The Lovely Addict

Real Change: your addict doesn’t need to die, she just needs to shut up already

We often think that big change is black and white. That for growth and change to occur, one must become completely different. This isn’t exactly true. I watched some silly Lifetime movie on love addiction the other night and the character who played a counselor says to the love addict, “the addict must die, so that the healthy person inside can live.” I’m not sure I believe that. For years now, my addict has lived side by side with my healthy self.  Thing is, my addict changed in order to live in peace and harmony with healthy me. Addict Me now defers to Healthy Me because it knows that Healthy Me makes better choices and there’s less pain than when Addict Me was in charge. So, the addict inside has transformed itself; it has become subservient, tamed. But she’s still there. And while she no longer has the power she once had, she can still poke her head out of the ether and demand attention. Addict Me makes herself know when I long for “longing.” She rears her ugly head when I am ladened with anxiety and panic, or when I allow myself to turn completely co-dependent with my kids. She sometimes keeps me from making adult choices, and is always there when I can’t cope with stress. Most of the time though, she is a shadow self that follows me around dutifully and stays out of Healthy Me’s business.

Anyway, my point in relating this is that change doesn’t have to be so massive that a part of you must die. Unhealthy behavior can act like a shape-shifter. It is malleable (hello brain plasticity!). It can be taught to do better. Addict You doesn’t have to die. But it does have to be put in its place and told who’s boss…

1. The biggest and most successful change I made in my life was to grow up. That’s something I never really wanted to do. Being an adult scared the pants off me. It meant being responsible, working, being accountable, taking risks I didn’t want to take and facing fears I didn’t want to face. And while becoming a mom helped me to overcome some of my resistance to growing up ( a lot of it actually), I still remained emotionally anchored to my youth. That all changed in 2008 when the pain of remaining immature finally outweighed the fear of becoming a grown up. And I have news for you, while being a grown up is hard, it’s not that hard!!! :) The longer you do it, the better at it you become. Stunted growth happens when we AVOID ourselves. Period. We use relationships and sex (and drugs, money, shopping, food, you name it…) to avoid. Once you realize that, it’s over. Your love addict can take a back seat, because you now know that the one thing she can’t have in order to be all-powerful, is self-growth.

2. The second biggest change was facing my fear of intimacy. In the past, I had always dated emotionally avoidant men who tended to be mentally, physically and emotionally unavailable. I did this as way to protect myself. I did this because I was unavailable. As much as I wanted love and a relationship, I was too immature and too afraid of exposing myself to someone who might have high expectations of me, to someone who might demand too much from me in the way of intimacy. I’m not a very intimate person. I can go “deep” every once in a while, but typically, I prefer to have very superficial relationships that don’t tie me down. I am this way because I have entrapment issues. My fear of entrapment ultimately led me to hop into relationships that were overly simplistic, where there was no real communication or intimacy (but lots of intensity). Getting over this meant finding someone who could love, respect, and show kindness to me, but didn’t trap me. Knowing yourself means knowing how much intimacy you are comfortable with. The more you experience intimacy with others and recognize that they will not “trap” you, and that YOU are in control to move about the cabin, so to speak, the safer you feel and the more intimacy you can handle. You also don’t want to confuse intimacy with intensity. Two different things. I could always handle intensity because it was a high that surged temporarily and gave me that feeling of connectivity with someone, but then it was over and I was free to remove myself from the intensity and recover. Many women experience this “roller coaster” of emotions. They experience the intensity of love and sex, then they crash and burn. I believe I subconsciously chose mates I knew would be this way (run away from me or neglect me) because I needed that recovery time to heal from the intensity. Surprisingly, I am still this way. Instead of a partner putting me on this roller coaster, it is my health and workout routine. I become intensely healthy and run and bike and workout to an extreme, and then I crash and desperately need to lie on the sofa and do nothing but recover for three weeks. Very strange! My mother puts it this way, “We’re sprinters, not long-distance runners!”

3. I learned what it meant to really love myself and have self-esteem. And while I don’t have nearly as much self-esteem and confidence as I would like (believe it or not you don’t need a slew of this to have a successful relationship) I found out that having just a little more than I had before was just enough to create beauty in me to the point of becoming attractive to a healthy partner. How much self-esteem did I find? Well, enough to know these few things: I’m not perfect. No one is. I have a right to a good life. I have a right to be respected and loved. I may not be the most beautiful woman on the planet, or the smartest, but I am the ONLY one on this planet with this particular combination of traits that make me unique in all the world. That means that I am a gift to others and that it is my job to surround myself with people who appreciate my gifts and see me as a gift. Being a “gift” to the world has very little to do with superficial beauty, intelligence, color, class, etc. It has to do with recognizing the importance of that unique combo of traits that only you possess. What do I lack? I don’t think I’m very pretty, or smart. I sometimes feel fat (although I only weigh 125 lbs at 5’4″ and am fairly athletic), I make a ton of mistakes as a mother, friend, wife, sister and daughter…I don’t always believe in my knowledge and experience…I feel shame a lot, and it is still hard for me at times to be intimate with my hubby and kids. Oh well! Like I said, I changed just enough for it to matter.

