Depression and Relationships
May 7, 2005 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Would you date a wonderful, albeit, depressed person? If you are seriously depressed, should you avoid getting into a relationship?

Everytime I look at personal ads online, I inevitably come across several that require confident, self-assured people who know what they want, who do not carry a lot of baggage, who have a positive outlook on life, etc. Well, I am just the opposite. I'm severely depressed and insecure (esp about the depression), athough I've been very good at keeping up the fight despite the low return on my efforts. I'd like to meet someone again since my last devastating breakup over a year ago, but I'm afraid that I'm not well enough to be dating material as I have been rejected in the past due to the depression factor. Yet I don't know if I'll ever be "well enough."

It seems there are a lot of clinically depressed mefites out there. What are your thoughts? Is it generally a bad idea to seek out a relationship when you are in the throws of depression? Would you get involved with a depressed person? When would be the best time to tell someone you are dating about your depression?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I would totally date someone who is long as they seek counseling and meds (if appropriate). If you were in denial? not intereted.
posted by filmgeek at 12:38 PM on May 7, 2005

Actually, interpersonal relationships - real, healthy ones marked by trust and intimacy - are probably the most powerful buffer against depression. You should definitely try to find someone. You may even find someone who's been depressed themselves - it's not that uncommon, you know.

As for whether or not you're a suitable mate, quit worrying about it. "For each cat, a fine rat," I always say.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:39 PM on May 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

Trust me, there are people out there who have no interest in dating "self-assured people who know what they want, who do not carry a lot of baggage, who have a positive outlook on life, etc."
posted by bingo at 12:45 PM on May 7, 2005

As someone who just got out of a relationship with someone who was depressed, her depression did play a role, though it was not the sole reason. I think for most people, it's not depression per se that can turn someone off- it's the effects of it. For example, in a relationship, I need and want that companionship and that feeling of being wanted/desired by the other person. However, when she retreated back into the depths of her depression, it in turn also caused her to excise me and I felt like trust was lost and that she didn't care about me anymore and I couldn't deal with that emotionally (as some might point out, this is also my fault, but the retreating element is I don't deal with regardless). However, in the past I have dated people who were depressed or where I was that person to no ill effect. For me, as someone who doesn't carry a whole lotta' baggage anymore, or tries to, a SO's depression plays more of a role in how she interacts with me on a daily basis and being able to talk about it. As I said with my experience above, things only sucked when she closed up, but were awesome when she was open and talking about her problems.
This also goes back to your question about when to tell someone you're dating that you're depressed. I don't think you need to be all, "oh, I'm clinically-depressed." Awkward moment, much? Rather, I find what honest, frank discussion with a date (though it might take a few) will lead to a discussion about personal issues and just casually mention it. However, and some may disagree, I think the key at this point is to be open about it and be willing to discuss it and what problems it can cause in your life and with the other person. If you're not willing to discuss your depression, I wouldn't bring it up until you are.
posted by jmd82 at 12:48 PM on May 7, 2005

I like depressed people. Since I myself have emotional issues, I like dating other people with emotional issues. It helps me feel less insecure about my own problems.

I've found it best to be as up-front as possible with depression, as I've had a number of relationships fall apart due to the other person becoming disenchanted upon my delving into a few months of self-loathing and hopelessness. It also helps to explain to the other person not to be too worried about you during depressed periods, keep in mind that while you may be miserable, you certainly don't want to bring the other person down. Dating someone who has gone through/is going through depression certainly helps a bit.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 12:50 PM on May 7, 2005

My husband and I both suffer from severe depression. While we've had success with treatment (it takes years, so have hope if you are just starting), we still have rough times.

I cannot imagine being married to someone who does not have depression (though it certainly works for others)--I don't think they could possibly understand. Our understanding for one another is a huge boon to the relationship. And the relationship is a tremendous help with the disease.

That said, we both did wait until we'd been in treatment for quite a while before attempting a relationship.

