Can I Find Love If I’m Depressed?

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Evan, I’ve been reading your blog for a while and I like your dating advice because it’s been quantitative and specific (rather than vague and unclear like most others’). However there is one issue I’ve never seen addressed on this site (or any other for that matter).

Suppose you had treatment-resistant depression (or any chronic mental illness), assuming that you had been going the medication-and-therapy route for years to no avail, and that you were doing all you could to help yourself in your condition, but that you were just not able to function on the same level as a healthy person (i.e., too unstable to keep a job, on social assistance, disability status, etc.). Assume also that you had had this condition your entire adult life and did not expect to get better any time soon–unless there was a significant breakthrough in the field of antidepressants or therapy techniques. How would you go about dating or finding love?

How would you find a partner who would accept that you were not healthy and could not have a job or “contribute” to society, but could still love you for you? Or if your condition did not improve and you stayed that way your whole life, would you be expected to live a celibate/companion-less life? Are there any particular pitfalls in dating that depressed people are more susceptible to than healthy people?

You may wonder why I am not asking a therapist about this…This is because every therapist I’ve ever seen does not take my desire to date or find a partner seriously. Every time I raise this issue in the therapist’s office, it gets dismissed. I’ve never seen this issue addressed in a way that’s been helpful to me. The only response I’ve ever gotten was the clichéd “You need to be healthy to start a relationship. Work on yourself first.”

Essentially, I’m asking you “How does a depressed person find love in a society that believes that depressed people are not deserving of love?” Are depressed people deserving of love? Yes? No? Yes and no? I’m really interested in getting your opinion on this whole complex issue.

—Kristi

Dear Kristi,

I feel for you.

And not in some sort of vague, quasi-sympathetic way either. I had trouble with anxiety in my early 20’s and depression in my late 20’s, so I know what it’s like to attempt to function with that black cloud hanging over your head at all times.

My issue was largely situational — subconscious freak-outs about graduating college in 1994 and the shattered dreams of failing to become a Hollywood screenwriter in 2001. Once I got past the initial trauma and found my footing, the turbulence passed and I’ve been lucky enough to have smooth sailing ever since.

But I’ve never forgotten what it was like to have that demon inside me and not be able to conquer it. I remember watching “A Beautiful Mind” and the feeling of frustration at not being able to think my way out of my own depression. It’s too big. Too overwhelming. Too irrational. You can appreciate all the reasons you have to live and all the blessings in your life but still not feel good about it.

I wouldn’t wish depression on my worst enemy.

This is just my long way of validating where you’re coming from: I wouldn’t wish depression on my worst enemy.

At the same time, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone marry someone who is depressed.

This is not to say that depressed people are not as “deserving” of love as anyone else in the world. But love isn’t based on being “deserving”. Dating isn’t a meritocracy. And frankly, I don’t think anyone “deserves” love just like I don’t think everyone “deserves” to be a millionaire.

If I am to be objective, Kristi, we have to look at romance much in the way that we look at work. There are only so many amazing jobs out there and everyone is forced to make tradeoffs. Some will work for a ton of money doing something that they don’t like. Some will work at something that makes no money because they love it. Some will work in an office even though they hate commuting and being around people. Some will work from home, even though they are extroverts.

And, for whatever it’s worth, there are some people who, through no fault of their own, are unfortunate. They live in a town where all the factories have been shut down. They grew up in a broken family with no positive role models. They got caught up in their own rebellion and never went to college. They had kids too young and couldn’t give as much to their careers.

All of these people might be kind, deserving people, but they’re not going to end up with the dream job simply because they’re kind and as worthy of an amazing career as the next guy. If the next guy went to an Ivy League school, had his still-married parents pay for his grad school, and chose a career path that allowed him to capitalize on the tech boom, that guy is going to have a better job 99% of the time.

Frankly, I don’t think anyone “deserves” love just like I don’t think everyone “deserves” to be a millionaire.

And so it goes in love. Your curse is depression. Some have been cursed by being overweight. Some men are too short. Some are blind or deaf or paraplegic. Are all these people “deserving” of love? In terms of fairness, yes. In terms of reality, no.

