As a psychotherapist, one of my absolute, favorite moves of all time is when I meet a new client who sheepishly admits that they want a romantic relationship in spite of believing that they shouldn’t:
“So you’re a “Turtle Dove.”
With this statement, my hope is that I begin to unravel the years of twisted thinking they’ve been exposed to suggesting that they “need to learn how to be ok with being alone.” Why should they be alone? Because they REALLY don’t want to be alone? Because they are uncomfortable and sad being alone? Because they desire a significant other more than anything else in their lives? So there must be something wrong with them. They must be deficient in some way. They must have a “love addiction” or low self-esteem. Wow. Are we really that sadistic??? Never mind the fact that if the same client said they absolutely DIDN’T want a relationship, that would be considered a whole other problem. Our industry is so messed up sometimes, I swear.
To me, these clients are like fish who heard they were supposed to know how to fly. Some were actually diagnosed with “love addiction” while others worry after a well-meaning friend or family member accused them of “jumping from relationship to relationship,” or they read an “empowering” article leading them to conclude that something is wrong with them. Virtually all feel deficient at their core because what they want more than anything in the world is to be in a satisfying and attached romantic relationship….like that is somehow super messed-up.
So what is a “Turtle Dove?” The gist of it is this: Much like the actual bird, a “Turtle Dove” person is biologically programmed to pair up with a partner. One romantic partner. It is their nature. It’s probably coded somewhere in their DNA. To tell a “Turtle Dove” to stop wanting to pair up is like telling a crocodile to “go vegan.” Not possible…and cruel to expect. We all have a certain “nature.” Yes, we overcome it at times, but more often than not, our nature wins out in the end. If you look back at your drives and temperament in childhood you probably see what I mean. “Turtle Doves” are happiest and are at their best when they are in a monogamous romantic relationship.
Now don’t get me wrong—I do believe there are situations in which people could use some help with their relationship history patterns. I have even prescribed periods of “singlehood” for clients, but I never recommend that lightly. I think of it like a cleanse or a fast with a definite beginning, a definite end, and no waiting around for them to be “happy” with the feeling. I know that eventually, a “Turtle Dove” will need to pursue a partner. Humans were wired to connect through relationships and a “Turtle Dove’s” strongest connection happens to be through romantic attachment. It is what it is.
As clinicians, we should instead be concerned if a “Turtle Dove” loses the desire to find a partner, THAT’S when you know something is definitely wrong.
Some “Turtle Doves” never discover their nature simply because they find a mate so fast they never have to experience the pain of being unattached. They were fortunate enough to end up with a partner they could snuggle up with and peer down at the lonely singles from their solid tree branch. This leads me to another of my favorite therapeutic interventions: I point out that often, the “well meaning” souls who suggested that my client remain single in the first place are people who happen to be in committed, long-term relationships. It’s kind of like being filthy rich and lecturing a homeless person on how money can’t buy happiness. Easy for them to say.
If you are at all confused about the point, let me be clear: There is absolutely nothing wrong with a person just because they want to be in a romantic relationship more than anything else in the world. Stop telling friends, family members, and therapy clients that they “need to be ok” by themselves. It may not be their nature. Maybe instead, help them spiff up their online dating profile, find speed dating events, or help get them out of the house so they are more likely to find a match.
I can promise you, there are few things more satisfying than seeing a sad and lonely “Turtle Dove” finally find true love 🥰
—Stephanie Vaughn, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist-HSP, owner of PSYCHē