4. I said goodbye to fantasy and put action in its place. What does that mean? Well, to a love addict, it means that for most of my childhood and adult life I was very fantasy driven. I would dream of becoming a writer but not write. I would dream of falling in love with a Prince, but I wasn’t a princess. I would dream of great careers as a movie star or public speaker, but I would’t go to college. I had zero experience, I built up no wealth of knowledge in any field, but my dreams and fantasies about what I could be were enormous and elaborate. My rich fantasy life comforted me, UNTIL I was about 25, and UNTIL I actually had to socialize. And if anyone remembers back to being 25 what’s the one thing we all talked about? Or, rather, I should ask, what’s the one thing that HEALTHY people talked about? Their education. Their careers. Whether they were going to go on to grad school or if they were trying to find a job. Me? I was waiting tables at a beer and shots joint and trying to hop into bed with the first man that paid me any attention. This was not action. This was stunted growth. This was a refusal to grow up. My marriage was also a refusal to grow up. I felt protected from having to grow up while I was married. My husband would go to work and I could have babies and continue to feed my rich fantasy life. I could AVOID life. Trouble was, since I never did anything or became anything or gained any experience in any particular field (because I never invested in myself), I had a very limited pool of men to choose from who would want me as their wife. Who wants someone with ZERO responsibility and stunted growth and an inability to be intimate and mature? Well, someone who is EQUALLY stunted and immature. It wasn’t until I was about 36 years old that I realized the whole fantasy-world wasn’t sustaining me. And it wasn’t until I was 40 that I finally said goodbye to fantasy and was able to stand on my own. I went back to college, got a degree, even invested one year in graduate school. I rarely, if ever fantasize now. What I do now (duh! I could have been doing this all along) is make goals. Making concrete goals where action is required is the adult’s version of fantasy. You dream it, you plan it, you prepare for it, then you DO IT. Wow. What a difference. Since I gave up fantasy and became goal-oriented instead, I have had many accomplishments. And all these accomplishments are investments I have made in myself. :)

5. I realized that my failed relationships and the bad boy-avoidants that broke my heart did not CAUSE my love addiction. I did. The bad boys were a symptom of my love addiction. We often think that love addiction is  about love. Not getting enough of it, wanting too much, etc. It’s not about love. It’s not even about other people. It is about self-avoidance (torchbearing keeps you from living a realistic life; ambivalence keeps you from making important decisions; straight up love addiction keeps you from growing up). It is about using love and relationships as tools to help you soothe, cope, defend and avoid. Therefore, the object of getting healthy cannot be found in solving the issues of your current relationship. When the torchbearer’s dreams come true and she finally has the object of her fantasy, the reality will never be as rich and she will need to hold a torch for someone else;  if the ambivalent love addict ever makes a decision to stay or leave a relationship, more ambivalence will follow, etc.)  As I’ve written about before, your unhealthy relationship serves a perfectly functional dysfunctional purpose: to keep you from avoiding yourself and growing up. When you “fix” it (without fixing yourself), the relationship will no longer serve its purpose and the PoA must go and another put in its place. This is why I continued to repeat the same patterns and be attracted to the same character over and over and over.

6. I finally determined that I no longer had to “date daddy.” This was a big change for me as my idea of a perfect mate was wrapped up in who my dad was. Freud was right. A daughter’s first love is her father. And whether that love is reciprocated or not, betrayed or not, healthy or not, it doesn’t matter!!! A daughter will still see the combination of traits in that man as ones she must look for in a man of her own. If she gets along well with her father, respects him, and has a healthy relationship with him (and vice versa), her chances of finding a healthy partner are high. If, on the other hand, he neglects her, abandons her, does drugs, lies, cheats, steals, etc., and she loses respect for him and learns to mistrust him, her chances of finding a healthy partner have been sabotaged. I knew the psychology behind daughters dating their father. But I honestly thought that if I avoided men who did drugs or were alcoholics, I would avoid the problem of being stuck with a man like my dad. Wrong. It didn’t occur to me until much later that I was picking men with much subtler comparisons to my dad. Men that avoided me. Once I learned this lesson, I was able to finally recognize the avoidant and…avoid him 🙂

