I am often asked some variation of the following question: “If that bubbly, weak-at-the-knees feeling is, as you suggest, totally toxic and a reason to run screaming from the room… how the hell am I ever going to tell if I like somebody?” That intensity is, after all, the way any love addict worth the name identifies romantic attraction in the first place. It’s what we’ve been taught to look for. It is, frankly, the only good reason for leaving the house.
For that matter, what’s the point getting involved with someone for whom I don’t feel that electric spark in the first place? And if, as the experts insist, there’s something to be gained from a non-addictive relationship, how will I ever know when what I am feeling for this person is healthy attraction, as opposed to a potentially addictive infatuation? If the general idea of this exercise in recovery is to get healthy enough to attract someone who isn’t themselves a batshit crazy sex and love addict… will I recognize them when they arrive?
The answer to these questions is (drum roll, please): I don’t know. I can’t tell you who’s right for you. No one can. If Mr. and Ms. Right came with flashing neon signs over their heads, there would far fewer dating sites and divorce lawyers. The good news is, I can tell you who’s NOT right for you.
Like any disease, love addiction has symptoms (what you feel) and signs (what others observe.) A headache is a symptom of the flu; fever and snot are signs. You are no doubt all too familiar with the symptoms of love addiction: Intrusive and obsessive thoughts about a person. Stinging, stabbing jealousy. Fantasizing about future interactions or recreating past interactions. Internet stalking. That gnawing, growing anxiety you feel when you don’t hear from them, and that exhale of relief when you do. A surge of adrenalin when you see their car… or think you do.
You can probably add a few of your own. Feel free.
Here’s what I’ve discovered: Love addiction – “infatuation intoxication,” if you prefer — also has signs. Your voice goes up half an octave. You talk faster when you talk about your love object, energized by the very thought of him. And you will talk about him (her) – you’ll make any excuse to bring him up, generally in an attempt have friends analyze this text message or that voicemail and predict whether he loves you or he loves you not.
Love addiction throws us back to an effective age of 15 ½.
The tricky part is that you probably won’t notice this yourself. When we get triggered, we are biochemically immersed in the addiction; it colors every thought and every action. We’re like the fish that doesn’t realize it’s wet. The craziest part of insanity is that, when I’m insane, I’m much too crazy to see it. I need other people to tell me. And so do you.
So here’s how you know whether a potential lover is making you high, as opposed to making themselves available: Ask someone. Ask someone who knows you well enough to notice when you have reverted to junior high school behavior. They can hear the voice go up a register. They can see you dash to the phone like it’s on fire. They know when you’re ignoring them because you need to keep your evenings free in case your love object calls.
Sadly, the knowledge that I am going off the cliff over some guy doesn’t always stop me from jumping. But at least I have my eyes open when I take the plunge.