Addicted to Love: The high cost of navigating love vs. obsession

Q: 

I spent years being single, convinced that I’d never feel again that glorious high of infatuation and new love. The drama of a long union and a complicated breakup resigned me to the fact that the numbness of being single was better than the pain.

As the years went by, I thought giddy romance was for teenagers or young adults, that I had aged out of not only dating, but love itself. A new guy changed all that, but I forgot about the epic highs of love are the catastrophic lows.

It’s been blissful to connect on so many levels. I often feel like a kid again. We made a pact to say something sweet to each other at least once a day to keep the fires burning. It works usually, if not as well as it did at first, especially if there’s been a dustup or we’ve been apart for a while and the withdrawls are gnawing at me.

These days, the sex is still passionate, but it’s just as often make-up sex as it is a function of romance. The satisfaction doesn’t seem to last, and before you know it, we’re unable to live up to each other’s expectations.

Sweet fulfillment is then replaced by intense loneliness and depression. When he’s not here, I want him so bad it hurts. When he is here, we can be miserable if we're not meeting each other's needs.

The low periods don’t bring out my best self, or his, and that leads to miscommunication and hurt feelings, then passionat arguments and making up, then the cycle begins again.

I waited a long time for a man like this to enter my life again, but I’m not sure I can handle the price I pay when things go south.

Dear Addict:

Sadly, you are what Meemaw used to call “in love with love.” More seriously, your highs, withdrawls, years of cold turkey and extreme ups and downs — using adjectives like glorious, catastrophic, blissful, intense, epic, miserable, giddy, depressed — make up a textbook case of love addiction.

Luckily for you, there’s plenty of good info and professional help out there.  That's because so many others also chase the feelings and not the person, and experience the resulting desperation when they're not priming that pump.

One of the best books is Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody. For a quick primer, we also offer four key symptoms showing that you have it, as well as the mirror image in a healthy relationship for comparison, by Alexandra Katehakis, Ph.D., MFT, CST, CSAT.

Love addiction is a painful and debilitating illness, just like alcoholism. Here is a summary of the major symptoms, followed by a description of what might constitute alternative healthy behavior.

Tolerance. The love addict requires increasing displays of romance, contact with the object of affection, or emotional highs related to being in love. 

A healthy partner recognizes another’s limitations and boundaries and does not use the other person to medicate emotions.

Withdrawal. If this “supply” of romance becomes threatened, the love addict experiences withdrawal symptoms akin to those of a drug addict: anxiety, physical ailments, sleeplessness, eating problems, despair or anger. They may even retaliate. 

When faced with disappointment, a healthy partner practices acceptance and patience, realistically assessing their lover’s availability and deciding to move on if unhappy.

Isolation. The love addict slowly becomes more and more preoccupied or enmeshed with romantic affairs, to the exclusion of self-care, work responsibilities, family and friendships. Isolation sets in. 

A healthy partner pursues life goals independently, continuing to grow as a person. They maintain strong ties to a community, family, friends or a support group.

Denial. The love addict returns to hurtful or dangerous relationships over and over, unable to extricate themselves from the situation. 

A healthy partner acknowledges a dysfunctional partnership and recoils from it, seeking help if necessary.

There are even several queer and queer-inclusive SLAA (Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous) meetings in Atlanta every day of the week. Give Google a spin. You and yours may be able to find a deeper connection that is also healthy if you’re willing to put in the work.

Illustration by Brad Gibson

The Q is intended for entertainment, not professional help. Send your burning Q’s to [email protected].  

This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Find past editions of The Q advice colum here, and read the full issue online here:

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