Why I Never Disclose My Mental Illness On The First Date
Over the years, I’ve heard the opinions of many people about disclosing mental illness early in a relationship. Most of this input has come from people who don’t deal with mental illness, so I usually take their advice with a grain of salt. I’ve been told that it’s deceptive or mean to hold off on talking about my bipolar disorder. To all those people who have so much advice to give me, allow me to explain why disclosing mental illness early in a dating relationship is not a good idea.
- Disclosing mental illness is a conversation killer. Imagine a person bringing up all the topics that are universally believed to be verboten for a first date: abortion, politics, death, the IRS. In the best of cases, these topics make people feel awkward among near strangers, so they clam up. Worst case scenario? A heated argument ensues with both parties vehemently disagreeing about an issue. Mental illness has a similar impact on conversations. When I bring up my mental illness, most people don’t know what to say in response. They don’t ask questions or contribute anything significant to the exchange. Who wants to stun their date into uncomfortable silence the first time you meet them? That’s why I hold off until later meetings, just as I would any other serious topic of conversation.
- If I disclose my mental illness early, I might never get to go out on dates. Look, not every date is about finding a permanent mate. Sometimes people date for social companionship, or for sex, knowing that they’re not looking for anything serious. If I told every guy I casually dated that I had bipolar disorder, some men would label me “crazy” and write me off. Even though I have a mental illness, I’m still a wonderful dinner companion. I can sit in a dark movie theater with someone else without losing my cool. And I’m pretty good in bed if I do say so myself. The point is, anyone who writes me off might never experience all that I have to offer, and I would spend a lot more time alone. It’s not lying to not to talk about my disease while on a casual date. If you ask me, it’s not necessary.
- I want a date, not a doctor. When faced with serious disease, some people immediately go into caretaker mode. They adopt a look of sympathy. They express concern. They ask pointed questions in a voice that sounds like they’re talking to a child. I don’t want to see that on a date; it’s just not sexy. I don’t want to be handled with kid gloves as though I’m volatile; it’s a big lady-wood killer. And I don’t want someone I’ve just men to probe into my medical history because they feel like they need to help me. I’ve experienced this on a date. It makes me want to go to the bathroom and never return to the table.
- Dates should be fun. Mental illness isn’t. You’re not going to ask anyone to talk about the time their dog died or to detail their crippling bout of teen acne at the beginning of a relationship. Likewise, I’m not going to talk about being bipolar. Early dates are about sharing and fun times so that you can decide if the person is worthy of delving into your deeper secrets. Mental illness is like those scarring, painful events from your childhood: It can involve lots of struggle, darkness, and hopelessness. Not. Fun. At. All. Also, talking about your mental illness makes you vulnerable, and I don’t think a coffee date or dinner and drinks is the time or place to explore that vulnerability. I’ll hold off on sharing my bipolar disorder until I’m comfortable, and my date can hold off on talking about the most serious aspect of his life until he is ready as well.