Why you should care
Because paying bad therapists is like making the same mistake twice.
The author is a comedy writer living in Philadelphia.
In a shameful fit of desperation, I turned to Google. Against my better judgment I typed in: “How to get my boyfriend back.”
140,000,000 results in 1.01 seconds. Like most Americans, I went with the third one down.
After reading through some weirdly misogynistic tripe about how men are visual creatures and women need to use reverse psychology on them to reveal their baser urges, I ignored the warning signs and signed up for daily emails from an online “adviser” named Chris S. I received my first email that evening.
“I feel kinda sorry for you …”
He was feeling sorry for me because I had just been booted by my moody, yet passionate, musician boyfriend. A boyfriend who professed to love me like he could love no other woman, but was a habitual gaslighter. For the uninitiated, “gaslighting” gets its name from the 1944 movie Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman, in which Bergman’s husband attempts to emotionally destabilize her by slightly altering her surroundings and calling her crazy. Victims soon begin to question their own reality.
So, did I really embarrass him when I refused to play along with the lies he told friends about me, or was I just being too sensitive? Do I really suck at doing dishes (for which he continually berated me) or did he break dishes after I left the room? (Hint: He was breaking the dishes. On purpose.)
One week before Christmas, he sent me a break-up email, saying he needed me to leave, immediately. Stunned, I asked him if we could talk. Exasperated, he exclaimed he was tired of talking and wanted me gone.
He closed his laptop from the other end of the couch we were both sitting on at the time, and that was it.
And so it was that I had resorted to daily emails from my online adviser, who promised he could reunite me with the love of my life, regardless of circumstance. Had my boyfriend cheated on me? Had I cheated on him? Did we both fall into a vat of radioactive sludge but only one of us emerged a superhero? No obstacle seemed too great for Chris’ Boyfriend Recovery service to overcome.
Step one: Chris asked that I take a relationship assessment to determine my chances of getting my boyfriend back. Apparently, I had a 41% chance of living happily ever after with the man who once referred to me as “a feminist whiner” after I objected to his repeatedly calling female drivers “whores” for driving too slowly as he darted in and out of lanes of traffic.
At first I tasted success. My ex contacted me pretty regularly to remind me of how terrible a person I was.
And did I mention that I kept my internet relationship adviser a secret from my main therapist, not wanting to admit that what I really wanted was for said adviser to give me a shortcut to happiness? So while going to therapy once a week, I also tried to follow Chris’ steps to the letter. Steps that involved a “no contact” rule, which was supposed to build upon my ex’s desires to reacquire what he could no longer have. At first I tasted success. My ex contacted me pretty regularly to remind me of how terrible a person I was.
Meanwhile I was treated to daily emails from Chris reinforcing tired gender rules about what makes a woman desirable. He insisted I trust him because he was, after all, a man, and men know what works best on other men. By way of illustration, he used the examples of “Sarah” and “Kai.”
Sarah did everything wrong with men. She communicated organically with them, when the mood struck her and not in a deceptively laid-back-yet-calculated fashion. Sarah wore her heart on her sleeve and dared to navigate relationships under the foolish assumption that men and women were equal and deserving of honesty, not head games. Kai did none of these things. Kai was a master at finagling any situation or person to meet her needs. Sarah, according to the guru, was destined for a life filled with cats and loneliness. I didn’t want to be a Sarah, did I?
You see, Chris was coaching me to be a gaslighter myself. To be a Kai when I’ve always been proud to be a Sarah. Chris continued to email me every night: Did you ladies know you’ve been texting wrong your entire life? No? Well, I kinda feel sorry for you. Must be why you’re going to die alone.
After days of email foreplay, Chris made his move and suggested I sign up for his pro course for the low, low price of $47. (Guess Chris had been teaching me how to gaslight my gaslighter at the pro bono level.) Forget my 41% chances of finding relationship bliss! That path would unlock just 25% of my gaslighting potential, whereas the pro level would show me how to tap into the extra 75% and surely make my ex come crawling back to me.
I hit reply and penned the following:
I regret to inform you that I will no longer be in need of your services. While the time we shared together will always be special to me, I’ve clearly moved on. I suggest you do the same. I just want you to know that I am aware that you’ve been gaslighting me. And it is not OK.
Me, the Destroyer of Bullshit
Satisfied with my email, I hit send and typed out an almost identical message to my ex. And today? I’m using the internet for what it was intended for: making hasty purchases and arguing with strangers on social media. Perfect.