. But, there are times I think about what my life could be with someone. What a life with someone would mean.
It doesn’t always seem pretty – this idea of coexisting with another. In fact, it seems hard. It feels hard –
But I’m writing this to you because I think you’re the person that I might want to try it with.
The person I want to make coffee for in the morning. Maybe you’ll want your coffee different than mine, but I don’t think I’ll mind. I’ll wait till you pour it into our cups, and pour Hazelnut in mine.
I’m writing you today, because I think you’re a person I want to see get dressed in the morning. To watch from my bed while you dig through the drawers looking for clean socks – pushing your hair from your face. As we get older, I imagine you might have a stomach that goes over your boxers (“I need to start working out again,” you’ll say) and I’ll notice it when you bend over, complaining about how I haven’t done laundry in weeks.
I’m writing you because I want to have a pet with you: a dog because I refuse to get a cat. You’ll pretend to hate it, but we both know you’re the one who will feed it every morning before you leave – listen to you scoop out the dog food into a metal bowl and smile as you force it to eat, growing impatient. Mumbling under your breath.
“Eat your food boy,” you’ll say. “No. Not there- there. It’s right there: eat.”
I’m writing because I want to look at you those mornings when I walk out of our room – a robe lazily hanging from my shoulder, and notice the wrinkles forming beside your eyes. The age marks on your arms. Your hair turning grey.
Perhaps, I’ll think that you look more like your dad. That, like your dad, you’ve grown more attractive with each year, and sometimes I’ll still want you. Run my hands over your shirt.
I have to work, you’ll whisper, smiling at me in that way as the dog comes trotting into the hallway, jumping up on you – getting fur on your pants.
See you later, you’ll sigh as you walk out.
“There’s a Lint Roller in the glove compartment,” I’ll laugh.
I’m writing you because you’re the person I want to have kids with – go to our children’s events together. The Christmas plays where our kid plays one of the sheep, but I’ll film it anyway. You’ll say that it’s a waste of film, but as soon as you see how mad I am, you’ll sit back quietly and let me film as he or she walks across the stage, looking for us in the audience.
You’re the person I want to have conversations with – those quiet ones that married couples forget they have. You tell me about a book you’re reading. I tell you that I’m afraid my dad’s getting older, losing ability to move well.
I want to lay on the couch with you at the end of each day. Listen to the dishwasher as it dries cracked dishes. Listen to our kid while they play the piano – play it badly. You’ll make fun of them but never to their face. Imitate the way they bang around on the keyboard.
Why are we forcing them to play? you’ll ask.
I’ll tell you that they’ll get better – that I got better with time. And that music is a theory worth knowing.
You’ll mumble about it, disagree, but give up.
When they’re finished, I’ll tell them to go upstairs and get ready for bed. I’ll complain that you don’t help enough and you’ll say “I never let you help,” before you settle into the couch flipping the channels on the TV – grabbing my waist as I walk by.
I’m writing because I want to travel with you – all over the world. We’ll be in the snow more than I care to be, but I’ll accept it. And I’m willing to compromise that as long as you promise to take care of your knees, and don’t end up in a wheelchair.
We can go all over together. We’ll conquer the continents. Drag our children along on leashes. You’ll be mad that I rented them and I’ll say it’s practical – maybe we’ll compromise on a stroller. I’ll wear a camera around my neck and you’ll make jokes about how ridiculous I look until I tell you to piss off when the kids aren’t around. We’ll see everything, wont we? That’s what we’ll want.
We may never have the money we wanted, but we’ll see the things worth seeing.
And we’ll go to Disneyworld, and I’ll watch you cool yourself down with the Mickey Mouse fan, complaining about how hot it is. We’ll ride every ride the kids want, and while I’m worrying about them falling out of the roller-coaster, you’ll complain about how uncomfortable the seats are.
I’m writing because you’re the person I want to run through an airport with when we’re late to a flight. Listen to you yell about how I took too long putting make up on and how it’s my fault if we miss it. I want to drag along a suitcase that’s old and broken because we both refuse to spend money on a new one. And I want to watch you later arguing with the attendant, and wait to see you be proud of yourself when they check our bag even though we’re 10 minutes late.
