A post from our Community Correspondent Paula McGuire @pmusttryharder
What happens when you’re terrified of eating in public and the guy you like asks you out for lunch? This is the story of a socially anxious girl, an oblivious boy, and a pocketful of toast.
As relationships go, mine with food has historically been toxic. Not cyanide in the soup toxic, but still able to paralyse my limbs and shorten my breath to a hair’s breadth. Maybe I had a bad experience with a cabbage patch as a child, maybe I just never really got over the Poddington Peas but, whatever the reason, I reached adulthood without the ability to lift a crisp to my lips steady-handed.
In private, gannets bowed before my eating prowess, but add one pair of even quite short-sighted eyes to the tableau, and my appetite found its feet and walked. The effect was a perfectly adequate BMI and a tendency towards indigestion.
By the time my twenties came a-calling, I’d developed the skill-set of a mad-woman, able to hide my neuroses behind excuses, poor diet and slightly podgier neuroses. Those who knew me would avoid asking me to sup in the sunlight, those who didn’t would never get the chance. But then there was Gerry.
When Gerry invites you for lunch, you accept first and panic yourself into a stupor later. But after later comes a cold, clear Sunday afternoon, perfect for a walk in the park and shared stories over a teatime banquet in a bijou café, filled with strangers and watching and judgement and… ARGHHHH.
Cowering in the darkest corner of the room, trying desperately to ignore the urge to throw off the charade and run, I ordered my failsafe: toast. You see, for me, toast was the ultimate diversion. No-one suspects toast; it’s innocuous. Making it the perfect wing-man for a socially phobic diner.
Gerry, bless him, didn’t notice as I expertly broke my wing-man into crumblets, dispersing them about my person during particularly animated moments of conversation, pressing the odd morsel into my mouth for the sake of pretence. But then, who am I to call anything odd?
Eight years, many meals, and a side-step from the path of social anxiety later, the parable of that first date has become almost fictionalised in our marriage. Didn’t I shake the crumbs from my trouser leg outside in the exercise yard? I’m no longer sure. These days, I’d wrestle a bull to the ground and chew on its hind should hunger find me wanting.
Or, you know, just stick a sandwich in my face. While my recovery has improved so much in my life and provided the antidote for my poisonous relationship with food, it hasn’t exactly been great for my waistline.
It’s strange to look back now on that Paula of old, to remember how difficult even the little things in life were then. Nowadays, my washing machine no longer needs dusted for crumbs but I still have my pocketful of toast – and even now I’d face my fears to have lunch with him.