7. Equal in weight and importance to numero uno, was that I learned what values were and I made them more important than anything, even my relationships. Values are the most important thing in your life.  Well, at least they should be. If you want to say goodbye to love addiction learn what your values are and choose them over anything else. When you do that, you change. You become healthy. You become true to yourself. Eight years ago, I could not tell you what a value was if it came up and slapped me in the face. You know how all those self-help books tell you “you won’t ever find the perfect man” and “you need to learn to tolerate a few bad traits” and “no relationship comes without problems”? Well, those books are right. But, they are preaching some very dangerous information without full disclosure. Let me explain: as a woman who learned that info, I never knew which traits were acceptable and which weren’t. Sure, I knew to stay away from big ticket items. I wouldn’t remain in a relationship with a serial killer. But there’s an equation to this information that I had all wrong. I thought that if I “loved” this man, and he, in turn “said” he loved me, and if I could write down more positives about him than negatives, I should stay. And yet, using this equation caused huge amounts of ambivalence. I would see on paper with my very own eyes that this guy only had four problems and about 100 positives. What was wrong with me? What I never in a million years understood until much later in life, was that the groupings of positives and negatives that we all come with are weighted. Picking your teeth at the table might be a negative but it may only hold a weight of one point, compared to smoking pot, also a negative, but that weight might be worth 50 points. This system of weights is not arbitrary. It comes from one source and one source only: your value system. You have a system of values already in place that you either use or don’t use. Either way, it’s there and it’s functional. And it weighs things all the time. For example: every time your PoA cheats on you and you feel like your whole body is on fire? That’s a value speaking directly to you. It’s saying: this is a quality or an action that I do not like and which causes enormous pain. Wether you listen to that value or not is the key. And when you don’t know your values or that you have to choose them over a relationship, you lose. A value you tells you if certain qualities are acceptable or unacceptable. If some traits weights one point or one hundred. If it is, in fact a value, or simply a want (not a must have). It tells you this through your emotions and through your logical brain–if you listen. When I realized what my values were I was no longer ambiguous. I was able to clearly see that while some guy only had four problems, their weight was too enormous for me to bear and they went against my value system. Once I learned this, enormous change occurred. I operated in a different way. My old ways of figuring out if someone was right or wrong for me became outmoded. This new values-based way of determining someone’s staying power in my life was a much healthier approach. It taught me to look for people who SHARED my same values. Once I did that, relationships became less painful.

Our inner love addict may be part of our true self, but it is the part of us that just doesn’t get it. It is the hungry, lonely, tired, angry, scared side of us, that makes unhealthy decisions out of fear and self-protection as opposed to health and happiness. It is the yin to our yang. The Mr. Hyde to our Dr. Jekyll. It is Pygmalion: the bedraggled, vulgar, uncivilized flower girl that I believe we need to educate in order to turn her into a duchess–not just on the outside, but the inside as well. So, no, your Addict doesn’t have to die. But she definitely needs to move over and let Healthy You drive from now on.

Dating: do you have too many rules?

Dating is such an enormous challenge for people coming out of bad, toxic relationships.  We get signals crossed, often don’t pick up on subtle clues and,  because we’re still a little flinchy, we try desperately to dodge any future problems by creating a set of dating rules or expectations, just so as not to get burned again. And while a certain amount of protection in the form of guidelines or boundaries is always a good thing, too many will insure that you pretty much never date again. here’s how to cut back on a few of those iron clad rules…

Don’t make assumptions about people before you know them: My mother used to say, Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see. And that especially goes for dating. Dating between two healthy individuals is tricky, tricky, tricky, but for those who come from abusive or dysfunctional families, or are newly healing from a bad break-up it can seem hopeless. Many of us come from a world where our circle of friends or family members didn’t teach us healthy dating. We’ve learned to mistrust people, we’ve learned that people can be unreliable, and we’ve learned to protect ourselves from people who might hurt us. So, when we come out of unhealthy and try to find healthy, we tend to bring with us all that mistrust, fear and skepticism about the world, and often, we make  blanket assumptions about people that lean toward the negative because that’s all we know.  Here are a few examples:

  • Assuming all people lie
  • Assuming you will be rejected because, “he’s too good” for you
  • Assuming he’s not the one because of the way he dresses or looks
  • Assuming he/she will be boring because of their [job], [lifestyle], [interests] (fill in the blanks)
  • Assuming you should not date someone who has only be single for a few months
  • Assuming you should not date someone who has been single for a few years
  • Assuming you should not date someone because they don’t “seem” like your type

When we pull information about people from our fantasy-brain, we may or may not be correct about our assumptions, because, like I said, your assumptions come from what you’ve learned in the past.

But keep in mind that the healthier you become through self healing, the better quality people you will meet and attract. And so, you don’t want to write off someone for the same reasons you wrote off past partners. Why? Because, YOU’VE changed. Because you’re different. And because the process of dating is getting to know someone first, before making decisions about them. Remember, you’re not looking for perfect. Mr. Perfect doesn’t exist. You are looking for shared values, attraction, compatibility, kindness, respect and so on. And because you’re not omniscient, you are unable to know who people are until you actually do the work of getting to know them.

Don’t be a Seinfeld: There’s a great episode of Seinfeld where he breaks up with a woman because he doesn’t like the fact that she eats her peas one at a time. In fact, part of the humor of that show is that all the characters on Seinfeld all suffer from the same neurotic attribute of fault-finding in others. No one is ever good enough for them; and so, they’re eternally stuck with just themselves. Perfect for a sitcom, horrible if it’s your real-life situation.