I want this kind of life with you – of making dinners that I don’t really like but know you enjoy. Of learning how to cook food that I otherwise wouldn’t. Of listening to you talk to your mom on the phone on Sunday afternoons in the backyard. You’ll sit with your feet propped on a chair, the sun peeking out on your face. I’ll watch you move your hands from the kitchen window. Cast them in the air when you talk. A beer half-drank on the patio table.
I want to go to parties with you that we don’t care about. That neither of us want to attend but have to because we said we would. Complain about it in our minivan the whole way there. Enter the room together and talk to people we find boring. Count down the minutes till we can leave. Look at the buffet line and agree that all the food looks like plastic but pick out some crackers and cheese wedges.
I want to visit our families together. Try to get the whole family together, but fail every year. Laugh at the dining room table at my parent’s house in Texas. You and my dad eating pie and talking about how the world is going to shit while my mom and I clean up the dishes in the kitchen. I want to have little, annoying kids running around the living room.
I want to grow old with you, get fitted with glasses at the doctor. Make fun of each other and how we can’t see anything anymore. Stub my toe on a piece of furniture and cuss under my breath as you laugh.
I want my breasts to sag so I can complain about it. How I hate getting old. How death feels like it’s on our doorstep and have you smile and say, “Well, get used to it. We are old.”
I want to fight with you – and I know we will.
We’ll fight over everything sometimes. And some years we’ll fight more than others, and we’ll hold each other less –
But I’ll know, I’ll remember that no matter how mad you make me, how much I want to walk out –
you’re still worth holding onto, and that I waited so many years to have my life fit with yours.
I want to fight with you over the things that matter, and the things that don’t. Argue with you in a car about which direction to take, about how much money we’re spending, argue over how annoying it is that I don’t do the laundry enough, argue about our jobs, and where we’re going to live. And argue about how to raise a kid in this world.
I want to cook dinner for you and feel you come up from behind me, grabbing a piece of chicken off the skillet and throwing it into your mouth. Feel your hand on my hip as you do it. Smile and tell you to get out, I’m almost done. Watch you grab a beer from the fridge and open it with your teeth.
I want you to be the one that stands at my head when I’m having a child. You be the one that gets more worked up and I have to tell you in between pushing to shut up and hold my hand. Watch your big eyes stare at this thing we’ve created, and be scared to death when it comes time to put him or her in a car seat.
“What do we do with it?” you ask.
“It?” I’ll say. “Please don’t refer to our child as an ‘it.’
I’ll want to take a break from life with you sometimes – when things feel overwhelming and the kids are throwing toys at each other, and there’s marker on the wall and the fridge smells like something died.
Go to a bar close by and drink beer to feel young and talk about how we could’ve ended up a million different places but here we still are. Talk about all the dreams we didn’t do but should’ve. Think about what our life could’ve been and what worked and what didn’t-
Leave happy, knowing that I still have this small life with you.
I want to sit in airports with you. Watch our flights get cancelled, make faces, cuss, be mad with one another over something completely unavoidable and laugh it off later. Drink wine in the TGIFridays bar to pass time, getting so drunk we stumble through the airport gates looking at the boarding passes over and over again to remember which one.
Gate 16, you’ll say. Are you sure it’s not 15?
I don’t know, do you have the boarding thing?
It’s Gate 15.
How far are we?
How would I know. We’re at 32.
Watch you drop our bags on the tile accidentally. Scramble to pick them up and over your shoulders.
What the hell did you pack? you’ll say. Rocks?
I want to start looking like you. How couples that have been together forever look.
Walk the same walk – dress alike and not even know.
I want to go through all the good years with you, and the bad ones too. The years we get job promotions, the years our parents die, the years we don’t have enough money, and the years our children take over and become the only thing we focus on.
And when it’s over, when this small little life is over, I want it to be you that I’m crying over.
I want it to be you that I have to say goodbye to.
Isn’t it funny how you can want someone without even really knowing who they are?
Because I believe that this will be a pretty life to live – and I’m happy that I think I want to share it with you.
This is Rehab: Truth 6