Written for Soulmatch

Dating Q&A #20:

Should an Illness Threaten Her Dating Life?

I have bipolar illness, and I was wondering at what point do you bring this up, and how do you approach the subject? – Angel W., 36, Cohoes, New York

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. answers: This not information you need to share right away, and I wouldn’t begin by labeling yourself with bipolar disorder. Instead, I’d wait until you feel that a relationship is beginning to develop, and start by sharing whatever you believe is likely to be a problem. For example, if the depression side of your mood swings concerns you, explain that sometimes you feel very down, and don’t feel like going to a party or out on a date (or whatever is true for you). If he asks more questions, just answer truthfully. As the relationship continues, share more details of your condition, and also what you are doing about it. By the time your relationship reaches a commitment stage, your boyfriend should know all the relevant information, just as you should know about any issues he has, and what he’s doing to handle them. Each of you could also learn about how to help the other when problems arise.

David Wygant answers: This is a tough question, probably the hardest one I have ever had to answer. How does this affect your relationship? Do you have many bad days as well as good days? How has it affected other relationships? When dating someone, I don’t believe in dumping everything in the first few dates. In your situation this all depends on how your illness is present in your everyday life. If you have good days and bad days, he will see you both ways. The only advice I feel comfortable giving you is to play it by ear. I would at least get to know him over a few dates before telling him what you suffer from. I would also tell him the truth – how this affects you and what he can expect in a relationship with you. This is very tough and I feel for you, but the right man will understand and be able to help you through your illness. I hope this helps, and if you need more information please contact me through my web site (see below).

The Insightful Dater answers: It’s never easy to talk about disease, illness or any of the obstacles we face. But here’s the secret: everyone has challenges of some sort to tackle in life; you are just in the camp of knowing what yours is. If you have a handle on the condition, address it when you have developed an intimacy where you are sharing deeper issues (conversations about what you want out of life, etc). In this context, you can speak about your diagnosis as a challenge, one you are committed to overcoming and managing for the long term. The biggest factor you face is fear and perceptions of what bipolar disorder might mean from people who don’t understand. Be prepared to speak openly and not be defensive. Anyone who is a right fit will be willing to listen and will notice your ability to manage the disease, which will lessen any concern they may have. Most important is your self-regard, your healthy boundaries and remembering you deserve happy, fulfilling love as much as the next person.

Scary feelings

I met someone on Personals and we have met in person and talked on the phone. I think I am starting to have serious feelings for this guy. How do I tell him without scaring him off? Should these feelings I am having scare me so much? – Amanda F., 25, Ponca City, Oklahoma

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. answers: Perhaps I don’t understand how much this relationship has developed, but if you’ve only just met and talked on the phone, you seem to be rushing things. You’re asking for trouble if you’re having feelings in the first few weeks of a brand-new relationship. Truly serious feelings don’t develop that fast, so be a little suspicious of your feelings. You may be trying to wish the relationship into a deeper place than it really is, and you could get hurt.

If, on the other hand, you’ve dated him pretty steadily for a few months and are starting to have serious feelings, it would be time to begin to share. Be relaxed and low-key about it. Talk in terms of how much you’re enjoying dating him, and what a great guy he is, and what about him causes you to feel that way. Then ask him to share how he feels. Don’t get too far ahead of him or he’s likely to feel pressured. Love and intimacy grow in an organic fashion, and they take time to develop. Pushing for a declaration of feelings before they’ve had a chance to grow will distort the relationship and work against you. I advise couples to “follow” their relationship – learning about how solid it is as they go along – rather than “dragging” the relationship – trying to force it to be whatever they’d like. Following may seem slower, but it’s a lot more likely to achieve a good result. If you’re in a rush and he isn’t, perhaps you settled on one man too quickly and need to look around a bit more. I find most of the singles who come to me for counseling are in way too big a rush. While I sympathize with the desire to have a working relationship, I know that going slowly and letting things develop is much more likely to be successful.

