Ashley Kelsch: Are Therapists the New Relationship Gatekeepers?
Austin’s dating and relationship coach talks about owning our feelings, even if it means letting someone down the hard way
By Ashley Kelsch
Photographs by Warren Chang
I was gossiping with one of my gal pals the other day, chatting about the weekend and trading dating stories, when she told me that the guy she was hanging out with said to her, “I’m so into you, but my therapist says I can’t date anyone seriously right now.” I think they had just met.
I started laughing. I thought, is that the guy’s way of trying to hook up with her but also manage her expectations? I spent the better part of the day thinking about how we involve our therapists in our dating conversations.
Years ago, I once started a therapy session by asking, “Tell me if this will work,” and gave an hour-long synopsis of a romantic relationship I was involved in. I didn’t leave my therapist with much time to analyze me, but I’ll never forget what he said about the relationship: “This is never going to work.”
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I’m not sure what it was about that moment — maybe his directness. My therapists in the past had let me sit and stir for years, spinning my stories, listening. Never had they ever given me such a direct answer.
I felt vindicated. I’ve been working with him ever since. And while my dating life always makes an appearance in our conversations, I do try and minimize it. I’ve worked hard over the years to not let our talks revolve around a man and my dating life, but to this day, I’m still not above asking him for relationship advice. After years, I’ve learned that I already know the answers. And my therapist and I both know it doesn’t matter what he says, I’m most likely going to pursue it anyway.
I know I’m not the only one who can hear their therapist or coach sounding off during a date, counseling in the back of your head: “Based on your childhood, would you say this is a recurring pattern of yours, Ashley?”
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Nonetheless, I do find it interesting that “my therapist thinks” is becoming a common relationship ‘out.’ It’s certainly more gentle than saying, “I’m not into you.”
Now you hear, “It’s not you, it’s my therapist.”
Rather than owning and taking responsibility for our decisions, we often use our therapist as a guard. I mean, who can argue with it? It is your well-being we’re talking about and a paid expert says so.
Sometimes, when therapy comes up on dates, which is 99.9 percent of the time now, I ask for their therapist’s name to see if we share the same one. I think I’m secretly holding out for this. Not only as a sign of good taste, but relief that it might accelerate or fast track the dating process. That way I can ask my therapist, “Based on everything you know about us, will this relationship work? Or will it just equal more therapy?”
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But why does your therapist’s opinion have to be your reason for not pursuing a serious relationship? I mean, technically, if we break this down, a professional is making a statement about you based on what you are telling them. It’s still coming from you. Your words. Your story.
You don’t want a relationship right now.
You only want to hook up.
You just want to have fun and not get into anything serious.
All valid. Acceptable. And about you.
Yet, we don’t want to be the reason. Is this to avoid disappointing other people? If our date thinks we aren’t interested in a serious relationship, we’re at fault for hurting their feelings and we don’t want to feel bad. If we can abdicate the responsibility to our therapists, we don’t have to sit with the uncomfortable feelings.
Mind you, we have no idea how the other person is going to feel and it’s not our job to prevent them from feeling their truth.
What if it’s your truth and it has nothing to do with the other person?
It’s not my therapist. It’s me.
Ashley Kelsch is Austin’s top certified, professional dating and relationship coach and former owner of Teddies for Betty’s, the lingerie boutique on 2nd Street that she ran for a decade. She offers one-on-one life-coaching programs to help clients acknowledge and understand limiting beliefs, to set boundaries and to learn how to change mindsets so they can get what they want in their romantic lives and feel empowered. Ashley helps men and women of all ages, single and married. She has a weekly podcast called Modern Renegades, and you can follow her on Instagram @AshleyMKelsch. Read more of her Tribeza columns here.