Extreme pickiness is an unhealthy state. When you find fault in everyone you meet you are either a.) attracted to and pursuing the wrong type of person, or b.) you are unable to accept people and relationships as they are. We all have faults. You do too! And usually, extreme pickiness comes from a place of insecurity within ourselves, and fear of commitment. When we do not accept, tolerate or forgive our own faults, how can we do so in others? When we cannot tolerate little things like the way a person eats, or the way they laugh, or the length of their fingers, we need to ask ourselves if we are creating these barriers to attraction because we’re really not attracted to this person, or, because we are afraid of being available and vulnerable in a relationship. If it happens once in a while–say, you meet someone and they have an unappealing laugh, then, most likely, you’re not picky. You really just don’t like their laugh. If it happens all the time, and you always seem to find something wrong with people, then you’re picky. It’s you.

Remember too, that there’s a healthy level of pickiness. We want to have relatively high standards of people, we want to make sure their values match ours as close as possible. We want to take it slow, get to know people and not dive into something too quickly. And we certainly want to be attracted to our partner and like who they are. But we don’t want to be so extreme that we dump a really great guy simply because he has a crooked smile or wears baseball caps sideways. Don’t let pickiness be your way of over-protecting yourself from a relationship.

Don’t give up too quickly: People are strange. They hold back. They don’t always make good first impressions. A while back, there was a friend of mine who would date a guy and if he didn’t impress her, or say the magic words (who knows what they were!) by the second date, she would not go out with him again. In her mind, she didn’t want to “waste” her time. In retrospect, she was lazy. Dating is work. It takes time. It takes effort. You have to be willing to put in that work, time and effort if you want to successfully find someone right for you, and that means hanging on through a few possibly awkward dates, to see if there’s anything deeper there. If you find yourself breezing through men the way you skim through Instagram, you’re probably doing it wrong.  And keep in mind there’s always obvious moments where giving up quickly is a good thing–if you find yourself really turned off by someone, that might be a good sign that you don’t need to give this a second go. But, think of your friendships. I am sure you have friends that you didn’t click with right away, but eventually grew to love. It’s the same with dating. Don’t set your expectations so high that no one can reach them. Dating is absolutely NOT about clicking and falling in love on the first date. It’s a slow, somewhat awkward, but exciting process of getting to know someone. A good rule of thumb is three to five. Three dates aught to tell you whether or not this person is worth investing in. Five dates is usually the amount of time it takes for some of the more glaring red flags to make themselves known.

Don’t hang on for dear life if it’s time to go: Watch out for your own red flags. Don’t let “don’t give up too quickly” turn into “hang on for dear life.” Remember it takes two to date. If he bails out before you’ve determined whether he’s right for you, then, he’s not right for you!  You don’t get to go chasing after him in a moment of “Wait, we could be perfect together!” He has his own ability to determine if someone is perfect for him or not, and you need to respect that, just as you would hope he’d respect you. Dating is not a game of trying desperately to hold on or convince someone of your worth. You are worthy! Your worth has nothing to do with someone wanting to continue dating you or not. And vice versa.

Don’t create impossible hurdles to your heart: While protecting yourself is very important and, let’s face it, we all want to avoid the dreaded broken heart, we cannot get back in the ring and expect to win if we don’t throw a few punches and get knocked down a time or two. Wanting and needing love makes us vulnerable, but just as we cannot impulsively spew out all our emotions and hope to instantly click with our soulmate on the first or second date, we cannot operate from behind a steel barrier either. You need to let people in. Trust me. Letting down some of your walls will not rob you of anything. Your beauty and energy and spirit will all still be intact. You are only sharing it. Leo Buscaglia, the famous “Love Doctor” used to say, I can love and love and love and love and the more people I love, I never lose the power to love. On the one hand this sounds like a recipe for spreading yourself way too thin, but, the truth is, we can share ourselves without losing ourselves. Protect yourself, yes. But, don’t entomb yourself in a bomb shelter with 10 feet thick steel walls. Not only will you hurt yourself, you will deny others the beauty that is you.

Bottom line: dating is all about balance. You need to be able to negotiate your way through the dating world by using your logic brain and your heart, and quite often your gut too. When we only use our emotions (never a good idea), or haven’t yet learned how to trust our brain, we fail to approach dating in a healthy, holistic way. So, we need to give people time and not make quick assumptions about them either for good or bad. We also need to remove the “fantasy” idea that dating is all about love and sex. It’s not. It’s about learning. Having fun. Experiencing the world with this one particular person. No quick investment. And no quick write off. And lastly, we need to take a look at our own behavior and our own level of pickiness about people. If you’re finding fault in every potential partner, you’re doing so for a reason: to protect yourself from a deeper,  more intimate connection with someone for fear of getting hurt. If that’s the case, it’s time to do a little more work on yourself before heading out into the world of dating. It’s rough out there!

 

 

 

The Break Up Journal: Closeness

August 13: I have to say that yesterday was the closest I felt to P in a long while. He touched me all over, and massaged my neck, and took care of me, all because I had an excruciating headache. And I mean excruciating. He called me in the afternoon and asked if I could come down and eat with him since he didn’t have to be at work until 10:30pm. I said sure, but once I got there, the headache turned ugly and I felt horrible. And yet, it felt so nice to have his hands on me like that. He even insisted on driving. We ended up at Applebees eating bad food that we regretted eating. Before that, I…Read More

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

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.