It’s perfectly fair for you to not want to date a man who can’t walk if you can find a man who can walk. It’s perfectly fair for you to not want to date a man who is in financial disarray when you can find a man who is a stable homeowner. And it’s perfectly fair for a man to choose a partner who is not depressed over a partner who is depressed.

We can go on and on about how unfair life is, but, hey, I didn’t write the rules. Life is unfair.

And as someone who really tried the patience of some well-meaning people when I was depressed and anxious, I can understand why someone wouldn’t want to get too emotionally invested in me.

I was a cesspool of negativity, scattered thinking and helplessness. I was a shadow of my former and future self. I didn’t even like to be around myself — why would any woman enjoy being around me? Especially when she can choose to keep the company of another guy who wasn’t crying spontaneously every morning.

I’ve seen relationships torn apart by depression, generally where one partner tries to overlook the other partners’ significant issues. But those issues always come back to haunt the couple, the same way you’re still haunted by your own chronic mental health. If you can’t escape it, he can’t either. And that’s not a life that most people are going to voluntarily sign up for.

The best metaphor, I think, would be having an autistic child. I have a friend who has one and it’s incredibly emotionally draining on him. And while he’d never say he “regrets” having his son, I think if he were given a choice of autistic vs. not-autistic, he’d choose the latter. It would be hard to blame him.

So while I’m extremely sorry for the loneliness you feel, your therapists are ultimately right. Until you can get happy yourself, it would be very hard to contribute to a partner’s happiness.

It’s not that it’s impossible to find love when you’re depressed — I know of a handful of stories — and those relationships are no picnic – but objectively, there’s only a small percentage of men who are such selfless caretakers that they would choose a depressed partner over someone who doesn’t have serious mental health issues.

I sincerely wish you the best of luck and hope that you get the help you need to one day have the relationship you desire.

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Comments:

  1. 141
    Rdr

    This is a really old thread, but I felt compelled to comment after reading the legalese arguments. I “get” what Evan is saying about dates being less interested in those of us with disabilities (physical, mental, what have you). Those factors are true. My ex-husband left because he couldn’t handle my Crohn’s disease and Crohnic Migraine, which caused some situational depression. Due to my physical disabilities, I took early retirement (enough to support myself well after a rewarding 30 year career) at 50. Today, my health is somewhat better, but not perfect. Now I fear revealing my health and work status to potential dates – healthy, fit, successful men – I get a lot of interest on online sites perhaps because I’m attractive – but I’m afraid for just the reasons Even states that if I share my experiences with disability over the last 5 years, potential mates will run for the hills. And no, no man will ever need to support me financially or pay for my health care. The point that seems to be missed in many of these responses is all disabilities aside, perhaps each unique person has something to offer that will appeal to that other person and make all the challenges worthwhile 🙂 Call me hopelessly naive…

  2. 142
    Tim

    This was already a really old thread when it got to the last page of comments , so I dare say it’s even older now.   I came across it in a google search as I have depression and I have been thinking about this recently.

    Evan, if you happen to  still be following this thread, my understanding of what w/e said (put in a less hostile way) is basically this: in your advice to Kristi, you claimed that it was harder for depressed people to find love but still indicated that you thought it was possible for those people to find love.   Do you have any advice for how depressed people can improve their prospects?

    I understand that you did not say that depressed people didn’t  deserve love, and I’m not going to attack you for trying to be honest.   All I will say is… if what you say is true, then I find it – for want of a better word – depressing.

    Perhaps the hard reality is that people just aren’t as conscientious and caring as they would like to think they are.   In my mind, if you can’t love someone who is depressed, you are a bad person.   If I love someone and care about them I don’t just leave them behind.

    1. 142.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Thanks for the note, Tim. Sorry about your depression. I am glad to engage you sincerely, even if what I say doesn’t actually move the needle in the conversation.

      To sum up my thoughts:

      1. It’s harder for depressed people to find love.

      2. Not every person “deserves” love any more than every person “deserves” to be a millionaire or “deserves” to live to 100. It’s great when it happens – and I wish it could happen for everyone – but as we all learned early on: life is not fair. Some people are born rich. Some people are born gorgeous. Some people are born with bipolar disorder.

