When to Tell Your New Partner Your’re Bipolar

Now that I am feeling better, I thought I’d try online dating.

It’s a weird and wonderful world out there online, and yes you could try it, but be warned – it’s really addictive.

Anyway, I started chatting with someone really interesting online, and soon enough we were at the stage of “Let’s meet for a coffee.”

Now I have a picture of myself online and I wanted to see one of the person I was planning to meet. My words exactly for wanting a picture before meeting were :

Seeing someone for the first time at a meeting spot almost guarantees it won’t work. You have to reconcile the person in front of you with the picture created in your head from the words you have been exchanging. It takes a bit of time and at a first meeting it just doesn’t happen.

So I got a pic. And we met. And we struck it off really well and the conversation was going swimmingly and, yes, the sparks were there.

Until I mentioned that I write for a website. “It’s a website for manic depressive persons,” said I, blithely.

And then the discussion turned to my being manic depressive. Which I think I handled pretty well. And not too long after that the rest of the evening ended very nicely. Not a bad first contact, I thought.

That is, until I got the e-mail later that night saying they weren’t sure if they could handle a manic depressive person. Very nice, all apologies, very gracious. But nevertheless…

Was I disappointed? – Yes, because I really was attracted.

Upset with the person? – No, because they always have the right / privilege to say no thanks. That’s the whole point of dating.

My real issue is how to navigate the dating waters such that I don’t scare away prospective partners, but at the same time be responsible enough to let them know that I do have mood swings. This matters particularly if you rapid cycle like I do, and the mood changes can happen just a few days down the line.

Well obviously, telling someone on the first date is a bad idea. Stop rolling your eyes – I can be really clueless.

I think what I did was exactly what I tried to avoid by sharing pictures at first. I introduced a new variable / idea / concept that was completely at odds with who I was as a person. I was being charming, witty, personable. A nice guy.  To an average person, none of this is compatible with being manic depressive or mentally ill.

I think the discrepancy was the cause of the problems, like a stick in the gears churning out an opinion of me. Everything stopped moving forward after that.

I had forgotten this was possible because being bipolar is now so entwined in my life that it’s almost as irrelevant as my being a guy. It’s there and it clearly affects my decisions, but so what. I’d forgotten that other people might see it as a negative thing, or a problem, or a scary thing.

So now I know. Again.

Which comes back to the issue – When is a good time to tell someone you are bipolar? The second date? After two weeks? Two months? After you have had the first depression episode and confused the heck out of your partner?

I’m thinking that the compromise time could be about 2-3 weeks into the courting. That’s probably long enough for someone to feel that they know you, so they don’t have this “who the hell have I been talking with up to now” disconnect.

In case you think telling someone will turn them off, know that the topic I get asked most about is “how can I help my partner who has mood swings.” You aren’t likely to be snubbed. I think what I did wrong wasn’t in mentioning being bipolar – it was just the timing.

And I also think that you must tell the person you are dating about your mood swings before your next predicted depression episode. I cannot think of anything meaner to do to a person than to leave them wondering why a relationship has just gone downhill for no reason whatsoever.

UPDATE: 21 Jul 09. Got an e-mail this morning from the person asking if we can meet to see what happens next. Pardon me while I do my Snoopy dance.

14 thoughts on “When to Tell Your New Partner Your’re Bipolar

  1. I did the same thing earlier in the year, similar situation but without the happy update at the end. Good luck with the next date, if it goes well I might try again myself 🙂

  2. I stumbled across your blog. It is the first one I have found on manic depression/bi polar disorder that seems very relevant to my life, how I am handling things etc. Just wanted to say thanks and if you want to visit, I’ve posted my blog as well.
    Cheers!
    Sue

  3. Jinah,
    I would agree that the problem is saying it too soon. The fact is that it is a “mental illness” with all that entails, and this woman didn’t know you.

    I wasn’t diagnosed until I had been married for seven years. So, up until that point, my husband and I just thought I had two annual six-week depressions. By the time I was diagnosed (and my current therapist thinks it was the wrong diagnosis), the label meant nothing to my husband.

    Susan

  4. Can’t you just tell someone you have “mood swings” or a mood disorder and not actually come out and say “manic depressive” or “bipolar? or do you think that’s being unfair to the other person?

    I think I’m rationalizing because I am scared of the exact same thing… how to tell someone, especially someone you like, and not have them run away.

    • I think the term “mood swings” works fine. Though it is still probably not that great and idea to bring it up too early when meeting someone.

      For me the critical issue is practicality, not baring your soul. If we go into a depression episode, we are going to muck up the whole courtship pattern and confuse and hurt the person we are dating. I don’t think that is fair to them at all.