 

How much distance is a good thing?


In The Break-Up Journal this week (July 19) I talk a bit about distance between couples…

I started reading “A Fine Romance” the other day, by Judith Sills. Despite it being a little hard to understand in the beginning, it has some major good points. For one, it describes this woman who considers closeness to equal love, and distance to equal rejection. And any time her partner would become distant, it would trigger her fears of neglect. But the writer says that part of the courtship dance is, in fact, about distance. That just as we move close, we naturally move apart too, for breathing room, to regain our sense of self, to reconsider, to adjust, to think, and to simply revisit who we were prior to being a “couple.” But her biggest message was…don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s about the nature of dating. Wow! I was blown away and very happy to know that I could view my situation with P in this light. I really needed to read this. –The Break Up Journal

The way we interpret situations and behavior in early dating has a lot to do with the success of our relationship. If we, like this woman in the book, consider closeness to equal love then we might think that distance coming from our date is the absence of love. And if that is how we feel, we may be inclined to respond as if we were being rejected. We may increase our attempts to make contact, withdrawal inward,feel hopeless that another date has lost interest in us, even get angry and attack. When we don’t recognize that a certain amount of distance is necessary and naturally built into the courtship process, we run the risk of responding in unhealthy ways.

So…the object of the game in early dating is this: recognize that distance is part of dating. It’s not personal. And, just as two people have the desire to come close, we also naturally have the desire to hold on to our individuality (distance).

But a word of caution: don’t confuse the natural phase of distancing with avoidance. The difference is subtle and lies in an individual’s personal degree of closeness and distance. Is it extreme? Is it constant? Do you increasingly feel the need to push the relationship forward? Are there other signs of avoidance present?  When you sense the normal “retreat” phase, it’s time to be aware, not push. It’s time to have patience and let the other person have his or her space. And while you may instinctually press for reassurance that he or she is not going anywhere, it’s time to accept that you cannot have that reassurance. Just yet. It will come either way. You will either know that he/she wants to be closer and move forward, or that he/she doesn’t. And so too must you listen to that voice within yourself. You have your own degree of intimacy, closeness and distance that you need to be aware of and know where it’s coming from.

In The Break Up Journal, I am clearly trying to determine at this point in the relationship if P’s inward retreat is a normal healthy part of our courtship, or if I am dealing with the first glimpses of an avoidant personality. In reality, I know deep down that it’s avoidance. And yet, I don’t exactly want to accept that just yet. I am still holding on to hope that his behavior changes, and this is just a phase. Ho hum. You definitely can’t fault me for hanging in there. But I am reminded of the Rudyard Kipling poem, Gunga Din. Gunga Din is a scrappy Indian soldier, with great spirit, who continues to help the other soldiers recover and drink water, even after he’s been shot. And while that’s pretty valiant of good ‘ol Gunga Din, I don’t want to be that kind of person. So…don’t keep pursuing and pushing and having high expectations of someone if you sense distancing OR avoidance. Allow the relationship to happen or not happen. You don’t ever have to “fight” for what is essentially yours. And besides, letting people distance themselves and come closer (within moderation) is how you love YOURSELF.

Exclusivity in dating?

Wouldn’t it be great if we could meet this really hot guy,  have a few intense, passionate first dates, and then seal the deal with a commitment of love and exclusivity?

It would be great, if we were a love addict, that is. But to a healthy person, this scenario sounds nuts.

When I think back to my earlier days dating D, we actually had a conversation to “define” what this was (i.e. our relationship) and we decided that we were not going to define it and that whatever was going to happen, would happen “organically,” meaning no pushing, no pressure, no lines drawn, and no hoped for outcomes. If it worked it worked; if it didn’t it didn’t.

Well, for a love addict, this scared me to death. Why? Because it meant I would be out of control. It meant I could lose this man. It meant I could not possess or push or manipulate…or be secure. And more importantly, it meant we would not be in a death grip of eternal love with each other and he and I would both be–gasp-– free to date anyone we wanted.

You see…

  • a love addict wants exclusivity almost immediately. We want to lock in the deal so we feel safe, validated, loved, secure. And, we’re willing to dive right in to commitment long before we are able to determine if someone is right for us.
  • a healthy person, on the other hand, does not want exclusivity in the early part of dating, but rather wants to play the field, or simply, take time to get to know a person. They are not willing to give up their freedom so fast because they recognize that a relationship is a serious commitment and they value the time it takes to be “sure.”
  • A love addict does not recognize that a relationship is a serious commitment in a healthy sense, nor does he or she value time; a love addict is looking for a relationship to save her, not compliment her, and so, she has other goals. Taking time to be “sure” if someone is a right choice is not one of them. This is a life or death situation and we love addicts need to think and act fast! That means get the commitment first, ask questions and get to know the person later.

So, when neither of us gave each other the right to exclusivity in the beginning–even though we both liked each other and even though neither of us were, quote-unquote, players, it felt uncomfortable to me. It didn’t feel normal. I was always used to diving in and committing within weeks, days. When you know, you know. Right? Intensity and immediate commitment are good things, right?

