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The Difference Between True Love and Love Addiction

Heart Eyes

“We often say ‘love’ when we really mean, and are acting out, an addiction—a sterile, ingrown dependency relationship, with another person serving as the object of our need for security.” ~Stanton Peele

When I was sixteen, I fell in love. At least I thought I did. I had all the symptoms—quickened pulse, butterflies, and a head so full of him that all my pain and all my problems magically disappeared when we were together.

I called this love.

And why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t any young girl? Isn’t that what love is—when you can’t live without each other, when you can’t think about anything else, when it hurts to be apart?

Up until that first relationship, I’d already been through about a dozen different relationships with a dozen different people.

My first whirlwind romance was with a boy named Andrei in the first grade of Regional School #17 in Donetsk, Ukraine. I remember when he got up during naptime and, with a mischievous look on his face, peed all over the carpet. So rebellious, I sighed.

My romance with Andrei ended when we got on the plane to Toronto. I cried. I cried for the country I was leaving, for the friends I left behind, and I cried for Andrei. Andrei who had never spoken to me or held my hand. Andrei who was just a character inside a story in my mind.

One day, my eight-year-old self thought through her thick tears, I’ll love again.

After I got to Canada, I got into a very complicated, semi-violent relationship with Eminem. When it looked like he was getting back together with his ex wife (which broke my heart, obviously), I went on to Nathan, who was two grades above me at school, who had bleach blonde hair, just like Eminem. He was a rebound.

Neither of them ever knew I existed.

I couldn’t approach Nathan or any other boy I liked, but I knew what I had to do. By this time, I’d watched enough television to know—I was too ugly for a boyfriend. Too fat. And what was this cellulite? These pimples? These stretch marks? The girls with boyfriends didn’t have that—not the ones on TV and not the ones in my school.

I started wearing makeup in grade six. I still remember someone asking me why I had weird beige stuff on my eyebrows. My face turned red (or, as red as it could turn underneath the concealer cream that I’d literally just spread all over my entire face).

I just want to be pretty. I just want a boy to like me.

As my hormones raged hard, and my social anxiety raged harder, I started having relationships with guys on the Internet. It seemed like a step in the right direction. At least these were real people talking to me.

But that didn’t work and that got dangerous. I went back to making up relationships in my head.

All I wanted was a real boy. A real-life boy to call my own.

I’ll have to work extra hard to get him, I thought.

By the time I got to high school, I’d tried a handful of different crash diets and, soon enough, every moment of my day was devoted to maintaining 400 calories a day and exercising them all off.

I was exhausted. I weighed less. In the mirror, I looked no different.

When am I going to feel pretty? When will I fall in love?

And, one day, it happened. He was in my grade ten math class. I asked him for batteries. Since his Discman could have been considered an extra limb, it seemed like a safe bet. And it was.

One year later, we were inseparable. I thought it was finally happening. The relationship of my dreams was finally coming true.

I knew, at the time, that it was love because every time we were around each other, my head was clear. All the rest of the time, I was obsessing about my calorie intake and my skin. Around him, there was only him—nothing else.

With him, I felt euphoria. With him, I felt safe. With him, I felt alive. With him, I felt pretty.

How could I live without that?

And, soon enough, I couldn’t. The moments without him became torture as the inner voices screaming criticisms that echoed through each part of my psyche became louder and angrier from being suppressed. The moments with him became riddled with anxiety about when we’d next have to be apart.

I was hooked.

I called this love.

As the novelty wore off and real life set in, I couldn’t bear to lose that feeling. I came apart at the seams. And, in my mind, it was all his fault.

My journals from that time are filled with questions scribbled with ferocious pain on tear-stained pages.

Why doesn’t he love me anymore? Why can’t things feel like they used to? Why does love hurt so much?

No matter what he tried to do to make me happy, it wasn’t enough. Nothing was enough.

I was hooked on a feeling of euphoria that drowned out my inner demons and, after a while, he no longer produced that feeling. He couldn’t give me what I wanted, because I didn’t want him. I wanted a feeling that the novelty of obsession in human form had brought me.

I was so full of anger, so full of rage at him for not loving me. It wasn’t until I had a breakdown and almost killed myself four years after we broke up, the demons in my head having become so powerful that I had to learn to accept myself or die, that I realized it wasn’t him that didn’t love. It was me.

I didn’t love him, because I didn’t love myself. I didn’t love him, because that’s not love. Needing someone, using them to get away from your problems, acclimatizing to the good feelings so you need more and more, becoming psychotic when they’re away—that’s not love. That’s addiction.

I used him and abused him, like a drug, and when he couldn’t give me the feelings I was addicted to, I threw him away. He was a character in my fairy tale, an idea in my head, just like the others who came before him. There was no room for him to be a human being, because I didn’t give myself that room.

