Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Date When I Have Mental Health Issues?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am a man in my mid-thirties whose dating life is in a coma. I know what I want: a long-term relationship with a woman who will eventually (after 2-3 years maybe) want to start a family with me, but I’m open to less long-term stuff before that happens. Anything to get the ball rolling. I haven’t gone out on a date in 6 months and I’m not meeting anyone new.

There are reasons why that is: main reason is that dating hasn’t been my focus at all for the past three years. I’ve had a bout with mental illness and depression. (All my life I had been suffering from extreme downs, melancholia, OCD and I was increasingly delusional. It grew out of hand three years ago and that was when I was hospitalized and diagnosed.) I therefore felt the need to move back to my home city to be closer to my family. It took quite some time but I can say now that, thanks to the proper medication and the support of my loved ones, I’m finally functioning normally and in fact feeling “better than ever”. So I’m at least glad to have won that battle.

But things are different: I still don’t put a lot of effort in dressing well, having a nice and neat apartment, or even having a healthy lifestyle (cooking for myself, exercising. I mostly just eat out – and am now somewhat overweight, to my dismay.) When I’m not “falling off the wagon”, I take baby steps and try to improve those areas. I was and am still working on myself, and since my illness try to have a simple routine to tackle life. I’m content with my steady, yet interesting job, and my healthy and close (I think) relationship with my immediate family. 

And now, I want to resurrect my dating life. I know less people here than in the city I lived in previously (for over a decade), therefore I need to work on my networking. I enjoy dancing, so I’m taking some lessons and hoping to make friends there. Also, I’ve just subscribed to an online dating site. So I’m expecting things to pick up, provided of course I do my share of the work, overcoming approach anxiety… etc. And I do have a certain amount of self-limiting beliefs that I need to change. 

I think I have a deeper problem though – forming healthy long-lasting relationships with women. Throughout my life, I’ve only had two girlfriends that I wanted to keep long-term. The others, I just didn’t think were “good enough” for me. In retrospect, I wish I had given some of these other women a chance, but at least I can say life has taught me a lesson or two there. I was reading what you wrote about learning from the movie Don Jon, and I suppose I have been very superficial in my romantic “targets” over the years and quite the ego-centric. Throughout my life, I have felt incredibly lonely, and have (except for a 4-year relationship) practically always been single. The fact that I had undiagnosed mental problems probably didn’t help my love-life either.

I have in the past undergone therapy, for years even… I don’t think it did much good, except with the last person. Right now, for financial reasons and also because I am feeling better, I’m not consulting anyone. Yet I do continue to feel lonely, and that leads me to think I am a co-dependent person.

I think that pretty much sums it up. I would really love to have your advice: whether I’m on the right path, or am I overlooking something completely?

Thank you so much for your help.

Ill Communicator

DEAR ILL COMMUNICATOR: Hey Ill C, there’s not really much I can say here except congratulations on the progress you’ve made and that you should be incredibly proud of yourself. Hell, I’m proud of you.

You’re doing everything right. You’ve faced down your mental illnesses and got help – I can tell you from experience that it can be incredibly difficult just to admit that you need help, never mind actually getting it. You’ve fought your way through the worst of it and now you’re on the mend and putting your life back together. That takes a lot of courage and mental fortitude and it says a lot about your strength that you were able to accomplish all of this. You’re also playing it smart when it comes to trying to bring your dating life back on line and by the sounds of it, you’ve got the right mental outlook on life. Just be sure to take things slow and easy; jumping in with both feet is good way for anyone to end up demoralizing themselves, even if they hadn’t had to put everything on hold.

I will say – again, speaking from experience – that working on your lifestyle, especially healthy eating and exercise will do wonders for your outlook and mental health. Exercise increases blood-flow to the brain and releases endorphins and neurotransmitters like serotonin (a natural mood-lifter) into the bloodstream; this will increase your energy and improve your mood, and it’ll work well in concert with your medications to help with your depression. The simple act of doing something to improve your health will also improve your sense of self-worth. Keeping your apartment clean and neat can also help – I’ve found that the clutter and mess in my place can throw my mood off drastically if I’m not careful about it. Plus, c’mon: eventually you’re going to have some folks you’re going to want to bring back to your place. You don’t want to worry that you’re about to lead them into a pig-sty, right?

It’s understandable that you’re lonely. I think more of us feel that way than people realize. But you are doing the right thing in going out and trying new activities. That’s the best way to find more people in your area. You might also check into local events that meet your interests; there might be an amateur sports league that sounds like fun or even just a book-club.

I would recommend that you continue to talk to somebody. I realize that money can be an option, but there are low-cost or even free options out there for getting help.

To start with, the local colleges in your area may have a free or low-cost clinic for the public. The therapists you would be talking to tend to be post-graduate students working with a trained and licensed mentor who supervises the sessions. Check your local college or university’s psychology department web page for more information; these clinics are more common than you might think. The American Psychological Association has a locator tool to find therapists and clinics in your area – you can reach out to a few of those to see what low-cost options they may have.

There are also online options like MoodGym which focuses on self-directed cognitive behavioral therapy. There are also sites like that may be of use; these are free-to-paid and can be useful if there are times when you just need to talk or get some constructive feedback without having them actively trying to problem-solve.

Regardless: you’ve made amazing progress and you’re on the right path. Keep up the good work and check back in to let us know how you’re doing.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (; or to his email,