Like most daters, Elyse Fox, 32, a model who lives in Brooklyn, is looking for a partner who is kind, attractive, smart and funny. She is hoping he likes to travel, is ready for commitment and communicates well. But she has one nonnegotiable: He must be working on his mental health, preferably in regular therapy.
She decided to make this rule a few weeks ago after going on a date with a guy who unloaded his problems onto her. “Over wine and this beautiful dinner he was pouring out all this trauma and childhood stuff that I never asked about,” Ms. Fox said.
As someone who goes to therapy, she felt like she proactively works on her issues. Why wouldn’t she want a partner with the same mind-set? “I love someone who can take care of himself,” she said.
Sometimes she comes across the information she is looking for naturally. While swiping on dating apps such as Raya and Hinge, she will find a profile that mentions therapy. “Even if I am not physically attracted to them, it nudges me in the direction to match with them,” she said.
Other times she has to do some digging. When she meets people, she finds a way to bring up the topic. “I kind of ask certain questions,” she said. “I say, ‘It seems like you have a really stressful job, how are you doing? What are you doing to feel supported mentally?’”
“Once I asked a guy, and he told me he had been in therapy for four years,” she added. “I was attracted to him immediately.”
Gen-Z and younger millennials are much more likely to seek mental health help than older generations, according to a 2018 survey by the American Psychological Association. The pandemic also brought mental health even more into the mainstream, making it something people make into priority and talk about openly.
Some of this is now trickling into dating. Many singles, rather than looking for someone of a certain height or a particular profession, are now saying they want someone who works on their mental health.
They are advertising their requirements on their dating profiles. In 2021 the mention of therapy in Tinder members’ bios increased 25 percent, according to the company. (“Emotionally stable” went up 12 percent and “emotionally mature,” 47 percent.) Hinge surveyed its users in November and found that 91 percent of them prefer to date someone in therapy.
Many of these daters have mastered smooth ways to probe into someone’s mental health regimen.
“I bring up my therapist in a conversation and see if they mention theirs,” said Theodora Blanchfield, 39, a writer and marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles.
“You used to hide that you were going to therapy when you met people, but now it’s the same thing as going to the gym,” she said. “There was a guy I went on a couple of dates with whose profile said, ‘I’m looking for a nice girl to bring home to my therapist,’ and I never swiped right on anything so quickly.’”
As someone who has battled depression and anxiety, she knows she needs a partner who takes mental health seriously. “It’s important to me that a person not stigmatize mental health conditions or who thinks going to therapy means you are crazy,” she said. “I also think or hope that a guy who has been in therapy would potentially have more empathy.” (She has been on dates in the past when she brought up vulnerable topics and the guy just ignored it or clammed up.)
She also believes that some lessons people may learn in therapy, such as how to communicate more effectively and set boundaries, will make any future relationship smoother. “It makes me hopeful for less potential conflict,” she said.
Monifa Brooks, 28, who works for a media agency in Manhattan, saw what therapy did for her after starting sessions during the pandemic. “I learned how to communicate my needs and not be scared,” she said. “I used to struggle with setting boundaries because I am a pleaser, especially when I was dating, and now I am better at it.”
She believes that finding a partner who is also in therapy will help her stay balanced. “If I am doing all this work on myself, and I am in a relationship with someone not doing that, eventually it is going to seep into me,’ she said.
Her strategy is to ask potential partners directly if they are seeing a mental health professional. “When we are chatting on the app, I will just ask it randomly,” she said. “I am trying to be really transparent about who I am and where my standards are.”
For Sarah Papadelias, 32, a lawyer in Tampa, Fla., the men she dates don’t have to be in therapy, per se. “I know some people don’t have access to it, or they don’t have health insurance to cover it,” she said. But they do have to be working on their mental health. “Are you journaling? Are you meditating?”
She sees this screening as essential. “We have long been focused on our physical safety. When I go on a date, I let my friends know where I am going. I share locations. I do due diligence,” she said. “But now I realize I have to be concerned about mental safety too. You want to make sure that person isn’t going to do anything abusive or traumatic to you.”
“I feel like having these dating green flags is an investment in our safety,” she added.
Some daters who have successfully found partners committed to mental wellness are now reaping the benefits.
Dillon Mulroy, 29, a software engineer in Raleigh, N.C., started seeing a therapist after a painful divorce. When he was ready to start dating again, he found that sharing his therapy journey made him more desirable, rather than less.
“It might be alarming to hear that someone has been divorced, but I could tell people that I know it was a big thing,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in therapy working on it, and now I am in a healthy space.”
He was also more attracted to women who shared their experience seeing a mental health professional. “I think generally people who go to therapy, especially on their own accord, have a level of self-awareness and maturity that I find attractive,” he said. As a software engineer, he even joked about creating an app where each person’s therapist could sign off on a match before they met in person. He now has a girlfriend, and he believes they are closer because they have both been in therapy.
“I feel like I am in a safer space to be vulnerable and talk about harder topics with someone who I know has looked at themselves and tried to better themselves too,” he said. “The fact that we both have been in therapy is everything.”