So I guess my advice is this: work hard on becoming stable, but also know that love is perfectly possible for you at any time.
posted by frykitty at 12:51 PM on May 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

I cannot think of a single female from my love life who was not depressed to some degree. For that matter, even among my female friends throughout my life, I can think of only a few who could be considered normal in that respect.
posted by mischief at 12:52 PM on May 7, 2005

I think it's doable, just be careful. I'm recently getting out a relationship because he just stopped trying. I don't mean trying to have a good relationship, I mean trying to have a good life. I completely understand depression, but I don't understand giving up hope. As long as you're willing to make the effort to make things work...sure, give it a go.
posted by amandaudoff at 2:40 PM on May 7, 2005

I met someone who was having some difficulties and i believe it would have worked out had i given this person and myself time to work out whatever there was to work out but that would have meant not being in a relationship with them for two years.... so i jumped right in thinking i could wing it.
I've since learnt you cant wing it , no matter how good your intentions are, even if you tell them you love them in your sleep , you still cant wing it , there has to be some sort of solid ground for both people.
The next time your depression tells you youre going to be alone for the rest of your life , tell it to fuck off.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:00 PM on May 7, 2005

I concur with ikkyu2 on the buffering effect. I guess it'd be ok for the non-depressed party if they were made aware of your situation.

Some people are ok with partners who sometimes need "down" time especially if they understand that it's not their fault that the depressed party is feeling down and doesn't necessarily want/need cheering up, just some time.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 4:05 PM on May 7, 2005

anonymous posted "When would be the best time to tell someone you are dating about your depression? "

Don't mention it until it's obvious; whenever I've had dates mention something like this, it's like hearing that they're in a 12-Step program or seriously religious -- you worry that they've centered their whole lives around their diagnosis/program/cult.

And when I've mentioned by own chronic physical condition too soon, I've noticed dates become wary. It's better to just pass it off breezily after things are established, showing that it's no big deal for you. (Although I occasionally like to mention my problem sooner for the shock/sympathy value.)
posted by orthogonality at 4:17 PM on May 7, 2005

When would be the best time to tell someone you are dating about your depression?

(a) When it gets in the way of the relationship; or (b) if the relationship becomes serious, because you don't want to surprise the other person.

And say it in person, not over the phone or via email.

As in: (a) I'm sorry I cancelled our date last Friday. I was really feeling low. It wasn't anything you did or said; it's just that sometimes I get really depressed. I'm taking medicine for it, but sometimes that doesn't get me completely to feeling good about things. [Then stop, see the other person's reaction, go from there.]


(b) Before you move in with me [or we decide on an exclusive relationship, or whatever the other person has proposed], I need to tell you something. Sometimes I really get depressed. [see above for continuation]

Almost everyone has something in their life that, at some point, it's a good idea to disclose to someone close (particularly someone getting closer): a past or present serious health problem (cancer, depression, whatever), a disfunctional family life when one was young (that can pop up to affect the present), a parent or a sibling who is problematical, past credit problems, dropping out of school, being arrested and/or convicted (typically something stupid as a teenager or in one's twenties), a past marriage, children with another partner, etc. There are an amazing amounts of ways that someone can make a mistake, or be unlucky (family, health).

Disclosing such things is part of building a trusting relationship. Disclosing at the appropriate time (see above) is a way of showing that you value the other person. Disclosing too early can show that you're focusing too much on your history (or a health problem not interfering with things) and not enough on the other person (who has no need to know, so early in a relationship.) Disclosing too late, or not at all, typically means that you are too fearful of how the other person will react [consider - if he/she can't handle it, he/she isn't the right person a relationship], which can flow from misunderstanding how important the problem is (or is not) to other people, or not valuing the other person's interests fully.

Finally, you're doing exactly the right thing about your question - asking others.
posted by WestCoaster at 4:23 PM on May 7, 2005

posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 5:10 PM on May 7, 2005

posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 5:10 PM on May 7, 2005

I read a news story a few days ago about a dating site for people with mental illness. Yup, here it is. There are a lot of snarky comments from MeFites posting in the thread - just ignore them and decide for yourself if that site might help you out.
posted by matildaben at 5:29 PM on May 7, 2005

In order of your first two questions: No, and yes.

