Being in therapy isn’t a red flag — but it isn’t a green one either

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Therapy isn't a red flag — or a green oneMatthias Clamer

“Fuck nudes, send me a dated invoice from your therapist so I know you’re working on yourself,” Michael Schneider, AKA the Balloon Guy, posted to Instagram one fateful day in 2021. Unfortunately for him, the post went down like well, a lead balloon, sparking a seemingly never-ending discourse about therapy and dating.

Nearly three years later, we’re still having these conversations. New data from sex-positive dating app Pure shows that 50% of people find bringing up therapy on a first date attractive. And 50% is probably a much higher figure than we might have seen some years ago.

In many ways, the stats indicate a positive step forward for us Brits, in America seeing ‘your shrink’ has been a much more openly accepted part of life for decades. Going to therapy has gone from being something seen as shameful and stigmatised – an admission that there might be something wrong with you – to being openly talked about and celebrated. Conversations about the importance of mental health and wellbeing have become commonplace in all aspects of life, – from school, to work, to dating, getting help and being open about our struggles has been somewhat normalised.

But, as Schneider’s post revealed, the concept of going to therapy and “doing the work” has become a moral requirement on the dating scene. Potential partners want proof that you’re responsible and aware enough to deserve a relationship. Social media is full of posts about choosing therapy over relationships, and conversations about dating feel saturated with talk about the nebulous concept of “healing”; from “starting your healing journey” to “being in your healing era”.

I’ve been in therapy for over three years and I’m definitely one of those “therapy changed my life” types. When I first started out, my friends would play bingo with how often I’d name-drop my therapist during any hang out. I believe everyone who needs or wants it should be able to freely and easily access mental health support, however, it’s not always that easy. Even in the UK, therapy is still difficult to access and private therapy can be extremely expensive.

To suggest that everyone needs to go to therapy in order to enter the dating pool or have successful relationships means excluding a lot people for whom therapy is just not an option right now – whether because of money or time constraints, or because getting therapy means being in a place mentally where you’re able seek out a therapist and do the very difficult and often painful work it involves. RuPaul might say, “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” but many people who struggle with mental illness find it much easier to love others than to love themselves, and being loved by others during dark times is healing.

Of course, while everyone is deserving of love, no one is entitled to a relationship or romantic partnership, regardless of whether they have a therapist or not. Therapy can help us become better partners by making us aware of the things we do that might hurt others, and this certainly can make you a more attractive prospect.

I believe therapy has definitely made me a better partner to people I’ve dated; I can communicate more (hell, I can communicate at all), I’m more aware of my needs and boundaries, and I know what I’m looking for in a partnership. All of these things are important foundations for any relationship.

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But, while therapy (and self-reflection in general) can be a useful tool to help us shape the building blocks of a healthy relationship, it doesn’t guarantee someone will be a good partner. In fact, as many women have noticed, some people have begun weaponising the language of therapy to justify their controlling or generally problematic behaviour. Remember when Jonah Hill made headlines after screenshots suggested he’d told his then-girlfriend professional surfer Sarah Brady that she was “violating his boundaries” by surfing with men?

The data from Pure also backs this up, with only 23% of people saying that those who’ve been in therapy display better dating etiquette – while 32% disagreed. Just because you have a therapist, doesn’t mean you’re being the best kind of partner.

The choice to get therapy is a deeply personal decision, and it can take years to find the right kind of therapy and the right therapist for you. In fact, finding a therapist can be just as hard as dating, and arguably the stakes are even higher. While trying to be the best version of yourself and the best partner in our relationships is good, it’s time to let go of the idea that being in therapy is anything other than morally neutral. You don’t have to be in a state of constant self optimisation and betterment to deserve love. Being yourself and doing your best is enough.

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