I hate to say “I told you so”… okay, that’s a lie. I love to say “I told you so.” I simply refrain from saying it, one day at a time, same as I refrain from other momentarily-enjoyable-but-ultimately-destructive endeavors. You know: smoking, drinking, inhaling white powders…
The point is, I did not predict that self-proclaimed love addict and universally proclaimed attention suck Rachel Uchitel’s new marriage was doomed to an early demise. I merely hinted at the fact. Back in October of 2011, I wrote a blog post entitled ADD MEETS TMZ. I said to Rachel (whom I do not know personally, but call by her first name anyway):
“Nothing wrong with the younger man; younger men rock. Nothing wrong with [an impromptu Vegas wedding at] the Little White Chapel; weddings that require more choreographed etiquette than a state dinner suck. Where you’ve gone wrong is believing that a ceremony and a pair of rings is going to do anything to make you less of a love addict. Marriage fixes nothing.
One more time, gang: A relationship will cure your love addiction about as well as cocaine will cure your drug addiction.”
And so it was.
According to the titular TMZ, Rachel’s marriage ended after a 20 months when “she woke up to learn her hubby hadn’t gone to the grocery store like he had promised. So Rachel had to schlep to the store with baby Wyatt and the family dog. And when she got back, all hell broke loose … name-calling on Matt’s part and a little slapping on Rachel’s.
“We’re told Matt called her a ‘dictator’ for ordering him to perform chores on her timeline. It escalated to the point Rachel called 911, pleading with cops to eject Matt from the house.” According to their source, the police didn’t see the urgency and Rachel herself left the house, taking their child with her. This led husband Matt Hahn to charge her with kidnapping… and it escalated from there.
The sad part is, Rachel could have predicted all of this herself had she only listened to her own interviews. She’s the one who said her love addiction leads her to “basically put a mask over somebody’s head and pretend they’re somebody who they’re not. In the end, you get disappointed when they don’t react the way you want them to.” Like, for instance, getting up early and doing the promised grocery shopping.
We infatuation junkies imbue our love objects with a hundred noble qualities — intellect, humor, compassion, generosity, talent, ambition — based on no evidence other than maybe some hot sex and our own romantic longing. When they turn out, inevitably, not to have many of those imagined qualities at all, we are shocked. Shocked, I say. “You’ve changed,” we tell them. “He deceived me,” we tell ourselves. When the simple truth was, we never got close enough to the love object to find out what the hell he or she was really like in the first place.
And here’s the rub: We don’t want to get that close to our love objects, because we are terrified that if we really get deep enough into the swamp to meet their alligators… they will meet ours. Bottom line, love addicts are terrified of intimacy. Oh, we think we want intimacy more than anything. We’d claw our way underneath your ribcage and take up residency if we could. But that’s not intimacy; it’s Alien 5.
And, as Rachel Uchitel Hahn has learned, a bad basis for a marriage.
Be gentle with me. I haven’t done this in a long time. I am attempting to write a book report, and I’m about 40 years late turning in my assignment. Most people get this one in high school, but I did most of high school in England and they don’t have the same reverence for F. Scott Fitzgerald that American schools do.
Yes, I’m talking about The Great Gatsby. I saw the Baz Lurhmann movie, which struck me as a story about an alcoholic with an unacknowledged homoerotic crush on a romance-and-fantasy addict who refused to let go of a shallow narcissist, even though she was married to an abusive sex addict… and, frankly, I couldn’t see such a story being so firmly ensconced in the pantheon of Great American Literature. Who wants to spend time with any of these jerks?
So I went ahead and read the book. Guess what? It’s nothing like that at all. In fact, it’s a terrific read. I’m glad I finally got around to it.
Sure, it’s still the story of a hope-to-die – literally! – love addict who devotes his life to becoming the person he hopes his love object will love back, and a sex addict blind to the impact his behavior has on everyone around him. The difference is, Fitzgerald knows this… and so does narrator Nick Carraway. Print Nick is a smart and savvy observer, infinitely more enjoyable than the moon-eyed drip I saw onscreen.
“I had a dog, at least I had him for a few days until he ran away, and an old Dodge and a Finnish woman who made my bed and cooked breakfast and muttered Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove.” Now this is a Nick Carraway I can spend time with! His description of Tom Buchanan, the abusive husband: “One of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anti-climax…. Tom would drift on, forever seeking a little wistfully the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.”
