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I enjoy being in a romantic relationship, but I hate dating. Dating, which to me is everything before a monogamous commitment, brings up all of my insecurities and control issues. I stress about everything I do and say, and how it will make me appear to the object of my affection. I’m convinced that I’ll be able to cleave him to my every will and am disappointed when, inevitably, that does not happen. And I obsess over every detail of early dates to figure out whether the man I’m seeing is marriage material or whether I should get rid of him and be alone. And dating while bipolar doesn’t make this any easier, leaving me prone to mood swings and deep depression when intense emotions are in play. But I’ve figured out a way to smooth out my rough dating edges so that I can act more like regular people. I’ve started cultivating more than one relationship at a time, what used to be called “playing the field” before the days of serial monogamy.

To be clear, I’m not using “playing the field” as a euphemism for “sleeping around.” I’m not really built for that, and I’ve found that having multiple sexual partners is detrimental to my mental well-being.  But that’s a story for another time. Rather, playing the field for me means that I have more than one man in my life at a time, and each relationship provides me with a different emotional outlet. It’s my strategy to make dating while bipolar more like dating is for “regular” people. Right now, I count three men among my field of suitors and potential partners. First, there is the man I’ll call Richie.

A friend of a friend, Richie has been around for a couple of years. We’d hung out a bunch of times, always with other people, until one night we spent some time alone, and the mood shifted. You could probably call what we have a classic “friends with benefits” situation; we hang out and talk and have sex, but there’s no expectation of commitment. From a practical standpoint, it’s easy for me to manage this situation because while I like Richie, I know we’re not compatible when I think about things from a long-term standpoint.

Under ordinary circumstances, I’d probably become more connected to Richie than I should because he’s available to me, and because I’m one of those people who bonds through physical intimacy. Since I’m dating while bipolar, the situation also might trigger negative thoughts about my desirability as a mate. Or my willingness to settle for less than true love, and those feelings might manifest in some undesirable behavior. I still have those thoughts, but I counter them with positive self-talk and the help of Jerry, my long-distance flirtation with potential.

Jerry and I met on Facebook, and we frequently flirt online and have phone conversations that last for hours. My interactions with Jerry provide a distraction from any discomfort I have with Richie, and distractions are a valid therapeutic tool for negative emotions. Also, I actually like Jerry, and our conversations tend to move towards life issues and major topics like marriage and children. Unlike Richie, I see long-term potential with Jerry. If we lived in the same city, I’m pretty sure we’d be dating. But as it stands, Richie can give me the physical closeness that I won’t get from Jerry until we meet each other in the flesh and figure out what we’re doing. I used to feel tense and anxious about what would happen with Jerry, but having someone local to occupy my time is helpful in quelling those feelings.

The final man in my love interest trilogy is Joe, whom I met through an online dating site years ago. Joe is everything I’d like in a romantic partner, except for the fact that he’s a Republican, and I’m not. For that reason, we never went out. This year, I’ve seen him dozens of times at our local coffee shop, and we’ve started talking, exchanging contact info and chatting in person. He’s turned out to be more of a Moderate than a Conservative and I can respect that. Plus, he seemed intrigued when I mentioned that I’ve been writing about my mental illness, so perhaps there’s hope. Thankfully, I have some other prospects to keep me occupied and deter me from blowing up Joe’s Facebook with the dregs of my desperation. I’m going to play it cool, mock him for being a Republican in this presidential cycle and see how everything turns out.

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.

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