Online dating can be tough no matter who you are or what kind of baggage you're carrying. I have bipolar depression, which most of the time feels like regular depression. I treat it with a combination of medications and talk therapy. Usually I’m fine, and when I’m not, I’m typically just depressed.
Being bipolar doesn’t rule my life. But it is a part of my life that’s bound to come up eventually when I’m getting to know someone new, whether it’s mentioning my therapist in conversation or having to explain why I have an unusually thorough knowledge of different psychiatric medications and their side effects.
This isn’t something I try to hide, but it's something most people don't talk about openly. It can be difficult to gauge exactly how honest I can be with someone I’m newly dating. I’m not sure how they’ll respond when I say I can’t stay over because I have to take the meds I forgot at home or that I’m just having a rough time.
Being a woman with bipolar depression can especially conjure up stereotypes that I am an unpredictable, life-ruining sex fiend. In reality, I’m incredibly predictable and my only real kink is making schedules.
The word “crazy” is often leveraged at women to dismiss their feelings and experiences, minimize abuse, or enable gaslighting behaviors. Licensed psychotherapist Dr. Gary Brown said this reinforces stereotypes “that the woman is completely unstable […] and unable to have a healthy love relationship.” He added, “Even some of my married clients never told their partners until after they were married because of tremendous shame and fear of being abandoned.”
Until recently, I had never felt completely comfortable sharing my mental health struggles with partners. After coming out of a recent episode of hypomania—a period of abnormally elevated mood and hyper-activity that that can end in a depressive comedown—and finally finding a medication that really helps, I realized how much bipolar depression might have been impacting my romantic life. I think it could’ve been helpful to me and my partners if they’d known.
When I re-downloaded Tinder, I made my profile brutally honest about my struggles with mental health. That way I could face any potential stigma head on and weed out anyone who might have a negative reaction later on. I asked a few of my matches how they felt about the information I shared in my profile and how they might feel about dating someone with a mental illness. I date men and women, but the responses I received were overwhelmingly from men.
Men Who Were Chill (For the Most Part)
A few of my matches, starting with Adam*, found my brutal honesty surprisingly refreshing. “So upfront. I like full disclosure.”
Caleb* also seemed to appreciate my approach when he wrote me, “Your profile is so interesting! You’re so upfront with mental health issues!” I asked him if he thought this was unusual. “Yes. People usually hide that because of stigma, so it was interesting. I work in mental health. But breaking the stigma is what we should be doing.”
When I asked how they felt about possibly dating a woman with bipolar depression, some of my matches said they’d be open to it. “I’m not opposed to it. People have issues,” Wyatt* wrote me. “Everyone does.”
Some of my matches even shared some of their own experiences with mental health conditions. “I have in the past suffered from [mental illness] myself,” Shawn* wrote me. “It definitely affects both parties and requires a deep understanding of the conditions and empathy. But hey, everyone’s a bit crazy.”
But others seemed to just want someone to talk to who shared a sense of the challenges of living with mental health issues. Dave* wrote, “I like that you’re ill. I am too. I’m just on here to feel some closeness and feel not so shitty, even if it’s just for a little bit.”
Danny* replied, “I mean, I’m a recovering drug addict, so I’m not super judgemental when it comes to that area.” He added, “I’ve never found it to be a turnoff. Quite the opposite. In my experience, the only thing girls like better than a bad boy is a reformed bad boy.”
Dudes Who Were Turned on by It
As I connected with more matches, I found that some guys seemed to be interested in me specifically because of my mental health conditions. John’s* first message to me was, “I’m game for this beautiful challenge called Sofia.”
A handful of guys, I found, seemed attracted to the idea of dating someone modeled on Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted—a fantasy they’ve created based on negative stereotypes. Scott’s* first message to me was, “Your profile is an interesting read. I bet you’re excellent in bed.” I asked why and he explained, “Most mental girls with father issues are great in the sheets. Passionate, wild, confident. Not prudish. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because that’s the place for them to feel a release from their fucked up lives.”
When John* messaged me on Instagram (after I’d swiped left on him), I asked why he decided to reach out. “Not gonna lie, crazy in head crazy in bed is completely true, as I’m sure you know.”
Andy* echoed the same idea when I asked him why he swiped right on me. “I’m always with someone with anxiety or depression, and they’re always adventurous. Maybe because when you’re depressed, sex is stress relieving.”
Men Who Had No Clue What They Were Talking About
Having bipolar depression doesn’t define my personality or anyone else’s, but according to Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D, a Los Angeles-based psychologist whose specialties include relationships, “A person with a mental illness can be misread as not caring, being insensitive, or being aloof, which can affect even being able to start a relationship with a new person.”
When I asked Matt* how he felt about potentially dating a woman with bipolar depression, he was skeptical. “It really depends on how it is. I do think it’s part of your identity but I hope you don’t let it define you. If you are really mean, that would make it hard. If you’re a mean person already, I think it adds to it then. So if that’s your situation that would be difficult for me.”
Unfortunately, I ran into quite a few men who had misconceptions about mental illness (and no idea what bipolar depression really is), as I found in my conversation with Ray*. His first message to me was, “Your bio is scary.”
VICE: Do you find mental illness scary?
Ray*: A bit, yeah. How do you manage with that?
Why? [I manage it with] therapy and medication.
That’s good. What kind of consequences does that have on a relationship? I’m asking because I’ve met too many girls with psycho issues. I would for once like a simple, nice relationship. Something easy. Not crazy stuff. I feel happy and in good health. I don’t want and don’t need that.
"Psycho issues"? Well, a lot of people live with some form of mental illness. Do you not think people with mental illness can have healthy dating lives?
I think at the beginning yeah. Everything is gonna be alright.
It depends on the person and how strong she is.
Strong? Do you think people with mental illness are weak?
Makes your mind weak.
Do you think people with mental illness shouldn’t try to date?
No, it’s just harder to manage. What illnesses do you have? Bipolarity? Change of mood? Bad and good?
It’s not really a matter of bad and good, bipolar doesn’t work like that.
I don’t know. It looks scary. I’m really sorry. I think my ex was bipolar, too. She was mean sometimes and nice another time… it wasn’t really a respectful situation. I was always lost with her. I mean, I’m a really nice guy, but girls who change their opinion all the time play a game and I don’t want that.
Does depression scare you? I wouldn’t try to diagnose your ex, that’s not really fair.
Yeah depression is scary.
Why did you swipe right on me?
Because you look pretty. I didn’t read the bio.
Conditions like depression and anxiety are so common that it’s possible most people have already dated someone with who struggles with their mental health—only they may have never mentioned it for fear of being judged or stereotyped. Talking openly about mental health can be uncomfortable, but perpetuating false assumptions and fear is way worse. There are tons of online resources I wish men like Ray* would use to educate themselves. Better yet, talking with a therapist of their own could help get to the heart of why mental illness scares them.
People with mental health concerns can, and often do, lead healthy, fulfilling romantic lives. But Dr. Thomas said that forming new relationships requires extra sensitivity and awareness of how to avoid misunderstandings and confusion.
Dr. Brown added, “You want someone who is going to be understanding, compassionate, and who genuinely wants to know more about your condition so that they can be a great partner. You deserve that. Mental conditions or not.”
Despite my disheartening interaction with Ray*, I didn’t lose all hope. When Bobby* messaged me on Tinder, he made no mention of what I wrote in my profile until I mentioned it. His only response was, “Noted and accepted.” Then we went back to our discussion about how much we both hate roller coasters. We’ve been on two dates with plans for a third. My bipolar depression is the least interesting thing we’ve discussed and I hope it stays that way.
*All names have been changed.
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