What a perfect description of the sex addict pathology, someone stuck in and forever seeking to recreate the “dramatic turbulence” of youth. Carraway/Fitzgerald nails his love-addicted hero from the gate, too, a man who “invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year old boy would be likely to invent.” A man who “read the Chicago papers for years just on the chance of catching a glimpse of Daisy’s name,” who “walked the streets where their footsteps had clicked together through the November night,” and whose anxiety at seeing her in person was so great he was sure she had stood him when the appointed hour for their date hadn’t even arrived yet.
Does any of that sound familiar? Okay, maybe you check Facebook rather than the Chicago paper, and maybe you drive past the places you once drove past together rather than walking, but how can we love addicts not relate to the longing, the need for intensity, the willingness to become anyone at all to just… be… wanted.
There may be no better portrait of a love addict than Jay Gatsby. The difference between the book and the movie, though, is that Fitzgerald knows there’s something twisted about his romantic fantasy with all its monomaniacal, breathless intensity. Lurhmann just finds it charming
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.
I know. I’ve been scarce around here lately. It’s because I’ve been working on a script, and that’s been my go-to excuse for just about everything. “No time to go to the gym. Got to work on the script.” “You’ll have to walk yourself this morning, Laszlo. I’m working on the script.” (PS – one, I wouldn’t do that to my dog and, two, don’t let Laszlo read this.) But the first draft is now off my desk and on the desks of my agent and manager (my dear, beloved agent and manager… they do read this) so I can no longer go to my go-to excuse. Also, I’ve been feeling particularly recovered lately: This spring I celebrated 25 years free from drugs and alcohol, 23 years off cigarettes, and… oh, let’s call it 18 months since hooking up with a totally inappropriate man.
How can I offer myself up as a bad example when I’m being such a good example?
But people write, call and stop me in the street with questions, and the mailbag is beginning to burst at the seams, much like your humble correspondent when she spends a month working on a script instead of, say, going to the gym or running with the dog. So here we go:
Writes Recovery4Ever: It’s [love addiction] been going on since the 50’s: Rita Moreno recently published her memoir wherein she calls Marlon Brando ‘her drug’ — and drugs kill, and it almost killed Rita Moreno. It took her six years of therapy to get the drug out of her system. She ended up marrying a ‘nice guy’ and was married 45 years until his death.
It’s been going on a lot longer than that: Check out Dr. Helen Fisher’s book Why We Love, the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. She takes it back to Love Sonnets of the Cro-Magnon, as it were, looking at the way a desire for pair-bonding is a survival tactic, and wondering at the evolutionary quirk that causes some people to crank that desire to the decidedly non-survival-oriented degree of suicide or homicide.
And, indeed, Rita Moreno had it bad. As she wrote in her memoir, “Just meeting him that first day sent my body temperature skyrocketing as though I had been dropped into a very hot bath, and I went into a full-body blush. It was the sort of rush that inspires poetry and songs.”
Sounds like intoxication to me, in that anything that gets you high holds within it the potential to drop you low. According to the London Daily Mail, the affair went on for 8 years, even though Brando married two other women during that time – and was never faithful to any of the above. He forced Moreno to abort their child at one point, and the guilt and shame drove her to attempt suicide.
It’s a by-the-numbers sex and love addition cautionary tale, so if you need some famous company, feel free to read and relate. Fame and beauty are no talisman against addiction, and kudos to Rita Moreno for getting better. Just think, if recovery had gotten trendy in Hollywood a few decades earlier, she and Elvis and Marilyn could be sitting around Nate and Al’s Deli today, swapping stories of their salad days.
MissMadBee asks: Can, and should, someone be hospitalized if the “Love Addiction” is severe?
I don’t even play a doctor on TV, so I don’t pretend to offer medical advice. I only share my personal experience and observations, so here they are:
Love Addiction is a chronic, fatal, relapsing disease. Only a few paragraphs ago we read that Rita Moreno attempted suicide over an addictive relationship with Marlon Brando. She did end up in a hospital - but it was the suicide that got her admitted, not the Brandoholism. “Treat the symptom, ignore the disease” is a problem that reaches into areas far wider than addiction medicine; we are a society that would rather buy bottled water than pay to improve public utilities, jail thieves than address poverty. But I digress.
Often, love addicts are hospitalized for their own safety — and that’s a good thing, but it won’t address the addiction itself. It’s no different than any other drug rehab, because love is a drug: In an in-patient facility, professionals wean you from the physical effects of withdrawal (and if you’ve been there, you know that withdrawal from love addiction can be very physical) and keep you away from your using buddies/romantic obsession. They work with you on behavior modification and cognitive therapy, sometimes introduce you to twelve-step programs, occasionally let you pet a horsie. There are treatment centers nationwide that specialize in “process” addictions: porn, romance, gambling, etc.
