Online dating has given me an uncomfortable look at what it means to be addicted to love.
The entire process is intoxicating. That includes the first glance at a profile to texting someone and finally meeting. I try to stay detached during this initial stage. Yet, in the back of my head, I hate to admit that I enjoy the first rush of excitement too much.
Online dating has forced me to take a long, hard look at myself. What I’ve discovered is deeply disturbing. I now wonder if I used to be addicted to love.
I met my first love addict when I was a practicing psychologist. During our initial counseling appointment, an attractive young woman said she had a problem and described a string of failed relationships.
“What’s wrong with me? I meet these great guys. We hit it off, and I fall in love. Then the next few weeks are fabulous. I’m on top of the world. One day, I wake up and feel nothing for him. Just like that, we’re over.”
Her eyes welled with tears. “What am I doing it wrong? Am I not meant to be in love?”
I didn’t it until later that I had just met a Romantic Love Addict.
What exactly is love addiction?
Unless a stalker makes the headline news, we mostly ignore this issue, but the problem is more prevalent than we think. Between three to ten percent of us struggle with this type of addiction, but the rates can run as high as 25 percent in some populations, such as college students.
Most of us picture someone enthralled with the chase of romance. That’s the most common type. However, we can become addicted to the idea of being in a relationship, even a fantasized one. People who relentlessly pursue celebrities are a great example.
Any connection, whether platonic, sexual, or romantic, becomes problematic when we believe it will fulfill us. That includes a family member, child, friend, love interest, or even a spiritual leader.
According to Robert Hall, there are nine types of love addictions.
But it took me marrying a sex addict to realize that I might have a problem with love addiction.
I’d met my second husband online and immediately hit it off; I thought I’d met my soulmate. The first red flag — there is no such thing.
It was a relief to be in a steady relationship. A year earlier, I was widowed after being married for 31 years.
For the first time in my adult life, I was on my own. I was terrified. It felt like I was free falling into a bottomless pit. I dated like it was my second job.
I knew the desperation that drove me was a problem and that I shouldn’t be pushing this hard.
Several times I spoke to a therapist for advice. They told me to stay busy, go out with friends, and find a new hobby. So I did.
None of those activities, however, solved the problem of going home alone and facing my empty life.
The issue wasn’t my activity level. Staying busy was easy. I had wrapped my entire identity up in being a wife to my first husband, and when he died, so did a part of me. Without him, I no longer knew who I was.
I rushed out and auditioned for the role of being someone else’s wife and ended up married to an abusive sex addict.
At first, this new relationship was amazing — the thing of dreams. Here was someone who embodied everything I was looking for in a man. Finally, I was going to be happy.
Or so I thought.
Yes, his deception and lies played a significant role in our marriage’s destruction, but I also contributed because I chose him. I eagerly jumped into this relationship too fast, hoping to outrun my inner demons.
Although I hate to admit it, even if my ex had never betrayed me, I still wouldn’t have been happy. I had set him up for an impossible job — to define me and make me whole. If I cannot find peace and contentment within myself, how could anyone else do it for me?
I wished I could say a Twelve-Step Program or therapy helped me get over this problem, but it didn’t. It took this damn pandemic for me to face this issue. Being quarantined alone for over nine months has broken the habit. In the quiet of my home, I have made peace with myself and have discovered I’m enough.
I had a delightful date with someone new yesterday. While we spent the afternoon together, I listened to this guy’s life story, his failed relationships, and his plans. He said something that caught my attention and shook me.
“I need someone. Desperately so. A relationship keeps me out of trouble.”
In these words, I recognized who I used to be — that woman who rushed and married a dangerous man. This guy, like me, is a love addict.
We ended the date with a big hug and a promise to stay in touch. I know he’d like there to be more, but I can’t fix the ache in his heart; only he can.
This time, I’m handling things differently; I’m passing on the opportunity because I’m finished with being a love addict
Kerry Kerr McAvoy, a psychologist, author and writer, is in cultivating healthy relationships, deconstructing narcissism, and understanding various other mental health-related issues. Her novel based on a true story, which explores the devastating impacts of deceit and betrayal, is due out in 2021.