Wrong.

In reality, we don’t know anything about people except that which we can vaguely sense or vaguely see with our eyes. And even then we cannot be sure of what might lurk undercover. And so, this arrangement of denying exclusivity in early dating is the best way to protect ourselves. It’s not a liability; it’s an asset. My usual way (to lock in a deal ASAP so as to be in control and have my security) was the unhealthy way. The “organic” way, was THE way.

But I had to fight battles within myself at this phase. I had to make a commitment to the following principles:

1. NO FANTASY: I did not allow myself to dream up scenarios with this man in them. I did not allow myself to think of hoped for outcomes. And I did not allow myself to have dreamy reveries of the future. When we do incorporate fantasy into early dating, we set the tone for an imaginary belief system. We start to hold this virtual stranger accountable to a reality that doesn’t yet exist. For years, I would meet someone and within hours I would start to imagine the two of us on our honeymoon on a deserted beach in Fiji. When we met again I was already “in love” because my brain had reinvented him. I took the parts of him I liked, erased the parts I didn’t, gave him a huge dose of attentiveness, sensitivity and charm, made him a great communicator and lovers, and voila! He was the man of my dreams. And yet, the person I was sitting across from was absolutely not the same guy in my dreams. This is what’s called cognitive dissonance: the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.[1][2] Wikipedia) Remove fantasy. It’s hard, but you gotta do it. Every time you catch yourself in la la land, bring yourself back to now, to work, a hobby, a book, any current distraction. And if you’re anything like me, don’t even let yourself bask in thoughts of sexy scenes from the night before. Militant, I know. But worth it in the end.

2. NO EXPECTATIONS: Not only did I give up fantasy, I gave up the expectations that normally go along with dating, like, “I expect him to call,” or “I expect him to be with only me,” or “I expect flowers,” and even, “I expect not to be ignored.” Nope. Didn’t expect any of those things. And while this may sound hugely contradictory to every How To Date book you’ve ever read, hear me out: WE CANNOT HAVE EXPECTATIONS OF PEOPLE WE DO NOT KNOW. Early dating is not the time to lay down your laws, draw up your demands and institute your rules. He has a right not to call you back. He has a right not to have to buy you flowers. He has a right to ignore you. Of course, if he does those things you have the right to walk away and never look back. But these things cannot be expected. Early dating is simply for getting to know someone and hopefully, enjoying them. When I dated D I only had BASIC expectations in place (I expect to be treated kindly, I expect to be treated with respect, and I expect to feel safe). If these items were not met, I would have moved on abruptly. So, only pull out the bigger, meatier expectations once you have a sense that this person is capable of meeting your expectations–and that may take a while.

3. A NEW DEFINITION OF DATING: Every time I dated in the past I attached to it the same definition: to find out if the person I was dating was The One. At the very least, to find out if he was the one I would have sex/kill time with until I found The One. Not this time. This time, I let go of my usual definition and I changed it to “Whatever this is, my only goal is to ENJOY this person.” If I no longer enjoy this person, or it becomes difficult or a chore, that’s it, it’s over. But more than that, I removed all the previous layers of “purpose” that dating held for me. I tried to maintain a “take it or leave it” mentality. I was done with dating anyway, so this was kind of easy for me at this point. I subscribed to the idea of life (not just dating) being ORGANIC and happening on its own time. No pushing. No controlling. It actually felt freeing. The hardest part was realizing that dating was not meant to be romantic, comforting, loving or even intense (though sometimes it was). Dating was meant to be a mystery. Sometimes clumsy, sometimes quirky, and almost always fun if you have the right perspective. Before, I was burdened with hope of what this person could be for me. Now, I was free to simply be myself, not try to impress anyone, not look for impressing qualities in him and just BE. Ahh.

4. A WILLINGNESS TO LOSE: Letting go is very difficult for a love addict, but where I had come from I felt as if I had already experienced the greatest loss of my life. How could it get worse (barring death of loved ones) than being told after 8 months of a whirlwind love affair with a man I thought I was on the verge of marrying and spending the rest of my life with, “I don’t love you and I don’t think I ever did…”? So, I approached this new relationship not jaded, but resigned. I submitted to the will of the universe, as some would say. I was Free to expect that I was inevitably going to lose this relationship, so, I might as well just enjoy it while I can. A willingness to lose definitely takes away the pressure to try and hold on. When you know you’re going to lose someone (I mean, REALLY know), you savor them. No pushing, no clinging. You’ve been defeated. You simply let go. You accept. Losing is inevitable. If you have the “Failure is not an option” mentality, you’re on the wrong playing field. Dating is not a game of “winning” or “take no prisoners.” It’s a game of eating humble pie, where you must accept that the universe is in charge, not you.