But – and it’s a big but, kinda like mine after a month chained to my keyboard — whether you’re a 16-year-old pothead or a 29-year-old in loooove, unless you actually want to get better… you’re going to run right back out and do the same thing all over again.
“I need a lover who won’t drive me crazy.” That was my watchword. That, and “novelty is the best aphrodisiac.” It didn’t take me long to figure out that confusing new with sexy is just a function of my warped love addict brain, hungry for the jolt of dopamine it gets from the new and exciting. “Surprise me” is better said to the chef than the new boyfriend, it turns out. And uncertainty is a terrible foundation for relationship.
It has taken longer for me to give up on Watchword #1, the John Cougar Mellencamp motto. It’s those crazy-ass men who are my problem. I’m not alone: How many times have you heard a love addict moan, “My picker is broken”? That’s got to be the root of the problem: bad judgment. Put me in a room full of men and I will invariably pick the most unavailable, the most narcissistic, the most dysfunctional… yup, he’s a mess, all right. And I head straight for him.
You see where I’m going with this? I’m pointing my finger at him and him and him – the abandoning man, the unloving man, the withholding man, the unfaithful man – and beating my chest at my bad taste and worse luck… and never once think to point the finger back at myself. Every time I say my picker is broken, I am essentially blaming him — whoever he is, and whatever he did.
Mind you, I have picked some doozies over the years. Did I ever tell you about the guy I was dating, who — after he had disappeared for a while, as guys I am dating frequently do — called at 3am to ask me to drive down to his crack motel and pay off the hookers. Oh, and he needed a ride home, too. When I hung up on him, he tried again by having one of the hookers call me.
I need a lover who won’t drive me crazy? Okay, yes. But how about I don’t bring crazy into the room with me in the first place? As in, “True, he’s only a few months clean and sober. But I’m sure he’ll be fine with me around.”
There’s a line from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: “You cannot transmit something you haven’t got.” My lovelorn antenna was picking up the signals on its own wavelength, the sex and love addict wavelength, because that’s what it was transmitting. It’s no accident that we love junkies end up finding one another. Match-dot-com turns into match-dot-gasoline before you can say, “Why didn’t you answer my text?”
People in recovery talk a lot about learning to love themselves before they can find a relationship. I think that’s a load of crap. Addicts are altogether too much in love with themselves, as a rule. But I do think we have to heal ourselves before we can find a healthy relationship.
Because, let’s face it, there’s a lot more out of whack in there than a broken picker.
So, how’s the annual Minefield of Expectations been going for you? Christmas morning, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day… all these red-letter days so fraught with anticipation about the Special Person we should be spending them with. So much expectation, sadly, that even when there is a Person around, the reality is somehow a little disappointing. He or she might be a great partner for August 17, or May 9, but somehow on February 14 they come up short.
Like the AA old-timers say: An expectation is nothing but a resentment under construction.
As usual around this time of year, the in-box is busy. Here’s one detail-filled note (this is the edited version!) I’ve been wrestling with. Your thoughts?
I am a 32-year-old love addict in recovery and have been in a committed relationship with my boyfriend these past 1 1/2 years, after a disastrous love-affair with a married man ended. He is 9 years older than me, a dentist, and marihuana addict. We have been living together for the last year.
In our everyday lives we harmonize very well: He always takes my side when I feel that I am poorly treated at my job, is there for me when I am ill, makes me expensive presents and I just know that he will never cheat on me. In good times, he prepares a hot tub for me to slip in when I come home from work, or drives to the gas station late in the evening just to get me an ice cream. When we are in public, he often acts as if he totally adores me and when he’s drunk, he often tells me how much he loves me.
However, he gets angry very easily and then barely speaks to me for whole days. It always follows the same scheme: He gets into one of his “temper-tantrums” over (from my point of view) insignificant little details, like [insert lengthy fight over the speed of meal preparation.] He is always right and I am always wrong and he doesn’t care at all about my point of view or my feelings. When I try to point out to him how he makes me feel, he accuses me of “always putting myself forward and playing the victim”. When I say that I don’t want to talk to him any more in this way, I am “impertinent”, “rude” and “unloving”. And then, out of nowhere, he is nice and kind again and acts as if all this never has happened. However, when I try to talk it over with him, he gets again angry, it starts all over again and it gets clear that he hasn’t changed his mind about the matter at all.
