“You’re sick now, you were sick before, and you’ll always be sick.” These were the words of an ex-boyfriend as he broke up with me over 10 years ago. His remarks still ring in my ears.
Clearly my ex did me a favor by dumping me, but I did not know it at the time. Today, as a single bipolar woman, I have learned from experiences like that to take my time before disclosing my mental illness. It took me years to appreciate my own value, but once I did it became easier to read the signs of a train wreck ahead. That awareness led me to understand more fully my unique needs as a bipolar woman and to formulate strategies for meeting the right partner. Our life challenges are often our greatest teachers.
Mary Pender Greene, a psychotherapist and relationship expert from New York City, recommends you take your time before you let your new friend know about your mental illness. “To decide if he’s worth your emotional investment, see if he passes the test of time. Let him be the first to share one of his secrets. Once he does, you will know he has become involved with you enough to want to show you some of what’s behind his mask. Then you can choose to give him a glimpse behind yours.
“You must ask yourself,” Greene continued, "will he be able to deal with my ups and downs? Look for a man who is flexible in his thinking, without fixed ideas about how things ought to be. If he values uniqueness, rather than fears it, then he is more likely to understand you and be able to deal with your mood swings.”
In the end, the most important question is whether a man has the strength and maturity to support you through difficult times. While you may have found you’re attracted to a specific type of man, try to widen your choices. Don’t assume, for example, that because he doesn’t have a degree that he’s not smart or ambitious enough. Shelve your laundry list of preconceived expectations. If you’ve never met anyone quite like him, if he’s not like the others, that alone may be good reason to show the hand that life has dealt you and to give the two of you a chance.
Sharon Fenster is a publicist and writer in New York City. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.