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I can’t get no satisfaction: food and relationships

The food in “food and relationships”

food and relationships DeathtoStock_Wired8

I’m starving. I waited too long to eat. My stomach’s rumbling, my head’s starting to hurt. I can’t deal with cooking at this point. I need a super burrito. Now. The train is too slow. Everything and everyone is against me eating. My inner critic’s saying, “You’re so weak. Other people can go this long without eating. You’re such a pig. Stop being so needy and selfish.” My head hurts even more and the hunger signals in my belly are mixed up with the knots of anxiety.

The lady making my burrito is taking her sweet time. I’m tapping my toes, hands are shaky. Finally. I walk home as quickly as possible. I do my ritual—the one I do when I want to shut my critic up and not have to think about how my body feels. I set my burrito down in the kitchen, go to my room and find my show on Netflix, head back to the kitchen and put my burrito and chips on a plate. I bring it back to my room and hit play.

I eat the burrito in about 5-10 minutes, barely noticing until I start to feel sick. My inner critic turns back on and starts berating me for being such a weak, mindless pig. I watch more TV than I intend to and go to sleep.

The relationship in “food and relationships”

I’m starving. It’s been too long since we’ve had contact. I feel anxiety, longing, sadness. I don’t care that I have other things to do. I need time with my partner. Now. He’s taking forever finishing up at work. Does he even want to see me? Everyone and everything is against me having the connection I crave. My inner critic is saying, “You’re so weak. Other people can go this long without connection. Stop being so difficult, so needy, so selfish.” My head, neck, and shoulders are hurting and my stomach is in knots. Or is it hunger? I’m not sure.

Finally, he’s done with work. But he’s taking his sweet time getting here. I can’t really concentrate on anything else. He arrives and I’m upset. Forgetting to even say hello, I ask what took so long. He’s immediately defensive because my needs remind him of the unreasonable demands of his mother when he was a small child. He shuts down. We both feel shame, disconnection.

My inner critic says, “Once again you ruined everything. You’re way too needy. It’s all your fault he shut down.” His inner critic says, “She’s trying to consume you. This is too dangerous. You’ll never be able to give her what she needs. You’re better off alone.” We go to sleep, both feeling overwhelmed and dissatisfied.

What’s Beneath?

There’s an important point at which these seemingly parallel stories diverge. My burrito, as far as I know, doesn’t get upset about being devoured. It doesn’t have a mother, it doesn’t have it’s own traumas. Unlike my partner, the burrito is an object. The human-burrito relationship is one-sided and very controlled, despite how out of control I may feel when eating.

When my critic tells me it’s all my fault that I feel unsatisfied and disconnected from my partner, she is attempting to make him an object as well. She wants me to believe that I have or “should” have that sort of power over my relationships because the reality (that I don’t have control) seems so threatening. If it’s good, it’s because I am good. If it’s bad, it’s because I am bad.

In reality, the relationship is it’s own matrix in which my history, biology, feelings and more come into contact with my partner’s to create something new. What we co-create is more than the sum of it’s parts. This is not a one-sided relationship like we create with food, television, drugs, Apple products, or dental floss. This is something that is truly out of our control. The best we can do is own our part in the dynamic and work together in this subjective, seemingly chaotic stew.

You might already be familiar with why we turn to these one-sided relationships in times of stress. As painful as the burrito cycle hangover can be, it’s way less complicated than the cycles we get in with the people we love. It keeps us safely tucked into our imploded inner worlds. No mind-reading required. Yet the self-rejection involved is palpable and creates immense suffering in our lives.

It’s Not Hopeless

By understanding the similarities between how I eat and how I love, I’m deepening my awareness of what I need and how I want to take things in. When I feel the urge to jump on the burrito train, I can begin to make other choices–spend some time with each bite, stop when I’m satisfied and still comfortable in my jeans, call a friend for emotional support if I’m having a rough day. This doesn’t happen overnight–it’s an ongoing practice. And when I notice myself mistaking my partner for a burrito, I can pause and listen closely to my vulnerability so I can honor what I need while allowing space for him to exist as himself.

Individual, couples, and family therapy all serve to help us build awareness around our patterns of relating. Even in one-on-one sessions, a powerful relationship exists right there in the room, ready to be experienced and explored. As a therapist, I’m committed to helping myself and others exist in a subjective, relationship-based reality with all the challenges and beauty that goes along with that. We can enjoy burritos and technology or a drink, but it’s how we share our vulnerable selves with people that feeds our souls.

Try this:

Does the way you eat remind you of how you give and receive love? Spend some time paying attention, write about it, discuss it with people you love. And feel free to leave a comment below!

Lily Sloane

Lily Sloane

Lily Sloane is a licensed psychotherapist in San Francisco. She sees her work as a dynamic interplay of science, art, and relationship, aimed at opening up wholeness and a sense of choice for her clients. She specializes in working with sensitive, creative young adults struggling with eating disorders, substance use/misuse, perfectionism, and relationships. (LMFT #84885)

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