There are a few things to consider. The first is this horrible thing called stigma. Some people will think you are less of a person because you have a mental illness. Some people would rather not date someone with a mental illness because they don’t understand it. This does not say something about you, but rather something about them. Stigma is an ugly, ugly ignorant thing.
Since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I have had just one boyfriend – my current one. I was diagnosed the fall of 2008 and started talking to him the summer of 2009. I didn’t tell him right away. I told him I was sick, but didn’t tell him what my illness was. I was too scared he would run for the hills. When I finally told him, he was relieved because he thought I was dying from cancer. Relief was the exact opposite of what I expected from him. So, see? You just never know. But looking back he tells me that I didn’t handle it quite right, that there shouldn’t have been the lag time between telling him I was sick and saying the word “bipolar” because it caused unnecessary worry and wonder. If you bring it up, be prepared to rip off the band-aid and spit it out.
Personally, I don’t think your illness is first date fodder. You don’t even know if you really like the guy yet, why reveal everything about yourself? Get to know him, let him get to know you. And that thing – stigma, if he gets to see how cool you are before you tell him your diagnosis, it won’t be such a big deal.
Don’t feel like you have to hide your bipolar disorder. It’s not some deep, dark secret that you should be ashamed of and hiding it can make you feel like it is – it did for me. If you have spent some time with him and decide you like the guy, it is okay to tell him about your illness. There are a couple reasons to do this. 1. If he is going to stigmatize you and your illness, you will know and can move on to someone more compassionate. 2. It will allow him to know you better. There is a lot that comes along with a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder. You can help him understand your mood swings and what to expect.
So do you have to tell your date you have bipolar disorder? No. You don’t have to tell him anything you don’t want to. The odds that he is going to come right out and ask you if you have a mental illness are low. Wait ’til you feel safe. Eventually you will be comfortable enough to bring it up. And when you do, remember you are disclosing an illness, NOT a character flaw.