One time, I saw a therapist who told me I was a "dangerous" person within the first 20 minutes of meeting me.
I was 24 and wildly offended by this self-important platinum blonde shrink bitch I didn't even know. Who the hell was she to to call me such a loaded word like dangerous? I had a good job for a 24-year-old. It wasn't like I was a bad influence to my friends (at least not before 2 am).
And my appearance didn't make me look like some dangerous villain (I mean I wasn't super self-aware at the time, so I didn't think it did). I wasn't a chain-smoking heroin chic mess with star constellations of track marks on my arms and a knife in my boot (that was my look in the teen years, except of course the track mark part).
Yeah, I might have had chest bones, but how did she know I wasn't genetically that thin, anyway? And how did she know my under eye circles weren't just because I was, like, sooo overworked, babes?
It's not like I had told her it had anything to with my occasional habit of throwing my guts up down the toilet.
I didn't have one of those crazy-person haircuts, like those girls who have too-short jagged bangs that look like they hacked them off with kitchen scissors in a state of mania, just like Angelina Jolie's deranged sociopath character in "Girl, Interrupted." I always say short, jagged, self-hacked-looking bangs are a sure sign of mental instability.
"What do you mean dangerous?" I said, gazing directly into her massive black Chanel brooch, thinking about how much I wanted a Chanel brooch and maybe if I switched careers and became a shrink, I too could afford to have those pretty little interlocked C's fastened on to my sweater too.
"I mean you're dangerous, because you're incredibly self-destructive, but you hide it so well."
I handed her my $150 and never went back. In typical Zara style, I fled at the first sign of reality, opting to go back to my fantasy life where (like in the words of my favorite writer Kurt Vonnegut), "EVERYTHING WAS BEAUTIFUL AND NOTHING HURT."
I spent the next five years or so pretty much single. Yeah, I had flings here and there, but nothing serious. In fact, I think I purposefully chose relationships I knew had no staying power.
And while I've always had incredibly close friends, it's easy to hold your friends at arm's length. I'm the kind of girl who, when she's feeling sad, depressed, self-destructive, a bit bulimic or all the rest of that fun stuff, suddenly becomes "really busy."
Dating someone is easy. They get to see the perfectly curated version of you.
I make sure to only see my friends when I'm SUPER ON. If I'm reeling with anxiety, I choose to stay a recluse in my little six-story walkup Upper East Side apartment and deal with it alone.
I only like to socialize when I shine like the top of the Chrysler Building when my eyes are so white, they're sparkling and I'm feeling super FAB, you know? Like juice cleanse fab.
Because when I'm feeling anxiety or I'm shame spiraling, I tend to do really unhealthy things, but in a super low-key way.
For instance, if I'm feeling really out of control about my life and where I'm going and what I'm doing and how I'm feeling, I'll start to micromanage the hell out of my diet. My eating habits will get very bizarre and I'll live off protein bars or if I do eat a piece of pizza, I'll punish myself about it for weeks (we won't get into the punishment details, not today at least).
And I'm embarrassed about my cliched issues about stupid food and stupid body image and girl, I don't want anyone to know about it and I don't really want MYSELF to know, so I'll just destruct on autopilot and pretend it's not an issue.
I would've made a great WASP, you know. I'm really good at swigging back a martini and perfectly applying a fresh layer of beige lipstick, excusing myself to powder my nose in the ladies room and pretending everything is just fine, babe.
I've been in such denial about so many things for so much of my life. No one knows I so often go home and pop a Xanax before bed because my brain is swirling with so many screwy, sad thoughts that it feels impossible to sleep.
The thing is, all of my little self-destructive habits are totally easy to hide from the outside world when I'm single.
First of all, I'm 30, it's not like my friends and I are sharing studio apartments anymore (thank God for that). We're finally at the age where we live alone and have our own apartments where we're free to be totally weird by ourselves and no one ever has to know we're popping pills before bed or curling up in the fetal position picking at a non-existent layer of fat hanging out of our skinny jeans for 30 minutes straight or scrutinizing our bodies in the mirror or just choosing to live off white wine for the week.
