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I Was On A Perfect Date Until His Remark About My Face Threw Everything Off.
Mental Health

I Was On A Perfect Date Until His Remark About My Face Threw Everything Off.


My first date with Jordan was going well until he made an odd joke about my appearance out of nowhere.

“Wow, good thing you don't have anything in your teeth,” he said, laughing, “because your teeth stick out so much it's like, 'Whoa.'”

He imitated what I apparently looked like — something between a piranha and a chipmunk. For most people, this would be insignificant, but for me — someone with a long history of body dysmorphic disorder — it was devastating.

Jordan and I met on a dating site that my daughter had recommended to me shortly after she left for college, and she messaged me one afternoon with concern.

“I'm seeing a lot of selfies of you with the cats,” she said, “What's up? Are you getting out with your friends and meeting new people?” On her next visit home, she assisted me in creating a profile on a dating app.

Jordan's profile pictures showed a handsome man with deep hazel eyes and a full dark mustache and goatee. He was divorced and now living in Madison, Wisconsin, when he popped into my queue of potential dates after he, too, swiped right on my profile. We messaged for a few days before making plans to meet at a popular bar-restaurant on Madison's west side.

My anxiety kicked in as soon as I agreed to the date, and I began obsessing over my appearance; dating with body dysmorphic disorder had always been agonizing.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an obsessive-compulsive disorder defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a preoccupation with one or more perceived defects or flaws in physical appearance that are not observable or appear minor to others. It is estimated that 5 million to 10 million people in the United States suffer from this disorder.

Though my obsession with my facial flaws never completely goes away, it had been at a bare minimum for the few months leading up to my date, giving me enough confidence to say yes to Jordan. In fact, as I got ready for the date, I found myself unexpectedly excited as I dug out my high-waisted black pants, new silver silk top, and dangling sequin earrings.

I pulled up to the Bonfyre Grill on a cool March evening, and Jordan was standing at the bar, staring intently at the doorway. Our eyes met, and he smiled. He was shorter than his pictures suggested, but otherwise, he looked exactly like I expected.

We ordered drinks and settled into our conversation after a nervous greeting (on my part, because he appeared calm and confident). Jordan told me he moved to the United States in the early 1990s to attend law school. We both had children, though I only had one, and she was away at graduate school. Jordan had two — a daughter in college who lived nearby and a younger son who was still at home.

Jordan was gregarious and funny to the point of being entertaining — I was laughing so hard both my stomach and face hurt — he was also a passionate conversationalist with a deep voice and British accent I found uncommonly attractive.

Jordan inched his barstool closer to mine, and now that our knees were brushing, he reached out and took my hand, and I relished our mutual attraction as we planned our second date.

Jordan's joke about my teeth shocked me, and before I could recover, he made another joke-like comment about my nose. I tried to laugh it off, but it was too late. A freight train had been let loose, and it was heading to a deep, dark oblivion.

I had never been on a date with anyone who had commented on one of my BDD focus areas, and I had no idea how to respond. All the pain of my struggle rushed back to me in an instant, and I went into flight mode. Jordan quickly picked up on my change of demeanor and followed with, "Don't get me wrong, you're cute as hell," but I was already looking for the exit.

Before I could gather my thoughts, he made another joke-like remark about my nose, which I tried to dismiss, but it was too late; a freight train had been released, and it was on its way to a deep, dark oblivion.

My battle with body dysmorphic disorder began decades ago, following a mental breakdown at the age of 28. As is common with this disorder, I didn't trust the doctors' diagnoses or recommendations. I didn't need psychotherapy or medication; I needed a plastic surgeon, an orthognathic surgeon, and an orthodontist. Fixing my face, I believed, was the only way to stop the obsessing and mental pain.

I struggled for months with severe anxiety and daily obsessiveness before agreeing to try medication and therapy. A year later, I was no longer having panic attacks, but the obsessions were still strong. I now had depression added to my diagnosis from struggling for so long with no relief.

Publicity

Every day became a survival struggle, requiring everything I had to get to work, parent my daughter, and keep our small household running.

Every day became a survival struggle, requiring everything I had to get to work, parent my daughter, and keep our small household running..I started a daily prayer and spiritual reading routine in the morning.

Every day became a survival struggle, requiring everything I had to get to work, parent my daughter, and keep our small household running..I started a daily prayer and spiritual reading routine in the morning..I visualized myself as healthy, happy, and free of flaws as I meditated.

Every day became a survival struggle, requiring everything I had to get to work, parent my daughter, and keep our small household running..I started a daily prayer and spiritual reading routine in the morning..I visualized myself as healthy, happy, and free of flaws as I meditated..I read self-help and BDD recovery books, highlighting passages and returning to those that were particularly helpful on a regular basis.

