A Reader Asks:
For many years, I have managed my depression and anxiety with the help of a supportive family, medical professionals, and learned coping strategies. I recently entered the dating scene and feel judged and hurt by those choosing not to date me because of my illness. How early in the dating process am I required to disclose that I have a mental health condition? How should I feel about those choosing to not give me a chance? I have many wonderful traits that can and should be appreciated in a relationship. Don’t I deserve to be married too?
Dating Coach Rachel Burnham Responds:
I deeply feel your pain, and I want to praise you for being actively engaged in managing your mental health as you seek your match.
Because mental health conditions are diverse and each situation and individual is different, I can’t offer a standard recommendation for when and how to disclose details. I would recommend consulting a mental health professional, rabbi, and/or dating coach who knows you well personally to answer those specific questions. What I can do, however, is offer some thoughts that may help you in your dating journey, as well as some advice for people on the other side of the table considering dating someone with a disclosed mental health condition.
Building with honesty: All healthy relationships are built on a bedrock of trust and honesty. Not sharing sensitive, yet vital, information can eat away at the foundation of a relationship and often end it. Front load the relationship with non-judgmental connection and openness so that there’s some level of safety when divulging your condition. This will allow them to see you for who you are and not just a diagnosis.
Having a mental illness does not have to mean you are unstable. Many individuals who have sought treatment for mental health have developed coping strategies, have a great support system, and enjoy an active and stable social, work, and family life. Stereotypes and popular depictions of mental illness can leave people who haven’t been exposed to it through friends or family with a lot of misconceptions.
Be willing to have an open conversation if the other person is interested, and pay attention to the questions they ask and their reactions to your answers. If someone is quick to be dismissive or judgmental, that is not a reflection on you or your condition. They might just not be for you.
Go where you are wanted: We all want to be with someone who can appreciate our inner and outer beauty. All disabilities aside, we obviously won’t be a fit for everyone. Many waste time chasing those that don’t want them only to find themselves in deep heartbreak, disappointment, and frustration.
If someone gives off a clear message of disinterest, move on. If someone won’t give you a chance, why spend your life or even a date with them? Accept that it’s not a match, and move on. This leaves you more time to spend with the right person instead of spending time with someone else’s future spouse.
The benefit of this approach is that when we do find the right person, we know they are invested in the relationship because they want to be, not because we chased, begged, or had others push them to date us.
To those across the table:
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Always maintain respect for someone who has disclosed difficult information. As I always say, we don’t have to date or marry anyone we don’t want to, but being a mentsch (good person) is not optional.
It is not your job to fix this person: Even though it often comes from a well-meaning place, this approach to the relationship — any relationship, really —will only destroy the connection and respect between you. Accept the person you are with, be supportive, and move forward as you’d want them to do for you.
Communication is key: If you are in a relationship with someone with a mental health condition and find yourself in a situation where you feel out of your depth, don’t be afraid to seek advice from a mental health professional, rabbi, and/or dating coach. Also, don’t forget that open communication with a potential partner lays a framework for a strong, resilient future together.
Remember, dear reader, that dating is about finding that special person that is suitable for you. Wishing you the shortest route on this sensitive journey to your longest relationship!
By Rachel Burnham