      3. I understand if you find that depressing. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Thin women have more dating options than heavy women. Tall men have more dating options than short men. That doesn’t mean you’re doomed if you’re a heavy woman or a short man; it just makes it harder.

      4. Finally, it may feel good to say “if you can’t love someone who is depressed, you are a bad person,” but that’s also not true. It is perfectly reasonable for an emotionally healthy person to choose a partner who is also emotionally healthy. May I add, there is a big difference between wanting to marry an emotionally healthy person and abandoning a spouse who goes through a patch of depression. The former makes sense. The latter can be callous, insensitive and selfish.

      5. Even then, no one has the moral obligation to subjugate one’s own life to support a depressed partner who can’t function (the OP said she can’t even hold down a job). People can (and do) make tradeoffs in relationships all the time. Someone marries a jerk because he’s rich. Someone marries a bitch because she’s hot. Someone marries someone from a different religion because love is more important than purity. And yes, someone marries someone suffering from major and minor depression. But that doesn’t mean that their marriage is going to be a happy one, that doesn’t mean that the non-depressed person is obligated to stay and that doesn’t mean that people who choose not to enter such a partnership are bad.

      1. 142.1.1
        Tim

        Thanks for the reply.

        Do you actually have any tips for people who are depressed and want to maximise their prospects?   You’ve reiterated that it doesn’t mean that such people are “doomed”.

        Genuine question: would someone’s depression stop you from wanting to be friends with them?

        1. Evan Marc Katz

          Sorry, Tim, I don’t have tips beyond being proactive in terms of grappling with your mental health.

          Whether that means therapy, medication, meditation, exercise is up to you. But, no, I don’t have dating tips specifically for depressed people.

          Would someone’s depression stop you from wanting to be friends with them? I’m not sure. I do know that when I was depressed, I had friends distance themselves from ME. My constant negativity was draining. I remember feeling angry and taking it personally at the time, but I can understand it more now. Life is short. If you had a choice to spend time with someone whose presence lifts you up, brings you joy and makes you laugh vs. someone who is a vortex of sadness, who would you choose?

        2. Marika

          Tim

          If this helps at all, I know three people in committed relationships who were at one time in a mental health facility for depression &/or anxiety. So it is possible. One of them actually met her partner through group therapy. I can see that being problematic, but it works for them as they understand each other’s conditions & limitations. She is actually a far better partner now than she was before her diagnosis, as she used to be quite selfish and narcissistic. Now she’s much more patient, kind and humble. Her partner is someone she likely would never have looked at twice before this experience.

          Perhaps consider joining a meetup group or similar   for people with depression. You will meet other people who understand what you’re going through and won’t judge you. You’ve probably got a lot to offer and are no doubt a strong person. You just need to find someone who gets you. Good luck ☺

  3. 143
    Tim

    If you don’t have tips for depressed people then I would respectfully suggest that this was what w/e meant when s/he said that your response to Kristi was not helpful.   I get your point that you were trying  to be honest and realistic about her prospects.   But if you don’t have any actual advice (which she did ask for) then your response was not constructive.

    As for the partner I would choose?   The one I cared about most.   I would hate to think that I left someone to suffer alone just because they couldn’t wave a magic wand to make their sadness go away.

    1. 143.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      She asked for my opinion. I offered my opinion. The fact that it is not the one you wanted doesn’t make it bad, nor wrong.

      1. 143.1.1
        Tim

        You are missing my point.   Like I said, I understand being honest and realistic and I am not attacking you for being so.   But she specifically asked “Essentially, I’m asking you “How does a depressed person find love in a society that believes that depressed people are not deserving of love?””.   You didn’t answer that, which is why I say your response was not constructive.

        A teacher might give honest feedback on homework, even if it disappoints the student, but they won’t just say “this is crap” and leave it there.

        1. Evan Marc Katz

          I believe my answer was a lot more thoughtful, nuanced and sensitive than “this is crap.” Good luck, Tim.

