The Lovely Addict

Are we built to avoid love?

The longer you’ve been reading my blog, the more you get that it’s not exactly love addiction that’s your problem (oh sure, that’s the outward manifestation of it!). It’s self avoidance. Plain and simple.

The more you chase after a toxic, unavailable, abusive partner and focus on fixing something that will most likely never be fixed, the more you are avoiding yourself. The more you commit fully to a fully non-committed individual, the more you are refusing to focus on meeting your essential needs. And the more you remain anchored to fantasy land (he’ll come around someday...), the more you are denying yourself reality worth living. Worse, you are avoiding taking care of yourself, mentally, emotionally and physically. You are avoiding making responsible, safe choices for yourself by choosing people who respect you, who are kind to you and who really deeply want to be around you.  And you are avoiding growing up and all that entails.

That you love him is merely a distraction.

So, the other night, while I was devouring my new book Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson, PhD, I came across a few paragraphs about avoidance and where it comes from. Hanson writes that our “brain is built more for avoiding than for approaching.” Yikes! He says that’s because “it’s the negative experiences, not the positive ones, that have generally had the most impact on survival.” He goes on to give examples. For example, if you miss your opportunity to hook up with a sexy excruciatingly, you can always find another one. But if you miss your opportunity to dodge a charging sabertooth tiger, you’re dead. No second chance. But, how does that prehistoric behavior apply to today’s world where there’s virtually no threat of charging tigers?

Well, according to scientific research, we still desperately try to control and protect ourselves from perceived threats. It’s almost as if our brain doesn’t distinguish between a charging tiger or a partner who is placing a pretty serious demand for commitment on us. Our brain doesn’t see the difference between an attacking mammoth and a nagging heap of responsibilities that overwhelm and distress us. In the avoidant brain, these scenarios are all seen as equally unpleasant threats that need to be avoided.

The reality is, however, that while we may be prone to our biology, we have evolved enough to know better. And we now have the tools to change and re-evaluate what is truly life-threatening versus what is merely uncomfortable (excruciatingly uncomfortable for some). The first step towards avoiding avoidance is, like it or not, to face your fears and recognize that they won’t kill you. Being alone is a big fear. Many people avoid getting out of a bad relationship simply because the fear of being alone is overwhelming. Finding a job and supporting yourself financially is another. The fear of entrapment in a nine to five job can really keep people paralyzed from seeking out any work. And let’s face it, when we are obsessing over a chaotic, toxic relationship, we have little time to focus on our responsibilities.

If this sounds remotely familiar try “exposure therapy.” Expose yourself little by little to that which frightens you, that which you are avoiding. If it is fear of being alone, then, while still in a relationship, schedule one day of solitude per week. Go see a movie by yourself. Go out to a restaurant by yourself. Curl up on the sofa and binge watch your favorite Netflix series. You might find that during your alone time you learn more about who you are and what you like. You are also strengthening your survival skills to be able to emotionally handle time on your own.

Procrastination is one thing; complete avoidance is another. Whatever you are trying to avoid won’t go away. Chances are, it’ll get worse. More than that, obsessing over your relationship won’t help you resolve the real problem: self avoidance.

Is your guy a Peter Pan?

I just came home from my son’s high school production of Peter Pan–a great show all with flying harnesses and magical light fairies dancing across the stage. But as I sat through and really listened to the characters’ lines, Peter’s and Wendy’s in particular, it was eerily reminiscent of relationships past.