Take it from someone who just got out of a long term relationship with a severely depressed person. You're not ready. It is quite likely you will hurt the ones you love and drive them away. You need spend time with yourself, working on yourself. Counciling/meds/meditation/whatever is a path you should start on your own.

That said, you're not my ex (right?). So take it worth a grain of salt.
posted by samh23 at 7:19 PM on May 7, 2005

I do date, and am about to marry, a wonderful albeit depressed person. I think filmgeek makes a good point -- the fact that he sought treatment and medication and continues to want to treat his depression means the world to me. This shows me that he cares about himself and recognizes that his depression affects both of us and is willing to do the hard work it takes to make himself, and our relationship, as healthy as possible.

As someone who isn't depressed, and has very little experience with clinical depression, it took some time for me to really understand that depression isn't just laziness or lack of motivation or a collection of behaviors undertaken just to piss me off. I read a lot of books, and we talked about it very frankly, and I see a therapist myself occasionally, which, among other things, helps me work through whatever struggles I'm facing as the significant other of someone with depression.

I think having a successful relationship with a depressive requires honesty, a willingness to try as hard as necessary to make it work, and love. If I didn't love my SO so very much, I don't know that I would have been able to fight through some of our tougher periods. But I do, and I did, and it's worth every minute of struggle and more.

Right now, my biggest fear is that he will undergo a very serious depressive episode. Aside from the wretched pain of watching someone you love suffer, I'm just terrified of losing the man I love, even temporarily. But again, we are very honest about this fear and since he's very proactive in seeking treatment, I am confident that if the worst does happen, we'll work through it.

(As for the personal ads, there are probably just as many that are looking for people with brown hair or a certain build... They are shallow by definition -- how do you put on a website all of who you are and who you are hoping to find? You can't. So I wouldn't take a random sampling of personal ads as evidence that depressed people can't date.)
posted by jennyb at 9:21 PM on May 7, 2005 [5 favorites]

Tangentially, I would have nothing to do with the sort of person who has a laundry list on their personal ad that includes things like "confident, self-assured people who know what they want, who do not carry a lot of baggage"; that's a person looking for a low-maintenance thing to fill a slot, as if shopping for a car, rather than an organic mesh of two people. Good luck making a connection with that kind of wanker. I'll take depressed to oblivious any day.
posted by dong_resin at 10:28 PM on May 7, 2005

If you're not at least somewhat depressed and neurotic, it'll probably be a cold day in hell before I date you.

My last girlfriend was so severely bi-polar that she had to leave a college that she loved dearly and return home to the 'rental units. Now, she can only go to school part time and even that is a serious struggle for her. She's on mood stabilizers, anti psychotics, tranquilizers. She's agoraphobic, moody, sometimes manic, and just all around nuts. If we had been sexually compatible, I might have married her.
posted by Clay201 at 11:06 PM on May 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

a lot of interesting things have been said here and I'd just like to comment on the when to tell question.

I don't think it's one of those hidden-when-to-tell things. I mean if you're yourself it should come up every now and then and be something that a person who's not blind will feel. So there's no need for a big and dramatic announcement about it (it's probably out there in the open anyway). A dramatic announcement of it seems to me something that might blow the whole thing out of proportion.

well, that's my thought on the matter (hope it helped).
posted by mirileh at 1:10 AM on May 8, 2005

Tangentially, I would have nothing to do with the sort of person who has a laundry list on their personal ad that includes things like "confident, self-assured people who know what they want, who do not carry a lot of baggage"; that's a person looking for a low-maintenance thing to fill a slot, as if shopping for a car, rather than an organic mesh of two people.

Possibly... although I think it may also be someone very scarred from a previous relationship. Which results in about the same thing, but has a cause besides "oblivious".
posted by dagnyscott at 6:19 AM on May 8, 2005

I have been depressed in relationships, and I've been in relationships with women who either were or became depressed over time -- it's definitely an added burden either way. When I was depressed the knowledge that I was needing more from my mate and not able to give as much as I wanted to added a layer of guilt and shame to my depressed state. When she was depressed, there were definitely issues involving how hard she was trying to do something about it rather than simply staying mired in her depression; I eventually grew exhausted from trying to maintain the situation without much, if any, positive energy flow in return.

