In my experience, a good therapist is one who will call you out and tell you when you are wrong. One who will sit and listen and nod and ask thoughtful questions and, most important, gently (or not so gently, if that’s what you need) push back when you’re playing yourself and you’re saying things that sound good in the moment but aren’t actually workable solutions for your long-term problems. That hypothetical therapist is the newest meme.
This first and most popular iteration, from @katelynn_rae01, sees a person playing out this scenario with a therapist asking a patient how they cope with sadness. Their answer? Shopping. This clearly isn’t what the therapist wants to hear. It is, however, pretty relatable. Hence the meme’s social lift in recent days.
Panicked that the earth is going to become too hot to support human life in your lifetime? Buy a ten-pack of cooling tea-tree sheet masks. Stressed out about the crushing cost of health-care coverage nationally? An iced coffee is cheaper than your deductible. The meme perfectly encapsulates a type of performative so-called self-care in a world where things feel so grim the only relief is a temporary fix delivered via overnight shipping. (Which, when you really think about it, isn’t helping those heat-death anxieties you’ve got. Maybe it’s best not to think about it too hard.)
It’s not just about shopping as an emotional stopgap. The meme works for any scenario in which you’re handling a problem with an impermanent or antithetical fix, like withdrawing from human contact when you already find yourself feeling isolated and tense. Or continually setting and resetting unrealistic expectations based on fiction for the people in your life.
Depending on how you read it, there’s also a discourse of privilege embedded in this meme. If you look at it one way, it could be about one person paying another person to counsel them and then ignoring said counsel and potentially spending more money to do something their paid counsel has advised against. In this interpretation, the person in question has the funds to pay for both the therapy they are ignoring and the alternative therapy they are self-prescribing.
There’s also a world where the person in said meme has the funds for neither the therapist nor the [insert item you don’t really need but are going to purchase anyway in the vain hope that spending a small amount of money will temporarily numb you to your suffering] but is spending them anyway. Or, alternatively, a world where the therapist in question doesn’t exist at all, where this therapy session is entirely Twitter fiction — yes, these memes are all technically Twitter fiction, but you know what I mean — performed as a joke. In that read, the meme’s inherent despair only grows. The memer is in on a deeper joke. One where nothing, be it actual therapy or retail therapy, will solve your problems.
My therapist: And what do we do when a meme makes us feel suddenly despondent?
Me: Write an explainer about the meme.
My therapist: No.