Dear Prudence

Help! I Lied to My New Boyfriend About My Eating Disorder.

In We’re Prudence, Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. The answer is available only for Slate Plus members.

A woman lifting her shirt to reveal her stomach in a mirror.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by ronstik/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays.
Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:

Dear Prudence,

After two years being single and working hard on myself, I’ve finally met someone I really connect with. He is intelligent, ambitious, and highly creative; we both work in the same competitive field, albeit on opposite spectrums. I find it near impossible to find someone with the same drive as me, and he’s so fun and easy to get along with (plus we have insane animal sex, which is a bonus). We have only been seeing each other for five weeks—still in that romantic, obsessive stage where we are seeing each other every day. It’s been going great and I am over the moon … BUT about a week ago, this man asked me (casually, respectfully) if I had an eating disorder. This threw me, I panicked, laughed, said no. He said something vague about that being a relief, as he was not sure how to deal with it if I did.

I have been struggling with anorexia for 10 years now, and have been in and out of treatment. This year has been the toughest one yet—I spent most of it very ill in hospital. My lowest point came when the public treatment program I have been cycling through declined to help me any further, indicating I was likely going to need long-term care and that they could no longer cater to me. Since then, I’ve been taking alternative routes and doing the best I can.

I’m in my mid 20s and have denied myself even casual dating until I felt I was in a stable mental position. So it’s been nearly two years, and after putting SO much work into my recovery this year, I felt astounded to meet this man and for things to go well so fast! However, I feel absolutely mortified that he picked up on my condition almost immediately—I don’t think it’s because of my body, but probably because of small comments I’ve made (which I am continuously trying to work on!). In any case, I am EXTREMELY private about my eating disorder, and despite my first hospital stay being over ten years ago, I have still been very deeply in denial until this year. It has been hard enough to admit I have a problem to myself —so why should I have to disclose it to a man I’ve just met?

I feel so conflicted. I don’t want to lie, and this may be something that affects my whole life going forward. But on the other hand, this is so complicated and deeply personal, and I don’t want to talk to him about it yet. Am I bad for lying? Is this something I need to disclose early on? I feel like the stigma around eating disorders is so bad that if I have to tell people about it after the first few weeks of dating, I will never find a partner.

— Worried

Dear Worried,

I found this question difficult to answer because when I read your letter and learned that you’d lied, something inside me screamed “This wasn’t a good idea!” But I also felt just as strongly that it would be wrong for me—or anyone else—to tell a person dealing with an eating disorder that they owed anyone any information. After all, you barely know this guy at this point. And your recovery is the most important thing here.

So I shared it on Twitter, and readers’ responses clarified something for me: The question you should be asking isn’t about whether you’re obligated to disclose your eating disorder early on or whether you’re “bad” for lying—it’s about what’s best for you. And I’m now convinced that keeping this a secret is not going to help you to be happy or healthy long term.

As someone recovering from bulimia, I’ll say this: you’re only as sick as the secrets you keep. Sharing my eating disorder with my partner made us closer and eased the burden of suffering alone. If she feels too ashamed to share it, she might not be ready for the relationship. Also, eating disorders are twisted, dastardly liars that convince you that you aren’t worthy of love as you are and you can’t tell anyone the truth. The biggest way to smack down that lie is by shining a light on it. Secrets keep the eating disorder safe, not us. —@Laurenarankin

I feel like if she doesn’t tell him sooner than later, she’s going to focus more on worrying if he knows she’s lying and less on enjoying their time together. —@Aloe9678

She’s under NO obligation… but if she’s interested in seeing if they could have some sort of future together, him bringing this up feels like an opportunity. To either care and be cared for in a deeper way or for him to express a deal breaker that would have ended things anyway. —@_unsarahble

I feel like she owes it to herself to try telling him. I mean, what if it did work out? And it could, if she’s clear with him that it’s not his job or his work to “fix” her. Sounds like she’s done a lot of work and may be ready to take this step. —@gertshair

Some people also picked up on the attitude your boyfriend revealed when he said he wasn’t sure he would know how to deal with it if you did have an eating disorder. That’s even more reason to share. If he’s unable to be a supportive partner to someone who is dealing with a challenge like this, you want to know that sooner rather than later.

I’m less concerned about the “do I lie” question than I am the “that’s a relief” comment from him. If she knows he can’t handle the truth of her life and struggles and treatment, she will continue to hide it and it could affect her recovery. I’d rather find out early that a potential partner can or can’t be supportive than worry every day that he’s going to find out or lose someone I care about more deeply later on when I tell him (or, as referenced before, inevitably/potentially try to never tell him) — @Rswirling

Normally, I’m all about not telling people things and I think a lot of problems could be solved by telling people less. But in this case, tell the man, because he has issues and if he can’t get over them it’s best to know now. — @Chalicechick

And to be clear, I don’t believe that all men will be put off by your disclosure or that being honest will keep you from finding love. @thechelseagrin, who spoke from personal experience, backed this up:

Don’t lie if you like him. Lying is no way to kick off a relationship that you think/hope has a future. You’re not bad for lying—I can totally sympathize with doing that if it caught you off guard—but if you wanna date this guy, sit him down, apologize for lying, and come clean. Fwiw I say this as a former anorexic with my husband’s input. Dudes who like you are a lot more understanding than you might expect. Everybody brings their own special shit to a relationship.

You may miss out on a few connections, but the person who is right for you will be proud of you for how far you’ve come and eager to support you in your continued recovery.