I WANNA KNOW WHAT LOVE IS
“Lindsay” and I are a lot alike. A lot like you, too, I suspect. Someone pointed her to this blog and she had one of those V-8 moments – you know, when you slap your forehead and say “Good Lord! It was staring me in the face the whole time!”
She writes: “I open your blog to ‘Hanging On the Telephone,’ and you are talking to me. Right to me. Me perseverating. Me squandering brain power (which I can ill afford to squander.) I may be nowhere near the fetal position, but I know when I’m checking my email too often, and for what. I think some love-addiction-type crap has been screwing up my life in some less obvious but profound ways for a really long time — like, forever.”
She continues to elevate me with flattering comments on my work (along with affection and appetizers, I can never get enough flattering comments) and then drops me to the floor with a question. A simple, straightforward question (Ethlie says, dripping with sarcasm.) Lindsay wants to know what love is.
“Does non-addicted romantic love exist?” she asks. “If yes, what is it? Beyond the platitudes, and incorporating what we know about the physiology of it, really what is it? And where does great, joyful, sexy sex fit into the picture? What is the sexual-love piece that is more than just everyone getting off? And what is the difference between cynicism and realism, about love and sex?”
I reminded her that more poetic minds than mine have been wrestling with that question from time immemorial. But I know what she means. She wants to know how we love addicts can tell the difference between addictive love and healthy love, considering we’ve been experiencing and/or craving (mostly craving) the former for our whole life.
Just as “dark” might best be described as “when there’s no light” or “weightlessness” as “lack of gravity,” I have an easier time telling you what healthy love isn’t. It’s kind of like the definition of God’s will that was given to me when I was new to sobriety. Newcomers are always asking how you know what God’s will is. “You know that little jolt of excitement you get when you’re about to do something dangerous, or naughty, or secret?,” an old-timer said to me. “That little zap it how you know it’s not God’s will.”
It’s also a good way to spot unhealthy, addictive love.
Anthropologist Helen Fisher can tell you more authoritatively than I can what love is. She wrote an entire book about the nature and chemistry of romantic love, called WHY WE LOVE: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love (Holt, 2004.) Her historical research shows that relationship insanity defies the bounds of time and space; neither unhealthy, addictive love nor serene, “companionate” love is a product of the modern world. Both are characterized by distinct physical and psychological patterns that can be measured and charted.
Yet none of this stops me from crushing on an inappropriate man when the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. Self-knowledge, as they say, avails us nothing.
But… I can take my emotional temperature when I am staring at someone across a crowded room, or across a dinner table. Does this feel more like the excitement of pulling a jackpot at the slot machine, I ask myself, or the satisfaction of watching my savings account grow?
We all know how much fun that jackpot is in the moment. We all know how impossible it is to plan a future around it.