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 cliched “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.