David Wygant answers: I would just sit back and enjoy the process of dating him a bit longer. It is not about scaring him off, it is about making sure these feelings that you are experiencing are real. A lot of people mistake infatuation for love and start proclaiming their love for someone way too early in a relationship. I have found that if your feelings are legitimate, then you will do no harm in keeping them to yourself a bit longer. I am happy that you found someone. Enjoy each day and when the time is right and your feelings are overflowing, the two of you will have the talk and be on the same page. Enjoy him.

The Insightful Dater answers: Being scared as you develop deeper feelings is common, but it is a sign you may need to slow things down and understand more fully why you feel the way you do. Falling in love should feel exciting, healthy, fun and invigorating. Is this your intuition saying this isn’t the right person or right time? Or is this a fear from old wounds where you gave your heart only to be hurt? Imagine your life as a series of movie reels. Sometimes we play old “films” when we get into similar situations. Breaking that kind of pattern so you can fully be present in this new relationship is important. Slowing down just gives you a chance to know what it is you are feeling. Chances are, if you tune in, those feelings will tell you what film is playing (fear? intuition?) and you’ll know what next step you should take. The biggest secret in life is that we almost always know the answer we are seeking before we come to it consciously. We sometimes just forget how to listen for it within ourselves – and worse, we sometimes don’t take our own good advice!

Who calls whom?

After exchanging a couple of emails, some men send me their telephone number and ask me to call. I feel awkward and really do not want to phone them and tell them so, explaining I’d prefer to meet at a coffee shop and talk face-to-face. Some agree, others push me to call them first. Why do they do this? Do you recommend I do as they ask, despite my stated preference not to, or do you recommend I simply discontinue contacting them? – Kitty F., 47, Encinitas, California

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. answers: I think this is a standoff between two different kinds of discomfort. The men who want you to call are probably trying to avoid the embarrassment of meeting you in public and either being rejected or uncomfortable because they aren’t attracted to you. They probably think they can reduce the odds of being embarrassed by talking on the phone first. They’re also assuming you’d rather have the option of calling them, rather than asking for your phone number. You feel awkward about calling. However, you’re entitled to your preferences. Perhaps you need to assume that the men who don’t want to meet are just not that into you, and concentrate on the ones who are willing.

David Wygant answers: I feel that a quick phone conversation is a very good thing before meeting anyone. It’s one of the steps to see if you have any chemistry with a person. Hearing someone’s voice and how they react to a live conversation can give you immediate answers about whether you want to meet them in person. So many times I have had great emails and awful phone conversations. I like to speak to someone over the phone before I meet them. I find it less awkward, and it also makes me more excited about meeting someone if we click on the phone. Keep in mind, emails can be edited but a live conversation cannot.

I have a suggestion. Can you give them your number and tell them that you only have a few minutes to chat? If you are not comfortable doing this, then you will only meet the men who play by your rules. I feel in dating you need to be flexible and open to everything. But you also need to be comfortable in how you conduct your dating life. I can’t tell you what to do; I can only make a suggestion. I would be more open to giving your number, but if you are not comfortable with that, then you need to be okay with only meeting men who follow your rules.

The Insightful Dater answers: Always do things on your own terms or you’ll just regret it later. That said, sometimes speaking on the phone can help you gauge if he’s worth the time involved in meeting in person. Whatever your comfort zone and desired approach might be, it doesn’t mean you have to unilaterally stick to one protocol with every prospect. Be playful, enjoy the journey of searching for “the one.” One offer to connect via phone might follow a playful banter with someone you feel you can trust and you might be open to calling him. Another might seem like a brush-off of sorts, or an ultimatum, which clearly doesn’t fit your style. Most importantly, remember that as much as you’d prefer not calling (because it’s uncomfortable for you), others have an approach that is comfortable for them. Getting to know someone is a bit of a negotiation; the medium can often be the source of the first negotiation, and it’s a give-and-take process.