That is the question

To tell or not to tell, that is the question.  At what point do you share the intimate details of your life with others?  I’ve asked this before, but now that I’m trying to get back into dating it becomes a more relevant question.  Of course I’m referring to being bipolar, but it’s really more than that.  You don’t get to be in your 50’s without gathering a lot of baggage.  I’m bipolar.  I’ve been married four times.  I’m a smoker.  All of these things could negatively affect a developing relationship.  So when do you get into these kinds of details?

I’ve gone out a couple of times with a very nice lady that I recently met.  It hasn’t been fireworks or trumpets or anything, but we’ve had a good time.  We met for coffee, then had a dinner date, then met a couple of days later for a walk around a local lake.  Nothing earth shattering.  At this point I haven’t told her anything about my past.  I’ve told her I’ve been married more than once, but haven’t gotten into the details about how many times.  I’ve found in the past that having four failed marriages scares people off.  And I can’t say that I really blame them; it shows that I make poor decisions and / or can’t stay committed to anything long term.  I’m definitely not looking to get married again, but it still raises some ugly questions.

The smoking is another issue.  In today’s society people who still smoke are not accepted like they once were.  It’s understandable, but it does make things more difficult.  I know, the real solution is to quit.  It’s just an excuse, but I’ve got so much else to deal with at the moment it just isn’t going to happen.  Not now anyway.  As long as you aren’t obvious, it usually isn’t something that’s asked and it hasn’t come up in conversation yet.

Being bipolar is the real problem.  It’s a major, lifelong illness.  It can be managed, but there is no cure and it’s going to be something I deal with for the rest of my life.  So when should I tell?  Is it fair not to disclose it from the very beginning?  Or is it even going to be an issue if things don’t work out?  Very few people understand what the illness is there are a lot of misconceptions about what it really is.  Not to mention the stigma that comes from the lack of knowledge.  It’s unusual for people to understand that by and large you’re just a normal person who just happens to have a major illness.  If you’re bipolar, you’re crazy.  How is that fair?

So here’s my thinking.

The marriage issue should come out right away.  If it’s that big of a deal it’s better to find out before anybody’s time gets wasted.  Having multiple divorces isn’t seen as that unusual in today’s society so it’s not likely to be a problem.  And if it is, it is.  There’s no changing that history so why not go ahead and disclose it from the beginning.

To me, the smoking is a non-issue.  I’m extremely fastidious about my hygiene and it must not be obvious that I’m smoking or she would have said something by now.  Or it’s not an issue if she does.  Even if she knows I won’t be smoking around her (Unless she’s a closet smoker too) so I don’t see the need to bring it up.  Not now anyway.   If things get serious I have a choice;  is it important enough to quit?

The big question is the bipolar issue.  The way I feel about it is that it’s really not relevant now.  If it seems to be developing into something more serious of course I’ll let her know.  In the meantime however I’d rather she get the chance to know me without complicating things with something that she most likely won’t understand.  Maybe if she knows how I am underneath the illness she might be able to accept it for what it is.  At the right time.    And there’s always the chance that I get my symptoms under control and manage this disease so that it really doesn’t impact any relationship.  Of course I’ll be very careful to be aware of the situation so no one gets hurt.  If I wait too long to tell it would really be unfair.

Maybe I’m not being completely honest with what could be a major issue.  Perhaps a better approach would be to disclose it all and take my chances.  She will either accept me as I am, or it wouldn’t work out anyway.  But the truth is, I don’t expect anything long term developing.  For now I just plan to enjoy getting out of the house and spending time with someone pleasant.  There will be plenty of time to mess things up later.  And even if it does progress, she’ll always have the option to move on if she doesn’t like the situation.  It’s a dumb comparison, but would you tell someone on a second date that you have psoriasis?  Sure, it could be an issue at some point, but why get into it until you know where you’re going?

Anyway, right or wrong that’s how I handle it.  If you take the illness out of the question I’m really not such a bad person.  I still have a lot to offer and bring a lot to a relationship.  I have some really close friends that have no idea about my illness and we still maintain a healthy friendship.  And I’ve dated some people in the past that never knew, and never had a reason to know.  We still had a good time while it lasted.  It’s hard enough dating once you’re in your 50’s, there’s no reason to make it any harder than it already is.  I’m sure there’s a lot of people who would disagree (Including my ex wife) but I have to give myself at least some chance to have some happiness with someone.  And who knows, maybe I can bring happiness to someone else. As long as I’m very careful not to hurt anyone, including myself, in the process.  And when the time is right I’ll tell all and let things go where they may.

