Hi Sara: I am 57, female, in private practice as a therapist. I am having trouble moving from the 2-D world of internet dating to actual dating. Or maybe I am doing OK. I don’t know. I’ve have had about one date a month from internet dating the last four months and realize I am rusty.
I don’t drink, for many reasons. I do believe in God but am open to dating people of varying faiths, and I realize my anxiety is causing me to overshare. Sometimes when I share that I am a therapist men get wigged out too—as if I am telling them they need therapy. I feel like telling men I am a cheerleader, as that primarily describes my job. People tell me I am smart, beautiful and sweet. Recently I got asked out, and I gave my business card as my phone number. No phone call to make plans to go dancing as we discussed in person. Not sure how to be myself and be a little different and still date. — R
Dear R: I can see how being a therapist might present an initial challenge when dating. As someone who is not a therapist, I imagine it could be intimidating—I guess because people worry that a therapist will see through the bluster and peacocking that people tend to do on early dates.
So my first suggestion would be to recognize the great things a therapist can bring to a dating situation. First of all, you can listen, which is probably the most essential skill for anyone on a date. As Paul Ford writes in this lovely essay, most people love talking about themselves. Being a good listener will automatically make you a fascinating conversationalist in many people’s eyes—even if you never say a word!
You mentioned that being a therapist is like being a cheerleader. I think that also applies to being a good date. Dating is nerve-wracking for everyone because it involves so much rejection. If you can offer kindness and encouragement during that coffee meet-up, you’ll be a refreshing change from those who treat their dates like job-interview candidates, always searching for a reason to say no. Obviously, that doesn’t mean you have to marry the person—or even go on a second date. But I think that you can always find a good way to put those cheerleading skills to use—to recognize that this is a fellow human being who is on the same journey as you are, even if your paths only intersect for a latte or two.
That said, I have heard from other caregivers that dating can be tricky. It can be easy to slip into “doctor” mode and start viewing a date as a patient, so obviously you want to avoid “treating” your dates—if for no other reason than your own sanity. You might consider looking into professional organizations that provide a platform for therapists or other caregiving professionals to discuss this challenge among themselves.
Regarding your feeling that you overshare: That’s my default mode too, so here’s my conclusion about that: You’re not obligated to tell people anything on a date until you’re ready. This isn’t hiding or keeping a secret—it’s just being private. And I think it’s fine to keep things private until the person you’re seeing proves they can be trusted with that information (and if they never reach that point, well there’s your answer…).
You mentioned a few other things in your letter—your faith, your sobriety. I’m not sure what your concerns around those issues are, and I’m not sure I understand why you think you should “be a little different” from who you are. You are a sober therapist who believes in God. The person you’re involved with needs to be cool with that. The other people don’t matter.