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‘Everyone should get therapy after a bad relationship before considering another one. It’s selfish not to’

by Charlie Gowans-Eglinton |

Finding love is never easy – but as women say no to toxic dating behaviour, some believe there’s only one thing that matters when it comes to positive relationships…

Should you only date a man who’s had therapy? That’s the million-quid question trending on social media – and as a single woman navigating the heterosexual dating scene, I can tell you that it’s enough to make anyone want to lie down on the therapist’s couch. Breadcrumbing, ghosting, softbois… it might sound like a fairy story, but even the brothers Grimm couldn’t have dreamt up these horrors. It’s easy to feel hurt, gaslit or like Netflix’s favourite stalker, Joe Goldberg, when you realise you’ve been planning minibreaks based on someone’s heartfelt messages, while they’ve been copy-and-pasting them across four apps.

As a result, some women are narrowing the field beyond the basic parameters of age and location. ‘Is it OK for me to state that I will never again bind my life to someone who hasn’t been through therapy?’ asked one 30-something Briton of New York Magazine’s famous agony aunt Ask Polly in a recent column. The theory is that a man who has therapy is more emotionally open, more willing to communicate, and not so steeped in the culture of toxic masculinity that he sees therapy as weakness.

‘Everyone should get therapy after a bad relationship before considering another one,’ says a friend in her mid-thirties. ‘It’s selfish not to.’ It’s a realisation that she came to after dating a man who hadn’t recovered from a very volatile relationship in his past, and blamed women in general for it. In the end, he agreed with her that he needed help – though not before she ended things. ‘He used me as a therapist. Men need to stop using their girlfriends and hire a professional.’

Or as a woman on Twitter (@KittyDeww) put it, amid talk over a certain celebrity’s appeal, ‘Why don’t I see people taking the angle of PETE DAVIDSON HAS GONE TO THERAPY!! Men who have been to therapy are hotter than men who haven’t?? Duh?’ SNL comedian Davidson is one of the most desirable men in celebritydom, if his exes are anything to go by. OK, he’s famous and funny. But could his appeal have something to do with his time on the therapist’s couch too?

‘I do think that men tend not to have the kinds of friendships that allow them to be safely emotionally vulnerable, in a way that some women seem to have,’ says Lucy Clyde, an accredited psychotherapist and counsellor and co-host of the podcast How To Cope. ‘What that can then mean is that men bring all their emotional needs to their partners, which is too much for one person to hold, resulting in mutual frustration.’ And, in short, resulting in all of the burden of emotional labour being put on the woman in a relationship.

But is it justified to expect men to seek therapy? I haven’t had any myself – and, as a Millennial woman, my expectations of dating haven’t always been healthy. Having grown up watching Carrie dumped via Post-it note in Sex And The City, and taken my dating advice from teen magazines obsessed with ‘catching’ men, I’ve had to unpick my own self-destructive behaviour over the years. But unpick it I did (though over a glass of wine, not in a therapist’s office), and I was usually only hurting myself.

Still, the anonymity of app dating has made a lot of behaviour worse. Now you don’t need a trench coat to flash someone, only a camera phone: in the early days of Tinder, one friend received a dick pic as a ‘send to all matches’ round robin. Perhaps therapy might help that man to work through what prompted him to send it, or stop another man from ghosting a different woman every week.

Some of my female friends, however, speak to therapists about dating, relying on making better decisions themselves to help them build healthy relationships, as opposed to filtering their dates by hours of therapy clocked. ‘I’d caveat “see a therapist” with “see a good therapist”,’ says one friend, who has tried five over a 15-year period, and been given some bad advice by one.

And on the topic of bad advice: one man I know sought counselling early on in his marriage; when his wife ended things, he went back. Very newly single, with divorce and custody plans not yet settled, his new therapist recommended that he start dating again. Yes, he’d tick the therapy box, and perhaps that advice might have worked for him – but I imagine it might have felt overwhelming to be the woman sitting opposite him on that first date.

Also, it’s telling that that Ask Polly letter writer sought her advice across the pond, as therapy is still more stigmatised in the UK. In addition, wealth, class and generation are all factors in who takes up therapy, and it’s not easily accessible for everyone, even if they can even be convinced to try it. The charity Mind commissioned two mental health studies 10 years apart: in 2019, men were nearly three times more likely to consult a therapist when ‘worried or low’ than they were in 2009: but that’s only a rise from 6% to 22% in a decade. According to a study published by the relationship support charity Relate in October, 10% of men polled would consider counselling if they were having ‘relationship issues’. Which is progress, but – just one in 10! I know that app swiping can feel endless, but is ruling out 90% of men the solution?

I understand the knee-jerk reaction to a dating culture that is cut-throat and often cruel. I understand questioning how to go on dating when you are so disillusioned – that’s something I’ve felt myself. It would be brilliant if people talked as openly about mental health as they do about veganism on dating apps. But I don’t think emotional intelligence can be gauged by a tick box on a dating profile any better than compatibility can be gauged by selfies. Still... perhaps Bumble and Tinder should allow you to add an ‘In therapy’ badge to your profile.

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Brothers in Arms