5. TIME RULES: When we rush to lock in a relationship because we “feel” chemistry or we “feel” that it is right, we are ignoring the almighty educator Time, who sheds light on the world around us and the people in it, slowly, and we thus, undermine our chances of making educated decisions about people. As hard as we try, we can’t beat the clock. We must respect the fact that getting to know the person we are dating takes time. And since that is so, and since we cannot be secure until we know, we might as well find something else to do in the meantime. And so, I approached the issue of time, which I once hated (hurry up already and let this guy ask me to marry him) as a gift. It allowed me, for the first time in my life, to see that time could protect me and wasn’t so bad after all.

6. FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT: This last point is going to seem counter to everything you ever learned about honesty. What? Be fake? Well, yeah.

Once I recognized my unhealthy behavior and I knew I had to keep it under lock and key UNTIL healthy behavior became second nature to me.  As Susan Peabody used to say, “fake it till you make it.” I never truly understood what that meant, until I got to this point in my life. And that’s exactly what I did. Early on there were two weeks where D kinda disappeared and didn’t really contact me. It was here that I was tested. In my past life I would have “pushed” (“Where have you been? I miss you…”), but I ignored the unhealthy voice and did not let it slip out. I “pretended” to have it all together, when I knew I really didn’t. It was then that I knew I had joined the ranks of other healthy female single women who date. You see, we all have insecurities. We all want the love-life of our dreams. But, unhealthy people will try to control or manipulate others to get it. Healthy people will sometimes bury their pain and deal with it until they’re called to make a decision in their best interest.

In the end, I learned that D was seeing another woman (good for him. We were not bound at this point), but only to “wrap it up” with her so he could see me. D’s ex wife also wanted him back at another point.  Fine. Go. I’m doing great with or without you. Had I jumped to conclusions or made assumptions about what could have happened, I would have acted from an unhealthy place. And worse, my (faulty) assumptions could have brought me to taking actions that I may have regretted.

In the end, as a “dater” your only responsibility is to protect yourself. You do that by listening to your gut and looking out for red flags. And guess what, dating other women at the same time or going back to your ex-wife are NOT red flags. They are normal parts of dating, whether we like them or not. And so, I had no right to assert my will on D simply because I wanted him all to myself (unhealthy). Suppressing these feelings and urges, and faking a smile UNTIL I had a clearer picture of who he was and how things would play out was one of the healthiest choices I could make. Dating takes patience. It is not until after there is an agreed upon commitment in place that we can begin to assert a little more control and expect exclusivity.

SO, remember the healthy approach. Exclusivity too early on is not healthy. Could you imagine signing up for a job before meeting the boss, the team or even finding out what the work entailed? Could you imagine flying off to a foreign country for a vacation knowing nothing about the location? Your experience would be hit or miss. And while some people thrive off the rush of the unknown, in matters of love and dating, it’s best to play it safe and proceed SLOWLY…

Hooked on a bad boy?

Deep down, I think love addicts are attracted to the bad boy type because he is the type we relate to. He is what we see in ourselves. I always fancied myself an independent artist and writer, traveling around the world, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine in smoky bars, with my rebel attitude and free spirit. But, the truth is, that’s not exactly who I was. When I really took a look at myself, I was a mother of two sons. I drove a minivan. I liked to bake pies and spend time with family and travel every once in a while. Did I like the arts? Sure. But I wasn’t even an artist! In fact, any time I hung out with my wilder, artist friends they all stayed out late, smoked, drank, partied, and ignored their kids, if they had them.  I couldn’t handle any of that stuff. What’s more, I didn’t believe in any of that. And yet, I was still going after these badboy types, driving them around in my minivan with my screaming kids, baking pies for them. Oh sure, it’s funny now.  But back then, I was angry that they didn’t want to go to family events, sit around with my kids or bake (they all loved eating the pies, though!)
Anyway, the trick to a healthier relationship is KNOW THYSELF. And when you write out your list of descriptions about who you are, don’t describe yourself as you wish to be, but as you truly are. This is hard. But, take a look at your world around you. Don’t write down what’s in your head. Write down what you SEE. Minivan = person who drives minivan. You may, in your heart of hearts want to drive a Ferrari but you’re not driving one.  That’s not who you are at this moment. The minivan is. Sorry.

Second, look for people who share those similarities (and values). Partying and living the rockstar life only lasts so long. Eventually, we all want stability, warmth, comfort and even a little predictability. And, if you’re not into partying, why date someone who is? You’ll just end up frustrated, trying to pin him down. It’s not going to happen. Instead, what about searching for a good, stable, healthy man with some adventurous, slightly “wild” or even quirky traits (if that’s who you are, that is)? Bottom line, look for qualities similar to your own. The whole opposites attract thing doesn’t hold over very well as far as values are concerned.  You want to be similar on that front.
Lastly,  stop thinking in black and white. Giving up the bad boy doesn’t automatically leave only “boring” types in the dating pool. That’s ridiculous. People are not ALL bad boy or ALL boring. What’s more, there are some pretty boring bad guys, and some pretty exciting nice guys!

