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The Problem With Calling Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande's Engagement 'So Borderline'

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Juliette Virzi, The Mighty’s associate mental health editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

On Monday, Us Weekly confirmed rumors that comedian Pete Davidson and singer Ariana Grande are now engaged after a month of dating. Because Davidson has spoken openly about his diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD), both folks with BPD and those without have taken to Twitter to weigh in on “how borderline” this quick engagement is.

And while it’s true that impulsivity is one of the nine “classic” symptoms of BPD, we shouldn’t resort to “armchair diagnosing” (in fewer than 240 characters, no less!). It’s problematic to automatically assume the quick engagement is because Davidson has BPD. Here’s why.

1. Last time I checked, it takes two to get engaged.

First and foremost, it’s ludicrous to cite Davidson’s BPD as the “cause” of the engagement because it removes agency from Grande, an adult woman capable of making her own decisions about her love life. Being in a relationship with someone with BPD doesn’t mean you will just wake up one day and find yourself with an engagement ring on your finger with no absolutely no recollection of how it got there. It takes two to tango, folks.

2. Not everything a person with BPD does is “because of” BPD.

Yes, it’s true folks with BPD can make impulsive decisions about relationships. But it’s also true that people without BPD can make impulsive decisions about relationships. Quick engagements happen — we’ve seen it in Hollywood again and again. Just because Davidson has a mental illness doesn’t mean everything he does is the direct cause of it. In the same vein, if this particular engagement ends, it would be unfair to assume the reason it ended was solely because of BPD.

3. “Armchair diagnosing” is not only unhelpful, it’s damaging.

Can we cool it with the armchair diagnosing? Even if you have a diagnosis of BPD and can perhaps relate to the symptom of impulsive behavior, spectators don’t have the authority to claim their engagement is a manifestation of Davidson’s BPD. Number one, we don’t know him personally. Number two, we are not trained mental health professionals who are treating him.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s “Goldwater Rule,” it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion about an individual’s mental health unless he or she has examined the individual and has been given consent to make a statement about it. This is something that comes up frequently when psychiatrists try to “diagnose” President Trump in the media. If it’s unethical for a mental health professional to speculate about a public figure’s mental health, then how much more unqualified are we laypeople?

Trying to “explain away” or invalidate non-socially acceptable behavior by blaming mental illness is damaging to people with mental illness — in this case, folks with BPD. So when it comes to armchair diagnosing via Twitter, can we not?

4. People with BPD can have lasting and fulfilling relationships.

Though people with diagnosed BPD have commented on how this news aligns with their own experience of BPD symptoms, I fear the undercurrent of some of these responses comes from a harmful misconception that people with BPD can’t have lasting, fulfilling relationships — which is simply untrue.

This is a misconception Davidson responded to himself on May 24, when –after Ariana Grande left her “toxic” relationship with rapper Mac Miller — people assumed her new relationship with Davidson would be just as “toxic,” because he has borderline personality disorder.

“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,” the comedian wrote in an Instagram story. “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 makes the relationship toxic.” (You can read his response in full in the below screenshots.)

“I just wanna let you know that's not true,” he wrote. “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 makes the relationship toxic. Everybody is different and there are a lot of treatments for mental illnesses and I have done/am doing all of them.”
via @petedavidson Instagram

Pete Davidson, thank you so much for continuing to be open about BPD, even when you are faced with the stigma of doing so. If folks continue to throw shade, I hope you know Twitter user @warbarabalters will valiantly defend your honor in hand-to-hand combat.

It’s possible to be in a happy relationship if you live with BPD. If you want to read more, check out these pieces from members of our Mighty BPD community:

Photo via Ariana Grande Instagram

Originally published: June 12, 2018
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