You can tell if you’re a love junkie if you meet someone new, and instead of a spark, you get the whole meteor shower. It’s like you’re shooting up that skin-tingling, electric feeling of love, right into your heart. And “love” wakes you up. Now this could maybe be a sign of chemistry between two people—if you’re healthy. But love junkies aren’t healthy. You’re a love junkie if you have a core of neediness and dependency that’s waiting to grasp onto someone. You want someone to rescue you, take care of you—the way your parents should have (and probably didn’t). You have a big gaping hole that the wind howls through, and that distorts our perceptions of the world and especially of the destructive lovers we choose.
For years I thought I was unlucky in love. I also thought I was extra-passionate. I didn’t realize I was using these super-intense relationships to avoid unresolved pain, anger and grief from my past. Some people have to get hit upside the head to wake up. I am one of those people. One thing that woke me up was a friend’s response. I called to complain about another relationship ending after months of agonizing e-mailing, clinging, hanging-on, fighting and apologizing. I told her, half-joking, “Maybe there’s something wrong with me.” I expected her to say, Don’t be silly. You’re great. He wasn’t the right guy. Instead she said bluntly: “Maybe there is something wrong with you.” I was mad as hell, but I couldn’t get her words out of my head. Those words eventually prompted me to go to my first twelve-step meeting for people who have addictive problems with love, sex, relationships and fantasy.
If you’re close enough, you can take the risk, like my friend did, and tell the truth. You can say gently and with love, “Maybe there is something wrong with the choices you make. Have you ever thought about going to therapy, or meetings?” Then you can suggest resources that deal with this addiction, like SLAA, the twelve-step program for Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, or LAA, Love Addicts Anonymous, or CODA, Co-dependents Anonymous. Then it’s up to them. Some people suggest more straight-up interventions. It depends on how bad the situation is. Generally, you need to decide for yourself if you’re ready to change, if you’re prepared to look at what’s underneath.
Most people I’ve spoken to can relate to at least some of the destructive tendencies in my memoir. They’ve had at least one relationship like this. But usually it’s only one. So ask yourself these questions:
1) Do you have one destructive relationship after another after another? Do they all crash and burn? If so, that’s a pattern, and you're a love junkie.
2) In a moment of real honesty, would you say that when you fall in love or are trying to salvage a relationship, you let the other parts of your life go to hell, your work performance suffers, or you watch your dreams fall away? You may be using love and relationships to avoid really living your life. If so, you're a love junkie.
3) Do you put your lover and the relationship first over loving yourself? Do you try to set healthy rules for yourself about dating and relationships that you can’t ever seem to follow? Do your relationships have a negative impact on your financial life, your friendships, or your peace of mind? You just might be a love junkie.
When you’re addicted to someone, you’re using them. You’re getting high. You can actually feel the chemicals dropping down into your system, the warm pinging of your nerves. You’re escaping reality. It’s not really about them, or even about the two of you. Because if you’re addicted, life is unsatisfying when you’re on your own. So when you find a mate, you tend to glom on, become inseparable, suffocate, suck each other dry. You’re not trying to partner; you’re trying to merge. You’re trying to take the love you never got as a kid. You may as well attach a siphon to your lover. You’re holding them hostage with your feelings. Only now it’s too late. Your chance to have unconditional parental love has unfortunately passed. And until you give up that futile quest, you won’t experience healthy relationships. That’s addictive “love.”
Whereas with healthy love, you’re two separate, (relatively) mature people coming together to share two strong solid lives. At least that’s what I hear!
Because until you get that, it's hard to grasp how you can get addicted to love. A substance addiction is more obvious. A substance could be meth, cocaine, alcohol, cigarettes. Sobriety is more clear-cut, too. Either you’re sober, or you’re not. A “process” addiction is harder to pin down. It means you're hooked on something you'd be doing anyway: love, sex, spending, eating—things we need in order to live, almost like breathing. But if you have an addictive personality, you can use these relationships to such processes, like sex and love, to avoid living your real life.