To refresh your memory, here’s a very short plot summary: Peter Pan is the story of a magical boy who refuses to grow up and, instead, lives on the island of Neverland with his buddies, the Lost Boys. All together they get into boyish scrimmages and adventures with a Pirate (Captain Hook) and a band of Indians. One night, Peter visits the nursery of The Darling children, Wendy, John and Michael, where Wendy takes a liking to him and tries to get a kiss from him. Peter has no clue what a kiss is and so he gives her a thimble instead, for which she takes and puts on her necklace as a keepsake. Peter convinces the children to fly away with him to Neverland, which they do, and while there, they determine that Wendy will be their mother. She agrees, under the condition that Peter be their father. He hesitantly agrees, but only if it’s “pretend.” Not wanting to commit to anything more serious, he humors Wendy playing the role, but says he doesn’t like the responsibility of being grown up. At times he even gets angry with her when she imposes too much emotion or responsibility onto him:

Wendy: I think you have, Peter. And I daresay you’ve felt it yourself. For something… or… someone?
Peter: Never. Even the sound of it offends me.
[Wendy tries to touch his face, and he jumps away]
Peter: Why do you have to spoil everything? We have fun, don’t we? I taught you to fly and to fight. What more could there be?
Wendy: There is so much more.
Peter: What? What else is there?
Wendy: I don’t know. I guess it becomes clearer when you grow up.
Peter: Well, I will not grow up. You cannot make me!

When she finally asks him about his “feelings” for her he says, “I feel for you like a son feels for his mother…” In the end Wendy chooses to leave Neverland. She asks Peter not to forget her…

Wendy: Peter. You won’t forget me, will you?
Peter: Me? Forget? Never.
Wendy: Will you ever come back?
Peter: To hear stories… About me.

While Peter promises to come back each “Spring cleaning” he forgets and time passes. Wendy grows old and the story ends with Peter eventually coming back to take Wendy’s daughter to Neverland.

Sound familiar?

The story of Peter Pan is, of course, that of the love addict and her avoidant boyfriend. The motherly, doting, codependent grown up woman paired with the fun, exciting, but immature “boy” who, when emotions get too serious, tends to run away. In The Break Up Journal I refer to “P” as a Peter Pan; in fact, I chose the letter P for the parallel of my ex to Peter. When I began dating P (who was 40 at the time), he had never had a serious relationship, never been married, no children, still lived at home, could barely pay his bills and would hang out in the basement of his parents’ house and listen to Grateful Dead records as if no time had passed between now and when he was in high school.

P suffered from severely stunted growth, a bit of narcissism and an intimacy disorder which kept him from being able to truly become intimate with people, specifically women. In retrospect, I couldn’t see him for who he was. I was too wrapped up in how “fun” he was, and how good looking I thought he was. I suffered from a Wendy-syndrome–a desire to attach to Peter Pan and mother him, versus be his equal. Essentially, I had refused to grow up too.

As I sat awestruck at my son’s play, I told my very grown up husband how deeply affected I was by the story. He squeezed my hand and said, “It hits too close to home, I bet.” Yes. I suppose it does. That was my life circa 2008. I was Wendy. I was in love with Peter. But, then I grew up.

Love addiction recovery is like leaving Neverland. It’s about choosing to grow up, whether you want to or not. It’s about recognizing that you cannot change the Peters of the world and letting them remain in their fantasy land while you make a forward leap into reality.

 

Love addict’s wishful thought #47: if only he went to therapy…

Who hasn’t had this thought pop into her head: If only my boyfriend saw a therapist, everything would be different.

I can’t tell you how many times I wished this exact thing. And why did I wish it? Because I believed that after all the self-help books I’d read, therapy was the answer.  Not to my problems, of course, but my boyfriend’s. And if my bf would just go to a therapist, said therapists would back me up and convince my guy that he needs to change, (just like I said he should) or he would risk losing a relationship with me.

Looking back over all the men I dated, only two were willing to go to therapy “for me,” my ex husband and G. Both therapy sessions went horribly wrong.

The first time my ex husband and I went to a therapist he lied about his cheating and had no real interest in changing his behavior. He merely did it to appease me, and probably because he felt bullied by me and just gave in. I was desperately trying to save my marriage, singlehandedly, and the only advice we left with was “You two need to date again.” This didn’t exactly resolve anything. But, it did delay the inevitable. And the inevitable came with a flip flop. It was now me who wanted out of the relationship. And so,  the second time we went, it was on his instance to save the marriage. But, by the time I got to therapy, I was completely unable to be “convinced” to stay in the marriage and we divorced shortly after.

