Dating and Relationships with Mental Illness

(I really should learn to write more imaginative titles. One day I think I’ll master that art)

Most of my friends are dating people…in serious long-term relationships, engaged, just got engaged, or are getting married soon…if not already married. Which, while I’m happy for them, it’s also not helpful for me. I mean…on some level, I look at my friends who are obsessively possessive, rude, clingy, and just generally obnoxious…and I wonder why and how they can find someone to date when they’re so obnoxious, and yet I haven’t had a boyfriend in nearly 7 years. And I know that this is extremely mean-hearted of me to think like that. I shouldn’t be annoyed at other people’s happiness.

But it does remind me of something I’ve known since I was younger.

These people…they’re “normal”. The ones out of my friends that are in relationships. They’re happy, well-adjusted, cheerful and perfectly sane. They’ve got normal lives. That’s what they’ve all got that I don’t have. I’ve known for years that I wasn’t normal, even before I knew about the bipolar and OCD, I always knew I was different. I was melancholy and “down”. I was always more somber and depressed than most people my own age.

And that’s what I’ve begun to realize. I will eventually have to tell someone that I date about my mental illness. I don’t know how to really go about that sort of thing. The couple guys I dated in high school always knew that I was depressed. I never had to explain to one of them to make him understand that I struggled with my mental health. He understood it, and even tried to help as best he could (difficult as that was, given the wrong diagnosis). The other two I dated…well they knew I was depressed, but neither one bothered to try and understand me. I think that showed me it was not worth dealing with people who cannot accept me with my mental illness.Outside of high school…I’ve gone on a few dates, all in Europe. Those were while I was in Germany, and it was just a few casual dates. There was no need to explain, because it was just for a good time out. Besides…how to explain my mental health in a language that I was not as familiar with as English, well that was not a challenge I was ready for at the time. Besides, a few casual dates did not require me informing them–I know that much.

But if I ever want to date someone for a longer period, I know eventually I need to tell the guy the fact that I have several mental illnesses. I’ve never had to do this, and I have no clue exactly how to handle the seriousness of a situation like that. I think it also concerns me in that I’ve never had to consider dating someone that hasn’t been previously aware that I have a rather serious mental illness. I’m on medication now, and I seem better…but I still have the same issues that I used to. It’s different, in that now I’ve better support and a better handle on what my issues really are, but the underlying fact is still the same.

To quite a large section of the general public, I’m damaged goods.

So dating terrifies me. I have major issues with opening up to people. Trusting people is even harder for me than opening up. So dating is already filled with landmines. Pair it with some major issues I have with the way society expects people to start promiscuously having sex with people they see after only a few dates–and you have a major case of commitment phobia. I don’t know how to handle dating when expectations run counter to what I feel is intrinsically my own moral compass. Ugh…and now I’m rambling.

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The point of this is that I feel like a failure in all things related to dating and relationships.

My mental health and condition limits me severely, I know this. I’m more open than I used to be…but then there’s my history with my family that has severely impacted my ability to fully immerse myself into relationships that I have. I’ve been working on this for quite a while, I am better than I used to be. I’ve gotten to where I can trust friendships, which is a huge step forward. But in terms of relationships and dating…that’s where I still feel like I’m failing.

See, I’m the eldest grandchild in my family. So my whole family (subconsciously) expects me to get married first…have kids first, do everything first. Actually, my grandpa has flat told me that he expects me to do all this first. It’s my “duty” as the eldest grandchild to be the first to do all these things. Or so says he. The rest are more subconscious about the expectations. And so…when my sister, and cousin are both happily dating guys, and my other cousin is engaged, and they’re all at least 18 months younger than me, well it makes me the huge disappointment in the family. Stupid really, since it’s not like this is some competition between us cousins. We don’t care, it’s more like the adults care.

And my mom thought she was being helpful by suggesting that I should try online dating. I know that’s logically an excellent idea. For me…with my schedule at work, and with my problems communicating in person with people, it’s a smart idea. However, I can’t help but feel like it was suggested because I’m a failure at dating in real life. Actually, what I really am is a failure at having anyone showing remote interest in me at all. I know that’s just me being overly sensitive, because there is logic to trying online dating.

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And roundabout back to the point. How to tell someone that I’m mentally ill. Dating online would help with that. It’s a lot easier to hide the signs of my disorders online than it is in person. But it still doesn’t help in my long-standing dilemma of what I do when I have to tell someone that I do have this intrinsic part of me that will never be cured. And it’s not something that garners all the attention of people, for being acceptable. My own family gets angry with me and tells me to “get over it”. So having someone else react to it, I am not sure how or when to tell another person about this part of my mind and mentality.

How do you share what is really intrinsic, but something most people don’t want to deal with? And when do you share it? Those are the kinds of questions I know I have to figure out when I actually find someone to date. I know this is all highly premature, since I still am not dating anyone…but it seriously worries me. I know that my OCD gives me compulsions that are highly visible and bound to cause comments, so that is going to come out at some time. But my bipolar disorder…that one, I don’t know how to explain it. After all, it’s hard to figure out how to explain to my family, and they’re used to a history of mental illness. Imagine if I ended up dating someone that wasn’t…I can just see how ill that would go over.

And of course, I’m massively over-thinking this. I know that. I just worry too much. Right now, all I can do is start slow and play it by ear. Which is really part of what terrifies me.

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