These things are easy to hide, especially when you're "dangerous" like me. I get what the Chanel brooch therapist was saying. I'm dangerous because I hide it all so well. I never self-destruct to the point of hurting my work or tarnishing my skin complexion for that matter.
And suddenly, I started dating someone. And dating someone is easy because you can still keep that person at arm's length. You see them two, maybe three times a week, tops. You see them after you've exfoliated your skin and flat-ironed away the kinks in your hair (and brain) and have maybe even consumed a personality drink or two. They get to see the perfectly curated version of you.
But you know when you like someone, you spew out all of the "I'm not ready for a relationship" garble and and recite all the pre-rehearsed lines like, "we're just dating, it means nothing" and blah, blah, blah. But all of those bullshit excuses fade away when you start to really like someone.
And pretty soon, the two of you become intimate. Like you're having sex. Lots of sex, all of the time. Up close and personal sex. And the next thing you know, you're waking up next to her, sleeping with your bodies intertwined and you have this amazing authentic connection. Gag, it's really creepy, isn't it?
And then, all your little secrets become hard to keep. Like, in my case, you suddenly can't really hide the fact that you pop a pill before bed when you're spending the night with your boyfriend or girlfriend.
Or like in my case again, you can't really hide the fact you don't eat like a normal human being. There are only so many times you can push your penne around your bowl before something has to give.
Also when you start to have regular love sex with someone, your hormones become linked and your bodies take on a language of their own, one that is far more honest and real than the words we speak.
And she or he will intrinsically know that you've got some pain deep inside of you, girl. Even if you're on the happy pills. The body can't lie. You can feel it in someone's kiss when they're hurting in some way.
And if your partner is a good person, they will care. And the most harrowing part is, suddenly you will start to care.
All these self-destructive things you did in the privacy of your own home, which you didn't ever want to acknowledge, have suddenly been dragged out to the surface. In fact, being in a healthy relationship is like holding a giant mirror up to your real behavior. The filter is gone and you're gazing into your raw reflection. And you can see the pretty parts and the ugly parts.
It makes you address these harmful things you're doing to yourself and makes you want to work on them.
You don't need to push away love just because you're not entirely "perfect."
I know what you're going to say. Well, you shouldn't want to change for another person, Zara. You should want to change for yourself, not for some chick.
Well babes, look, halt the judgement because I do want to change for myself. I just couldn't see the little destructive things I was doing on a day-to-day basis until I was sleeping next to another person and realized, shit, I do some unhealthy things behind closed doors.
I was alone for so long, all these little dysfunctions just became my normal. And suddenly there is someone else there who is concerned and who cares and you think HELL, maybe I should be concerned and care too.
Also, is it really so bad to want to be a better person for your partner when you so dearly love them? I crave, crave, crave a healthy relationship. And I've done all the therapy and I've read all the books and I know you can't have a healthy relationship until you're healthy.
And yes, we should be on the road to health before we meet someone, but sometimes we haven't reached the finish line just yet. Sometimes we meet someone amazing while we're still glorious little works in progress.
And you don't need to push away love just because you're not entirely "perfect." We all know perfection doesn't exist anyway and the idea of "perfection" is just a ploy to get women to spend money on gym memberships and therapists and plastic surgeons.
You need to have started to cultivate a loving relationship with yourself before you get into a relationship and have learned how to sleep alone and have figured out how to survive in the world without someone else, but you don't have to be a fully-realized human being free of all issues to be ready for love.
And what's so terrible about letting love motivate you toward self-improvement? Love is the most powerful force in the world.
I'm not saying it in the "I don't want to fuck this up so I'm going to stop blacking out so I don't scare them away" sense, but more of the "I want to be the best version of myself so I can be a better partner to this wonderful, loving, amazing human being" sense.