When I dated G, I was in therapy because I was unable to accept G’s “flaws” and I was trying to figure out why I was always so frustrated and depressed. He always said he loved me, and he called all the time. What was my problem? Well, my problem was he smoked pot and never wanted to have sex with me. So, I thought if I could get him to meet with a therapist, she would convince him these things were interfering in our relationship and he should change his ways to save the relationship.

This didn’t work. He liked smoking pot and he had an extremely low libido (most likely because of the pot), and he had no desire to change.

So what did these men learn from therapy? Probably nothing. What did I learn? That’s more important here. I learned that just because a well-educated relationship specialist understands what it takes to have a healthy relationship, they could not convince someone to love me or to BE what I wanted them to be. Just because my therapist and I agreed that my boyfriend’s behavior was not acceptable, it didn’t mean he also agreed or even cared. And therein lies the problem.

Therapy doesn’t convince anyone to love you, especially if they don’t want to be convinced. And believing in therapy as a way to “fix” a relationship that is founded on neglect, disrespect, avoidance or any other ingrained behavior is wishful, unrealistic thinking.

Therapy ONLY works when two people are committed to each other and when those two people share the same value in working on the relationship. More importantly, what we learn from therapy is often something we don’t particularly want to learn: that we cannot control or convince others to love us. And the “everything will be different” fantasy typically comes when you ditch the guy who clearly doesn’t love you and replace him for one who does. And, surprise! When that happens, you typically find yourself not needing therapy at all!

The Break Up Journal: Anniversary Blues

henry-cavill-supermanAugust 8

Long day yesterday. Spent the morning on the computer. Got the boys lunch and then my sister-in-law was over by 1:30. We were at the airport by 2:30. We waited two hours until they finally cleared customs at 4:30. We didn’t get home until almost 7 due to traffic. We had a quick dinner while Abuelo and Abuela played with the kids. They left by 7:30!

I talked to P a bit at night. We laughed. I tried to just keep things light. He so resists help though. He’s cutting back on cable and I said, “Well, you can always come here and watch TV.” He said, “Or just go down to the bar and watch.” Dear Lord.

I feel like telling him that he is so out of touch with himself. And almost completely incapable of handling a relationship [Irony?!]. It’s sad. It’s sad when a man holds on to…Read More

The Break Up Journal: crazy

August 7

Maybe I need to stop having fantasy-like expectations of a relationship. I don’t even want to go “there” today—more complaining, more expecting…

How about this:

  • I will not try to “win” anyone’s love today.
  • I will not seek out C as a resource of comfort, or anything for that matter
  • I will not have any expectations of P. I will do exactly as I have been doing, giving my same level of input, and being ME, without any expectations or fantasies. I cannot continue to say and do things and expect certain responses (and then be upset when I do not get the response I want, or that I imagine is best). I just need to be me and allow him to be him.

My man is struggling. He is trying to pay down his debts. It has nothing to do with me. He is not running away from me. Distance is not rejection here. When he’s emotionally distant or unavailable it’s not because of me. It’s something inside him. He’s tired, he’s angry at his financial situation. Whatever it is, he said it’s not me, and I must believe him.

You see, the trouble is… Read More

Are YOU unavailable?

You know I’m always preaching about availability right? And my most important point is that if you get into a relationship with an unavailable person, you’re the one who is really unavailable.  I can’t remember where, but I read a really fabulous article on how we make ourselves available. And one of the best “feng shui” things we can do is get rid of all the guy “friends,” and the “friends with benefits” and the ambivalent ones who haven’t made their move in two years. It turns out we tend to keep characters in our lives like this merely to pass the time and help us wait out the loneliness and boredom until someone real comes along. Trouble is, these types of guys do two detrimental things: they keep you from being 100% available by driving off potential suitors, and they don’t allow you to experience the true sense of aloneness that we all must, if we are to appreciate living a more authentic life.

