It’s no secret that I’ve been spending a lot of time dating lately. I haven’t been in a ‘real’ relationship now for a couple of years, and I’m ready for one. Sure, I’ve had brief relationships and a couple of flings, but nothing that really tugs at the heartstrings. These days dating is all about being online. As fast paced and disconnected we are, dating sites are about the only way to meet people. The down side to that (other than the obvious) is that you tend to meet a LOT of people. In the good old days you’d meet someone at church or through friends, take time to get to know each other, than start dating over time. But today’s time is compressed. You pick someone off a site, meet for a quick drink, have a couple of dates then you’re dating. As a result, I’ve had a lot of initial dates. A lot of initial dates. And I’ve met some really nice women along the way.
I know I don’t have the best track record when it comes to relationships. With four failed marriages I guess that’s putting it mildly. I’ve learned from experience that it’s best to disclose my marital history. If it’s going to be a show stopper it’s better to know right away before any kind of connection can form. Interestingly enough, out of all the women I’ve met it’s only been a problem once. Divorce has become so commonplace now no one has been truly shocked. In fact, many of the women I’ve met have had three or four marriages too. And it’s rare that I meet anyone that has only been married once. Admittedly, I don’t talk about mental illness until I’m sure that there’s a real interest. I don’t think there’s a need to get into that too early; it’s so easily misunderstood. So in the first few dates I turn up my BTL Meter (Bipolar Tolerance Level Meter) so I can gauge if they will freak out or not, and if it does go further I make sure we talk about it. I’ve made many mistakes about it in the past, and hopefully I’ve learned.
So I had one of these first dates last week.
And I started as I always do. After the initial small talk, I launch into my ‘spiel’ about my past. I’ve got it down pat now. How I got married too young, how I raised a family, marrying a woman so much older and losing the love of my life. And, as usual, she hardly reacted at all. Then she gave me her own tale of woe. She and her first husband still got along okay, they just realized they weren’t right for each other. But her second ex was a nightmare.
Her ex was bipolar.
She spent the next two hours going on about how horrible and difficult it was living with him. For years he was undiagnosed and really out of control. Then he learned what was wrong with him, and started treatment and medications. As long as he was on his meds he did fine, and they had some of the best times of their marriage. But as frequently happens, once he felt better for a while he decided that he really didn’t need the medications after all, and stopped taking them. And off he went again. She gave me example after example of his craziness. How horrible for her.
The funny thing is, He didn’t sound so bad.
I’ve said it over and over; no one’s disease is worse than their own. There’s no way to compare one persons struggle with another’s. It’s as personal and unique as they are. That being said, there are different levels of acting out, and severity of the resulting consequences. My own experiences have been pretty horrific, and has caused myself and countless others great pain. So if this poor woman had so much trouble with her husband, how on earth would she have done being with me? It’s not a pretty thought.
But that’s not all.
She also went on about how many men she had met told her that they were bipolar. She said she was starting to get a complex about herself always attracting (and being attracted to) the same kind of man. She was beginning to think there was something wrong with her! Uh oh! Now what? It had happened again. She had met someone else who was dealing with this illness. This time it was me. It was only our first date, and I hadn’t brought anything up yet, so there was still a way to spare her from having yet another date with a crazy man. I didn’t want to lie, so I told her a little bit of the truth. I told her that while I wasn’t crazy like her ex (Okay, that wasn’t entirely true), but that I had struggled with depression and was on medication and in therapy. (Which is true). With her past history I didn’t think I would be good for her. All that is true; there was no need to add to her baggage.
And that was the end of that.
Hopefully I was able to prevent any bad feelings and avoid any connections without making her feel responsible or bad about herself and her choices. After all, it wouldn’t do her any good to dump my problems into her self perception. Maybe I wasn’t completely honest, but I took responsible for enough of my issues to let her off the hook without feeling like there was something wrong with her. And she accepted my position and seemed to appreciate it.
It was an awkward evening for me however.
Hearing someone else’s opinion as to what it’s like living with someone who is bipolar was both enlightening and painful. She was a total stranger to me. There were no axes to grind or points to be made. She was just sharing her experiences and how they had affected her. Knowing what I’ve done to my ex’s is nothing new; I know I’ve caused a lot of problems and pain. Yet hearing it from someone who had no idea of my own struggles did give me a little different perspective. And it gave me a lot more sympathy. Here was someone’s story firsthand about the damage that had been done to her. I was not invested at all in either her or her ex; it was just a view into her world as a spouse to someone bipolar.
I have to believe that the right person, at the right time, under the right circumstances can provide a healthy loving relationship for both. I must believe that. But at the same time, I have to acknowledge again that not everyone is capable of dealing with it. Not every person who is bipolar is able to (or wants to) control their illness. Past hurts that result from the damage done can be too great to overcome. Not trying to take sides or lay blame; the reality is that it can’t always be lived with. But I guess I owe this woman some thanks. She reminded me of the importance of honesty, and the necessity of staying on top of my treatment. The LAST thing I want to do is create another victim like her. So all in all, awkward or not, successful or not, it was a first good date.
And an even better last one.