Expert Tips for Dating With Depression
By Rosemary Donahue
Dating can be an exciting, fun, and meaningful experience. But as positive as dating can be, it can also be challenging—perhaps especially for those with depression. If you experience depression and are nervous about putting yourself out there on Bumble or sharing yourself with someone else, you’re not alone. Below, a few experts talk through tips on dating with depression, from how to care for yourself while making new connections to how to talk about your mental health with partners.
Go easy on yourself while you’re swiping and in the early stages of dating
Dating with depression can be difficult partially because “depression makes you want to draw in and retreat, while dating means trying something new and engaging,” says therapist Polly Gravely. Take your time, and if you want to, let matches know that you might be slow to respond sometimes—the right person for you will be understanding. It might also be helpful to let the other person know that even if you seem like you’re distant or finding it hard to commit to a time and place to meet, it’s not that you’re uninterested.
However, keep in mind that you shouldn’t feel pressured to reveal to someone new that you’re dealing with depression before you’re ready, especially if you haven’t met up yet. You can simply say that you have something personal going on and you may be slow to respond, but it’s not a reflection of how interested you are in them.
Don’t forget self-care, whatever that means for you
If you’re someone who experiences depression, you may have a self-care routine that you find helpful, such as exercise, good sleep hygiene, and cooking yourself meals. Dating can throw us off from these routines. While flexibility is important, “don’t feel afraid to hold boundaries on certain things you know are essential for you feeling good, such as getting at least seven hours of sleep,” says therapist Grace Martin. This might mean changing dinner plans to a night in together if you haven’t been sleeping well, or rescheduling a date to make room for a yoga class.
Self-care might also look like taking breaks from dating entirely, and that’s completely valid. (In fact, that’s what Bumble’s Snooze Mode is for.) Don’t kick yourself for taking the time that you need. “Try to avoid thinking in absolutes, like telling yourself, ‘If I don’t go then I’ll never meet the person for me and I’ll always be alone,’” says Gravely. “Pressure can often make things feel even more daunting, and then we’ll be more likely to put things off,” she says. Plus, those absolutes are very likely not true, anyway! In the end, try to remember that the right partner will be there when you’re ready to date them, whether that’s tonight, next month, or next year.
Rely on your support system
Depression can make you feel lonely. The same is true for dating when it feels like you’re not making the connections you want, or when you’re continually putting yourself out there and it’s not paying off yet. When this happens, remind yourself of the support system you already have in place and the fulfilling relationships you have with friends and family.
Relying on friends can also be a good way to stay motivated and positive while dating. “If it’s difficult to find the motivation to put yourself out there or go on that third date, reach out to a friend,” suggests therapist Megan Watt. “You don’t have to do it alone. When you cannot gas yourself up, your best friend will gladly do it for you.” And when all else fails, create a separate group chat with your friends solely for the purpose of getting a little extra support. We all need it sometimes.
Talk about your depression with your partner
Psychotherapist Cheyenne Taylor suggests having a conversation about your experience with depression early in the relationship, once you feel comfortable enough with this new person. Starting this dialogue early can help empower you to advocate for yourself and help a new partner with understanding what you’re going through. “What’s important is to give them permission to learn more about you,” explains Taylor.
You can open the conversation by letting them know that you deal with depression, and asking them if it’s something they know much about. This can help you get a sense of how much you need to explain, as well as how comfortable they are with the topic. Then, Martin says, you can tell them how it affects you on a typical day, and if you’re comfortable, share any particular symptoms you may experience. Letting the person you’re dating know about your support systems and coping mechanisms is also important; it helps them understand that while you appreciate their care, they’re not solely responsible for supporting you.
Be respectful of how you’re feeling
Dating can already bring up a whole slew of emotions, and if you’re dealing with depression, it may cause you to be hard on yourself as these feelings come up. But as much as possible, don’t listen to that inner critic. Instead, Gravely suggests reminding yourself that whatever you’re feeling is not only okay, but it’s also temporary, which can help us move through the emotions rather than trying to persuade ourselves to feel something different.
Thinking about why you’re dating in the first place can help you move through some of the harder parts of dating as well. It’s also helpful to remind yourself that if you don’t want to go on a date with a particular person, or on a particular day, that’s also okay. Knowing you have the choice to say no to things can remove some of the pressure.
Dating can be hard for anyone, and it’s not made any easier when you’re dealing with depression. However, staying in tune with your own feelings—and communicating them to the people you’re dating—can definitely help.