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An LGBTQ Therapist Reacts: Episode 1 Part 2

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

The Ultimatum: Queer Love

ICYMI, check out Episode 1, Part 1!

The Anxious/Avoidant Dance

Vanessa tells us she never envisioned a long-term relationship and states that she doesn’t want permanency or stability. She wants freedom, which she says is “not what marriage consists of.” Oof. If I were her therapist I’d be curious about where she learned that long-term relationships do not mean freedom. Already I am wondering if she observed relationships among the important adults in her life where one or both person’s personhood was constrained by the other, or by the shape of the relationship itself. Or, if she holds beliefs about emotions that fit within a dismissive-avoidant or disorganized attachment style and fears being consumed by the emotions of another person if she remains in close proximity to them. In a more practical sense, I’m curious why these conversations haven’t come up before in a five year relationship between Vanessa and Xander. What’s going on with their communication, and what other big conversations have they missed? And if Vanessa just wants freedom, why is she on a show about deciding whether or not to get married? How did the producers gather so many Virgos and people with disrupted attachment in one place? I have a lot of questions.

Vanessa also says everyone she meets falls in love with her. What a... normal and well-adjusted thing to say.

Next we’re introduced to Yoly and Mal. They have a very cute back story, I like them both already. Again the idea of being “chosen” comes up. It doesn’t surprise me that it is Yoly who is preoccupied with being chosen, and also Yoly who issued the ultimatum. Issuing an ultimatum is at its core an anxious behaviour: one that exists to put distance between ourselves and a feeling we imagine to be intolerable. In this case, it exists because Yoly can’t tolerate being in this relationship any longer without the certainty of marriage. I’m guessing she has a preoccupied-anxious attachment style that makes it feel very important to feel chosen by her partner. Mal explains her hesitancy about marriage, and it sounds like there are an infinite number of pragmatic barriers that she is throwing up that keep her from having to commit. I wonder if these barriers exist to protect her from the vulnerability of being truly seen by another person.

Passive Aggressive Apologies

Mal explains that she isn’t confident that Yoly is serious about her because Yoly has been enthusiastic about her past partners as well. Yoly says “Sorry you feel that way,” which is not my favourite phrase. It can be passive aggressive, but Yoly just sounds a little hurt. Yoly says she thinks they’ll choose each other and her body language says she wants confirmation from Mal, who gives a minimal nod, and looks away. Oh dear. I like these people and I want to get them into therapy and off this trainwreck of a social experiment. Nothing I know about relationships suggests to me that this will end well.

Joanna asks Mal what’s making her so emotional, and Mal says that ultimatums suck (true), but I’m guessing she doesn’t even know herself. Many people with avoidant attachment have a deep sense of fear of not being enough, that I’m guessing drives Mal’s need to have the practical stuff sorted out before she commits.

People with anxious and avoidant attachment styles are often drawn to each other, and when I work with them as an LGBTQ couples’ therapist, it often involves encouraging the anxious partner to lean back a bit and make peace with uncertainty, while encouraging the avoidant partner to lean in and experience less fear about being in contact with their partners’ emotions. I wonder if the structure of this show could serve to deepen anxious tendencies by allowing one partner to demand certainty, while deepening avoidant tendencies by introducing alternate partners who don’t come with the baggage and history and complexity of the long-term partner.

Compatibility: What Even Is That?

Joanna announces that each of the cast members is compatible with multiple other cast members. I wonder how the producers arrived at that. Did they do their natal charts in true queer second date fashion, or make them do personality tests? Compatibility is obviously a fascinating and much-researched topic, but one of the interesting things about it is that for all the research that’s been done into compatibility, social science hasn’t found much to say about it, at least not much that’s been backed by evidence. Most measures of compatibility have been shown to be not much more predictive of relationship success than astrology or random pairings. As far as social scientists can tell, a mutual desire to stay and make a relationship work despite knowing there will be difficulty, stress, and disappointment is pretty much the most predictive factor in how long a relationship will be sustained. Personality factors influence willingness to stay, but it’s not so much a matter of matching the right personality factors with other ones.

New Relationship Energy

Now that we’ve been introduced to the couples, the show transitions to what seems essentially like a week of speed-dating. A recurring pattern I notice throughout this show is that it does not exactly set the pre-existing couples up for success. Dating is naturally exciting, and it’s easy to confuse intensity for intimacy. The process of dating is all about showing curiosity about another person, and that feels flattering. Later on in relationships, we are more likely to become self-focused and have trouble seeing our partner’s perspective as our old wounds get triggered, so coming into contact with attractive strangers who want to learn all about us may seem much more appealing than an existing relationship with maladaptive patterns and baggage already developed. When we first meet someone new that we like, our boundaries are naturally a bit lower, allowing us to forge a connection with them. I’m concerned that while this is great for drama on the show, it doesn’t give the couples entering this “experience” (as the cast members appear to be coached to refer to it) a fair shot at discerning whether their relationship is sustainable.

Tiff, Mildred, and Relational Ambivalence

Mildred explains that she gave Tiff an ultimatum because Tiff “really likes what she does in bed.” Mildred says she brings a lot to the table besides sex. I feel relieved that she doesn’t feel valued just for sex, Tiff explains that they’ve broken up a lot of times. I’m curious if one partner has an attachment style that doesn’t allow them to get close or be vulnerable with another person; if one partner or both struggle to tolerate discomfort enough to “stay” in an argument (potentially because a trauma response tells them there’s danger where there may not be); or if one partner really legitimately sees untenable problems and wants to go, but struggles to leave in a permanent way. One recommendation I make to couples that I’m seeing for therapy is that while it’s always okay to decide you want to break up, that conversation should not be one that happens during a fight.

Tiff says that in her heart she knows that they both want to be together in the long term. And then she says she just needs to figure out how. What does that mean? I cannot fathom how three weeks of living with strangers will teach them relationship skills to make their relationship sustainable. Tiff says she feels like she just lost a part of herself, but then goes on to say that if she had to make the choice in this moment she would not marry Mildred. In about thirty seconds of airtime she has made so many conflicting statements; I wonder what it feels like to be Mildred in this relationship for a week. I also wonder about what kind of early life experiences Mildred must have had if this kind of inconsistency and unavailability feels like home to her. As an LGBTQ therapist, I don’t really believe we necessarily choose partners who remind us of our opposite-sex parent, but I do believe we tend to choose relationships that remind us of what our early home life felt like.

Stay tuned for Part 3!

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