Over the past year, my dating life has been a whirlwind of drama and unhappy outcomes. In only one year I’ve dated the following types:
- A woman who physically abused me
- A woman who regularly insulted and demeaned me
- A woman who was attracted to every man she met, and especially to gay men
- A woman with severely low self-esteem
- A woman who wouldn’t get a job, spent all her money, and then tried to convince me I should support her financially
- A woman who was habitually promiscuous while she dutifully monitored my social life to make sure I remained faithful
Actually, all of these were the same woman. Yes, over the past year I dated one woman who fit into all of the above categories. Granted, things weren’t always bad. There were days when I felt lucky to have found someone like her. Of course, those days didn’t last long as she would predictably fall back into hurtful and destructive patterns of behavior.
I spent a year beating myself up and wondering why our relationship wasn’t working. I did everything I could think of to become a better boyfriend. I spent hours upon hours talking to her about my feelings and trying to develop a deep friendship. I lavished gifts on her and showered her with compliments. I took her on weekend trips around the country and on a romantic tropical vacation. I spent most of my free time doing acts of service for her or taking her on fun dates. I even spent a few months volunteering as her business manager to help get her fledgling business organized.
When I did these things, our relationship would stabilize for a time. And then as suddenly as the weather in New England changes, her mood would change. She would become dark and brooding. She would blame me for all of her problems. She would openly wonder why I wasn’t as successful as Barack Obama so that she could be my Michelle. And then when she was done criticizing and complaining, she would distance herself from me and meet up with one of her many man friends.
I took all of her abuse and tried to turn those lemons into lemonade, as the saying goes. I looked for the positive in her and focused my love and attention on that. I even wrote a blog post dedicated to her called Five Signs That You Are In Love With a Crazy Girl where I described her wild mood swings as a positive.
In the end, I had to come to grips with the fact that my girlfriend more than likely suffers from bipolar disorder. We often talked about her mental health issues including her past bouts with anxiety and depression. I encouraged her to seek professional help, which she did. However, after a few months it didn’t appear that treatment was making much of a difference. I wondered if she was able to manipulate her psychiatrist the way she had skillfully manipulated me for a year. She had a unique ability to portray herself as a victim no matter the circumstances. She would spend hours and hours talking about how her mom beat her or how her best friend once slept with a guy she was dating.
I wanted to be there for her. I wasn’t going to walk away from someone I loved in her time of need, but in the end the emotional roller coaster that was our relationship was too much for me to stand. Even as she talked about our future engagement and wedding, there was something about our relationship that seemed broken and beyond repair. So, I began to research her symptoms which led me to read more about bipolar disorder. What I discovered amazed me. One of the reasons I couldn’t understand or explain her behavior was that she moved back and forth between episodes of mania and depression, often several times in one day.
WebMD describes bipolar disorder as “a serious mental illness that is characterized by extreme changes in mood, from mania to depression. It can lead to risky behavior, damaged relationships and careers, and even suicidal tendencies if it’s not treated.”
Her behavior now made perfect sense. She was battling a mental health condition that was causing her to go from manic moods to depressed moods. As I continued my research, I identified ten symptoms that affected her behavior and eventually ended our relationship.
1. Easily Distracted
My ex-girlfriend was never quite able to focus on one thing at a time. She might be working on a new strategy for her business and then suddenly decide that I absolutely must live in her neighborhood by next month. I would open my email to find ten or twenty emails from her of apartments listed on craigslist. We would often joke about how easily distracted she was, but I now realize it wasn’t funny. It was a symptom of a more serious mental health disease.
2. Poor Temper Control
She was unable to control herself emotionally. She would often burst out in unprovoked fits of rage and I was usually on the receiving end. Her insults and threats became par for the course in our relationship. Eventually, words were not enough and she turned violent. Once when we were having a heated discussion in my car, I decided I’d had enough and put my headphones on. In a fit of rage at my having unilaterally ended the conversation, she ripped the headphones from me and scratched my face from my eye to my ear. She immediately realized what she’d done and apologized. This was the first time I’d ever been physically assaulted by a woman. I still can’t believe it went down like that.
3. Spending Sprees
My ex-girlfriend never seemed to be happy unless she was shopping. This may seem normal for some women, but there is nothing normal about spending money you don’t have. She would often spend hundreds of dollars at the mall, on amazon.com, or on social activities while I was at work. One weekend after she’d spent several hundred dollars the previous week on lunches, dinners, and drinks with friends, I came over and fixed myself a turkey sandwich. She became enraged that I had the nerve to eat her turkey and bread. She complained that I was eating her into bankruptcy. It was surreal.
