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Love is Online - Dr. Rizwana Nulwala home
Rizwana Nulwala

Dr. Rizwana Nulwala is a Mumbai-based practising psychotherapist who runs Krizalyz Counselling and Mental Health Services. She is trustee of Urja Trust. an NGO and faculty with Xavier’s Institute of Counselling Psychology, Mumbai. She has been a DAAD Exchange Scholar under the Indo-German Exchange Programme. Dr Rizwana Nulwala completed her BA from St. Xavier’s College and her Master’s and Doctorate from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai.

Love is blind and lovers are ostriches.

Yes, most people who are online looking for love see only what is disclosed by the lover. Thus I have often heard of clients being hurt by ill-meaning lovers. Some of the cases have been of fraud, duping off money leading to mental break down for clients.

Case 1 : Jagruti, a client, was 21 when she met the love of her life on a dating app. He was 25, a well-established musician and settled in the land of Indian cinema - Mumbai. He was excited about her work and encouraged her. He was her sounding board when she was unhappy about her home situation, where her parents were engaged in a severe conflict. They chatted for about a year. She was sure he was the one. He convinced her to come to Mumbai and helped her to settle in the city. She never saw the red flags in the relationship. He was extremely possessive and wanted her to work for someone he knew. He insisted that she go and take up the assignment. In the meantime she came to know he was in a relationship with 2 other women besides her. They knew him by another name. She realised he had aliases. When she confronted him he was unaffected and said that he did not want to continue but these women were not leaving him. He said he was trying to tell them that he had met her and said he would not leave her as he truly loved her. She was confused and heartbroken. She made an effort to leave but by now was in an abusive relationship with him. He would hit her if she tried moving out of his radar. Even when she was looking for homes he insisted that she share it with his office staff so he could help her. She had somehow convinced him that she was not able to move out of her current apartment. When she came for therapy she had panic attacks and would tremble even if he called her. In a session when she received his call she started trembling and said she had to take the call. Otherwise he would be really angry. She was scared and had told him that she was seeking help because she had anxiety so he was ok about her coming. In therapy she worked on her fear and made a decision to leave the relationship. She had to also take the help of the police to make this move as by now he was stalking her if she tried to block him.

Case 2 : Ipsita, a client aged 27, was polyamorous and in a dual relationship with two men, both of whom she had met online on a dating app. She came for therapy with one partner. She would often advise this partner to also look for another relationship. He was averse to the idea and could never make the leap of faith. Further, her reason to seek therapy was to prepare this partner for the break-up as she had grown tired of him and didn’t find he had future potential. He was devastated as he was attached and was wanting a serious commitment. She did break-up with him and he had been depressed since then. He was later referred for psychiatric support and required to be medicated.  

Case 3 : A client who, when she was bored found that the dating app helped her to do time-pass. She would chat with random guys. She also used it to find casual sex. It worked till she got really bored and would complain about finding good men organically. No relationship sustained for more than six months as she found some reason to break-up, or they stopped talking to her. Every time she met a guy she would hear wedding bells and since her “please others” driver was high, she would go out of her way and help these men and then feel upset when it was not reciprocated.

Case 4 : An extremely gifted man had downloaded the app as means of recreation and would chat with upto about 40 women. Due to his work profile he didn’t work for more than 3 hours a day and could afford the luxury of time. Each of the women thought he really liked her.  The chats would lead to nothing as he was highly introverted and would not want to meet them as he felt he would be rejected. He did not think he was good-looking.

Case 5 : A young man had a liver disease. He had difficulty finding partners till the dating app happened. He would routinely chat with women, establish a romantic relationship till they asked him to meet . He would then ghost out on them.

The last two were shared by clients who were friends with these men. 

In my 19 years of practice, clients routinely seek support for relationship related issues. They are either working with looking for a perfect partner, learning to live with current partner, wanting to leave a relationship or wanting support to manage more than one relationship.

Some work in therapy is helping clients recognise high risk partners. Some of the red flags that therapist can help process is recognising persons with personality disorders. In the above cases, one can clearly identify antisocial, histrionic, borderline, and avoidant personalities.

The second red flag to help clients with STD or HIV who do not reveal, and indulge in casual hook up, is to encourage them to use protection.

The third is to help recognise individuals with substance use disorders.  This is done through teaching clients about the disease of addiction and specifically sex addiction.

The fourth is to help clients recognise individuals who are already in a legal relationship like a marriage and are out looking for some fun.

The fifth is to understand and manage long distance relationships.

The sixth is to recognise those who have a fear of commitment and are comfortable till a certain point.   

The seventh is to recognise those who have a hamartic script and are the kind one would have been warned off against family and friends if one met them organically. 

The eight is recognising those who are part of cults and looking to enlist new recruits through the online dating app.

Many clients in my observation are on the dating app because in the child ego state there is a fantasy of finding true love and someone who will rescue them from their life drudgeries. Someone who will magically create a better life for them. Some clients keep functioning using this fantasy even when the facts point otherwise. The role of the therapist is to activate the adult, decontaminate the parent and de-confuse the child. This fantasy needs to be examined in therapy firstly by processing and facilitating client’s understanding of ideal and real self. The second step is to understand what are the values and principles clients hold dear and if these are present in the prospective partner. The third step is to assess areas that are acceptable in a partner like if s/he drinks or uses drugs. The fourth step is to examine what will be a deal breaker like a client may not be able to accept a partner who has difficulties with loyalty. The fifth is supporting the search for what the client means by love and last but the most important; helping to anchor the client within themselves and feeling whole and complete without holding onto the rescue fantasy.

I generally follow these steps though its not linear but maybe circular. Sometimes this process may take a few sessions. If clients are ready for further in-depth work then we may look at the games  that keep them engaged in unhealthy relationship and how their script is played out. Some clients are ready to look at how they co-create such emotionally abusive relationships though at times may not want to move out of this pattern.

Online dating is the future of relationships and instead of advocating it as evil, one can help clients who are lonely to use a healthier lens when seeking virtual companionship.

 
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arr Japan Nalla Japan
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arr Love is Online
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arr Relationship Transformation
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