Lately, we almost always fight about sex. If we have sex five times on a weekend and I am tired Sunday evening, he feels rejected. When we have sex and something isn’t quite right (me moving in the wrong way) and his lust fades, he is angry with me and feels rejected. I could understand his feelings of rejection when I would refuse sleeping with him for weeks. But even when only one week goes by, he gets really furious with me, accusing me of being frigid, wanting to “know” why I am no longer turned on by him, sleeping on the couch and barely speaking to me for days.
I have already tried so much to make him open up: I tried to tell him how I feel and even cried, but that only made him threaten to leave the room. I tried to get furious myself, which resulted in nothing else than both of us fighting even harder. Now, I usually don’t do very much. I don’t apologize any more and simply wait for his mood to be normal again.
But I can’t stop wondering whether I am with the right kind of man. He has an ex-wife with whom he used to fight for hours until wine glasses were thrown and he once slapped her, so I understand partly that he might not know any better, but I wish he would want to try to fight differently with me. He complains that the relationship has been fun and easy in the beginning and now is not any more. I want to feel safe enough to reveal all my thoughts and feelings, to feel loved no matter what and to be allowed to criticise, be tired or move in the “wrong” way during sex.
But then I wonder, maybe this is just the love addict in me talking. Maybe I should quit looking for a soulmate who understands me deep down and with whom I can have heart-to-heart chats until midnight. Maybe he is a good man after all and I am just making a fuss over nothing.
I have read your book and you really spoke to me. I feel like I can’t see clearly any more. Maybe you could help me sort this out? - Ann Marie
Dear Ann-Marie - Where to begin…? Okay, first, it sounds like you are in a dizzying dance of death with another sex and love addict. (Likely an alcoholic as well, but that’s a different program.) We love junkies do manage to find one another, as I said in the book, blindfolded and in another language. Love addicts don’t really like relationships that are “fun and easy like in the beginning.” We like relationships that are new and exciting, like in the beginning. If there’s no excitement around, we’ll create some, usually with a dramatic fight. It’s really your addict brains (plural!) thirsting for dopamine and adrenaline, and has almost nothing to do with getting dinner on the table, or the angle of your leg during sex. PS: Passive aggressive sulking is not better than a glass-breaking screamfest, just quieter.
So, recognize that you’re attempting to coexist with another addict, accept that you can’t change him but can only change yourself, and treat appropriately. Alanon is suggested. Strongly suggested.
Second, remember that love addicts are as a whole good at falling in love — really, really good at falling in love — and bad at relationship. Really, really bad. We spend so much energy getting the ball into the metaphorical end zone that we look, baffled, at our empty hands once we’ve spiked the damn thing. Now what? If your expectation (there’s that word again) of a relationship is “having heart-to-heart chats until midnight,” try becoming a lesbian, because that’s not how men do relationship. Figure out what’s important to you in this relationship and, more than that, find out what’s important to him in this relationship. He has a point about that whole putting yourself first and playing the victim thing.
Third, are you looking for my opinion or my permission? If you want me to tell you that you’re only 32, that there are plenty of other men out there who will be interested in you (no matter what the gremlin at the base of your skull with the Low Self Esteem sign on its forehead tells you) then, yes, you have my permission to dump his sorry ass. On the other hand, my opinion is that every relationship equation you engage in will end up with the same result until you change the common denominator, and the common denominator is you.
And, on a brighter note:
I have been married to an emotionally healthy, respectful and loving spouse for a good number of years. He has provided well for us, his family (we have two children), has a strong moral compass, and stands by my side no matter what. Everybody who knows him tells me what a catch he is.
And what did I do? I almost left him for a love-avoidant, porn-addicted sex addict who can barely make ends meet and admits openly that he has almost no capacity for intimacy. Why? Because I thought I loved him. Why? Because I was letting my wounded adolescent run the show. I was using this man in a desperate (subconscious) attempt to fix a past that can’t be fixed. In many ways, I was no less ‘sick’ than he was. We made quite the toxic team.
For me, therapy saved my life and saved me from making a dreadful, dead-end decision. I am still attracted to him (go figure), but drug addicts are also ‘attracted’ to cocaine or heroin. Men like him are my ‘drug’ and it behooves me to stay away from them. Feel free to share my sordid tale of Love Addiction woe. Regular therapy, daily vigilance and your experience (knowing I am not alone!) are all part of my ongoing recovery and sobriety.
