Has the Internet’s Fixation on Relationship Psychology Actually Made Us Any Better At Dating?


If you enjoy watching couples like Annie and Mau on Showtime’s Couple Therapy, which concluded its third season last week, you can not only watch the show, you can join the chorus of viewers on Reddit who have diagnosed Mau with narcissistic personality disorder. If that’s not enough, you can go to YouTube to watch an actual professional, Dr. Kirk Honda, analyze the show’s therapeutic approach and offer theories on Annie and Mau’s relationship—below the video you can also comment on how Mau’s funneling of all emotional needs into sex is similar to some of your own ex-partners.

Couple Therapy is just one piece of popular media that lets us peer into the romantic relationships of others and, either jokingly or seriously, appoint ourselves as experts. There are books like Attachedpodcasts like Esther Perel’s Where Should We Beginand the many reality TV shows centered on dating and relationships, like love is blind and The Ultimatumto feed the need for relationships to observe and the terminology to analyze them.

The popularity of Couple Therapy‘s resident psychologist Orna Guralnik or concepts like attachment theory seem to have given us more tools than ever to deal with the complicated ins-and-outs of dating and romantic partnerships. But have they made us any better at those things, or just reduced complex theories into internet catchphrases?

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“I’m a big proponent of getting psychoeducation out there,” says Rachel Wright, MA, LMFT. “But I think that where it can turn—and I’ve seen this happen a lot recently—is concepts take off with a life of their own. And something that is an entire semester of a class becomes a one-minute TikTok video. After that can be helpful in some ways, and also really dangerous in other ways.”

On the one hand, the mainstreaming of terms like “gaslighting” can, for example, give internet users the ability to recognize and leave abusive relationships. But it can also flatten complex theories into self-diagnosed labels that fit our narrative. (Take the TikTok users pathologizing the hurtful but ultimately mundane behavior of “West Elm Caleb” earlier this year)

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