How to Make Dating Work for You When You Struggle With Depression
Depression is a thief. It steals into people’s lives quietly, without much fanfare, and saps them of joy. It makes it hard to get excited about things, hard to care about your passions, hard to do pretty much anything.
It’s also an affliction that is rarely well-understood — often, people mistake it for simple sadness, or worse, laziness, without realising that it’s not really like either. It’s not something you can just “get over” and it’s not something that’ll vanish if you go for a walk or hang out with some old friends.
If depression is a reality in your life, it can be tough to know how to succeed at all manner of things many people take for granted, but what about dating? How can you muster the energy to go on dates with new people, strangers who you imagine might not understand what it means to be depressed, who you fear might misread signals or back off if you tell them about your diagnosis too early on?
Thankfully, it’s far from impossible for people who struggle with depression to date around casually or wind up in awesome relationships. Check out these tips for proof:
1. How Depression Can Impact Your Love Life
As something that makes it hard for people to feel the full breadth and depth of human joy, depression is especially pernicious when it comes to relationships, since romantic love is supposed to be one of the most exhilarating feelings we feel. That can make it hard for a partner to understand your actions and emotions, unfortunately.
“Depression may impact your relationship as it reduces general feelings of wellbeing, as well as overall energy,” says Lindsey Pratt, LMHC, a therapist in NYC who specialises in relationship issues. “If you struggle with depression, you may notice that it prevents you from feeling excitement over special moments with your partner, that you have trouble finding energy to spend time with that person, or that your ability to imagine a happy future with your partner feels limited.”
Dr. Paulette Sherman, a psychologist and author of Dating From the Inside Out and the upcoming book Facebook Dating: From 1st Date to Soulmate, agrees, noting that, “Depression can affect your relationship because sometimes depressed people want to stay in bed, they aren’t interested in having fun, may have less energy or can cry a lot or have negative thinking. This may feel like a drag to the other person and they need to understand that it is a condition that may require treatment, not just the other person having a bad attitude.”
2. Tips For Online Dating When You Have Depression
One thing that’s important to remember is that it’s OK for you to struggle a little bit with dating. The truth is, even very neurotypical people can struggle with some aspects of dating, and two people trying to decide if they like each other is rarely a smooth process regardless of the mental health of either partner.
Instead, recognise your own limitations and don’t get too frustrated with yourself. As Pratt says, “If you struggle with depression and are online dating, try to practice patience and compassion with yourself that your speed in replying or interacting with potential dates may be limited. Battling depression can be physically and emotionally taxing, so make sure you’re going at your own pace and being kind with yourself in the process.”
RELATED: How To Date If You Suffer From Social Anxiety
That being said, there can be value in pushing yourself a little bit and trying not to let your depression rob you of experiences, notes Dr. Sherman. “If you are depressed, realise that you may tend to think negatively and to make things seem worse than they are. You may feel disconnected and choose to isolate at times,” she says.
“You may need to push yourself to put yourself out there despite how you are feeling, because you know it is healthy to take action to forge new connections, to have fun and to remain hopeful that something good could come from your efforts.”
3. Tips For Going On Dates When You Have Depression
The prospect of getting out of the house and meeting up with a new person might seem daunting if you’re in the middle of a depressive episode or simply feeling overwhelmed by things.
Here, your knowledge of yourself and how your depression works will come in handy, suggests Pratt. “It may be helpful to identify triggers for your depression and schedule in-person dates around them, such as having most energy in the morning and utilising an app like Coffee Meets Bagel rather than Tinder,” she says.
“Ultimately, you know yourself and your depression best, so try to incorporate dating in a way where you can allow flexibility and self-compassion to be a part of the process. Dating and depression can both be very challenging, so it’s important to be patient with yourself.”
As for being on the date itself, it might be useful to try your best to get outside of your own head and not get wound up in your own thoughts.
“When you go on dates, attempt to be present and to leave negative thinking, judgments and expectations behind during that time,” says Dr. Sherman. “You can focus on getting to know your date and asking questions and finding things to appreciate on the date. Try to focus on what there is to enjoy and what you appreciate about your experience.”
4. Tips For Talking To A New Partner About Your Depression
If you’re not comfortable disclosing it up front, which is totally understandable, it it something you should be able to talk about after a little bit of time has gone by in your new relationship.
“It is good to have a foundation of honesty in your relationship, but you’ll need to determine the best time to discuss your depression with a date. Often this conversation happens a month or two into dating,” says Dr. Sherman.
“However, if you think a relationship has potential it can also be good to give that person some context about your issues a month or so into dating so that they don’t personalise it if you have a bout of depression.”
Dr. Sherman suggests saying some version of the following to your new partner, if you’re not sure how to go about starting the conversation:
‘Sometimes I experience social anxiety but I am being treated for it. I take meds and see someone to talk [weekly or monthly]. I function well but I wanted to be honest with you and if you see that I am feeling a bit off one day I wanted you to know that it wasn’t you and for you to have a context for it. I have my own tools to deal with it so you don’t have to do anything specific. Let me know if you have any questions for me about it though.’
RELATED: How To Talk To A New Partner About Mental Health Struggles
That kind of honest, straightforward disclosure can go a long way toward simplifying the process of talking about your depression.