Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships
I am a 27-year-old, professional, single woman living in D.C. I also have a medical condition – bipolar disorder – which is well under control (meds and counseling). My diagnosis has had an impact on my relationships in the past, especially before I got a handle on it in college. I have had a few serious boyfriends since then, but it seems that once I reveal my situation, things start to go downhill. One guy began blaming all of our problems on my being bipolar, even though my highly trusted therapist and I truly believe this had no bearing on our relationship (e.g., I had no episodes during our time together). Another got angry that I hadn’t told him sooner and soon began to back away from me. My question is this: Do I have to tell potential love interests that I have this condition? If so, when is the best time to come clean? I am sick of worrying about this. I only want to find someone who accepts me through and through.
–Gun-Shy in Northeast
First, congratulations on finding the right combination of therapy and medications to feel like you are in control of your diagnosis – this is not a small feat, definitely something to celebrate. Next, please be gentle with yourself for not necessarily knowing when and where to offer this information to others. With so much misinformation about mood disorders in the zeitgeist, the term “bipolar” has become a go-to adjective to describe the stereotypically unstable character on cop shows galore. The truth is that many people with bipolar disorder can have very few episodes throughout their lives. The diagnosis is something sufferers are able to manage with certain regular interventions, much like diabetes or panic attacks.
But the question of disclosure is not limited to those with bipolar disorder. When is the best time to tell a New Love that you have been treated for an STD in the past, that you have a degenerative neurological disorder or that schizophrenia runs in your family? Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer. Some would say: You name it ASAP, and let the chips fall where they may, preventing yourself from getting in too deep with someone only to lose them due to something beyond your control. Others would say: Give yourself a chance to get to know the person first, let him know you and see if the makings of a strong foundation are already there before tremor-testing it.
The truth is that all relationships have disclosure moments (You aren’t a virgin? Your family pastime is passive-aggression? Your dream retirement involves an RV?), and these moments are what we use to size up the chemistry between us. You have a ready-made reliability test to see if you’ve found a good match. Eventually, you can recommend a good book about your diagnosis, e.g., “An Unquiet Mind” by Kay Jamison). But first let’s reclaim this information as part of what makes you, you. As such, the right match will be with someone who finds it somewhat mundane, but mostly evidence of your strength and resilience.
It’s January, and I am trying my best to focus on new starts and fresh goals. I am struggling because my ex got back in touch with me over the holidays, and I just can’t keep her off my mind. We’ve been texting and she refriended me on Facebook. My heart flips when I see her name on my callerID, but we haven’t seen each other yet. Things ended two years ago because we didn’t want the same things (yes, she wanted to get married and I did not). Now, it seems she’s comfortable with keeping it casual, and I have to admit that I am really enjoying the flirting we’ve got going on. Is there something about the holidays that gets people to revisit failed relationships? Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I keep fantasizing about some amazing reunion between us. Am I being unrealistic?
-Mooning Over Her
You are absolutely right, it does seem that the holidays cause old flames to reignite – maybe it’s the cold weather that puts some of us on the lookout for revivable embers. It is exciting to reconnect with an old love. With the variety of social media options available, it isn’t hard to imagine why a text from her offers you a charge when compared to watching your Facebook friends change their profile pictures to photos of their kids on Santa’s lap.
Nevertheless, you ask the more important question last: “Am I being unrealistic?” The conundrum actually has nothing to do with the time of year. You are asking if it’s realistic to think that someone who wanted to marry you two years ago is now happy to keep things casual. Not likely. But then again, you haven’t actually asked Ex, have you? The thing about reconnecting with old flames is that the timespan of the romantic phase of the relationship is vastly reduced. You already had that experience several years ago, and so this time around the honeymoon phase is going to be abbreviated. Once the initial experience of seeing her again, touching her again, being with her again, is over, it’s likely that you will return to the power struggle phase that broke you up two years ago.
But my advice is not to cut off all contact – not when you have been given this incredible opportunity for growth and self-understanding (sorry, that’s probably not what you were hoping for). Meet Ex for coffee. Check in with yourself about how it feels to sit across from her. Ask some questions about what her life has been like in the last two years. Her answers might give you some insight as to whether she’s really in a more casual space or if you might like to return to where you both left off.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. Her website is StacyMurphyLPC.com, and you can follow her on twitter @StacyMurphyLPC. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. We really do want your questions. Send them confidentially to firstname.lastname@example.org.