Dating means allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to risk disappointment and rejection. Dating with depression carries the added burden of figuring out when and how much to reveal about your condition to the person you’re dating. To tell or not to tell.  We answer this question and offer expert advice on the art of courting with chronic depression.

Only 18, Isa Zhou has lived with depression for six years. She was 12 when the symptoms first surfaced in 2012.  Her motivation for school and life tanked. “I was very emotional and had a very negative view of everything,” she says. Two years later, she was diagnosed with major depression and a year later, in 2015, with dysthymia (mild, chronic depression). “Depression made me insecure and self-conscious for the longest time,” says Isa, who lives in Northern California where she attends college. Over the years, as medication and therapy stabilized her, her self-confidence increased.  She became more comfortable interacting with others and eventually began to think about dating. She wanted a relationship and in time she sidelined her trepidations.

At an outdoor event, she met James, 19. After dating for a couple of weeks, she casually brought up her struggle with depression. “He didn’t say anything, but I could feel that the time was not right yet,” she says.  Instead of pushing the conversation, she allowed “mutual interest to serve as the glue until trust was established.” Then, about two months into the relationship, Isa revisited the topic. “We were already holding heart-to-heart conversations about other subjects,” she says. This time they talked “more deeply about the issue.” She told him about the medication she was taking. He asked questions about her experience and listened attentively and calmly, she says.

 Trust and Timing

Taking it slow and establishing trust is a wise choice says Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, core faculty member of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Teachers College, Columbia University (New York).  “The first date shouldn’t be a confessional,” says Dr. Tomasulo, “Take the time to ascertain if both of you are interested in going forward and see how you feel in the presence of the other person. On the second or third date, you can test the waters by bringing up the subject of your depression in a general way.

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Don’t go deep. “This is not the time for nitty-gritty details,” says Dr. Tomasulo, “A simple statement that conveys the basics will do.”  If depression is a part of your life, “don’t be ashamed of or feel you’d have to qualify it,” adds Dr. Tomasulo. Talk about it as you would any diabetes or another illness or condition.

And be honest.  Sure, we all want to put our best self forward when we start dating.  While that’s understandable, when depression is a factor, “putting up a false front” or portraying yourself in a way that isn’t the real you may backfire. With depression, you’ll have OK days, good days, great days and days when you may feel sad, irritable or just off. Perhaps your depression means you normally have a “more subdued or quiet emotional state,” don’t disguise the real you by pretending you’re naturally animated or gregarious. Pretending to be someone you’re not—unless you’re Meryl Streep–is exhausting and unsustainable.  Eventually, you’ll weary of the guise and the person you’re dating may resent being misled.

Great Expectations

Isa Zhou and James are still going strong. Her advice echoes Tomasulo: Establish trust and then “explain to your future partner in depth what your struggle means and what you expect of him or her.”  Equally important is explaining what they can expect from you:

  • Don’t expect the person you bring into your life to fix you or solve your depression. They may be supportive and helpful, but you cannot rely on them to transform your mood. Stay motivated to take care of yourself so you can take care of the relationship.
  • Respect your emotional peaks and valleys. Sometimes you can push yourself to go out; sometimes you can’t. If the latter, describe how you are feeling and offer an alternative plan that conveys your ongoing interest: “I’m wiped out tonight, but how about we go for brunch tomorrow?”
  • If you are out on a date and not feeling at your best, focus on showing interest, kindness, and sensitivity for the other person’s life and work. Getting out of your head by concentrating on another person can help distract you and lift your spirits.
  • And when negotiating a new relationship or managing other changes in your life, be kind to yourself and pay attention to signs that your anxiety or depression is intensifying leading you to pull back or isolate.  To get yourself back on track, Dr. Tomasulo suggests:
  • Keep the acronym PAD in mind. Push yourself to be around People rather than be alone, be Active rather than passive, (take a walk rather than sit on the couch) and make small Decisions (like what to eat or wear or make for dinner) quickly rather than stay indecisive.
  • Take advantage of the all of the helpful resources in your life, be it family, friends or spiritual guidance.  And it’s worth repeating that exercise, nutrition, and meditation are proven tools to help you manage depression and anxiety.
Last Updated: Jun 6, 2018