10 Upsides of Dating Someone in Recovery From BPD
A personal perspective: The hidden assets of BPD recovery in romance.
Posted January 22, 2022 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
I started this blog to add levity and hope to the online discourse about what I consider the most stigmatized mental illness: borderline personality disorder, or BPD. So here’s something that nobody ever talks about—the benefits of dating a person in recovery from BPD, based on my own experience of life post-recovery.
1. We can be great at validating emotions.
My mother says she takes Judaism more seriously than my father because she was born Catholic and converted, while he was born Jewish. Sometimes, overcompensating works.
One of the biosocial factors thought to lead to a borderline personality is being raised in an invalidating environment. When I was first in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) at 28, my therapist asked what my primary emotion was. I had no idea.
In the twelve years since, I've had to learn to recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture my emotions—and I always want to validate others' emotions, too. We live in a world where it’s considered OK to say things to people like “Others have it worse.” That’s usually invalidating and hurtful. In my experience, a person in recovery from BPD often knows better.
2. We can be extremely loyal.
I may be a Capricorn rising, but I know that’s not where my loyalty comes from—it’s from my BPD. I have a history of being rejected and abandoned by all those who were supposed to love or care for me. I know how much it hurts, and I never want to do that to another person if I don’t have to. I may need breaks from time to time, but I almost always come back.
3. We are often very accepting.
I don’t always know what will cause me a distress episode, leading me to shut down, dissociate, or panic and think I need to verbalize a problem (that I most likely misinterpreted as rejection). Those moments—even if they occur only a handful of times a year now—are what I need to save my energy for. Because of that, I don't care about things in a relationship that might bother other people. I make it my business not to. I know what matters—and whether or not you play video games isn’t it.
4. We're often creative, sensitive, or funny.
Another biosocial factor implicated in BPD is the inherent sensitivity of a child combined with an invalidating environment (with a little abuse and trauma typically thrown in, too). All humans are creative, but people with BPD often come to need that outlet more than neurotypical folks.
As the French artist George Braque said, “Art is a wound turned into light.” Individuals with BPD tend not to be short on either wounds or the desire to alchemize them. We are also, usually, pretty funny. Personally, I always say that BPD is an illness you can work your way out of if you don’t kill yourself first. Everything becomes funny because we survived. The formula for comedy is said to be tragedy + time. We’ve got that.
5. We’re in therapy.
The difference between someone who thinks they are in recovery from BPD and someone who actually is is therapy. Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is the most common—but other modalities have risen recently, as we as a collective start to deal with this illness in a more productive way than the infamous Reddit page entitled "BPDLovedOnes."
People who aren’t in therapy—any sort of people—tend to use their friends and lovers as therapists from time to time. Those of us in recovery from BPD have therapists. We see them regularly. The work we do with them has, in most cases, helped us climb out of hell.
6. We tend to have a lot of distress tolerance skills.
Did you know that dunking your head in a bowl of ice water can help reset your nervous system if you’re in extreme distress? That naming things you can smell, touch, see, and taste can help you calm down? That breathing in for four counts and out for eight can lower your distress levels?
I know a lot of ways to calm down because I experience a wide range of often overpowering emotions. I know how to ease distress because I cannot function without knowing how. Everyone has distress. Many people, however, deal with it in maladaptive ways—like drugs or alcohol, externalizing, or commiserating.
7. We tend to fall hard for people.
I am completely obsessed with my friends and lovers. What was once a survival mechanism has evolved into me caring, well, a lot.
Because it was such a struggle for me to be seen and to learn how to see myself, I will see you for who you truly are. When I was caught in my stressful idealization-and-devaluation cycle, I saw the darkest dark and the lightest light in myself and others in a fragmented, harmful way. Now that I have learned how to integrate both highs and lows together, I can see the entire spectrum of a person. If I am with you, I see all of you, and I want to know all of you. I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t really love what I saw.
8. When we're wrong, we often promptly admit it.
A benefit of the quick mood swings that come with my BPD is that I am to the place of understanding what went wrong—and where I was wrong—very quickly. In other mental illnesses, like depression or bipolar, moods shift at a different pace, meaning the completion of these cycles can sometimes take much longer. I catch myself quickly because being upset with you is deeply upsetting to me. I need to resolve it, and I know I can only control and change my own behavior.
9. We can be easy to talk to, especially about hard things.
Few people have ever accused a person with BPD of being superficial. We usually care about things beneath the surface. Optics are rarely our priority. Things like past trauma—which many people have a hard time hearing, holding space for, or validating—is something we are often intimately familiar with.
Before recovery, I tended to overshare with the wrong people. Now, I can share in an intimate way with people I know I can trust—and if I'm your trusted person, I am able to do that with you too.
10. Accepting reality is often a high priority.
Nonacceptance of reality seems to be a common symptom of modern times. But while other people may be able to get into a state of nonacceptance and still act right, I can’t. I can’t get into a conversation with someone in distress and expect to feel heard. I can’t rack up situations in which I don’t feel heard without traumatizing myself. I need to asses and accept fairly quickly if I want to stay centered.
As the creator of DBT, Marsha Linehan said, “Acceptance is the only way out of hell.” I climbed out of hell—and every time I peek back in, even for a moment, I need to get out right away or I could get stuck there.
The man I recently started dating researched BPD when I told him I had it. I knew he couldn’t find anything like this list. The next person who cares enough to find out what their partner is dealing with, though, will. I have learnt to do all these things because it causes me too much pain not to.