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First dates are scary for everyone. Not only are we being vulnerable with someone we don’t know well (or at all), we’re entering into unknown social territory. We won’t know how our date perceives us, and we’re often unsure about how we think about them right away. The relationship is undefined and expectations are often unknown. Sometimes relief doesn’t come after a few dates either. Now we know we like them, but we’re not sure how much they like us. We might be confused as to why they didn’t text us back for a whole day, or why they didn’t invite us when they went to see our favorite band. Anxiety might actually increase as feelings are evolving, but the relationship hasn’t yet been defined.
For the above reasons and many others, dating can be hard. It can be even more challenging for those with borderline personality disorder.
To understand why, let’s start with outlining what Borderline personality disorder (or BPD) is. According to the DSM 5, Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a pattern of unstable relationships, self-image and mood, as well as impulsive behavior, starting in early adulthood and is persistent across time and circumstances.
For someone to be diagnosed with this disorder, they must have at least five of the following traits:
This means that people with borderline personality disorder may struggle with knowing and being confident with who they are, could have fluctuating moods throughout the day, and may quickly have intense feelings about people they interact with. All of these symptoms can make dating difficult.
Let’s break it down even further.
In my experience, fear of rejection is one of the largest reasons why people avoid dating. It could trigger all kinds of negative reactions based on past experiences. We all have a need to be accepted, and being accepted by your date is no exception. Most of us know what it’s like to be rejected. We might have even asked ourselves “what was it about me that this other person didn’t like?” or even “is there something about me that I need to change?”. People with BPD are likely to be very self-critical and have low self-esteem. Someone with BPD may even try to make changes to themselves to avoid further rejection (more on this later), and making changes in their values and goals could add to confusion around who they are.
A lot of emotions can come up while dating. We can experience anxiety, boredom, disgust, and also extreme happiness and hopefulness. It’s hard to wait for that text back about planning another date and to react calmly when a date insults your favorite TV show. People with BPD, who often experience extreme emotional states and reactions, may have a harder time managing the range of emotions that can arise while dating. These intense emotions can cause feelings of exhaustion and may lead to negative behavior in an attempt to cope.
In addition to intense emotions, people with BPD often experience varying moods throughout the day. As negative things happen, people with BPD might be strongly impacted by this, and they could feel overwhelmed by their negative mood. A short while later, something positive could happen, and they may react very strongly in a positive way. Moods are quick to change depending on circumstance, and this can be difficult to manage while people with BPD emotionally react to the behavior of dating partners.
Another hallmark of BPD is having intense and unstable relationships. This is due to a pattern of quickly developing intense positive feelings towards someone, having trouble mending any negative events within a relationship, and black and white thinking. (Black and white thinking is when you view things as being “all or nothing”, “perfect or horrible”, “good or bad”, etc, without being able to see how it may fall in the gray space between.) Someone with BPD may have intense feelings about someone they are dating at first and may want to spend all of their free time with them. If this person upsets them, or makes a mistake, someone with BPD may suddenly deem them bad and cut ties.
Someone with BPD might also be hypervigilant to the mistakes or negative traits of others, which can occur from a fear of being abandoned. Symptoms of anxiety are likely to be triggered while waiting for a text back after a date or if the other person isn’t very active in their communication. There can be many explanations for this behavior, but someone with BPD might automatically assume they will be rejected. This could cause someone with BPD to make ultimatums or lash out, making it seemingly easier to be the rejecter instead of the rejectee. They may be perceived as clingy, needy, or angry.
It’s not all negative. BPD comes with its own set of superpowers. Those with BPD can be great dating partners, as they often come across as caring, loyal, empathetic, and they’re often willing to spend their free time with you. They’ll often go out of their way to help their dating partners and to provide support. Positive emotions arise for those with BPD while dating as well, and these emotions can be very hopeful and uplifting. They may feel very connected to dating partners and enjoy spending their time with others.
So what do we do when BPD symptoms are triggered while dating?
Think about the type of person you’re looking for as a partner. What are their attributes and values? Maybe even make a list of these items so that when you’re dating, you can refer to the list to ensure that you are developing relationships with those whose values align, rather than moving forward based on experiencing intense feelings of desire.
Accept that symptoms will likely be triggered and you will likely feel uncomfortable. When we can accept this, it is easier to label what’s going on when you’re uncomfortable before a date and have the urge to cancel, or while dating when you get stuck in a loop of negative thoughts. When we can label anxiety, we can then figure out how to cope with it. By leaning into it, using coping skills, and going through with the first date anyway, we are able to show ourselves that we can manage our negative emotions. When we can recognize and celebrate this, the second date may feel less anxiety-ridden.
Consider these suggested coping skills for anxious symptoms from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
When anxiety and/or depression symptoms spike, be sure to utilize mindfulness and grounding skills to ground yourself back into the current moment. Mindfulness can also be used while feeling anxious on a date – the deep breathing exercise in the blog below can be used anytime, anywhere!
Check out this blog by Linda Esposito, LCSW for examples of quick mindfulness techniques:
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! Remind yourself that boundaries are important when you are getting to know someone so you can develop trust over time. People don’t need to know every little thing about your past when you first meet them. Think about how much time you want to spend with the person you’re dating each week, and be sure to continue to have some free time for yourself.
Haven’t heard from the person you’re dating for a while? Are you starting to feel uncomfortable? Try to avoid creating narratives about what is happening and why they haven’t reached out. If you want to hear from them to plan another date – you can reach out to them to communicate this. Try to avoid acting out or passive-aggressive behavior. If the issue persists, it may be that their communication style doesn’t match your needs (refer to number 1!).
Rejection hurts! Getting that, “I had a great time last night but…” text the morning after a date can really be a demotivator to continue dating and a hit to self-esteem. Regardless of the reasoning they give you, it’s only natural to review the date to consider what went wrong. The thing is… sometimes nothing went wrong. Even if the person tells you specifics about you that they aren’t connecting with, there are likely others out there that connect very well with those same specifics. This is often more telling of the other person’s values and needs, rather than an accurate evaluation of your worth. Avoid making changes to how you act/date based on these rejections. The right person for you will want to continue seeing you. Keep looking!
The best way to treat symptoms for BPD is to see a licensed therapist for ongoing treatment and support. The most effective treatment for BPD is dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).This method of treatment is often offered through individual therapy as well as groups. These groups can also be offered with a focus on trauma, which can be helpful for those with trauma histories. Medication management could assist with some of the symptoms of co-occurring disorders that commonly present with BPD, including depression and anxiety, however medications do not treat personality disorders.
If you are interested in beginning therapy, Tate Psychotherapy is here to help. We offer a broad
range of services, such as individual therapy for adults, children and adolescents, and family
We offer in-person and telehealth services, making therapy convenient, safe, and comfortable.
We accept in-person appointments in New York City locations as well as provide telehealth services to clients in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, Florida, and Texas. Get started today: https://tatepsychotherapy.clientsecure.me/request/clinician
For more information regarding accessing mental health treatment, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) information page here: https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Individuals-with-Mental-Illness/Finding-a-Mental-Health-Professional
For general information about mental health treatment and to find mental health services in your area, you can call the Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or visit their website here: https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/’
If suicidal thoughts arise, contact the suicide hotline by calling or texting 988. Call 911 or report to the nearest emergency room for psychiatric emergencies.