I Go To Therapy & It's Changed My Entire Approach To Dating & Relationships
When I throw a casual "my therapist said" into conversation, I usually get one of three reactions: a quiet "did she really just say that?" look of discomfort, an enthusiastic "SAME!" assertion of solidarity, or a tired "can you stop talking about your therapist so much" eye roll of support and annoyance from a best friend. I live in New York, where I sometimes forget that talking about therapy could ever be taboo, but I didn't always feel so comfortable sharing the fact that I talk to a stranger about my problems.
I first decided to go see a therapist in 2011 or 2012. My acting teacher had recommended that all of his students go see someone, because "acting isn't therapy, therapy is therapy." (Yes, I am a walking New York stereotype. Yes, I am currently wearing all black.)
I followed a trail of therapist recommendations from that acting teacher, and eventually began seeing a woman who I still see to this day. Ironically, my relationship with my therapist is the longest relationship I've ever had (outside of those with friends and family). Of course, it's a very particular and different kind of intimacy than that of a romantic relationship, but interestingly enough, I think it is the relationship that has helped me open up in the actual romantic relationships in my life.
When I first started seeing my therapist, who is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) who practices Jungian, or analytical, talk therapy (specifically developed by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung). Without getting too deeply into Jung's theories, this means that I see a therapist weekly and talk very freely to her. She asks questions and gives advice, but there's a lot of me talking about anything, especially in my first few years of therapy.
At first, I felt strange taking up this space each week — nothing major was going wrong in my life. I felt embarrassed about the privilege I had to take an hour a week to talk about my little problems. I even found material in it, writing an internet series about sharing a therapist with two friends (true story). I quickly had to become willing to share the fact that I went to therapy, because part of our pitch for the series was "we really all had the same therapist!" I became increasingly comfortable with the fact that I took the time to invest in some mental self-care each week. I also started to learn that while my problems seemed small, there were a lot of major reasons for some of them.
Through the years, my therapist has helped me navigate career decisions, anxiety and depression, my mother's re-diagnosis with breast cancer, and eventually, her passing. My therapist has also helped me navigate heartbreak, paranoias, and little annoyances with friends. But above all, one of the greatest gifts I've gained from therapy has been a sense of confidence and control over my life that I never had, especially when it comes to romantic relationships.
In my first few years of therapy, I complained about being single a lot, and I was eager to grab some specific tools or exercises from my therapist that would magically transform my loneliness into a perfect relationship. But while magic doesn't exist, I found that speaking to someone who did not know me outside of these weekly sessions was an incredibly helpful way to start thinking about why I struggled to commit to partners.
I have always shied away from intimate relationships. During my early twenties, I ran from what was working due to fear, and ran towards what couldn't ever work out because of my love of self-flagellation. (Sort of kidding.) I turned all of these experiences this into a story I told myself about how unlovable I was, and how I would never end up in a happy relationship because no one was going to "pick me."
I dated men who I knew were moving away soon, or who would be as emotionally unavailable to me as I was to them. When I did find myself in a relationship with someone who cared for me and wanted to take things more seriously, I made sure to sabotage it by becoming mean, or simply ending it. Therapy slowly showed me that while I diagnosed myself as "unlovable," I was actually entirely terrified of intimacy and a bit of a commitment-phobe myself.
Deciding to see a therapist did not suddenly fix all of my issues, but talking to someone who constantly reminds me that I have every right to take up space and make decisions in any relationship weekly has given me a confidence that has completely changed my view on dating. She has reminded me that I can "pick" too — I can decide what I want and do not want in relationships. I don't need to wait for anyone to pick me.
To some this may seem ridiculous, but it has taken me years to reframe this story I have told myself, and I wouldn't feel as confident as I do today without therapy. I also think that the simple act of taking time each week to dedicate to myself in therapy subconsciously taught me to take up more space and be OK with it.
When I lost my mom almost exactly one year ago after a 10-year off-and-on, always fiercely brave battle with breast cancer, I lost a huge part of myself. I felt lost, I felt anxiety and loneliness at levels I had never experienced, and I couldn't (and still can't) sleep. As time passed, I also felt a sense of urgency. A sense of "what would my mom do?" and a realization that life really does only happen once, and that it was time to go after the things that I wanted.
When I was ready to date again, my therapist challenged me to go on 100 first dates. Yes, 100. She thought it would get me to break my bad habit of getting hung up on relationships that would never work out, and the general dating malaise I was feeling. I had dated plenty in New York, but it was the kind of dating that goes on for at least two months (or sometimes years). I had never just gone on a buttload of first dates. Since I am always looking for new opportunities, I decided to heed her advice, but swapped 100 dates for 51, so that I could turn the dating experiment into a podcast with my friend and not rip off the Drew Barrymore/Adam Sandler classic, 50 First Dates. Oh also, 51 is much more manageable.
Our podcast is called "51 First Dates," I've gone on 28 of them since the experiment began last August, and I've never felt more confident or in control of my dating life. I've also never felt so able to allow the kindness from men into my life. Going on dates regularly in order to put myself out there, especially after a very difficult year, has been the active step that I've needed to finally open the eff up and wake the eff up to be able to say, "While I like you a lot, if you won't commit, I think I'm moving on," or "Want to go grab drinks sometime?" (Yes, prior to this podcast, I had never asked a person out. Not even online.)
I still see my therapist, and I still think the only reason I'm able to have the confidence to date, podcast about it, and stick up for what I want is because of the time I have spent with my therapist since my early twenties. Want to laugh: my business partner and now podcast host, Liza, was one of my friends from acting class back in 2011 who ended up having the same therapist as me. She also attributes her confidence during her post-college relationships and the times she has been single to therapy.
You can listen to "51 First Dates" here, or anywhere you listen to podcasts.