When I first started dating my husband D, I initially feared that he was boring. Why? Because he was nice, had a professional job, wore suits to work, had a family and lived a very normal life. In my mind, those were the traits of a boring guy. But, I was so off the mark. He also played guitar and drums, was in a band in college, loved the arts, and was kind of a bad boy in the bedroom (TMI?!). Plus, he had a fantastic sense of humor, which is really important to me.  Sold!

And while there were still times early on when I actually mourned the bad boy fantasy I was holding on to (gosh, I had held onto it for so many years), I eventually grew up, made peace with who I really was, and got real about the qualities a healthy partner should have, not the qualities I wished he had.

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Intimacy or intensity?

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So, D and I were up last night talking about intimacy. What’s your definition? I asked. He said something to the effect of “a deep connection with someone.” And I said, “well, what is your definition of a ‘deep connection?'” And it went on like that to the point where neither of us could really come up with any clear definition of intimacy.

What we could define, however, was intensity: that powerfully charged feeling of passion and sexual energy that makes us feel alive and on fire. Simple.

It occurred to me that despite the fact that intensity doesn’t last nearly as long as intimacy, it’s far easier to define. Possibly because it has a beginning, middle and end. We know it exactly when we feel it. And we know exactly when we don’t. And, of course, intensity is part of the addict’s problem. Our addictive high is “intimately” dependent on intensity, and the basis for nearly all our decision-making. If someone doesn’t make us feel that lighting bolt of passion, or, if our loved one removes himself from our lives, thus removing the extreme highs and extreme lows of a chaotic relationship,  we feel doomed, depressed, lonely, detached. When intensity is the missing ingredient, our pain is all too evident. So much so, that we even try to create it on our own (drama, anyone?). Intensity, far more than intimacy, is what motivates addictive behavior.

But back to intimacy. D and I decided that intimacy could be sitting face to face with someone you love and staring deeply into their eyes. I was quickly reminded of one of those couple’s retreats in the 70’s led by a bald-headed guru in a long robe where couples practice tantric sex and hum “OM” through one nostril. We tried it. Not the tantric part, or the OM. Just sitting on our bedroom floor and staring into each others’  eyes. We couldn’t stop laughing, for starters. And then, I insisted he look at my right eye instead of just my left. When we finally got into a groove, we both admitted that our eyes glazed over and we weren’t exactly staring “into” each other at all as much as we were hyper focusing on each eyeball, darting back and forth, like you would a ping pong ball lobbing across a net.  Fail.

I then suggested that intimacy might be exposing your vulnerabilities to someone. Like, if I feel shame or embarrassment about some aspect of myself, but I expose it to my partner anyway, and he still lovingly accepts me, then this is true intimacy. But is it? I exhumed my age old issue of shame regarding my body. D loves my body; I often do not (I’m getting better). And while I’ve pretty much gotten over the need to cover up as soon as he walks into a room, his presence in front of my naked body doesn’t exactly draw me closer to him, nor does it make me feel any heightened sense of love. If anything, it causes me to be all too aware that if I stand there long enough without my clothes, I can almost guarantee my husband will jump me.

So, if none of that is intimacy, what is? And, why choose it at all if intensity is the clear winner when it comes to making love addicts, or anyone for that matter, feel exhilaratingly fabulous?

I found a blog this morning, that sums it up nicely:

Possibly the simplest definition of intimacy is this: knowing another and being known.  Intensity is defined as strength, power, or force- in relationship terms, it’s getting a surge of whatever makes a person feel good.  Intimacy is developed over time, with patience, with love, with understanding, with compassion, with sacrifice.  Intensity happens quickly and fades quickly- it is not long lasting.  Those that trade it for intimacy will find themselves dissatisfied and using people like objects. —Taken from: The Jog

Knowing another person and being known. This thought makes me smile. No, it doesn’t blow me away or make me feel high or even exhilarated. It makes me feel grounded, loved, appreciated, whole, human. It makes me feel I did something right in my life to experience something like that.

Intimacy is work. It’s a long-term goal, not a short-term one. It doesn’t exactly “feel” intense or give you an immediate high, and it often cannot even be defined by two people’s ability to stare into each others’ eyes. Intimacy is in between these acts. It’s the black matter that cannot be seen, but glues the universe together. It is the daily work two people put into loving themselves, and loving the other.

And it’s not something a love addict sees value in, until the intensity of their most recent relationship wears off.

When we go after intensity we definitely know we’ve found it. We feel it, sense it, love it and, sadly, blow right through it. Intensity doesn’t last. It’s immediate gratification. A thing that children and teens consider valuable, but not emotionally mature grown-ups.

Grown-ups look to the future. They see the benefit of deferred gratification. And intimacy can only be gotten through deferred gratification. When we go after intimacy, it’s not always so clear. It means waiting. It means being patient. It means putting in long hours getting to know someone, first, before going after more intense moments. It means we will not always recognize true intimacy, but that we have to make healthy choices for ourselves, anyway. It means giving up and letting go of people who can’t possibly offer more than chaos, pain and intensity. And above all, it means that those who we do hold on to, with whom we become intimate, may not offer us the thrill of the roller coaster ride, but rather the warmth and security of being “known” without sacrificing who we are and what we value most.