Every day became a survival struggle, requiring everything I had to get to work, parent my daughter, and keep our small household running..I started a daily prayer and spiritual reading routine in the morning..I visualized myself as healthy, happy, and free of flaws as I meditated..I read self-help and BDD recovery books, highlighting passages and returning to those that were particularly helpful on a regular basis..Many of those books ended up saving people's lives.

Every day became a survival struggle, requiring everything I had to get to work, parent my daughter, and keep our small household running..I started a daily prayer and spiritual reading routine in the morning..I visualized myself as healthy, happy, and free of flaws as I meditated..I read self-help and BDD recovery books, highlighting passages and returning to those that were particularly helpful on a regular basis..Many of those books ended up saving people's lives..I set out to retrain my brain to think in new ways and to put a stop to the destructive ones.

Every day became a survival struggle, requiring everything I had to get to work, parent my daughter, and keep our small household running..I started a daily prayer and spiritual reading routine in the morning..I visualized myself as healthy, happy, and free of flaws as I meditated..I read self-help and BDD recovery books, highlighting passages and returning to those that were particularly helpful on a regular basis..Many of those books ended up saving people's lives..I set out to retrain my brain to think in new ways and to put a stop to the destructive ones..I gradually began to have better days.

Every day became a survival struggle, requiring everything I had to get to work, parent my daughter, and keep our small household running..I started a daily prayer and spiritual reading routine in the morning..I visualized myself as healthy, happy, and free of flaws as I meditated..I read self-help and BDD recovery books, highlighting passages and returning to those that were particularly helpful on a regular basis..Many of those books ended up saving people's lives..I set out to retrain my brain to think in new ways and to put a stop to the destructive ones..I gradually began to have better days..The fog gradually dispersed.

Every day became a survival struggle, requiring everything I had to get to work, parent my daughter, and keep our small household running..I started a daily prayer and spiritual reading routine in the morning..I visualized myself as healthy, happy, and free of flaws as I meditated..I read self-help and BDD recovery books, highlighting passages and returning to those that were particularly helpful on a regular basis..Many of those books ended up saving people's lives..I set out to retrain my brain to think in new ways and to put a stop to the destructive ones..I gradually began to have better days..The fog gradually dispersed..And when I finally emerged from the darkness two years later, I vowed never to return.

Every day became a survival struggle, requiring everything I had to get to work, parent my daughter, and keep our small household running..I started a daily prayer and spiritual reading routine in the morning..I visualized myself as healthy, happy, and free of flaws as I meditated..I read self-help and BDD recovery books, highlighting passages and returning to those that were particularly helpful on a regular basis..Many of those books ended up saving people's lives..I set out to retrain my brain to think in new ways and to put a stop to the destructive ones..I gradually began to have better days..The fog gradually dispersed..And when I finally emerged from the darkness two years later, I vowed never to return..The agony of living with an imperfect face was worse than the agony of dying existentially.

Every day became a survival struggle, requiring everything I had to get to work, parent my daughter, and keep our small household running..I started a daily prayer and spiritual reading routine in the morning..I visualized myself as healthy, happy, and free of flaws as I meditated..I read self-help and BDD recovery books, highlighting passages and returning to those that were particularly helpful on a regular basis..Many of those books ended up saving people's lives..I set out to retrain my brain to think in new ways and to put a stop to the destructive ones..I gradually began to have better days..The fog gradually dispersed..And when I finally emerged from the darkness two years later, I vowed never to return..The agony of living with an imperfect face was worse than the agony of dying existentially..

I decided it didn't matter if I was "deformed" or not. What was killing me wasn't the deformities themselves — real or imagined, minor or major — but the meaning I'd given them.

Jordan's remarks about my face were perhaps insensitive and careless, but he couldn't have known the weight of his words or the impact they would have on me at the time, so I ended the date quickly, telling him I had an early morning the next day and needed to call it a night.

“Do you still want to meet up midweek?” he asked as I put on my coat to leave.

“Sure,” I said, knowing full well that I would never say that.

I stopped interacting with Jordan and returned to therapy over a year ago, just two weeks before the country went into lockdown due to the pandemic. Therapy, along with the solitude provided by quarantine, gave me time to heal and get my mind back on track.

Now that the COVID-19 numbers are decreasing and summer has arrived, I've been thinking about dating again; with so much time alone, I've pondered how nice it would be to have a companion, a future partner, or love.

I reactivated the dating app a few weeks ago and recently swiped right on a guy named Matt.

Matt is five years younger than me, fit, tattooed, and handsome. A military veteran now working as an engineer, he's been sweet and gentlemanly in our messages. We've made plans to meet for lunch on Sunday. I'm not cured of my body dysmorphic disorder, and there's no guarantee the date will go well.

Tammy Rabideau is a writer based in Madison, Wisconsin, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Rebelle Society, and other publications. She is currently working on a memoir based on her New York Times Modern Love essay. You can find her on Twitter at @TammyRabideau2.

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