What would happen if you got rid of these hangers on? What are you afraid of? Let go…

The other big move you can make to be more available is to stop dating or investing your time in unavailable partners. They waste your time, they keep you at a constant “safe” distance and they are unable to commit to a healthy relationship by holding up their end of the commitment. When you date a person like this, it leaves you unavailable for someone who is truly willing to love you and be committed to you.

I’ve had a few conversations this week with readers who find themselves in the common and oftentimes unavoidable trap of believing that “all men are unavailable.” I too thought ALL men were unavailable. I thought that all my life, and no, I never dated one healthy person prior to D. Not one (and I dated many!)

When you live in poverty, you see the world through the eyes of a hungry person. When you live in a crime-infested world, you see the world through the eyes of a criminal. And when you are a love addict, you see the world through the eyes of a person who has a very narrow, desperate sense of who people are.

This is a false belief. And when you have this false belief it gives you the freedom to continue to settle for unavailable avoidant partners. If you believe no one is available, then you will settle for unavailable.

My suggestion: surround yourself with healthy people, healthy couples. Familiarize yourself with what a healthy man looks like. I know that for many years I tried to avoid being in situations where I was in the presence of a healthy couple. They kinda made me want to gag! They made me jealous and feel like my own life was lacking. But the truth is, I needed to learn what to look for in a healthy partner because I had no clue.

 

The Break-Up Journal: Love hurts

August 4: I so need a life, a career. Something to distract me from my obsessive thoughts. I’m getting my period and I can’t sleep. I’m jittery, and I’m making unhealthy choices like seeing C yesterday morning and calling him back at night after seeing that he called me. Not wanting to see P today either (what’s the point if it’s only for a few hours). I want to push him away. Go! Get out! You are hurting me. So, I’ll go back to someone else who has hurt me a little less.

And how is P hurting me? It’s so subtle but it’s happening. He’ll come all the way out to my mom’s house for dinner but he won’t come back to my place, which is right around the corner. He has to “run.” Or, he’ll offer to come tomorrow while he has a half day at his day job and work at night. That’ll only leave us about two hours. How convenient. And he won’t come today on his day off because he has “doctors” to see??? Nope don’t want it. Tracy say no. I think I need some Tracy time. Definitely. Because right now I am hating a lot of stuff about P. Here’s the list of what bothers me most…Read More

Definition of insanity or love addiction?

Why do we continue to believe that our partner or love-interest will take us out to dinner or buy us flowers or call when he said he would or make himself available at the spur of the moment, or any of these things when, habitually, he has proven not to do them? Why do we continue to expect a certain level of intimacy when it rarely happens? And why do we continue to make an effort to convince him or her to love us, when we have never yet received the love we so crave?

Sounds like insanity to expect something different when all you get is the same lack of interest over and over again. Right?

Well, you’ve heard the cliche that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And while this definition doesn’t exactly define true insanity, I think it’s safe to say that for some of us who repeatedly put up with the same situation from the same type of people and never seem to see the results we hope for–but we stay anyway–it surely defines love addiction.

In fact, I think it’s also safe to say that this type of behavior is what separates love addicts from healthier people who refuse to put up with things like avoidance, neglect, apathy, abuse, unavailability, lying or cheating. A love addict puts up with these things. But why?

  • She thinks this is the best she’s ever going to get
  • She hopes that things will change and eventually he will come around
  • She doesn’t know that there is a healthier way to relate to people
  • She has become dependent on the relationship, to meet most if not all of her needs
  • She is living in fantasy

If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired and want change, you need to stop repeating the same behavioral patterns and stop accepting them from others. You need to step out of habitual actions and do something different if you want different results. One of the best changes we can make toward better health and healthier relationships is to align our words and our actions.