4. Sex With Many Partners
It started out with Facebook messages. An ex-boyfriend or ex-hookup would leave a flirty message on her wall or comment on a picture. I would complain and ask her to delete the message. She would brush off my complaints and respond by “liking” the message. Eventually when Facebook flirting lost its thrill for her, she began to meet up with her guy friends whenever I wasn’t around. The problem was, I was around too often. I once watched as one of her gay guy friends gave her a hug which led to a full-on dry humping session. My first instinct was to beat him to a pulp, but my civilized nature won out and I held back. When I confronted her about this, she insisted that I must accept her for who she is without specifying what that meant.
The low point in our relationship came when she uninvited me to her birthday party because she wanted to have fun with her friends without feeling as though she needed to behave because I was there. I later saw pictures on her laptop that showed her in sexual positions with the guys she was hanging out with at her birthday party. It was only after seeing those pictures and text messages on her phone that I realized how far she had taken her cheating ways.
5. Tendency to Make Grand and Unattainable Plans
She was always plotting to become the next Oprah Winfrey. When the Oprah Winfrey channel rejected her from a competition for a new show, she decided that she hated Oprah Winfrey. I never had a problem with her dreaming big. The disconnect was that she never seemed willing to take things one step at a time. For example, she’s never had a real job in her life other than a couple of summer internships. Yet, she refused to apply for a job below V.P. level. It just didn’t make sense by any measure.
6. False Beliefs About Self or Abilities
She was never satisfied being very good at some things. She wanted to be the best at everything. This competitive spirit eventually caused severe problems in our relationship. We once took a public speaking class together and she broke up with me for a week because she felt as though I was outshining her in the class. Our relationship was saddled with instances of the two of us jockeying for position. I now believe this was the result of her wanting to be better than me at everything.
7. Very Involved In Activities
It was usually a bad day if her calendar wasn’t loaded with activities with a wide range of friends. Whenever we traveled, she worried that she should meet up with whatever friends she had in whatever city we happened to be visiting. She often had a list of ten or more people she wanted to see even though we were only in town for two of three days. Her insistence on doing all things with all people put a serious strain on our relationship.
8. Easily Agitated or Irritated
She was easily set off by almost anything I did or said. Some of the most mundane things would set her off including when I would tell a joke, when I would plan a date to a restaurant we’d already been to, or when I would ask her for a favor. I began to doubt myself and wonder if there might be something wrong with me. Eventually I began to see her exhibit the same symptoms around other people. She once decided that one of her female friends had betrayed her because the friend was Facebook friends with someone she disliked. Let’s call the friend Jane. My ex wrote a long email to Jane explaining that she could no longer be friends with Jane. Even that wasn’t enough. She started an organized campaign to get all of her friends to “unfriend” Jane on Facebook. She had a talent for organizing her friends and social networks in an effort to isolate people she disliked. It wasn’t uncommon for her to use Facebook to punish people she had a problem with. It may have been petty, but it was a vindictive pettiness.
9. Daily Low Mood or Sadness
Not a day went by when she didn’t have at least a brief bout with sadness. She wasn’t capable of being alone and still for more than ten minutes before signs of depression began to creep in. I worked really hard to help her with this, but it became clear that her issues were far too complicated for me. That’s when I began encouraging her to seek professional help.
10. Low Self-Esteem
Although this symptom seems to conflict with symptom 6, it is actually a common symptom of bipolar disorder. Individuals with bipolar disorder experience feelings of grandeur and invincibility during manic periods followed by feelings of low self-esteem and hopelessness during periods of depression.
Understanding that my ex-girlfriend has low self-esteem has helped me to understand some of her behavior. I now know that she was seeking validation from men both gay and straight. It explains her need to flirt with every man she meets. I don’t forgive her promiscuity and disrespectful behavior, but I do feel as though I now understand it.
If you have dated or are currently dating someone who exhibits some of these symptoms it is important that you take the appropriate steps.
First, don’t blame yourself for your partner’s problems. Understand that your partner is sick and that he or she will be sick with or without you.
Second, get your partner into treatment as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the worse things will get.
Third, you must evaluate the situation honestly. Are you prepared to give your bipolar partner the support that he or she needs? In my case, I refused to entertain lying, cheating, and abuse. I had to end the relationship, not because of any stigma related to bipolar disorder, but because I could not commit to enduring whatever else she had in store for me. That was a personal decision I had to make. You will have to make your own decision based on your circumstances.
I’m sad to lose a girlfriend with so much love to give. I’m relieved to be free from an abusive relationship. And I’m thankful that I’m a better man for having survived the past year without giving up on myself.
If you want to know more about bipolar disorder, please click on the following links: