For many people with depression, it may be hard to imagine dating without a third wheel: the little voice making all kinds of negative comments.
Single people are at higher risk of depression, which affects some 40 percent of adults in the US.
But social connections and activities have also been shown to improve depression symptoms, and rates of suicide and depression are lower among those who have partners, research shows.
If you are struggling with or just coming out of a bout of depression, there is no reason you can’t date successfully, but, you should come armed and ready, so two experts shared their advice for diving back into the dating pool.
Dating with depressed can be daunting, but focusing on learning about the other person and telling them about the experiences your proud of can make date night a good night
1. Know where you are at with your depression and what you want out of a date
Depression is hardly a homogeneous experience, as anyone who has struggled with it will tell you.
Some days are better than others, some symptoms are more debilitating, and some activities are more challenging.
So the first thing to ask yourself is where you stand on your own spectrum, says Dr Shannon Kolakowski, author of When Depression Hurts Your Relationships.
‘When looking at being ready to date when depressed, evaluate if its mild depression, moderate or severe,’ she says.
If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, feelings of hopelessness or totally exhausted, dating may need to wait until the symptoms are reduced and they’re more stable,’ while you focus on the essentials, she says.
But for many people, depression is a part of daily functioning, not a full-on roadblock to it.
‘Dating is a great step, but it should be for the right reasons, not because people are pressuring you, but because you really are ready,’ she says.
She says to consider whether you are seeking a relationship or just looking to dip your toes back into something more casual. There is no wrong answer – but information is power.
If you have answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘are you ready to date,’ then ‘it is a really good sign that you are wanting to date and are ready to connect with others.
‘Listen to that instinct to reach out and have hope for future possibilities,’ Dr Kolakowski says.
2. Whether it’s a walk in the park or a night at the movies, make a game plan that makes YOU feel good
A good date for anyone involves sharing a fun activity, and this is particularly important for someone who is depressed.
‘Plan something that will be fun for you regardless. If you are feeling negative about the date, anticipating it being a fun event will help in terms of the mindset that you go into it with,’ explains Dr Kolakowski.
This activity should be ‘whatever suits you: a walk in the park, dinner, a movie,’ says Dr Rob Whitely, who studies relationships and mental health at McGill University.
But ultimately it is important that the activity is one you want to do, and feel comfortable with.
3. Tap into your support network and practice some date scenarios
First date jitters are normal for everyone, but if depression is a part of your life ‘you want to be aware that you may be more vulnerable to the difficulties that can come with dating, and want to have a support system in place,’ says Dr Kolakowski.
Talking to friends and family before a date and scheduling time to touch base with them afterwards ‘so you’re not building your whole world around dating – which we know can be up-and-down’ can help ease nerves even ‘treat’ depression, she says.
Part of the excitement of dating is the unknown aspect, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t run some rehearsals with someone you trust before you go.
Dr Whitely is working on setting up a system of ‘supportive dating,’ providing a platform for patients to practice modeling a date with a peer or professional.
He suggests that ‘you can go through scenarios [that might occur on the date], practice what kinds of questions people are going to ask you and rehearse how you might deal with x, y and z,’ he says.
This way, you can feel out when your answers might start to lilt toward the negative, and practice calling up more positive answers – which will make you more appealing, and, more importantly, help you to feel better about yourself.
‘Depression makes you feel it’s less hopeful, so think back to your successes, like the internship you got after college, or how you moved away and made it even though it was hard,’ says Dr Kolakowski.
‘When you’re dating you don’t want to lead with the negative things about yourself, because that’s also what you’re going to convey to someone else, so be proud of your successes, that’s who you are and what you have to offer someone,’ she adds.
4. Do some feel-good date prep like going to the gym or writing in your journal
You probably have a ritual for going out – whether with friends or on a date – but when you’re dealing with depression, it’s important to include elements besides the standard two spritzes of cologne or drawing on your favorite cat eyeliner.
Take some time on the day of the date to do things that are reflective and ‘nourishing’ to you, says Dr Kolakowski.
‘This is really the same thing as therapy, taking time to care about yourself and talk things and feel better about yourself,’ she says.
Dr Kolakowski suggests journaling or exercising, two different ways of connecting with yourself and your strengths.
‘People reflect in different ways; it might be hanging out with friends and family or something else, but the important thing is that it makes you feel good about yourself,’ says Dr Kolakowski.
5. Steer the conversation and don’t let depression take the wheel
Depression, by its nature, can make people turn inward.
This can quickly turn into ‘overly-focusing on yourself, because if you’re depressed you tend to be more internalized,’ says Dr Kolakowski.
All that self-contemplation can get in way of conversation, but dating is really an opportunity to break outside of your own mind.
‘You want to approach a date with the mindset of “what can I learn about this person,”‘ she explains.
‘Reach out to them, think about there thoughts and feelings and…even if the date doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it too, you may learn something, make a friend, or learn more about yourself and what you’re not looking for.’
Unfortunately, the stigma attached to depression still persists, as Dr Whitely found in his research.
Depression is common and not something to be ashamed of, but exposing that part of yourself too early on in getting to know someone can leave you vulnerable.
Talking about depression is ‘self-disclosure and about timing. First dates don’t need to involve that heavy of a topic,’ says Dr Kolokowski.
‘If it comes up and it’s organic, that’s okay, but for the most part we wait to share the deepest part of ourselves until we really know someone, and that’s true across the board,’ regardless of depression, she says.
Instead, when self-loathing thoughts start to sneak up, ‘try to overcome that with the knowledge that everyone, including you, has interesting things in their life, past and present,’ advises Dr Whitely.
6. Remember: Rejection is part of dating, not a consequence of who you are
By definition, dating ‘involves recognition, people not calling back, and spitting you out,’ Dr Whitely concedes, ‘but sometimes you click.’
But if you struggle with depression, ‘you have to know that [rejection] not because you’re a terrible person, it happens to everyone in dating. It could be a reality of their personality,’ he adds.
The trick is to see dating as a series of ‘dos’ rather than ‘don’ts.’
‘What’s important is, rather than approaching dating from a fear-base, I want to present my best self, not be afraid to be that best self and focus on things you do want to share, and not on being afraid to do or say the wrong thing,’ says Dr Kolakowski.