Here's the Thing: She's Not Your Therapist

A BIG CUTIE:

I am a 19 year old completely new to the dating scene and in desperate need of some advice. I have recently started seeing this girl and we have been on four dates in about two weeks. We get along really well and I laugh harder with her than I have ever laughed with anybody. She also creates a genuine and open space for me to talk about my past and the trauma that has created the person I am today. That person being a generally unfeeling and commitment-phobic asshole.

This is truly the first person I have ever felt that I might be in love with but I am scared that I am conflating romantic feelings with just a love of being heard. In addition to this, the precious stories I’ve shared makes me feel incredibly naked and vulnerable and it takes everything in me to not run for the hills so I don’t have to feel this discomfort anymore. Am I actually in love or just vulnerable and looking for comfort?

SOPHIA:

I had a friend in college who wouldn’t date people because he was a psych major and had taken a couple intro to psych classes, wherein he concluded that love was a simple chemical occurrence that could potentially be replicated (albeit poorly, by his own admission) via drugs/chemicals/etc. This told him that love was fake. The rest of us, many of whom had also taken psych classes— it is college after all— thought he was being a dipshit because we all understood that there are a lot of things that love is and is not, some of which are agonizing and some of which are euphoric. Some which make themselves known immediately, others which take years to reveal themselves.

I tell you this story of my dipshit friend (god bless him) to illustrate that if you spend too long questioning what is and is not love rather than being generous with your actions of love, you’re going to mindfuck yourself into not believing anything can be love because you’ve put the definition on too high of a shelf.

THAT ALL SAID, it’s been two weeks, so what you feel is likely attraction and the hornies mixed with the delight of a very close more-than-friendship. You like-like someone. Yay!!! That’s the best shit on earth. For my money, nothing before or after the initial like-like period is as thrilling (of course, there are benefits to being with someone for years and years; they just don’t make you a moony weirdo like the like-like period). Love is built much slower than that. It’s like getting the first hair on your chin and calling it a beard; let it grow and then we’ll talk.

Now to the real meat of this. You HAVE to talk to someone else in addition to this woman if you do ever want to have some good, steamy love. It’s the law. (No it’s not). There is virtually no way you two have a healthy, horny relationship where your only source of emotional support is her. That is also wildly unfair to her and the relationship. It’s like moving in with a roommate and they tell you that you’re both paying equal rent but that you are responsible for all the chores and you get the smaller room.

I commend you immensely for even positing the question—in fact, it makes me suspect if you were ever quite the asshole you proclaim; men create this pattern A LOT, especially in early dating because y’all don’t cultivate healthy emotional outlets. Seriously, the number of straight guys who didn’t talk about their parents’ divorce until they dumped it on their first two girlfriends IS ASTRONOMICAL. You cannot fathom how many of my female friends who date men are relieved when they start dating men in their thirties because so many more of them (like 12% rather than 7%) have already gone to some therapy or— more commonly— dated a bunch of women before and given all of those women their emotional trauma.

The short term, necessary solution to this is GO TO THERAPY (if at all possible). You have, by your own admission trauma. You go to a doctor when you sprain your ankle; go to a therapist when you get trauma. The longer term solution to this is to build a network of friends and family members that you practice the excruciating, mature art of being vulnerable with. Will every friendship be about listening to feelings? No, you’ll still have friends named Travis and Aiden who aren’t ready for that. (Ever). But you have to have your own emotional network before you give someone good love; you HAVE TO.

So, do I think you’re capable of love? Yes. Do I think it could be with this person? Yes. Do I think your vulnerability will necessarily be part of any love that you share with someone? Also yes. But you’re right to be cautious that simply spilling out your secrets to someone—especially in the classic heterosexual flow pattern of emotional burdens from man put on woman— is not in and of itself love, but rather relying on someone to be your therapist, which, in case you are curious, is decidedly NOT horny (for either of you).

One last thing: make sure you're also asking her questions about her past/trauma/emotional well-being and getting to know her. When she talks, don’t just wait your turn to talk back, listen. Wait an extra second or two after she stops talking; she might have more to say.