Here’s an example. Often, we say one thing with our words: “If you flirt with her again I will leave.” Then, we don’t back it up with our actions. Time goes by, things are good. And he flirts again with another woman. And yet,  you don’t leave. Instead, you create excuses. Well, circumstances were different, or He didn’t flirt with the same girl, or This time he seemed sincere in his apology.

The truth is, you sent the following message: I SAY that I don’t like you’re behavior at all, but, MY ACTIONS ARE THAT I’m willing to put up with it as long as you stay in my life. Not only does this send mix messages it sends the wrong message! It teaches people that you don’t mean what you say. It teaches people not to trust you. And it teaches people that you are WILLING and TOLERANT of inappropriate behavior, despite being hurt by it.

In order for the insanity to stop, you need to stop repeating the same behavior patterns and stop accepting them from others. When you say, “I no longer accept this behavior,” you need to back that up with appropriate action, or nothing will change. Just yelling at someone, or complaining or crying or shutting them out for a while doesn’t do the trick. Sincere action must take place. And love cannot be more important than safety, security, dignity and respect.

This may or may not mean a break up. But loving yourself and valuing your personal worth demand that you be willing to accept the consequences of your newfound self-respect. If your current partner doesn’t like the “new you” or the new conditions, then you need to find someone else who does.

You available? Think about it

unavailable If you’re frustrated that your “partner” seems unavailable, it might be YOU who’s unavailable. Think about it. When we are truly available and ready for love, we choose partners who are also available and ready for love. When we are available, we seek out people who are not afraid of commitment, intimacy, and responsibility. So look closely. Not at him, but at YOU.

 

10 Relationship Red Flags Not to Ignore

Most people know a red flag when they see one. And I don’t care how healthy and grounded you are, responding to subtle signs of incompatibility once you notice them is really hard to do. And yet, that’s what sets healthy relationship seekers apart from unhealthy ones. A healthy person will ultimately choose to walk away from a potential partner if the “signs” warn danger. An unhealthy person will most likely see the signs, but ignore them. The reason we do this is because being in a relationship–any relationship–is often more important than the quality of the relationship, and, because being alone is perceived as far more unpleasant than being in a relationship with a mate who might not be good for us.

That being said, here are 10 warning signs, or red flags to look out for when dating. When you see them, detect them, notice them or confirm them, he (or she) is most likely not the best catch. Move on!