I expect that this will be controversial, so I’m always open to suggestions.

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18 Responses to That is the question

  1. I agree with you. You are doing a lot in this blog to dispel misunderstandings.
    I also wanted to say that you should not be too concerned about the meeting you had with the doctor. It worries me a bit that doctors usually see people when they are most unwell, whatever the illness. How many times do they see a patient who is off medication and coping? So, do they really get a balanced view?

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  2. I will give you my 2 cents worth answer later today about my take of how//when/where do you tell a new person in your life that you are bipolar. I hope you get lots of comments.

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  3. Amanda Wood says:

    You have thought this out and written about it. I say, have fun, be yourself, if it becomes something you feel you can trust them with and that you want to take the chance, then tell them. If they don’t want to date you then, they might still want to be your friend, and that is still a good thing. I hate dating, but even when you are in a relationship, who we are takes a looooonnng time to come out to our partners anyway. All I know is that we are all fearful of the things we don’t understand and the things we don’t think others will understand. Remember, it is very likely this person also has some baggage, and it also might not be so pretty, and YOU might not want to take on their crap either…so go have fun, don’t be dishonest (i.e. if they ask you a direct question, don’t lie), but otherwise it is your choice to reveal anything about yourself when you feel it is right for YOU.

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  4. sparksmcgee says:

    Hi! From my point of view, the only thing that needs to be disclosed right away is a thing that is off the table (like marriage), or issues of safety (like: “I am a drug lord and my girlfriends are often killed by rival gangs.”). As long as the two of you are not in a position where the quality of your lives deeply depend on each other, then I don’t see a mental illness which won’t affect the other person’s safety as Need To Know. If I were in the dating world and were having a depressive episode or a stretch of high anxiety, I probably wouldn’t mention it.

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  5. When I was first dating my husband I didn’t say anything about my anxiety and depression initially. I suppose I figured it was one of those things that was very personal, sacred in a warped way, and as much I knew I had to be honest and open with him one day, I also knew he had to be the type of person willing and able to deal with it. Somewhere deep down I knew I owed myself that much. It’s not an easy situation by any means, but if someone is willing to spend time with you then they have to be willing to spend time with every part of you, and I believe the only way that can happen is if they get to know you first without filtering you through the lens of being bipolar.

    Good luck however you choose to deal with this situation!

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  6. This is a really interesting question. I’ve been married 26 years so not sure I’m even qualified to comment. But when has that ever stopped me? If I try to put myself in your girlfriend’s shoes, honestly, I wouldn’t want to know right away. I’d want the chance to get to know you without any biases getting in the way. I used to practice this when I was dating (back in the day) by refusing to listen to what others wanted to tell me about my date. I didn’t want to be influenced. I wanted to make up my own mind and I was confident in my ability to discern. It may be cliche but I think you’ll know when it’s the right time if it ever is.

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  7. From my humble and professional view- this is my take. If you think that your date has mutual interests, etc. I believe it is best to deal with it up front and at the end of the first date. Have a nice time and if she seems to like you then it truly is in your best interest and her best interest to tell that person you are bipolar. You can explain a few things and if she is not “turned off” by what you have said then it is likely she will go out on more dates with you. Many people have not a clue what bipolar is about. It is important to tell her that you are not fro Mars and that you just happen to have a condition in the same manner as a diabetic, or epileptic, or some one that takes meds for what ever. Bipolar is a mental condition however, it is also physical as well. The brain secretes neuro transmitters that affect the rest of your body- not just your mind. The brain is a part of human anatomy and the body does not function without the mechanics of the brain.

    I don’t know if that all made sense or not. But you don’t want to involve yourself too deep and then spring, “by the way, I am bipolar or manic depressive” or how ever you want to describe yourself. Both parties will be hurt if you get too deep into a relationship and then she bails on you because she decided that she can not deal with a mental illness if you have waited too long to tell anyone that you have a condition. You do not need to call it an illness or disease. Call bipolar a condition that requires medication.

    I wish you luck and I am so glad that you are moving forward.

