So, I go into this cafe the other day and sit down to have a decaf and a blueberry muffin (biggest weakness ever). And I end up talking to this amazing woman, sitting at a table next to me, who somehow ends up telling me the story of her life –how she’s in her second marriage, and he treats her like garbage, so she started having an affair with someone else, and then she fell in love instantly, but now she can’t seem to let go of the hubby…and….
And then she started crying and said, “I’m at my wit’s end. I don’t know what to do.”
So, I came right out and said, “You sound like a love addict.” And I proceeded to write down the web address to this site, thinking I was doing this poor girl the biggest favor ever. But she looked at me like I had five heads, and quickly replied, “Umm. I am NOT a love addict.”
There I go. Labeling people without their approval. Thinking I know best. When in reality, I am obviously offending them.
So, I quickly apologized and said that I didn’t mean to upset her. And then I added that she should just check into the site anyway, because there’s some really great relationship advice on it. She was OK with that. We actually hugged goodbye and went our separate ways.
But it got me thinking. Why are so many woman so opposed to being labeled a “love addict?” I’ve even heard another woman confess to having a five-year love affair with a married man that she simply couldn’t break it off with. When I told her she might be a love addict, her response was the same. “Absolutely not.” So, what’s the aversion to being called a love addict? And what’s more, what’s the difference between someone who calls themselves a love addict as opposed to someone who just has crappy relationships?
For starters, I think the way we culturally and socially define love addiction has to change. The term “love addict,” to many, has a horrible stigma attached to it. It conjures up the image of some lonely, desperate woman who stalks her “prey” and begs for love obsessively from any man she comes in contact with. On top of that, the term “addict” is reminiscent of “junkie,” “heroin addict,” “pill-popper,” “alcoholic,” or “freak.” Quite frankly, who wants to relate to those images? I certainly didn’t. I never stalked, I never begged, and I was rather selective when it came to whom I dated (well, sort of). In fact, most men chased after me (true!). And by God, when they wanted out of the relationship, See ya! They were free to go. I never tried to hang on or cling to someone who clearly (operative word, clearly) no longer wanted to be in a relationship with me. So, why then, was I so I willing to call myself a love addict when others are not?
Second, people are often in denial about who they are. Part of my willingness to accept the label “love addict” came from my enormous desire to change. I didn’t care what anyone was going to label me, I simply wanted answers, and I wanted to a better way. Also, in my case, I began to realize that being prone to crappy relationships wasn’t just a coincidence. It was a pattern of mine that I couldn’t seem to break out of. It meant that I was the culprit and not just the men I dated. I wasn’t just unlucky. I was actually the one responsible for this unpleasant life that I was creating for myself. Lastly, I turned to The List of 40 Questions for answers. Sadly, I was able to check yes to questions like, “When you are in love, you trust people who are not trustworthy. The rest of the time you have a hard time trusting people.” Or, “You fall in love very easily and too quickly.” Or even, “Sometimes, when you are lonely and looking for companionship, you lower your standards and settle for less than you want or deserve.” Honesty with myself and an ability to throw out my pride, helped me to overlook labels and overcome denial.
Third, some people simply don’t recognize there’s a problem. But I’ve got news for you. Falling in love with an unavailable, married man isn’t just bad luck or something that happened to you. It’s a choice YOU made and it says something about your own personal inability to accept better for yourself. And hopping from boyfriend to husband in the hopes of finding happiness, isn’t the best strategy for managing your life or finding out who you are. And hanging on to someone who neglects you, lies to you, cheats on you and hurts you is not acceptable. It doesn’t just go with the territory. Love is not supposed to hurt. And yet so many people accept their “lot” in life and don’t know there is a way out.
Lastly, maybe they’re just not a love addict. Not everyone is. The definition of an addict is a person who is “abnormally dependent on some habit” to the point of it interfering with the safety, security or well-being of his or her life of others’ lives. Furthermore, love addiction is really the avoidance of the self. We seek out love and obsess over others when we are too afraid to confront our own lives or face our fears. Some of us, however, manage our lives quite well, have great friendships, good families and successfully take care of ourselves despite our ability or desire to enter into a romantic relationship. I often think of people like Gandhi, Mother Theresa, your friendly (single) neighborhood pastor, or the girl or guy next door who simply loves his or her alone time more than the idea of coupling up. Also, there are people who get into bad situations, or have one or two bad relationships, but then, end up learning from their mistakes and eventually find a strong, mutually committed relationship.
I think the tell tale sign of love addiction, at least in most cases, is a pattern of dysfunctional behavior that typically lasts longer than 2-3 years and is marked by an inability or a refusal to leave a relationship despite obvious pain, suffering and/or abuse. If this is the case, I wouldn’t worry about labels. I would read as much as I can and try to become healthy. Period. Addiction or not, I’m guessing you could use the advice. Also, take The List of 40 Questions quiz and see what you come up with. That’s the best way to evaluate your situation.