Dr. Margaret Cary, who wrote the foreword to LOVE ADDICT: SEX, ROMANCE AND OTHER DANGEROUS DRUGS, often sends me articles she thinks I’ll find interesting. Research papers on the genetics of addiction, usually, or lactose intolerance. This week, she sent a piece from THE WEEK about advances in epigenetics.
Epigenetics — literally “on top of genetics” — is the recently discovered process by which our DNA blueprint will express, or not express, itself as a genetic command. Our genes are malleable, not immutable; they adjust and alter throughout our lives, This explains why identical twins become less identical over time. Science has lately confirmed what many have long suspected: our environment and our behavior can literally change us to the core. It now appears that everything from childhood hugs to drinking from plastic bottles can turn our genes on and off.
One simple example: Two siblings inherit a genetic predisposition to lung cancer. The one who smokes… gets lung cancer. How many times have we heard about the hardy old sod who smoked until she was 93, healthy as a horse until she got run over by a truck? (Okay, maybe not that specifically….) You need both the gene and the catalyst to activate it to get the outcome.
So, how does that apply to love addiction? When I was researching my book, I encountered two distinct and seemingly mutually exclusive schools of thought on the causes and conditions for sex and love addiction. The neuroscientists say it’s all biology. They point to brain scans and statistical studies that clearly demonstrate addicts are wired differently from non-addicts. We have more white area in our gray matter. We produce different quantities of different neurotransmitters. We have specific, quantifiable genetic variations.
The psychologists, on the other hand, tell me it’s all caused by childhood trauma. You were sexually abused as a child? You grow up to be a sex addict. You were emotionally abandoned as a baby? You grow up to be a love addict. Addiction is the great psychic hole caused by parental abandonment, a hole the addict seeks to fill with food or love or alcohol or cigarette smoke… whatever you got, baby.
Nature or nurture? It’s hardly a new argument, but maybe there is a new solution. The answer is C: All of the above. For example, according to a 2009 study reported by the University of Utah, “Child abuse leaves an epigenetic mark on the brain. In a comparison of suicide victims who were abused or not, only the abused victims had an epigenetic tag on the GR [glucocorticoid receptor] gene. Interestingly, the GR gene receives a similar epigenetic tag in rat pups who receive low quality care from their mothers.”
In other words, hit your kid or forget to feed your furry rat baby, and you leave permanent changes on its double helix. Changes which may lead to self-destructive behavior. Changes which can be inherited by the next generation, by the way.
So go ahead, blame childhood trauma if you want. Or blame neurochemistry. But epigenetics tells us that you need both the gasoline and the match to start the fire. It’s a concept those crusty old alcoholics who started the 12-step programs came up with back in the 1930s: Addiction is an allergy of the body, an obsession of the mind, and a malady of the spirit.
recoveringloveaddictmaybe asked: What programs have you found most useful in living with ADD? I have been dry from a number of addictive substances for lots of days and even have a 28 yr Alanon chip but none of the programs I have gone to seem to adress ADD very well. Right now ACOA seems to come closest. Whats your experience strength and hope?
In my experience, Alanon is a great help if you find yourself obsessing on your significant other’s poor driving habits. It doesn’t do as much if you find yourself obsessing on driving your car through your married lover’s living room window.
It’s quite common to suddenly find ourselves face-to-face with our Affection Deficit Disorder only after stripping away all the mind-altering substances we were using to cover up the existential pain of it all. Amend that: Mind-altering substances and behaviors; overeating, gambling and smoking work perfectly well on that front, thank you.
Sex and love addiction are codependency on crack. That’s why the S programs — SAA, SCA and SLAA — are currently the fastest growing of the 12-step programs. Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA or ACOA) couldn’t hurt, and I’m glad it’s serving you, but I have always found that the deep identification of fellow sufferers that formed the basis of AA back in 1935 is the best route to healing. Hence, SLAA.
Here’s what the old farts who wrote the Big Book (I always think of them as old farts; they were, of course, quite young at the time) figured out, based on their own experience and observation: Addiction is an allergy of the body, an obsession of the mind, and a malady of the spirit. This has since confirmed by modern science. To heal, we need to treat mind, body and soul.
You can work the triangle with therapy, yoga and volunteerism. Or church, charity and medication. For me, the 12-step model of recovery, unity and service addresses all three damaged areas in one neat package. It’s available all over the planet, it’s open every day, and it’s free.
For someone who is in between health insurers, that looks darn good to me.