That said, people who are or have been depressed have a certain sensitivity to where you are that is helpful; people who've not been depressed often find it hard to relate, unless they do the good work that jennyb was so generous to do.

I've struggled to figure out if it's better to be with someone who is also depressive vs. being with someone who has more stability and greater capacity for giving than a depressive person might. If you're depressed, after all, don't you need something extra, special, from your mate? If he/she is depressed as well, is it just adding to the problem to be needing that extra stuff from someone who is hardly in a position to give it? Perhaps it simply comes down to whom you meet and how you interact -- which will probably guide you in when/what to tell more than any preset timetable for such a discussion... People usually wait for a bit to talk about their inner emotional lives when dating, and if you do, and are sympathetic to one another's plights, that's just one more avenue of bonding.

Final point: I know the impulse to fault singles who post ads asking for non-baggaged people, but at least they're being honest and helping you (and them) avoid situations that will not likely work out, even if it might make you feel like you're damaged goods... In your profile or contacts with prospective dates, you can always use words like "sensitive" and "vulnerable" (or even "artistic"?!?) and whatever else comes to mind that might act as a sort of code word for those who would likely be attuned to you... Oh, and if you're feeling an impulse to be in a relationship, that's likely a healthy thing so long as you're not looking for someone simply to come fix you.
posted by rleamon at 8:55 AM on May 8, 2005

Possibly... although I think it may also be someone very scarred from a previous relationship. Which results in about the same thing, but has a cause besides "oblivious".

The result is obliviousness, dagny, whatever the cause the may be. Think about it, someone looking for someone without "baggage" is saying "I want someone unaffected by previous relationships"... because they've been in a relationship where that sort of person was irritating for them. In other words, they themselves have baggage, but the other person is not meant to have any. If that isn't the living definition of oblivious, I can't imagine what is.
posted by dong_resin at 10:08 AM on May 8, 2005

Absolutely you can be in a relationship.
Keep in mind that your depression will sometimes be hard for your partner to deal with, but don't let yourself fall into the trap of thinking you're not worthy of your partner's love or of trying to protect your partner from your depression. The decision about whether to be with you is your partner's to make.

Personal background: I've spent the last two years in a friendship (platonic, but with investments of time and emotional energy that rival some serious romantic relationships) with someone who's on the edge of bipolar and who often needs time alone. I act as a buffer between him and the rest of the world when he needs it, and in return I get somebody who's a tremendous amount of fun when he feels good, and who is very good at understanding my own emotional foibles.

Members of a relationship are always going to need and invest different things, but the relationship can be stable and positive if the needs and investments balance out on both sides. I agree that you probably shouldn't announce your depression out of thin air on the first date, but be matter-of-fact about it as soon as is affects the relationship or as soon as you start thinking about a future with your partner. Frank communication about what you need and the occasional limitations of what you can provide will make all the difference.
Best of luck.
posted by hippugeek at 5:06 PM on May 8, 2005

In other words, they themselves have baggage, but the other person is not meant to have any.

Finding irritating people to be irritating is not exactly what most people mean by "baggage."
posted by kindall at 5:54 PM on May 8, 2005

No, not if you're 12 and this is your first relationship. Otherwise it comes from a weariness cultivated from previous experience-- baggage.
posted by dong_resin at 9:01 PM on May 8, 2005

If the other person was seeking help (drugs, therapy, etc.), I wouldn't have a problem with a relationship. However, I wouldn't go looking for one if I was depressed (which I am, but I'm already in a relationship - he has been clinically depressed in the past, but not now).
posted by deborah at 12:44 PM on May 9, 2005

I'd certainly not have a problem with a relationship. However, there'd need to be some acknowledgement of the situation, not wilful ignorance or avoidance. If you're undergoing therapy, and you know when you're depressed (or getting toward the edge), I see no problem with becoming involved.

I've had relationships with depressives, and only one of them has ended because of the depression -- and that was because he refused to admit that there was a problem, much less do anything about it. (I got a note from one of my old boyfriends years later, thanking me for being a rock during a particularly bad episode. His wife signed it, too.)
posted by jlkr at 2:17 PM on May 9, 2005

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