Girl Talk: I’m The Girl Before The Therapist

“Do you think I need therapy?” Evan asked. “I probably should start seeing a therapist.” He sighed and I shrugged.

“I can’t really answer that for you,” I said. “But it’s really helped me.” Evan and I had been fuck buddies off and on for over a year, but in the last few months we’d become better buddies and been doing less fucking, which, he told me, was how things usually went for him.

“Once I start to like a girl more as a person,” he had explained, “I’m less interested in having sex with her.” I looked at him like he was a little crazy, but whatever. His friendship was better than the sex, so if I had to choose between the two, friends it was.

“You seem to really know what you want in life,” Evan said. “You seem really in touch with, like, your issues. I don’t think I am.” And now, here we were, with Evan asking me if I thought he needed therapy. I do, by the way, but I think everyone does. Especially the guys I’ve dated and/or slept with. Many of them have gotten help for their various issues — crippling insecurity, narcissism, depression, anxiety, rage issues, etc. — but always after we’ve gone our separate ways.

See, I’m always the girl before the therapist. I’m a fluffier for mental health professionals. And it is fucking annoying.

I’ve been seeing a therapist on a weekly basis for six years. I began therapy initially because I was having trouble in my romantic relationship at the time; my mood was up and down, my sex drive was waning, I had anxiety that sometimes sent me spiraling, and I had lingering family issues that were interfering with my general happiness. The first couple of years in therapy were the toughest, but I was very committed to it at first because I believed my relationship depended on it, but then because it actually started to help and I began to really understand things about myself that had always seemed like such a mystery. When my boyfriend/fiance and I broke up, therapy — both the progress I had already made and the desire to stick with it — saved my ass from ending up in a really dark place.

In short, I think therapy is the fucking best. I am a therapy evangelist. You know who could use a little therapy? Everyone. Seriously. All of you need therapy. You and you and you! Yes, you! I mean that in a good way! That is not an insult. Therapy is rad. Of course, finding a therapist is not a one size fits all situation; you’ve got to put the time in to find the right one for you, someone you feel comfortable opening up to, whose voice doesn’t grate on your nerves, someone who responds to your blathering in a way that is most beneficial to your particular mental health goals.

However, one of the byproducts of being so gung ho about therapy and working so diligently on my mental health and well-being is that sometimes I sound like a therapist when I’m talking to other people. My mom and brohter have both told me more times than I can count, “You should be a counselor!” Here’s the thing: because I deal with all my own issues in therapy I’m less inclined to vent about my own problems to friends and romantic partners; in fact, and this is something I have talked with my therapist about, I get kind of uncomfortable just sharing my shit with other people. So, to avoid talking about myself, I spend a lot of time listening to other people instead. I’m a fantastic listener and I’m pretty damn good at giving advice. Especially if I like the person and am emotionally invested in them being happy. And the people I usually am most invested in are potential romantic partners because one thing I haven’t quite conquered completely in therapy is my desire to be loved. (That is a whole other post!)

So, this is how it usually goes: I meet a guy, we start dating, some major issue of his is revealed — he’s a narcissist! he’s hates his mom! he’s emasculated by the fact that I make more money! — and my role in the relationship becomes sort of like a mirror, reflecting back at him the shit he needs to work on. I definitely don’t present myself as perfect, but I think it’s pretty clear from spending any quality time with me that I am upfront about my baggage, am clear about being a work in progress, and that I’m taking responsibility, on a daily basis, for my own mental well-being.

In comparison, most of the guys I’ve dated eventually, in some way, are like, “Ugh … I’m 35 and still afraid of commitment. I should probably do something about that” or “Hmm, maybe it’s kind of fucked up that I’m still hung up on how my college girlfriend dumped me” or “I feel like such a loser in my career, maybe instead of whining about it all the time, I should figure out what would really satisfy me.” You get the picture. About 75 percent of the men I’ve dated in the last four years (since my engagement ended) have actually sought or expressed serious interest in getting some sort of mental health help after our romantic relationship ended. Of those who have gone to therapy, a few have actually stuck with it and seem to be doing really well. I’m happy for them. The rest of them … well, who cares? I’m not their therapy fluffer anymore.

Ultimately, I know that this pattern says much more about me than it does about them. It’s not particularly healthy of me to put myself in the position of pre-therapist because it makes the relationship incredibly unbalanced. That’s why these relationships haven’t lasted. So I’m dealing with it, talking with my therapist about why I’m drawn to playing that role, and doing my best to not follow that same pattern going on. The biggest turn on for me now is not a guy who appears, especially at first (as all of these previous dudes did) to be totally together, but a guy who is already aware that tending to ones mental health is essential. I don’t want to date someone who doesn’t “appear” to need therapy; I want to date someone who knows they do and already does it.

This piece is part of The Frisky’s How To Deal Week, focusing on mental health.