Dating And The Winter Blues

Can romance thrive during the cold season’s doldrums? You bet it can… if you follow this plan.

By Bob Strauss

t happens at the same time every year: Your girlfriend — who’s so frisky and fun-loving during the spring, summer, and early fall — reacts to the end of Daylight Savings Time like an eight-year-old mourning the loss of her pet hamster. She starts eating less (or more), becomes cranky and argumentative, and by the time mid-winter rolls around, all she wants to do is sit on the couch and watch TV. When you ask about her odd behavior, all she says is something vague like “I hate the winter.” It’s more likely that she’s having a bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder (or S.A.D.), a temporary depression triggered by lack of sunlight during the darkest time of the year.

What can you do when someone you love suffers from S.A.D.? We
Reassure your date that the winter blues will pass…
asked Dr. Walter Smitson, professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, for his advice. Here’s what he had to say:

Know the symptoms
According to Dr. Smitson, 10 million people in the U.S. suffer from severe S.A.D., and another 25 to 30 million have a milder form of “winter blahs.” (If your girlfriend always seems grumpier than you do, there’s good reason: 75% of S.A.D. sufferers are women under 40.) In its most severe form, S.A.D. is marked by crying jags, extreme moodiness, and lack of sex drive, among other symptoms.

If you’ve been dating for only a few months — and don’t know your partner’s history — S.A.D. can be especially difficult to deal with. On the one hand, an S.A.D. sufferer may not know she has the condition, so she’ll blame her blahs on the cold weather or on that disastrous Christmas dinner with the folks—which, to a partner, can sound a lot like whining. On the other hand, faced with a case of severe, undiagnosed S.A.D., you may think your partner suffers from long-term depression—possibly making it less likely that you’ll stick around until spring, when the condition goes away.

Plan your time together wisely
OK, let’s put all the above uncertainty aside and say that your partner has been formally diagnosed with S.A.D. What can you do to make her feel better, to not make yourself feel
Choose brightly lit spots, not candlelit restaurants.
worse, and to make it through the winter with your relationship intact?

Says Dr. Smitson, “Most people just need reassurance that this will clear up and that there’s nothing horribly wrong with them.” But there are other, more practical ways to approach the S.A.D. challenge. “A dim, candlelit restaurant isn’t a good idea,” Dr. Smitson says, and neither are movies in darkened theaters—try a trip to the shopping mall instead. And rather than watch TV with the lights off, buy your partner a “sun box,” a bright halogen lamp that mimics the effects of sunlight.

Don’t make any important decisions till the spring thaw
Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but January and February aren’t the best months to discuss big plans for the future if one partner is depressed. This is where undiagnosed S.A.D. can be a real hindrance to relationships. “The partner may start to feel that he’s not really interested in the person with S.A.D.,” Dr. Smitson says. “When a woman says to me, ‘I was dating this guy for a few weeks, and then he seemed to lose interest,’ I always ask, ‘Were you dating him during the winter months?’” In other words, if you postpone the important talks ’til spring, you’ll be amazed at how much better the two of you communicate.

Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on, the online information network owned by the New York Times.
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