Dating while depressed?
January 29, 2014 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Due to various life happenings, I am not in a great place mindset-wise and have more than a tinge of depression. I am also more than ever rather lonely, and would like a partner. I worry that subconsciously I am looking for someone to help "fix" and take care of me during this depression, which is not the best reason to date and would be unfair to whatever partner I might find. Then again, this loneliness could very well be contributing to my depression. Would it be a bad idea to date under these circumstances? Has anyone dated while depressed with positive results? Or should I wait until I am in a better frame of mind to search for a partner?
posted by CottonCandyCapers to Human Relations (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I listen to Dan Savage's podcast and he recommends that a person who is dating should be in generally good working order as a person before they start dating. Nobody is perfect. Everyone has issues. If everyone waited to pursue a relationship until they were in a perfect place emotionally, the human race would have died out by now. Plus you can take a relationship slowly until you feel like you're in a better place to get more serious.

You seem self-aware but I would discourage you from explicitly looking for a partner. Your partner shouldn't be the cure for your loneliness because that is too much to put on one person. If you want to go out with someone, ask them out but also spend time with friends, pursue hobbies, maintain your own separate distinct life away from your romantic partner.

I started seeing a guy 11 years ago when I was a mess emotionally. We moved in together six months later. We've been married for four years. I'm very lucky but I'm also very independent in some ways. And that has been good for our relationship. So sure, depressed people can date.
posted by kat518 at 1:19 PM on January 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

If we all waited until we were in the right frame of mind to date, the world would never get populated.

A date or partner won't fix your depression, but your depression shouldn't disallow you from seeking the company of other people. Just be aware of yourself, and take things carefully.
posted by xingcat at 1:22 PM on January 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm depressed and dating someone who's depressed.

On one hand, it has helped with the loneliness factor. On the other hand, there is typically an increase in anxiety (which often goes hand and hand with depression) when you're with someone, which can be hard to deal with if you're not used to it.

As long as you're communicating with your partner and you're both aware of when you're feeling especially low (and that your perception of the other's behavior doesn't make you feel bad/you know they aren't acting a certain way because of you), I say Go For It.

My depression is chronic, so there will never be a time when I'm totally rid of it (I was on medication for awhile, but felt it unnatural to never experience extreme feelings both good and bad). As long as you're managing it, very self aware and able to talk about it openly and honestly with a potential mate, that's probably as good as it's gonna get.
posted by patientpatient at 1:47 PM on January 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

My opinion: The unique euphoria that comes with being into and dating someone new is an excellent -- but temporary -- tonic for depression. The potential problems are that a) if it doesn't work out, you're right back to where you started, and could maybe add depression-for-cause onto your existing, endemic, chronic depression; and b) if things do go well, that euphoria will likely dim as the honeymoon period fades, and whatever had been holding your depression down won't have the same weight.

I say go for it, but make every effort to remain self-aware about how you're feeling, what you're feeling, where your depression is, and what your potential pitfalls are. If, that is, you can do it without creating a whole lot of new anxiety (omg this person is so great, omg what if it doesn't work out???).

Depression sucks. One of the reasons it sucks is that it can sometimes keep you from doing the very things you need to do in order to elevate yourself out of it. That's its special power. Don't let it win.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:58 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just get a cat or a harmless crush instead, IMO. Or go out and take salsa lessons. That kind of thing.

I mean, don't turn down Meet Cute with Mr. Perfect Soulmate, I guess, but don't go out of your way.
posted by quincunx at 2:14 PM on January 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

A therapist once told me that a great way to fight depression is to fake it till you make it. Sort of like the physical act of smiling makes you feel happier? And if you're dating, you'll probably have to fake feeling a lot better than you think you feel, just to hold up your end of a good date. So you may end up feeling less depressed just for that reason alone, plus all the other good things that might happen when you date. Just don't depend on others to rescue you--that's got to be your job. It'll be easier if you're required to pretend you're fine.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 2:17 PM on January 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Go ahead and date unless a psychologist tells you otherwise.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:00 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've asked myself this question a lot, and I get gloomy about all the popular advice basically saying that only people who are happy without a partner should seek a partner, and that it's unfair to ask your partner to help you be happy. If it's no longer legitimate to want companionship when you're lonely, or comfort and support when you're suffering, then the only reason left for dating is sex. Seriously. Casual buddies will suffice for everything else, and wanting anything more often seems to be considered a form of immaturity today, as if the only legitimate place to be needy is in your therapist's office.

I guess I disagree with this conventional wisdom, and I wonder if it might have evolved from the notion of "codependency" that was popularized by Melody Beattie in the late 1980's (which was a decade when a lot of other current ideas we Americans have about self-reliance and the shamefulness of asking for support also became popular). Beattie was originally referring to women taking care of their alcoholic spouses, but it's easy to imagine how this specific idea might broaden to the point where we have Dan Savage, 25 years later, saying (more or less) that only healthy people should date:

1) People who take care of their alcoholic partners are "codependent," meaning that they need the sick person to stay sick so they can keep taking care of them, because this is their primary source of self-worth.
2) Being codependent is unfair to the caretaker, and only hurts their alcoholic partner by enabling their illness to continue.
3) Therefore, people should not get into dating relationships with alcoholic partners, and alcoholic people should take responsibility for their own illness before they try to date.
4) Asking a partner to care for one's alcoholism is a form of not being a responsible adult.
5) Asking a partner to care for one's depression is a form of not being a responsible adult.
6) Therefore, people should not get into dating relationships with depressed partners, and depressed people should take responsibility for their own illness before they try to date.

