Love Better

TikTok Has Made Everyone Think They’re a Relationship Expert

Not everyone is trying to radicalise you, but not all advice is good advice.
Hand holding phone
SOPA Images / Getty / VICE

You hear it constantly from relationship and mental health professionals: the desperate, croaking plea to seek out educated advice and actually get a goddam therapist. 

It’s not like you don’t know the value of it, but you still find yourself on your phone at 2am, watching an after hours influencer from Iowa tell you that your partner doesn’t really love you if they’re not posting a photo of you on their Instagram at least once a week. 


User-generated content and unwarranted guidance go hand in hand. Which means platforms like TikTok and instagram are flooded with advice videos and “information” like this.

TikTok in particular, a platform with over 1 billion monthly users, has become the criminal offender in uneducated advice. And it’s not that there aren’t any professionals on the platform. There are plenty of qualified therapists, psychiatrists and counsellors doing their best to help people who can’t afford therapy, creating video content that’s watchable for free, like Shani Tran, LPCC, and David Puder, MD.

But, on a platform driven by its algorithm, the more relationship-based videos you watch the more likely it is that TikTok will start serving you seemingly similar content from people, just without the education and qualifications to back themselves up. You may have started with a steak, but now you’re just eating a Macca’s cheeseburger.

So, with so much legitimate information out there about relationships and mental health, why are we turning to TikTok? 

Relationship advice on the app has two distinct extremes: The most blatant stream of content seems to be focused on Alpha Male/Pickup artist culture – the Andrew Tates and Good Bro Bad Bro’s of this world – most commonly guys telling you why men are physiologically superior and why “females'' are brainless tits on legs seeking a dominant alpha to put them in their place. Perhaps you’ll come across some muppet who’s never felt the love of another person in his life declaring that women are like horses in a stable and you have to keep a healthy rotation of steeds. It’s the closest you can get to being an incel without buying an AK-47. 


At the other end, you’ll find generally femme people doing everything in their power to convince you that your boyfriend is toxic if he does anything other than overtly adore you 24/7. If he ever questions your opinion? Toxic. If he doesn’t click with your friends? Toxic. If he needs time alone? TOXIC. You’ll find yourself in a cycle of constant paranoid criticism if you start believing that your boyfriend is gaslighting you based almost entirely on some videos you watched on TikTok. 

And there’s everything in between: A spectrum of opinion and theory devised by your everyday scroller. Some people are idiots, some people are really intelligent, some people are straight-up evil and some people are incredibly well meaning. 

Not everyone is trying to radicalise you, and huge amounts of people online are simply seeking community, support for themselves, or trying to support others.

Relationships are an especially emotionally-loaded topic and people have opinions and advice they want to share – perhaps with the hopes that others can avoid having the same bad experiences they’ve had. But even someone with good intentions can contribute to the culture of misinformation. If your video calling out your ex for treating you like shit gets 3 million views, you’re probably gonna make another one. Not all advice is good advice – even if it's shared with good intentions – especially under the influence of an algorithm that rewards controversial content.


Wherever it falls on the spectrum of women are horses to your man shouldn’t have other female friends, if you’re on the app, you’re going to be bombarded with questionable dating advice. 

In the US, a study by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate showed that new TikTok accounts were exposed to videos centred around mental health every 73 seconds – and though this study wasn’t focussed on relationships, it still highlights how prominent serious topics are on the app. 

And regardless of the nature of the content, the frequency alone can set users down a harmful path. It’s not unlikely that seeing relationship TikToks on a daily basis might cause you to spend more time thinking about your relationship than otherwise. The most positive outcome is becoming aware of a genuine issue you previously hadn’t recognised in your relationship, but you might also develop new concerns about your partner that are unjustified or inaccurate. 

Jo Robertson, a sex therapist and betrayal trauma specialist, told VICE that “because there's a lot of comparison that goes on, on social media, people don't seem to have a really good handle on what's realistic.” 

“I think we're in a much more potentially harmful place in terms of everyone's individual mental health and potentially people's relationships,” she said.

And in our current online sphere, the mammoth amount of content and nature of virality means that unhealthy ideas can grow fast.  One of the most significant impacts TikTok has had on our culture is the way it encourages people to self-patholigise across mental health, medical fields, and of course, relationships.


“We're actually seeing in every single field or industry that, particularly young people – I'm probably going to say under 25 – are coming forward with self diagnosis or language they may not have historically had to describe their experience.They're doing that whether they're going to a paediatrician, a gynaecologist, to an oncologist or whether they're coming to me,” said Robertson.

The confusion comes as we develop wider understandings of things like sexuality and gender – things that are self-defined – and apply the same self-defining ideology to other fields. In the 2020s, characterising ourselves with language is the norm, but this seems to have created an eagerness to use specific terminology to define issues in our relationships, too. 

Abuse, manipulation, and gaslighting are huge concepts, developed over years of psychological study, that aren’t likely to appear in the majority of relationships. But you might think otherwise if you’re getting your relationship worldview from TikTok. 

Waking up one day and saying you have cancer without consulting a doctor would be mad – but we’re comfortable diagnosing psychological conditions and unhealthy behaviours in others, and in our own relationships, without professional insight. Slowly, a space is being created online where there are singular truths that dissolve the nuance that would allow us to analyse our relationships in healthy ways.  


A lot of people can fall into self-diagnosis when they are experiencing loneliness and isolation. To feel a part of a group or community can be incredibly gratifying, which is why so many online communities are bound together by individual loneliness. If you don’t have a close unit of friends, or family, it may feel less vulnerable to share your personal life online than in your real life.  

Another, more insidious rationale for people chowing down on endless TikTok toxicity: a lot of the relationship content on the platform diverts responsibility from the user. It’s rare to see videos encouraging self reflection and personal culpability, but incredibly common to encounter videos discussing the ways other people are harming or impacting you. 

And here’s the big thing: Not every piece of advice we seek needs to come from a professional. 

There are plenty of reputable websites that publish articles and information with evidence-based research. The opinions of our mates and mums and mentors are important, too. It’s not that learning from other people's personal experiences is inherently bad, but the point is to make sure they’re people you trust and who know you well. Be really choosy about who to talk to – people that are compassionate and kind, good listeners – not someone who’s judgmental or who will choose sides.

Ultimately, the best path you can take if you have concerns about your relationship is to remind yourself that people on TikTok often won’t have any more qualifications than you do. Log off and speak to someone in real life. And if those concerns have anything to do with harmful behaviour or traumatic experiences within your relationship then seek out professional help. 


Coming into a professional environment with your own thoughts and feelings isn’t always a bad thing. As Robertson told VICE “there's actually nothing fundamentally wrong with that. I think using that information (found online), as a foundation for conversation is really healthy. Using it as the end of the conversation is really unhealthy.”

It’s sensitive work to gently unravel people’s experiences, and to ensure someone is emotionally and psychologically safe while sharing and uncovering such big ideas, so don’t leave that in the hands of @Laying_Pipe_69.

Own the Feels is brought to you by #LoveBetter, a campaign funded by the Ministry for Social Development.

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Rachel Barker is a writer / producer at VICE NZ in Aotearoa.