I'm dating in recovery -- how much do I tell?

Should I mention in my personal ad that I'm bipolar and have three ex-wives?

Published September 2, 2005 4:25PM (EDT)


At age 55, I've had a tragic life, if you look at the past without concentrating on the present, or ... even if you do. Yet part of me is thrilled I'm still alive, and I'm really grateful for the benefits of sobriety and spirituality. So when I decide to place a personal ad, how much or how little information is appropriate? Also, same question for after meeting a new connection?

  • Thrice married/divorced
  • All three marriages begun as an active addict
  • Last divorce a sobriety-caused event
  • Five years sober, steps worked several times, sponsored and sponsor
  • Great relationships with daughter and grandchildren based on recovery
  • Nearly 30-year history of bipolar disorder
  • Medicated, informed, last episode three years ago, total of 10 in 30 years
  • (Two of three episodes occurring while accurately medicated)
  • Living independently
  • Employed
  • College student in a new career field (ASL interpreting)
  • Respectfully,

    Curious in San Diego

    Dear Curious,

    If I were in your shoes, I would be more general in my approach, saying in the ad that I'm 55, grateful to be in recovery for five years, and studying for a degree in a new field. If you want to mention your daughter and grandchildren, that seems fine. But I would not mention that you are living independently; people will probably assume that you are living independently unless you say otherwise. Nor would I mention the number of marriages and divorces or the number of bipolar episodes. That is important information, but it can come later. And rather than listing these things, I would try to put it in regular sentences, as though writing to a friend.

    If you meet a new connection and feel you are getting along well, great. Then you may want to share more of your story. As a conversation opener, you might mention that alcohol and drugs were not your only problems. But try to reveal things gradually, rather than all at once.

    Think of it this way: As a person in recovery, you are responsible for cleaning up your past. But you're not responsible for broadcasting it. In meeting new people, you are responsible only for your behavior in the now. You are not required to explain all your past behavior and how you ended up here. Oh, I know how tempting it is, and how it seems as though no one could ever understand you unless they know how all these terrible things happened. And I assume you feel a responsibility not to mislead people about what a future with you might be like. But people will judge you on what they see and hear -- what you say and how you say it. That includes how you handle the communication of sensitive information. So my advice would be to resist that urge to delve into the past, especially in the beginning.

    If you are currently taking medication for bipolar disorder, then that is a fact and there's no sense hiding it. It's part of your recovery. But try to build your new relationships on what happens today rather than on what happened long ago. Think of your medication as part of the miracle of your survival, rather than as the lingering vestige of a troubled past. After all, you've been blessed with a second chance!

    Knowing that you have been given a second chance can be a source of great joy for you, and that joy can be contagious. If the people you meet are also in recovery, they will recognize that joy, the joy of the lucky survivor. If they are not in recovery, they may not know where that joy is coming from, but they will likely appreciate it, as it can be refreshing to be around someone who appreciates what he's got.

    As a new relationship progresses, there will be time for disclosures about the possibility of future bipolar episodes and so forth. But my advice is mainly to concentrate on enjoying your second chance, emphasize the positive things you have in your life, and consider your survival as a precious gift.

    Good luck to you.

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