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.