It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and if you’ve been ghosted, maybe you’re mourning the loss of that relationship. If you’ve never heard the term “ghosted,” you’re probably over 40. Millennial love expert Samantha Burns is all too familiar with ghosting, which rose out of online dating — “It’s when you go poof and literally disappear out of someone’s life without a word or explanation,” explains Burns, a licensed mental health therapist who specializes in relationship issues.
Being dumped in the digital age by someone hiding behind a screen or delivering bad news through text messages can be devastating. Beyond that, there are many other nuances of modern love that can be difficult to navigate. This is why Burns, 32, decided to open a Back Bay and Harvard Square counseling practice devoted to Generation Y’s unique set of dating dilemmas: When does texting become a power play? What does your operating system — Android vs. iPhone — say about your dating life? Why can using Tinder become addicting? What do you do if your boyfriend is sexting with an old girlfriend?
Burns calls herself a “love coach” because unlike the role of a traditional therapist, Burns shares with clients her own life story and acquired wisdom. She also offers quick potential solutions like how to “get over your ex in 14 days.” Burns bases her advice on the science of love, running webinars with match.com, lecturing at Boston-area colleges about the neuroscience of break-ups, and gathering data about millennial couples for mortgage companies. “I myself am a millennial, and millennials want to go to someone like me about their angst,” she says. “I understand their perspective. They don’t want to go see someone their parents’ age who doesn’t know what’s going on in today’s dating world.”
The Globe spoke with Burns — who met her husband on a dating website — about being a behavioral health practitioner who specializes in Tinder etiquette and the “swipe right” era.
“My tagline is ‘the millennial love expert’ because I realized there was a significant lack of credible, educated, authoritative experts in this industry from my generation. I stepped into this role because what I was able to do as a clinical therapist was limited. My clients wanted to know how to put together an online profile or what to say when texting between the first and second date. That doesn’t fall under traditional mental health coverage, and HIPAA and compliance law restricted my communications — e-mailing, phone calls, FaceTime — all the instant communication that millennials want. I decided to do private pay and brand myself as a love coach. It feels more progressive.
“Clients gravitate towards me because I’ve personally experienced many of their romantic issues. I get how dating works today, with the new norms, behaviors, and strategies that come with online dating. Even though we have access to more daters and potential relationships than ever before, many of us feel detached and alone. We send silly emojis and GIFs, yet lack eye contact and vulnerable, intimate conversations in real life. Millennials have been called privileged, self-absorbed, social-media obsessed — but we are facing real stresses as emerging adults.
“Certainly there is decreased stigma around mental health issues compared to previous generations, and a new way of searching for help. As I built my brand, I had to decide how much I wanted to share my inner world and vulnerabilities online. As a content creator, I quickly realized that my followers (9,000 on Instagram) wanted to know about my own heartache, view photos and videos of me, and hear my stories. I have a book coming out in May that describes my zombie mode after a break-up and feeling unlovable.
“I met my husband online and still wear my wedding dress. On our third anniversary, I wore it on the golf course. It reminds us of the love we share and the lessons we’ve learned in our marriage. Love gives us the greatest joy and purpose in life, so you really can’t afford to be unhappy in the romantic department. Many people hire an accountant to do their taxes, a personal trainer to lose weight, or a financial adviser to invest their money, so why not work with someone who can show you how to create a thriving love life?”Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.