For the first time in my life, I’m okay either way. For years all I did was pour my energy into finding The One, that mythical creature. I was hellbent on meeting someone. I was so focused, I avoided taking responsibility for my own life. It’s tough, because our culture still makes single women feel stigmatized. I think people automatically assume something’s wrong with you if you’re not in a relationship, if you’re not married, if you haven’t borne children. However, in my case, in the past something was wrong with me when I was in a relationship. I needed to be on my own, growing. Healing. Now I’m single, and I’m (mostly!) relaxed about it. If something happens, great. If it doesn’t, I trust I’m supposed to be putting my energy elsewhere. At least that’s the idea!
I am not an expert. I am one person who had a serious pattern of bad relationships for decades. When I use the term addiction, I mean it as a wake-up call. When I first realized I was an addict, when I first called myself one, that's when things began to change. I had to take responsibility. And naming it—calling it an addiction—cleared the way to facing the truth. It wasn’t bad luck. It was me. After I realized this, I had to step back from all intimate engagements. I did not date and I virtually did not have sex for two and a half years. Well, I had three slips, with three men, in a 30-month period. Still—it was the longest time I’d ever retreated sexually like that. In my case, I needed that period of time to get to know myself and to heal. To break the patterns and behavior that were so deeply ingrained. Though each person has to find his or her own answer.
It’s a coming-out book in the sense that I’m identifying myself as a Love Junkie. If you mean am I announcing I’m a lesbian, then no. I did become more willing to let go of my ideas of who I was supposed to be involved with. I even became open to having a relationship with a woman. And it was a growing experience. Obviously I’m bisexual in ways I didn’t realize. I think some people are—they just land on different spots on the straight-gay spectrum. I don’t know if I will be involved again with another woman. It was hard for me, harder than I thought. The relationship went against the dominant culture, and that added pressure and internal conflict for me. It also gave me amazing insights into what life is like for my gay friends. But I fell in love with a person. That was a gift of recovery. I’ve always had amazing female friends. They figure into the book a lot, and I owe my health in part to their support.
Twelve step programs have saved my life. They’ve provided me with community, with support, with wisdom, with a spirituality that accommodates your own needs and is non-denominational. I can’t speak highly enough about them. They’re free. They manifest democracy in its purest form. They’re also flawed, because humans are flawed and we go to meetings because we have problems. So problems are bound to occur. But it’s worked for me. The first time I went to a meeting, in 1989, I didn’t know what was going on. But I was moved, hearing people talk so honestly. It was raw. Then when I was leaving, someone touched my arm. And it was such a loving gesture, so pure – I started to cry. And I kept going back after that. It was like this simple gesture of kindness, and warmth—from a stranger—there’s something special that happens in those rooms.
On the other hand, I don’t think it’s the only way to go. Some therapists specialize in this addiction, and there are treatment centers too.
I feel this culture is in love with love, and not the healthy version. Don’t you? Everywhere we turn, there are presentations of love addiction – in movies, books, magazines. And it’s presented as passion. As what you should want and expect. This is crippling, and misleading, and I think, dangerous. Because in my case, I’ve confused sex with love, and intensity for mature love and passion when it’s more about distraction and drama.
We’re not. The relationship didn’t turn out to be lifelong, but that doesn’t mean it failed. It means it worked for a year. The huge difference for me, as a love-junkie-in-transition, was that I could exit it with mutual respect—and by that I mean respect for Catherine and for myself.
It feels incredibly different. I feel like a teenager! I’m trying to be present. I’m not hiding. I take my time, and don’t rush. I see how I’m feeling. There’s not that consuming instant passion and attraction and adventure I used to go for every time. The love-at-first-sight phenomenon.
Now there’s just a slow getting to know someone while continuing to live my life. Sometimes I get bored. Restless. I wish I could be like I was, and feel those thrills. But it’s too late. I know too much. I'm too healthy, frankly.