A joke I heard recently went something like this: Did you ever notice it’s only married men who have porn addictions?
In case I’ve completely botched the punchline, here’s what the comedian was getting at: If you don’t have a partner to call you out on your porn habit, is it really problematic?
A single, twenty-something client of mine shared that she has an older, married boyfriend — as do many of her single, twenty-something girlfriends. And this begs the question: If everyone in your cohort is doing it, is it still wrong?
A simple Internet search will bombard you with blogposts about whatever may be tugging at the edges of your ethical or moral comfort zone. So, if you’ve found a blog (or ten) about whatever you’re doing (or what’s being done to you), does that bring you comfort? Absolution? A perhaps skewed sense of normalcy?
Years ago, I relied on therapy when my marriage was going south. I leaned heavily on my therapist for advice and counsel — partly because I wasn’t comfortable sharing with friends and family some of the more personal details of my crumbling marriage.
But something has shifted in our collective comfort level with sharing.
The more bloggers write about their most intense orgasms, the ten life lessons they learned during their affairs, and the best thing to come of their sexless marriages, the more freely the rest of us seem to have gotten in sharing our own more intimate laundry.
It feels unnecessary to wait for your therapy hour to start divulging when it’s open season for true confessions. Your deepest and darkest aren’t any more shocking than what most folks saw pop up in their News Feeds ten times in the last week. But if every behavior, thought, and experience is blessed by the online gods, how do we weed out what’s truly helpful? Can we?
Used to be Jerry Springer’s guests were the outliers. We were uncomfortably titillated by the personal details they were willing to share with the world. Now, not so much. The unattractive and unspoken rule of blogging has become this: If you want to make a splash in the online world, you have to be willing to bare all the improprieties and unfairnesses you’ve either had thrust upon you (and how you learned to cope) or those you’ve thrust upon others (and how you came to repent).
And that’s why the bar of what we’re exposed to — and what shocks us — keeps getting higher (or lower) as the case may be.
And so the trickle down begins. The more we see something, the more inured we become. Like my client and her friends who are dating married men, it becomes normalized. Her willingness to participate in the behavior affirms the okay-ness of it for the rest of the group — and vice-versa. To her credit, my client was torn up enough about it that she found herself a therapist.
Think about the last time you confided in a friend about your relationship. Raise your hand if you gave her every last detail about how your partner sucks, but left out the part about how you do, too. My hand is raised. I’ve done it. But not in therapy. Never in therapy.
Even a close, empathic friend isn’t a therapist. Not even close. Those who love you may mean well but not know what to do with your woes. The saddest story I heard recently was about teenage girl who confessed to her parents that her brother had been molesting her. Her parents promptly dismissed her concerns and the girl promptly committed suicide.
As an online blogger and clinician, I can tell you this: Nothing you read that resonates with you will ever replace the value of your own therapy. Don’t confuse something that reminds you of your own experience with something that will heal you. You may see your history in someone else’s story, but it will never be your own. Bloggers can’t absolve you of your sins, cure your wounds, or soothe your psyche. It’s up to you to do that. Writers may seek and find healing in their craft but that’s their catharsis, not yours.
One of the best things about therapy is that it’s confidential. You can have at it and not worry about betrayal or judgement or misguided advice. If something is weighing on you, seek out the relief of professional help — not the burden of someone’s personal opinion. You don’t need others to bless your problem with seriousness or severity. Trust yourself to know when things feel too big to manage on your own. Yes, go online. But put your Googling skills to good use by searching for a seasoned therapist instead.