The 5 Stages Of Dating With Bipolar Disorder
In many ways, dating with bipolar disorder is just like dating for everyone else. We all have to find someone we like, establish a connection and then manage the progression of the relationship. It sounds pretty simple on paper, but when I’m navigating the dating realm, it’s anything but simple. I always have about 1,000 other issues going on in my head, some about my illness and some about the cellulite on my thighs and whether my next man will find it off-putting. I needn’t worry about the cellulite because more than a few lovers have had ringside seats to my thighs and came back for more. But I definitely need to think about how my bipolar disorder impacts dating and choosing the right man to bring into my life. I use a process, a series of questions, that may or may not be useful to people with “normal” dating habits.
- Finding a man. This usually sounds easier than it is. At my age, and with my background, I’m pretty picky about who I date. Everyone looks at physical attractiveness, overall personality and perhaps lifestyle. But I always need a man to be tolerant if I want to date him. Tolerant of other people’s bad kids, tolerant about religious or sexual identity, tolerant of something that’s different than him. In general, I find that people who are open-minded and easygoing about other people’s issues are likely to be open-minded about dating someone with bipolar disorder.
- Making sure he laughs at my “crazy” jokes. I find that making jokes about my therapist is a good way to judge a man when dating with bipolar disorder. I usually hold off on making them until the second date, after he finds out what a good kisser I am and has expressed interest in meeting again. While there are millions of people in therapy, there aren’t millions of Black men on the couch. So if I meet one who doesn’t bristle when I start a story with, “The other day when I was at therapy…,” then he might be worthy of a second or third date.
- Seeing if he has crazy people in his family. Around the third date is a good time to find out if someone in my suitor’s family ever had “a nervous breakdown” or other such euphemisms for a mental health crisis. It’s a lot more common than you might think. In much the same way that Chris Rock said that everyone has at least one gay cousin, I believe that everyone has at least one cousin who needs psychotropic drugs. I should probably start asking how close the family member with mental illness is rather than whether there is one. Anyway, people with mental illness close to them tend to be more sympathetic to the struggle of having bipolar disorder. So if your uncle is on Prozac, I’ll probably consider dating you seriously.
- Figuring out if the sex is going to make me get all weird. When I say “get all weird,” I mean will being intimate trigger undesirable feelings? Before sex, some people just get a condom, get a surface and get to the get off. But when dating with bipolar disorder, or any mental illness, unexpected feelings take a toll on our emotional well-being. If I’m already feeling a little depressed and I have sex, will it cheer me up or make me more depressed? If I’m feeling a little manic and I have sex, am I doing it out of desire or is it the mania? Am I using sex to self-medicate my negative thoughts and feelings, or do I really like this guy and think he’s sexy? If I can’t answer those questions satisfactorily, or if the responses are negative, I usually refrain from sex. Alright, who am I kidding: I have sex anyway and then deal with the emotional fallout afterward. The point is, I’m very aware of my feelings before I have sex with someone because I have to be in order to maintain my emotional stability.
- Having a good time. Dating is supposed to be fun, even if I do have to take lots of issues into consideration before I start seeing someone romantically. I may think more about the dating process than the average person, but it’s all part of being who I am and making sure that my relationships are as successful and healthy as possible. I’ve got a few potentials circling around right now, some closer to landing than others. But no matter how many steps into this process I get with any of them, I certainly know there will be both questions and fun along the way.
“Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.