Losing Yourself in Another Person: What’s Love Got to Do With It?

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All my friends know I just have this thing for women. They’ll say, “Who are you with this week, Jerry?” or “Man if I only had your problem.” Most of them think it’s cute that I keep meeting one woman after another. I have a good job and stay in shape. I’m always real nice to women. The trouble is I don’t keep any of the women I meet. Just can’t find the right one. So my friends are always trying to set me up so that I can meet the woman of my dreams. People see me as this great catch and wonder why I am still single. They question if I am gay; but I’m not. Oh, I like women all right. It’s not the sex I am after; it’s the love. The feeling that comes from winning a woman’s heart, bringing her flowers, and being the number one man in her life—heck, it’s to die for! Yet there’s a big downside to all this. You see, I’m 45 and life gets lonely after a while, especially on the holidays. Also, I’ve been with some pretty angry women who’ve made me pay big time. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just not cut out for a serious relationship. But, hey, don’t be feelin’ sorry for old Jerry. There’s always another lady out there and I like ’em all.

So many of us know the feeling all too well of losing ourselves in another person. Our hearts flutter, our step’s a little quicker, and every day is a sunny day. When we meet the person of our dreams we feel like we are walking on air and we can’t wait to see them. Our friends may know we are in love just by looking at us. All our problems seem to disappear. Most of us have these euphoric experiences in adolescence, but only occasionally in our adult relationships as we move into more serious partnerships.

Romantic love is a normal transition to mature love. Generally, stable adult relationships often begin in the honeymoon phase where lovers revel in an essential but ephemeral stage of bonding that leads to more serious commitment. Unfortunately, as the example above illustrates, some seemingly stable people never get beyond the romantic stage of love relationships and they suffer from being stuck. Essentially they fall in love with being in love for its own sake; they never fully commit to the hard work and meaningful rewards of authentic love to one human being over an extended period of time. The heartache, emptiness, missed opportunity and depressive lifestyle of such persons ought not be minimized. Indeed those of us who fall in love for all the wrong reasons are essentially putting ourselves further out of reach of what we crave most in life — a meaningful connection to another human being. In fact, being in love with love has little to do with love at all.

What is love addiction?

True committed romantic love is a dedication of self to another person’s happiness and well-being as well as your own, over an extended period of time while simultaneously maintaining a strong sense of self. It involves having personal responsibility and integrity, authentically sharing and supporting each other’s feelings, respecting personal differences, enjoying strong sexual attraction, sharing common goals, being committed to one another in good times and bad times, and mutually promoting the growth of each partner. It is the ultimate in human connection and the bedrock of family health. True love takes people to places they never knew existed. It is a decision, not just a feeling, by two already whole people to be bigger together than they would be on their own.

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Love addiction is completely different from authentic love. It is a pretense of love — a soap opera. It is the obsessive and compulsive relationship with being in love itself. It involves taking from rather than giving to another human being under the appearance of generosity. It is a dishonest romance with good intentions that is destructively out of control, undermines personal dignity, and is desperately disrespectful. Love addicts don’t fall in love with real people, they fall in love with the thrill of having someone else make them whole. This magical union is akin to worshipping movie stars. Once relationship flaws are discovered and deeper commitment is required, love addicts flee the scene either physically or emotionally and become desperately needy. The superficiality and dishonesty of addictive relationships make them doomed to end as love addicts never fulfill their promise and eventually outwear their usefulness to one another. Love addicts never grieve, they replace. Ultimately, love addiction has to do with self-deprivation and covering up pain.

True love takes people to places they never knew existed. It is a decision, not just a feeling, by two already whole people to be bigger together than they would be on their own. Click To Tweet

Signals of love addiction

Compulsive love often goes unrecognized because it gets mistaken for the normal ups and downs of romantic relationships or for the hedonistic preoccupation of sexual addiction. Many professional helpers refuse to see the powerlessness and unmanageability of love addiction as they minimize its compulsivity.