Full disclosure: I’m writing this oh-so-overdue blog mainly because I’m having writer’s block on a script. Until I break the third act (anyone want to come over and help me break a third act?), I might as well answer more reader questions about sex and love addiction.
A good friend of mine describes himself as a sex addict. He just got into a monogamous relationship about six weeks ago, and he’s already straying. He seems to want advice, but I don’t know what to say - other than that monogamous isn’t the only kind of relationship you can have. What would you say? - Klur
I would say it depends on whether he wants to be monogamous or not. Just as there’s a difference between a boozy fratboy and a real alcoholic, there’s a difference between a cheating boyfriend and a sexual compulsive. No fair calling yourself a sex addict just to give yourself an out, because you regret having made a commitment to exclusivity. It gives sex addicts a bad name.
If, however, your friend wants to be faithful yet is genuinely unable to control his impulses, you’re not doing him any favors by telling him he can apply for an open relationship. It’s kind of like telling a hope-to-die pothead that he can always move to Colorado.
As women, we’re flooded with stories about falling love being the most amazing and transformative thing ever — from Disney flicks to RomComs and the Vows section of the Times. What’s your take on that stuff? - Dodai Stewart
Sadly, men are also flooded with the mythology of being “saved by the love of a good woman.” In parts of the Old West, a convicted murderer could be actually pardoned if a woman agreed to marry him, under the assumption that he would inevitably straighten up and fly right under her tender mercies.
My take on this Love is All There Is/All You Need Is Love trope, when love equals romance, is that it’s misguided and occasionally dangerous. It’s the belief system that creates stalkers, suicides, and bad poetry. Realistically, though, trying to change it would be like trying to change gun control laws. Or the tides. People like magic, and Prince Charming’s Kiss is just that: magic. It’s all the Happily Ever After with none of the effort; it’s weight loss with no diet or exercise, or the secret to making five thousand dollars a month at home in your spare time. We fall for that crap, too.
Most of the time when I am intimate with someone I am totally alienated and feel not-present, but I have always sought out sexual attention anyway, even though I know it isn’t going to feel like anything. Do you think that’s a kind of addiction, since it has an element of self harm? - Too Many Times
Have you ever thought that maybe the attention was your gratification, not the sex? It’s pretty common for love addicts; the offer of sex is what sets off the delightful dopamine cascade in our bent little brains. The anticipation of reward is more important than the reward itself, like the way seeing the slot machine come up 7-7-7 is way more potent than the five extra bucks in your wallet.
That’s the physical part of it. On an emotional level, the offer is a validation of our desirability. As a rule, sex and love addicts are a quart low on self-esteem, and often come to the party with what therapists call “attachment disorder” — hence, your sense of alienation and not being present. In this short note, I would say you’ve self-diagnosed a complex and multilayered addiction. Well done!
Since you’ve not only experienced the addiction to love and sex but also studied the pathology of it, what would you say is the most common sort of “breaking point” or moment of realization that helps addicts not only acknowledge and understand their addiction, but also spur them into making a serious change for themselves? - Baldylocks
In Cocaine Anonymous, they used to welcome people who were “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Oldtimers in AA talk about “when what it’s doing to you is more than what it’s doing for you.” It’s the same in sex and love addiction. Like any drug, the love drug works great… right up until it stops working. That’s why we like it in the first place. And when it stops working, we tend to deny that for a while. “Someone cut this coke all to hell.” “All the good men are married.” “I have to stop drinking tequila; it gives me headaches.” “Maybe she’s crazy, but it’s so hot in bed.” And always, “This time will be different….”
Until one day you just can’t fool yourself any longer, your head pops out of your ass, and you have what’s commonly called a moment of clarity. And then you change.
Developing the willingess to change can take a long, long time. Change itself… is instant.
Dr. Margaret Cary, who wrote the Foreword to LOVE ADDICT: SEX, ROMANCE AND OTHER DANGEROUS DRUGS, passed along a couple of interesting articles, and I pass them along to you.
First, the New York Times published a piece by Richard A. Friedman, professor of clinical psychiatry at the Weill Cornell Medical College, called I Heart Unpredictable Love, about how some people (guess who?) are neurochemically drawn to inconstant lovers. Dr. Cary smiley-faced, “You could have told them this years ago.”
Then, from the same source — both Dr. Cary and the Times — is a piece by Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. New Love: A Short Shelf Life again connects the dots between surprise, lust and dopamine. The professor also offers advice on how to keep a long-term relationship fresh — in case any of you are in long-term relationships, and somehow I suspect that’s not too many of you.
Check ‘em out.