      For me warning the person you are courting about low moods, depression, manic irritability, and our host of quirks is really about reassuring them that we don’t always match the standard dating pattern, but we still find them interesting and want to be with them. It’s more akin to warning someone about an allergy to nuts, rather than having them worry that our not eating the gift of Ferro-Rocher chocolates is a sign that we don’t like them.

      Probably the best rule is that mentioning it later is better than sooner, BUT, you have to bring up the topic before your next likely depression episode or if you realise that a depression episode is going to happen soon.

      Alternatives – if you have common friends, negotiate with one of them so that if you stop being communicative, your friend can reassure the person you are dating that you aren’t pushing them away.

      Particularly important – if you are in a manic mood and are sweeping your partner off his/her feet, you MUST tell them that there will be a time when your mood swings low. I’ve gotten too many e-mails from hurt people which say “I’ve met this great person and it was going guns, and now for no reason I’m being told the relationship is over.” You owe it to the person you are dating to not do that to them.

  5. I actually have a problem sustaining relationships because of my mood swings. I used to wonder why I could never stay stable/loyal in a relationship especially when I was hypersexual or really flirtatious. Then afterwards, I just didn’t want to date any man on the planet because I was irritated and depressed. How do I explain the fact that my longest relationship has been only 3 months (on & off) to a prospective boyfriend? I’m getting better now that I have treatment but these strong feelings that I have for men usually act as triggers for a manic ir a depressive episode. How do I deal with that too?

  6. Jinah,

    I agree that you shoulD bring up the mood swing topic soon. Not on the first date but a few weeks in. Dating when bipolar is as we all know, complicated, to put it mildly. I was diagnosed 10 years ago, but only recently realized how much it affected my life.(I’m 23)I have 2 children and on my second marriage. My first real relationships fell apart because of my mood swings. My husband now is very patient and understanding, but it wasn’t always this way. Good luck with your dating, hope everything is working out!

  7. Enternal Love
    Grab hold of the utmost love,
    gaze upos its eternaty.
    Passionate images enclose you in a dream.
    Chosing illusion over reality.
    Dreams over life.
    Pleasure over freedom.
    Your desires take hold where you’re sheltered.
    Only to get a glimps of a healing wish.
    Leaving unheard echoes behind.
    Waiting for the miracle that will embrace your soul.
    You’re touched by the unblemished angel.
    Your ambitious heart is betrayed, lost and wretched.
    Invisible to the eye,
    controling over your mind,
    Precious memories will stay at ease.
    Intertwined into a collapsed promise.
    Only to remember your unconditional detemination.
    So the fragile body has warmth.

  8. Have you considered composing a brief note when you feel stable that you could hit send on an email account that explains to the newly dated girl” I’ve been enjoying our dates… I feel a low right now, so I’ll get in touch when i feel better…? maybe wait about 30 days before self disclosure… so the person can know you and your cycles… I appreciate you r blog. I don’t know if my last g/f was bi-polar, but I found out she as secretly cheating with strangers in a very organized way ( to not get caught) . If she can get better from medication, I’d forgive her. But I doubt manic can have organized deceitful behavior. I’m interested to know your thoughts.

  9. Hi, Jinna. I just went through a parallel experience. I, too, have a mood disorders resource website and a blog (and a book). A few weeks ago, I signed up with an online dating service. Someone contacted me. The disclosure issue came up. Naturally, I couldn’t hide it. I’m out there, I’m public. Fortunately, she was very cool with it. She gets bipolar. We met, we started dating, we are now in a relationship. She is a wonderful woman.

    I’m fortunate in that lightning struck the first time – and things developed really fast. Moral: Don’t be afraid to disclose. The right person for you is out there.

  10. I had to break the news to my boyfriend last fall – I am lucky because he accepted it. I was so afraid of telling him too soon but also knew it was not fair to wait. I told him when I felt comfortable with him and knew that the relationship was getting more serious. I waited until after about a month of dating him. You don’t want to do it on the first date because you will scare them away, but you also don’t want to wait too long. My boyfriend told me that if I had waited longer he would have lost trust in me. It really should happen when you feel comfortable with the relationship and when you feel like you can trust the other person. It really is hard to come clean, but you have to be honest with the other person.

  11. I have to say this is an awesome website. I noticed that you haven’t blogged in a long time. I also blog but only for a little over a year. I have struggled with Manic Depressive Desease my whole life (I’m 50 so that is a long time.) Curious why you have stopped blogging. Love your website but wished you blog was ongoing.

    Thanks for the encouragement found in your blog!

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