This past March, I was nestled amongst other college students in the local campus café, happily sipping on overpriced, underwhelming lattes. My friend – let's call him Dave – was mid-monologue about his latest lady love. The pale cream tiles of Tatte Bakery in Cambridge reflected off of his pale, seasonally depressed skin, but all that was overshadowed by the frantic happiness emanating from him, his eyes sparkling like a deer caught in the headlights of romance. “God, I just can’t wait for you to meet her.” I smiled, a big fan of love stories myself. But as he went on, a feeling of dread started to overtake me. I started to become… how do you say it… concerned 🧍♀️.
A little context: Dave's romantic relationships are not your usual 'meet-cute-and-fall-in-love' stories. Dave's love stories were more along the lines of 'let's-compare-our-traumas-and-then-call-it-love .' Yes, folks, Dave was, once again, trauma bonding.
If you met Dave, you would think he’s amazing. Towering, MIT educated, leanly muscled man from Seattle. Dresses preppy in collared shirts with sweaters layered over and forgoes puffers for wool coats except for when it's below freezing come winter. Vacuums twice a week and has diffusers in his room (I’ve seen it, it's like pine and vetiver or something). A total stand up guy, the type to drive 20 minutes over to shovel your parents’ driveway when work pulls you away on holiday because their backs have started to give out. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with him, in fact everything is right. But before you track Dave down, fall for his charms, and point at me like “Ine, can you stop hating and let the poor dude fall in love?” Let me round up this man’s greatest hits over the years I’ve checked up on his love life:
#1: (matcha latte on mulberry) It feels so good to be with someone who doesn’t think I’m overthinking. Our anxiety is just so in sync. Our first date, we walked the cobblestone streets at 3 AM, referencing dumb ways to die and pointing out every potential hazard and plotting out disaster scenarios. And we even have the same meds!!! (pulls out his lexapro and grins)
#2: (pinkberry in the bay) "God, Jenna is so refreshing. I’ve been having stress dreams this entire semester about how I don’t know what I want to do after college so I should just be a consultant. And we cried together about that too! I feel like no one on this campus talks about that, really…And then after that we kissed. I think she really gets me (chews mochi thoughtfully)”
#3: (blasted last hurrah in cabo) "Sophie? It’s because we’re from the same sort of fucked up family. (sloshes piña colada a bit) her parents are divorced, MY parents are divorced, so we’re basically the same (sighs down at his drink). But yeah, we talked a lot about that the first time, how our moms’ super guilt trip, and I just don’t know many people like that… and it just makes me think she’s more than just a pretty face, you know?...”
Today, Dave adds onto the list with #4: "Laura's father ALSO walked out on her when she was a kid. We used to stay up late talking about how it affected us. Ine, you wouldn’t understand… it’s just so nice to have someone who understands. Our first date was at this bar, divulging our abandonment stories over cocktails and stale pretzels. Laura, she has the whole 'daddy issues' thing just like me. Our dates are like therapy sessions but without the hefty bills. It’s super convenient…” He looks down at the table and chuckles, stirs his chai tea, taking out his phone
He says this and something snaps in me. I get a flashback to how once, on a picnic, my date missed his therapy session. We were talking about how he felt like he wanted to give his children love he never had as a kid, and with tears in his eyes, he turned and smiled to me, patting me on the head, "It's okay, I have my therapist right here." And then proceeded to kiss me on the forehead (😭 😭 😭 ; 🕳️ 🧎🔫). Trauma bonding. As Dave waxes poetic about his newfound 'soulmate,' I realize something: Dave was, for the millionth time, trauma bonding. Dave doesn’t need another girlfriend. He needs a therapist.
I slap the table. Dave jumps. I turn to Dave.
“Huh?” (he looks up, from Laura’s instagram)
“I think you need a therapist”
He takes a sip from his latte and it makes a little mustache on his lip. He quickly wipes it away. “Haha, Ine, what.”
Yes, Dave, I see that look of horror. No, I'm not calling you 'crazy.' Relax, I am not about to whip out a couch for you to lie on, nor do I want you to start talking about your childhood (we've been down that road, remember?).
Here's the deal – a therapist is trained to handle your dirty laundry. They're like the professional stain removers of the mind. Spilled some trauma here, a little anxiety there? No worries. A therapist has got the right tools to scrub away, or at least, help you clean it up yourself.
Meanwhile, expecting your girlfriend to double as your mental cleanup crew isn't fair. It’s like here’s this bomb, please diffuse, I’ll give you this manual, but it's in Sanskrit. Sure, she might have faced a similar bomb in her life, but that doesn't automatically make her a bomb squad expert.
A therapist's office is like a controlled detonation site for emotional explosives. It’s safe, secure, and doesn't involve innocent bystanders, like your unsuspecting girlfriend. Patricia has got you. Patricia will take care of you. Patricia is your safe space. She has a comfier couch, her space is probably cleaner (and bigger), Patricia has a wood sage and sea salt candle and prevention strategies for anxiety and will always start and end on time. She will suggest healthy coping mechanisms and ways to live life stronger.
And no, Dave, your girlfriend telling you to 'breathe and count to ten' when you're anxious isn't quite the same as a therapist's cognitive behavioral strategies. That’s like comparing a band-aid to open-heart surgery.
So, to all you Daves out there, fishing for trauma bonds instead of seeking therapy, hear me out: you don't need another girlfriend, dude. You need a therapist. And no, that's not an insult. It's a sign of strength. A sign that you're ready to face your demons, instead of making them a group chat topic.
So next time, before you ask her about her childhood traumas on the first date, maybe ask yourself: do I want a girlfriend, or do I need a therapist? 🤨😭 Trust me, your love life (and your mental health) will thank you.
P.S. p sure Dave is in therapy now. yayy #notanad. #solhealth.