Living with mental illness is easier than it once was, but dating with mental illness? It's so much harder than it should be — thanks to the myths and stigmas around it. When rumors that singer Ariana Grande is dating Saturday Night Live actor Pete Davidson began to circulate earlier this week, critics claimed that Davidson shouldn't be dating at all because he's been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which the actor promptly shut down. As someone who lives with borderline personality disorder myself, I’m glad people like Davidson are speaking out against these harmful myths — because those of us who have this mental illness can and do have healthy love lives, but mental health stigma can be incredibly damaging.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, borderline personality disorder is a mental illness characterized by mood swings, a fear of abandonment, difficulty regulating emotions, impulsive or destructive behavior (such as self-harm or substance use), a wavering self-image, unstable relationships, and dissociation. As the National Alliance of Mental Illness reported, borderline personality disorder affects at least 1.6 percent of U.S. adults, but some people believe it may affect up to 5.9 percent of U.S. adults; further, the majority of people diagnosed with borderline are women.
In the note Davidson shared on Instagram Stories on May 24, addressing the comments that he shouldn’t be dating, he explained:
Normally I wouldn’t comment on something like this cause like f— you. But I been hearing a lot of 'people with BPD can’t be in relationships' talk. I just wanna let you know that’s not true. Just because someone has a mental illness does not mean they can’t be happy, and in a relationship. It also doesn’t mean that person [with BPD] makes the relationship toxic.
What’s more, further in his statement, Davidson went on to say, “I just think it’s f*cked up to stigmatize people as ‘crazy,’ and say that they are unable to do stuff that anyone can do. It’s not their fault [they have a mental illness], and it’s the wrong way for people to look at things.”
While living with any mental illness often comes accompanied by its own set of harmful myths, borderline personality disorder is one of the most stigmatized mental illnesses. In fact, as someone with five co-occuring mental illnesses, I’ve found none to be quite as stigmatized as borderline. As noted by The Mighty, borderline is sometimes referred to as the “the leprosy of mental illnesses” (yes, really) because it those with it are deemed difficult or treatment resistant. Studies have even shown mental health professionals also hold stigmatizing views about people with borderline — some psychologists and psychiatrists will even outright refuse to take on borderline patients. Considering mental health stigma is one of the most significant barriers people seeking proper treatment and support face, this is a serious issue.
But this stigma is super apparent when you're seeing someone new. I’ve had dates physically recoil when I’ve shared my diagnosis of borderline, or people automatically infer that my mental illness means I’m unstable, and can’t be in a committed relationship. I’ve had partners invalidate my concerns and gaslight me by calling me “crazy.” I’ve had dates who have tried push my personal boundaries because people with borderline are seen as impulsive. Simply put, dating with borderline personality disorder isn't easy; it feels like most people are either afraid of you because of the misconceptions that surround the disorder, or, they want to take advantage of those misconceptions.
Does having borderline personality disorder present some difficulties when it comes to dating? Of course, but, no more so than what others may experience. When it comes down to it, every single relationship — whether you or your partner lives with mental illness or not — will come with its own set of unique challenges and successes. Yes, because of my borderline, I may have to work harder in my relationship to be mindful of my emotions. I have to routinely recenter myself during arguments with my partner, rather than react with anger because of my fear of abandonment. I have to attend weekly therapy, take medication, and incorporate Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skills into my daily routine.
These things are integral part of my life, because living with a chronic illness like borderline requires long term maintenance and care. However, the fact that I live with BPD alone doesn’t mean I can’t develop meaningful romantic relationships. If you had a partner with a physical illness who had to attend weekly physical therapy, take medication, and spend time practicing daily exercises, would you break up with them because of it? Would you tell them that because of their health, they are “undateable”? Mental health stigma is extremely pervasive — especially in terms of dating — but in the end, it’s no different than dating while managing the symptoms of a physical illness.
In some ways, I’m grateful for the ways my borderline diagnosis has pushed me to constantly grow as a person and as a partner. My mental illness and how I manage it has taught me how to better communicate, to give and receive feedback, and to create balance in my relationship. I’m constantly checking in with myself about what new skills I need to learn, and what old patterns I need to unlearn.
Overall, dating with borderline is not a hugely unique experience. Dating with borderline is way more boring than the stigma makes it out to be: My partner and I work, marathon Netflix, go on dates and late-night trips to McDonald’s, fight, apologize, and talk it out. When I am particularly struggling with my mental health, I tend to it while my partner supports me, and vice versa. We do exactly what everyone else does in a relationship — sometimes, I just have to work a little harder at it.
As Davidson said in his Instagram story, people with borderline personality disorder can be in healthy relationships, just like anybody else. My diagnosis of borderline is not the end of the world, but mental health stigma is for many people. So, rather than making the stigma worse, we need to remember that those of us with borderline are not only capable of leading happy lives and relationships, but also that we deserve to just as much as anyone else.