  4. 144
    Kimberly

    Maybe there should be a website for people with depression to meet with other people who can at least somehow relate? I really don’t know if there is an answer that is completely accurate. I’ve been suffering from depression since I was 23 and I just turned 50. I do have a very hard time in relationships AT TIMES WHEN I GO THROUGH DEPRESSION, but I do believe we should be able to have a partner too. I almost think the subject has been beaten to death and if anyone has found someone that is okay with it for a lifetime (e.g. bought burial plots next to each other), I don’t really know if things of this nature are permanent. I could be very wrong, but at this stage, I don’t believe in much. However, this is a time where I can say, “this woman is an island”. I’ve been married, have two drop dead gorgeous sons (and I’m not just saying that, they really are), divorced, and have had several serious relationships since. I think that the ‘permanent’ part is the kicker. Then again, I don’t see too many permanent relationships these days, even without illness of any kind. Just an observation from someone who does, indeed, have depression.

  5. 145
    Tim

    Evan, you didn’t answer her question, that’s the point.   You put it more sensitively than “this is crap” but that was the gist of your response – no constructive feedback.   It’s fine to be “honest and realistic” (even brutally so) if someone needs to take it on board in order to make progress, but that’s not what happened here – all you did was say she had poor prospects and ignore her question.   How is that constructive?   If you didn’t have anything constructive to add then simply telling her she had poor prospects serves no useful purpose.

    1. 145.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      “Are depressed people deserving of love? Yes? No? Yes and no? I’m really interested in getting your opinion on this whole complex issue.”

      I offered my opinion on the above question. Whether or not it serves a “useful purpose” to you is irrelevant.

  6. 146
    Guest

    Hi Evan,

    I just wanted to say thanks for your post. It makes perfect sense, and it’s a good reminder on how simple things are, sometimes.

  7. 147
    Dee

    “Not everyone is deserving of love like not everyone deserves to be a millionaire?” I stopped reading right there. Not an equal comparison. The problem is that people throw in the towel too easily. Marriage and relationships ARENT for the faint of heart. Be careful yes who you marry, but people shouldn’t totally be defined by their difficulties. Marriage is meant at It’s core to build character and to demonstrate unconditional love. Granted some will be too ill to marry but then again not everyone with depression should write themselves off. I’ve seen worse flaws that depression ALOT worse.

  8. 148
    Mary

    I’ve been following this blog for a long time. When this posting was very active I couldn’t deal with the fact that no matter what I do, is find a mentally stable person with all the “bells and whistles” of the man I really wanted to be with. Approaching the subject, no matter how well thought out the bombshell is, the stigma is ingrained in our society. Even the person you believe has a big heart and says they can handle anything if they really love you, is suspect. Case in point: I’ve dealt with this through three failed marriages, two long term relationships, and a dating life in a pool of men that turned into “men I could just settle with if they would be willing”. Even after reading all of Evan’s posts, e-mails, and buying his books, it never occurred to me that breaking the cycle of bad choices meant I might end up being better off alone. The hardest healthy choice I could have made would have saved me from a world of pain with yet another messed up relationship that I now have to walk on eggshells through and will take months or longer to get out of. Not all of us with a mental illness are guaranteed to find love, no matter how much we deserve it. And you know what? IT’S OKAY. It happens, and we are still able to be loved by other people in our lives that have always been there through thick and thin without being judgmental. They exist, and we should treat them like saints.

    1. 148.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      You’re DEFINITELY better off being alone than being in a miserable relationship. The question is whether you can make better choices in men so you don’t end up alone.

      1. 148.1.1
        Mary

        More than anything I’m just at the point where fear of failing again is exhausting.   Those better choices are out there, I know.   It’s finding the man that won’t end up full of resentment because they chose me. Yay. Fun. Sorry about the negative comment. This current mess is taking it’s toll.

        1. Evan Marc Katz

          I hear you and I understand. Your private email tells the story. 🙂

  9. 149
    Ash

    So basically if I have depression, I can never date properly until I’m fixed.
    Great.

    1. 149.1
      No Name To Give

      How do you have the emotional energy to date?

      1. 149.1.1
        Ash

        Apparently I never will

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