You may have a love addiction if you answer yes to the following questions:

  1. Do you find it impossible to stop seeing your lover even when you know he or she is not good for you?
  2. Do you revel in the sex or romance you have with this person partly because that’s about all there is to the relationship?
  3. Would you feel hopelessly guilty even at the thought of ending the relationship?
  4. Do you keep secrets from friends and relatives about the downside of your relationship?
  5. Do you keep trying desperately to get your partner to respect you or truly understand your feelings to no avail?
  6. Are you forever trying to prove your love to your special person?
  7. Are you plagued by insecurity and jealousy  when your lover brings a third party into your relationship?
  8. Do you often doubt your own sanity or find yourself excessively blaming yourself for relationship problems?
  9. Do you live for the dream of some magical union in the future with some special person?
  10. Are you frequently checking other people out or allowing them to flirt with you just to keep the door open?
  11. Are you actively involved with your friends or have you dropped seeing them due to your relationship?
  12. Have you lost count on the number of relationships you’ve been in?
  13. Does the rest of your life suffer because you are constantly preoccupied with your relationship?
  14. Has your spiritual life been damaged due to your relationships troubles?
  15. Are you involved in sex with your partner that just doesn’t feel loving?
  16. Do you regularly avoid expressing your true thoughts and feelings to your lover?

Origins of compulsive love

Several factors contribute to being out of control in love relationships. Like other forms of addictions, some people have a biological vulnerability to love addiction. When we fall in love our brains have been programmed from evolution to release hormones — dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin — that have euphoric and exhilarating affects on us. We literally walk on cloud nine! For some of us this rush is so intense that it becomes a preoccupation to continually seek out, particularly if other parts of our life are problematic. The wish to keep chasing after this rush is the basis for love addiction. Non-addicts may simply be serenely happy, but love addicts are swept away by romance.

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Cultural programming significantly sets us up for love addiction. Sex role stereotypes dictate that men should play the white knights that rescue the damsels in distress played by their female partners. This polarization and pretending become real for some people, particularly if they see no healthy models for romantic love. Such dichotomizing leaves partners desperate and insecure with one another as each has what the other lacks. Unfortunately, two halves don’t make a whole; they make an addictive relationship. TV media, cosmetics advertising, and the film industry all reinforce sexual stereotypes while appearing not to.

Finally, emotional deprivation and childhood history of emotional incest with a parent often are at the roots of love addiction. Losing control with a current lover becomes a reenactment of the original parental bond. Rather than feel the enormity of our loss, we may unconsciously choose to cover it up with addictive love. Often it’s all we know how to do.

Making changes

If you’re even thinking about making changes in how you love, give yourself a lot of credit. It takes incredible courage and wise support to go from addictive love to authentic connection. Focus on yourself, not your partner. You may be tempted to manipulate or change your lover rather than making changes in yourself that you so desperately need. Don’t pressure yourself into deciding to leave or stay. Instead, decide to take care of yourself.

The place to start is admitting that you are powerless and out of control with a partner and get support. The core wound of love addiction is emotional deprivation. So stop depriving yourself. Attend several meetings and check out 12 Step groups so that you feel at home with at least one of them. Ideally, an SLAA (Sex and Loved Addicts Anonymous), SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous), or a challenging Al-Anon group may be places to start. The self-help directory in The Phoenix has relevant contact information.

Read, How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard Halpern (Bantam Books, 2004) and Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody (Harper Books, 1992). If you’re like many addicts, you will be resistant to attending meetings — which is a sign that you likely need to. For professional support, consult a guide who already has experience with helping people recover from love addiction. You are hardly alone. Almost all of us at some point in our lives have the experience of losing ourselves in love as we painfully realize that love’s got nothing to do with it.

John H. Driggs, LICSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice in St. Paul and co-author of Intimacy Between Men (Penguin Books, 1990). He can be reached at 651-699-4573.

This article first appeared in the February 2006 issue of The Phoenix Spirit. We may earn commissions through some of the links on this page – at no cost to you.

Last Updated on October 19, 2020

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