My response to the idea that you shouldn't date is to say:

1) We're big fans here at Ask Metafilter of treating other people like adults who are capable of making their own decisions. Why shouldn't this extend to potential dating partners? They are presumably able to make their own adult decision about whether to date, or to continue dating, someone who's depressed. Which means that as long as you're honest and open about it, you're doing nothing wrong.
2) Is it still unfair to get support during your depression if your partner values other things that you bring into their life, in spite of your mental state?
3) I personally find the idea of dating another depressed person to be very appealing, because I would be so hopeful that we could not only support one another, but actually understand one another. (And if we're both supporting one another it doesn't seem quite so unfair.)
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 4:49 PM on January 29, 2014 [33 favorites]

I think that your being in a state of mind to even ask this question is a sign that it's okay to date. I'm not saying that you should definitely, actively do it, but I don't think you have anything precluding you from dating.

I think the kind of circumstance where you don't want to be dating is when you're spiraling, self-destructive, and would be too out of your mind to even consider how your depression could affect someone else.

I was depressed for much of my mid-to-late teens and didn't do anything close to dating until my 20s. I was already on the come-up when I met my boyfriend, but he gave me a huge push forward. He supports me during my emotional valleys, but with each episode, I actually feel stronger and more independent yet more loved (and willing to accept love, which used to be a foreign concept to me.)

It wouldn't hurt to wait until you're in a better frame of mind, but when I wasn't doing so well, meeting some people on okcupid for coffee once in a while actually helped dispel the notion that I was a hideous freak who was doomed to be single forever. Most of these were one-offs, either or both parties didn't turn out to be interested, but then you do meet someone and click, and off you go.

Just take it slow at first, and I think you'll be fine. I've been on SSRIs and seen therapists, but this "love" thing is a whole 'nother drug.
posted by madonna of the unloved at 6:02 PM on January 29, 2014

Well, you might feel most comfortable with someone also going through something right now. Which might mean you’ll feel more easily understood, or it could amplify unhelpful habits and thinking patterns, or you might take on a care-taking role yourself (which might be good for you, or might not). Or, you might find someone secure who’s feeling good, and they’ll act as a bridge to a more health-sustaining lifestyle. Or, you might start comparing yourself to them and coming to unhelpful conclusions, or you may hide how you feel without addressing the problem, or your problem might become the focus of the relationship, which may tire the other, or bring them into their own depression. Or another thing could happen.

It’s tricky, but life’s tricky… if you are mindful and have other support, maybe dip your toes in the water and watch out for tides.

(I did not make great choices when I was depressed. I also did not have great support at the time.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:46 PM on January 29, 2014

One point to keep in mind, will you be able to manage okay if you get cold dumped by someone you were really starting to care about? That's what happened to me when I tried dating while in a real slump. I didn't date again until I was feeling more stable, there's no way I could have taken another punch like that while in the mental space I was in.

Also consider how it will feel to jump into dating and be faced with the standard numbers game and quick rejections everyone who dates deal with. Unless you are currently eyeing someone you know if interested, chances are you'll spend a good deal of time wading into it before you meet anyone. If that wouldn't drag your emotional state down, I say go for it, but honestly everyone finds that step to be one of the least enjoyable parts of "partnering".
posted by Dynex at 9:20 PM on January 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

When I was depressed and super lonely and not in a good place self-esteem-wise, I gravitated towards people who were in the same place. In terms of dating I wanted to be with someone who was in no position to judge me, according to my own perception (as opposed to someone I perceived to be in a good place with self-esteem, and who I perceived to be successful, not depressed, not lonely, etc).

When I got out of my depression (through therapy), I found that the person I had hooked up with was not willing to take steps to alleviate their own depression. So now I was in a good place self-esteem-wise and wanting to move forward with my life, while stuck with someone who was literally, deliberately making a choice not to move forward with theirs. It made for many not fun times.

If I had it to do over again, I would have worked on my personal issues first, and then pursued dating someone who was in a good place in their life.
posted by vignettist at 10:23 AM on January 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you are getting appropriate treatment for your depression--meaning therapy and/or meds--have supportive network of friends and/or family, I think you should go for it. When I read your question, I pictured myself out on a date with someone with depression and asked myself what my response would be. Personally, I would have no problem with dating someone with depression as long as they were taking steps to treat it and I felt they would be able to rely on their support network as well as me.

(Bias Disclosure: I am currently on a hiatus from dating. It's been about a year and half since I made this decision. I decided to take a break while I was seeing someone from OKC while suffering from a mysterious illness because I didn't have the energy or emotional bandwidth to deal with a relationship. I have decided that I wont return to dating until I am healthy again, which could be months or years down the road.)
posted by emilynoa at 10:45 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm in the same boat - working hard to bounce back from PTSD and a relationship with a guy with Borderline Personality Disorder. I'm pretty functional, and I'm finally feeling ready to date around again.

I've decided to handle this by being VERY cautious — the last thing I need is getting hurt badly again — but not so cautious that I wall myself off from people. I need to believe there are good guys out there who will treat me well, and I also need to have high enough standards to only involve myself with them.

What's been working for me has been forcing myself to go to social events and bars and just talk to people. (Admittedly, I'm an extrovert by disposition and this is not too huge for me, but I suggest it for all). And not being hard on myself: if I come off as a bit weird or dark to a guy, there's going to be another. Each time, I'll get better at it.

I don't like the advice about "wait to date until you're 100%" some people give out. As has been said multiple times upthread, the human race would die out. Even if you're not in a good place right now, you have the right to look and find love.
posted by cheberet at 6:28 AM on February 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

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