When love and sex become a means to distract or escape from emotional pain, partner choice becomes skewed. Compatibility becomes based on “whether or not you will leave me,” “how intense our sex life is” or “how I can hook you into staying,” rather than mutual compatibility or whether we might truly become intimate and healthy peers, friends and companions.
It can be difficult to understand how the gifts of love and romance can evolve into painfully destructive and compulsive patterns. Yet for the love addicted, romance, sexuality and emotional closeness are experiences more often beset with painful emotional highs and lows than graced by genuine intimacy. Living in a chaotic, desperate internal world of need and emotional despair, romance addicts –these men and women, straight and gay – fear both of being alone and rejected or trapped and stuck in an unhappy relationship.
He or she lives in fear of never finding the one or worse, afraid that when they finally do meet, they themselves will be found unworthy of love. No matter how clever, how smart, how physically attractive or successful, the love addict feels incomplete and haunted by a desire for a fantasy partnership that if fulfilled, would make them complete. In order to achieve their goal relationship addicts will seduction, control, guilt and manipulation to attract and hold onto a romantic or sexual partner, even when unsure whether it is a good match.
Janis, a 27-year-old film student had this to say about her desperate search for love –
Eventually I began to hide my dates. I didn’t want friends to know that I met someone new because so many past times I had said, “he’s the one” and had it not work out that I thought they would laugh at me if I brought yet another guy to the table.
In my desperation I tried dating clubs, speed dating, Internet dating and church dances. Just like the dating books say-I asked everyone I knew to introduce me to someone they could see me dating. And then there were the hobby and recreation groups I joined, ones I didn’t even like, desperately hoping to find him making ceramics, hiking, welding or playing tennis.
When I found someone who felt right I would either have sex right away hoping that would bond us more deeply or avoid sex until we knew each other better thinking that would keep them around. For a while I thought maybe I wasn’t cute or smart enough, later I just blamed the men I dated for being too screwed up. Ultimately it seemed no matter how hard I tried or where I put the blame, I ended up alone.
Over time, my life became more and more about looking for the right guy and less and less about enjoying myself and doing things to make me happy.
Caught up in a constant search for someone to love, the addict’s endless intrigue, flirtations, sexual liaisons and affairs often leave a path of destruction and negative consequences in their wake. Ironically many love addicts have likely already had more than one opportunity for the love and commitment they claim to desire, but in their desperation and narcissism will mistake the intensity of “falling in love” or the drama of problem relationships, for love itself.
Even when dating someone who is safe, stable and appropriate, love addicts can become dissatisfied and anxious. Appearing bored or unhappy but underneath fearful of an emotional trap, he or she may shove aside a perfectly acceptable mate and/or or start cheating while in perfectly good relationship – looking for yet another new intensity or “love” experience. Therein lies the addictive component of their problem. Struggling to have the relationship that everyone else seems to have and he or she does not, love addicts attempt to resolve these painful circumstances by engaging in even more searching dating and sex.
Addictive relationships are characterized by unhealthy dependency, guilt and abuse. At times despairing of her cycle of unhappy affairs, broken relationships and liaisons, the romance addict may try a “swearing off” period, not unlike the anorexic stage of an eating disorder. She may for a while decide that “not being in the game at all” will solve the problem, only to later find the same issues reappearing whenever reattempting intimacy.
Her denial of the problem can be seen her externalization of the problem, blaming boyfriend after boyfriend for being problematic rather than looking at herself. Like the alcoholic who offers up stressful jobs or financial problems as justification for his excessive drinking, the love addicts’ cycle of dramatic and empty relationships keeps them ever distracted from really taking stock of themselves (or potential partners), making it impossible to gain the insight required for change.
Photo by Gisela Giardino, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.