  1. They have one or more episodes of cheating in their past Many people are on the fence with cheating. Some say, once a cheater always a cheater. Others say, people can change. I’m not sure which side I’m on. Personally, I’d like to know that the guy I am about to date has never cheated and has my same values.  I think if they mentioned that they cheated in their distant past but they have proof of a long-term stable relationship where no cheating took place, there may be hope. Keep an eye out on this one.
  2. They’re married If you meet a hot guy out at a club who is clearly giving off “the vibe” only to find out he’s married, this is the red flag of all red flags. Honestly, unless there’s proof that they moved back in with their parents, or have completely severed ties with their ex and divorce/settlement agreement has already been registered with the courts, this is one guy or girl you need to stay away from. Heck, if he’s interested and you think there’s a chance, tell him, When your divorce is finalized, then you can call me. 
  3. There’s more secrecy than you feel comfortable with She said she’d be going out for the weekend, but wouldn’t tell you where. You’ve never met her friends. You don’t know where she lives or, for that matter, where she works. Red flag, red flag, red flag. People who are available are engaged in sharing and opening up to you. Maybe not all at once. But, enough for you to feel like there’s definitely a willingness to be somewhat vulnerable.
  4. They do not speak well of their past relationships, and/or it was always the other person’s “fault” that the relationship ended. One of the things that I loved about my current husband when we were first dating was how kindly he spoke of his ex, even though she had left him. She was, in his mind, the mother of his children and even though he was hurt by her, she still deserved the respect of not being talked badly about. Granted, this hurt a bit. Sometimes we want to clearly be the center of someone’s world and we want to be elevated while everyone else is demoted to bitch, or monster, or most hated. Some of us feel “safer” when our love interest speaks badly about others. It’s as if we are the only one they love. And yet, the way your date speaks about people is a direct clue into his own personality. So, unless he is putting his ex on a pedestal (not good), you don’t want to date someone who trash talks his ex.
  5. They continue to impose strange restrictions after a decent amount of time dating (i.e. “Don’t call me at the office,” “Don’t show up unannounced,” etc.) People who like you typically want to be around you. And, unless you are coming on too strong and showing up unannounced all the time (not good), this type of restriction is a bit strange. Case in point: I was dating this guy for five months. By this point we had slept together, said, “I love you,” and we were even leaving clothes and toiletries over the other’s house. I had very clear boundaries (never showed up unannounced, never called his office, unless he specifically said it was OK). At any rate, one afternoon, I happen to be passing by his house and thought, “Let me just pop in.” Bad idea. He opened up the door, barely let me in and I felt immediately uncomfortable. No, no one was there. He wasn’t cheating on me per se, but he was smoking, something he said he had quit. Anyway, you don’t want to ever just “show up” unannounced. Not a good dating move at all. But, you also don’t want to date some guy who imposes those types of restrictions when it’s not warranted.
  6. They fall in love with you almost immediately Most people don’t see this as a red flag, although, heck yeah. It’s a biggie. People who value their heart and know the seriousness of commitment don’t “dive in” so quickly. That’s not to say they won’t feel passionate or hugely emotional towards you. But they will refrain from things like moving in, saying I love you, proposing marriage, or even having sex.
  7. They’ve never had a longterm, committed relationship. OK, so, anyone around the age of 25 might not fit this particular red flag. But, if you’re dating someone 30-years-old or older and they have not had a longterm committed relationship this could be a sign of social anxiety, intimacy issues, avoidance, emotional unavailability and so on. One of the best signs of a healthy partner is that he or she has had healthy, relatively successful relationships, or it’s something he or she is working towards. People change, there is hope. But, for love addicts, you want to stay away from people who cannot commit. It’s too much of an oil and water relationship.
  8. They say one thing and do another; they lie This is a classic move of Miss or Mr. Unavailable and a red flag if ever there was one. It is essential that a healthy relationship be built on trust and honesty, and  the only way for that to happen is if a person’s words align with their actions. If you are detecting lies, then, you are most likely embarking on a lifetime of distrust and feeling hugely distance from your partner. When a person lies, they want to put distance between you and them. When a person tells the truth, they are seeking closeness.
  9. They do drugs; drink too much Whether you partake in recreational drugs or drinking or not, you definitely want to stay away from someone who does to excess. What’s excess? That’s up to you to decide. But here’s the bottom line: drugs and alcohol use is a relationship barrier. While “a few drinks” may loosen you up and help you relax, it ultimately keeps you from experiencing true reality (especially the uncomfortable kind) and worse,  true, deep intimacy. Not only that, but no one has EVER had a serious conversation when they were stoned, drunk or on drugs. You need to see and experience people as they really are, and if your date is always drunk, then, who are you dating? You’ll never know.
  10. They treat people poorly, take pleasure in hurting others (including animals) or express an unusual amount of hate and anger toward people, placed or things. Always be on the look out for subtle clues of a potentially violent, sadistic or disturbing past. These are the types of red flags that, when ignored, can be very dangerous.

When our desire for a relationship, love or sex overcomes our capacity to think logically, rationally and to take care of ourselves, we may be a love addict. Take a look at the people you’ve dated in the past. Can you clearly see their red flags? What did you do when you noticed them? Ignore them, or leave? How does your current partner sum up? Does he or she have red flags? Are you just “dealing with” those red flags in hopes they go away, or are you working toward getting out of the relationship? Red flags are warning signs. If a potential partner or date is waving a red flag, pay attention and take action. That doesn’t mean work to change him. It usually means moving on to someone with no red flags.