‘So, you know I have bipolar?’ – the perils of dating with a mental health problem

Dating is a tricky business at the best of times, but even more so if you have a history of mental illness. Here are some dos and don’ts …

Dating is hard. It’s paved with heartache and unrequited crushes and the blurting out of gabbled nonsense in front of the unimpressed person you like. When I finally found myself in a conversation with someone I liked at work, whose head I had resolutely stared at the back of for a full three months, I answered an innocuous, “So, how’s your day going?” with, “I am awash with existential despair.” She stared, confused and unblinking, back into my face. I then followed it up with a tiny, pathetic, “Woo!” She sat down again. I continued to stare at the back of her head from my desk, in the full knowledge that she would never speak to me again. This isn’t just me, right? This is how it is for everyone. This is what it’s like to date. It’s awkward.

But what is it like when, in addition to your inability to say anything remotely funny or interesting to the person you are into, you have a mental health problem as well? How does that affect the way you interact with them? How does it affect a relationship once you are actually in one? And, more pressingly: how do you even tell someone you are, or have been, ill? At what point during the dating process is it appropriate to bring up mental health?

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Alex Vidal