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  8. corffhardd says:

    Hey 🙂 I dont think you even need to mention the number of marriages you’ve had. Why is that important at this stage of the dating? I most certainly dont think you need to tell her your medical history. If I was starting out dating, I would not expect someone to give me the list of things that are happening in their health – I’d like to hear about it when we got closer and was more appropriate. You’re not a leper! I am also bipolar and I dont think of myself as less than good or human as the rest of the human race. I think you are a wonderful man who has a lot to offer – with bipolar being on the table 🙂
    If things progress with these dates and you feel like you are getting close and intimate and comfortable, then the time should feel right to open up about bipolar…You still have an abundance to offer this person regardless of this 🙂 Take care

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  9. judithhb says:

    I think the time to tell about the illness is if this prospect looks like developing into something more. At the moment it is two people getting to know each other. You are NOT defined by your illness but who you are as a person. I would advise my clients (as a Life Coach) to go with the flow. You will know when the time is right to tell about your illness. And the failed marriages – you never know she may have as many as you. Don’t let this become an issue until things progress to the point where you are getting really close and seriously considering spending a good deal of your time with this person. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

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  10. Northern Narratives says:

    Hi. I am glad I found your blog. I think the right time of when to tell about an illness is so personal and specific to the situation. For just a new casual friendship, I don’t think you need to say anything.

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  11. Mom says:

    I guess my question would be, how much is she sharing? I believe that only those who are really mentally disturbed don’t know what kind of mental illness they have. We all have one. I would share as you feel comfortable, but don’t feel like you need her to sign a disclosure form just to be with you. You have value. You are not a mistake. You are the way you are for a reason. Stand up straight and say, I am what I am.

    As for the smoking, I can smell it at 50 feet, but I am a former smoker. If I loved someone, I would just ask them to smoke away from me. It would not be a deal-breaker. And if it is, would you want to be saddled with that person for life?

    You can’t ruin this by being yourself. You have a greater chance of crashing and burning if you try to make yourself into whatever you think Ms. X wants you to be. Just be yourself.

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  12. jacksterja says:

    First, I think the important thing is that you’re being so thoughtful and considered about this. I’m the long-term partner of someone with bipolar so from that perspective, this is my take on it. Really, I think you don’t need to disclose really early on. If things are progressing and you are getting to really know each other, a time will come when it makes sense to disclose. The important thing is that you don’t shy away from that moment when it happens, and that you don’t actively conceal things from your new friend. Bipolar may or may not be a problem, but definitely will be. Best of luck.

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  13. John Hayden says:

    I’ve struggled with the same issue. People like me who have OCD are good at hiding it. I have a number of conditions, including depression, which usually goes with OCD, and I’ve kept them secret most of my life.

    I once made the mistake of telling someone I took Prozac, and she was very prejudiced against all medicine. My therapist thought it might have gone better if I’d waited until she knew me a little better before telling — then maybe she would see enough good in me to be able to accept the pills.

    As I get older (64), I’ve begun confiding in a few people who are close relatives. I’m still cautiously feeling my way.

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  14. sara says:

    Hello. I’ve read some of your posts after your were on Freshly Pressed
    I think people need to hear these things you’ve written. People need to know about the world of mental illness and how strong the human spirit is. Maybe this is a bit forward of me, but have you ever considered writing a book about your experiences?

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  15. Cassandra says:

    Not to toot my own horn, I actually wrote a post recently that touches on this topic re: friends. A bit different than romance, I fear, but maybe some of the principles are the same? Like a lot of the other commenters, I think you’re doing just fine. Get to know each other first, and then, when things start getting more serious, you can discuss your condition and what you’re doing to manage it. Best of luck!

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  16. Casey says:

    As someone who has a chronic illness as well (diabetes in my case), this struck me as an excellent point. I had never given it any thought – more often than not, I just answer people’s questions when they come up. Surely, diabetes is more apparent than bipolar disorder, what with testing one’s blood glucose and, if one has it, an insulin pump. (I do use one, so I’ve had a lot of questions there.)
    I would say wait until it’s relevant. I don’t think she would need to know right at first, but after a certain point, raise the topic. This seems to be what a lot of people are saying, so I would say you’re on target for right now.
    That said, excellent writing – I love reading your posts!

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  17. Claire D says:

    I say keep getting to know each other – too soon to tell her right now about bipolar issue. If things continue to develop and you find real affection towards each other, you might want to start the conversation – but hopefully she will be able to “roll with the punches”, as you will have already formed a deep friendship and bond. Good luck and keep up the writing – it is inspiring to many of us!

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