My boyfriend found out about eight months ago that he has bipolar disorder. He’s on medication, and his highs and lows have definitely leveled out. The problem is that he’s too level, in my opinion: he doesn’t get depressed as often as he used to, which is positive, but on the flip side, he doesn’t seem to experience extreme happiness, either. He never has a really great day, and even little things, like a good meal, a funny movie, or running into an old friend on the street, don’t seem to please him like they used to. He’s just kind of blah. I want him to do what’s best for his health, obviously, but I’m not sure that the not-very-excited man that he’s turned into is someone I can be with. I asked him if we could talk to his therapist together for some advice, but he said that this is just “how he is now” and if I don’t like it, I can bail. If there’s a possibility that some pizzazz of the man I used to know is in there, I don’t want to leave. Any thoughts on what I should do? —KR, San Diego, California
The Straight Man’s Perspective: Chris Kennedy
As a country, we are overly medicated. We’re too quick to turn to drugs to solve our issues before actually working to dig deep into our problems and make hard changes in our lives. It’s much easier to pop a pill than to explore the uncomfortable issues we have. That said, some people really do need to be medicated to function productively in their lives.
You didn’t seem to mind your boyfriend before the meds, since you’re wishing for the pizzazz of the man you used to know. But he may not be the man he used to be. He doesn’t sound like he wants to get off the medication, and he doesn’t seem to care what you think, with his “if you don’t like it, you can bail” comment. I don’t know anything about these drugs, but if the effects cause him to be robotic and unfeeling and unexpressive, that’s a huge detriment to the loved ones in his life. He may not have a choice in this matter, but you do. Take him up on his offer. As we say in Wisconsin, make like hay and bail.
The Straight Woman’s Perspective: Rebecca Brown
Pull up a chair, sister, because I’m an expert on dating people with bipolar disorder and depression issues. Oh, the stories I could tell you. (For example, bipolar disorder does not make it okay to marry one woman while you’re supposedly happily dating another. Oh, yes, that really happened.) Okay, so maybe “expert” is going a bit far, but I’ve somehow ended up in relationships with at least four people who have been diagnosed with bipolar, so I know all too well the feelings you’re experiencing right now.
Though I don’t suffer from it, I know from the aforementioned relationships that bipolar is frustrating and, at times, heartbreaking. Those who suffer from it go through a lot: first nailing down a diagnosis (perhaps after years of hearing people tell them that they’re “just depressed” and will eventually come out of it), then getting the medication type and dosage right (which it sounds like your boyfriend is currently going through), then sharing the news with people, especially a new partner, and hoping for a supportive response.
But the good news is that bipolar disorder is treatable. The bad news for you is that being difficult and selfish is not. Bipolar is no excuse to be a big fat horse’s ass when it comes to trying to work out relationship problems. I’m sorry, but “if you don’t like it, you can bail” is not a healthy or appropriate response to a legitimate concern. Meds might mellow someone out, but they’re not an excuse to act like a dick. Since he refuses to see a therapist, you could see one on your own, to try to get a handle on how to cope. But working on the problem by yourself will get you only so far—he has to meet you halfway at some point. If he’s still giving you the “this is just how I am now” routine after you talk with a therapist and try to implement some of his or her advice, then it’ll be time to show him how (and who) you are: a woman who’s unwilling to be treated like crap by someone using a mental illness as an excuse. If he doesn’t shape up, you should ship out and say bye-bye to Mr. Bipolar.
The Gay Man’s Perspective: Darren Maddox
In a word, yes … bail! I’ve dated guys with depression issues. I know the highs and lows and the “you don’t understand” speeches that come along with those relationships. But I’ve never experienced someone’s telling me that if I don’t like it, I can bail.
Before everyone gets all up in arms, yes, I respect that people suffer from anxiety, depression, restless leg syndrome, and ten thousand other things. But no matter what the case, your partner needs to understand that you’re trying to understand (and clearly you are, since you offered to go to his therapist with him and respect your relationship as a part of his life). It doesn’t sound like he does. Here’s the bottom line: he told you this is “just how he is now,” and you don’t like it. That means you don’t like him now, and he has no desire to change—so find someone else. He’s coping with his issues and dealing with his own life, and so should you. Life is far too short to settle on less than what you know you deserve. It sounds as if you like some spice in your relationships but have been served wheat pasta for a little too long in this one. You need to be excited in a relationship, or at least excited at the possibility of what might come. Bail, my friend. Bail!
The Gay Woman’s Perspective: Jody Fischer
Seems like your guy already gave you his answer. If you don’t like the new middle-of-the-road man, then move off his road. You may want a guy who drives down more interesting terrain than he can provide.
You can move on and find a more expressive man, yet I have a word of caution for you: If you were having a good time with a bipolar guy, well, frankly, that makes me a little nervous. Bipolar folks have terrifically high highs and low lows. That’s a lot of drama to be a part of. Is that really what you’re looking for? Are you a high-drama person yourself? Sure, the highs can be delicious, but then there are those really bad lows.
My other thought is that your boyfriend may be pretty depressed right now about the man he has become. He may not be in a place where he’s ready to look outside himself, at your needs and desires. This is the biggest relationship red flag to me: not that he has more of a flat affect, but that he can’t or doesn’t want to see what you need. Staying because he might go back to being the man he used to be is the wrong road. To make this work, he has to be able to see beyond himself, and you need to see him as he is now, not as he was. You also need to take a good look at yourself and what emotional mix you’re looking for in a partner.