The more I’ve learned to love myself, stretch marks and all, the more I’ve been able to love other people, to forgive those who hurt me, to support my current partner through his light and his darkness.

When I gave myself the room to be imperfect, to be a human being, I could give other people that room. And, in that newly created space, the feeling of love has crept in and permeated each moment.

I’ve learned the hard way that love isn’t something we get from other people. It’s not even a feeling.

Love is a kind of awareness we have about ourselves, about people, about life.

Love is when we see ourselves and others for what we are, not what we think we should be. Love is when we stop trying to protect ourselves and open up to what’s here—the pain, the joy, the beauty, the darkness, everything.

Love is a decision to be open and stay open, to receive the beauty of what’s all around us instead of pushing fake beauty down our throats.

Love is a way of life, a state of mind.

It’s taken me a while to forgive myself for not knowing better all those years ago, for hurting the boy I thought I loved. While I can’t take back what I’ve done, I can do my best to share what I’ve learned so that it might help feed that love hunger in the world that used to torment me, that led me to torment other people.

And I can hope that whatever self-protective shields my ex built up from our messy romance are now disassembled. I hope that he’s found a way to let go, to be free, to open back up and learn to trust again, against all odds.

And I hope that you—no matter if you’re single or in a relationship, no matter if you’ve been hurt once or twenty times—I hope that you take that plunge into this moment, into the beauty and the suffering, even if it hurts, just one more time. And know, this is what true love is all about.

Heart eyes image via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Vironika Tugaleva

About Vironika Tugaleva

Vironika is an inspirational speaker, life coach, and author of the award-winning book The Love MindsetVironika helps people cultivate self-love, heal mental and emotional suffering, develop healthy self-care habits, build deeper relationships, and unleash their potential to change the world. Read more about Vironika here and get a free sneak preview of The Love Mindset.

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  • Kathryn

    This whole post brought me to tears because of how much I can relate to it. Thank you for sharing your story and opening up a huge door for me.

  • You are welcome, Kathryn 🙂 I am happy that this touched you. Enjoy your journey through that important door!

  • Kris

    Last night before I went to bed in a fit of desperate misery I asked for help- from the universe, my higher self- from anyone who might be listening. And today I read this, and its as if I could have written it myself. It is absolutely what I needed to read. But at 46, I don’t even know where to start to accept and forgive myself. It seems too overwhelming.

  • DB Hoster

    Wow. I can relate to this so much. It kind of blew my mind reading it because it’s the exact same way I bulldozed through two relationships, and two good people. I have many regrets, but this article pointed out some things that will really help going forward. Thanks for writing this.

  • cflo

    Wow. This is amazing. Thank you for sharing- I have been addicted to the high of live for so long, because it made me feel so loved and special. But unless we live ourselves, without depending on the validation of others, we will never truly have peace and a loving, healthy relationship.

  • cflo

    Oops, sorry for the typos- love and love

  • Sadhvi

    This is so beautifully written. Putting it into words the way you have, has the capacity to give a person going through something like this, the prism to see that they have a choice to stop being so hard on themselves. It completely resonated with me. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Thank you for this post – it’s so true – True Love comes from our own inner self – our “soul mate” is our own soul and love itself “completes” us. I wrote about this, too, and how our society is so obsessed with finding love outside ourselves – via obsessions with relationships and celebrities – and that only creates hurts for all involved. What is real is the simple love found inside ourselves. It is up to US to complete our own selves – to know our own hearts and
    to awaken our own souls and to fill our own beings with so much LOVE
    that we want to explode and share it with the world – and then we can
    share it with that special someone. So – thank you for sharing this in such a beautiful way.

  • Great post. I was wrapped up in your story, and I love what you discovered. Well done.

    -Tara

  • lucy

    Wow!!!!! This is me!!!!! I was just speaking to a friend last week about the fact that I might have to begin to treat a certain relationship in my life like an addiction. That I might have to realise that this thing I call love is actually nothing more than an obsession/addiction. I’ve built my self worth on being wanted by certain others and I have adopted a pattern of attaching myself to certain people, needing them desperately to want me as much as I want them, in order to feel worthy! The problem is that no one can ever want me as much as I want them because its a totally unhealthy, clingy, all consuming, neediness. Its not even really a want, it comes from a place of desperation, needing to be loved And it obviously leads to extremely unhealthy relationships. Particularly, the one I have with myself. I’m working really hard to try to deal with this and love myself. I’ve got so much comfort from reading this and feeling like I’m not alone! Thank you!

  • JH

    I really enjoyed reading this. It made me laugh. You should turn this into a book.

  • Adam

    Kris, understand that everyone undergoes periods in their life when they need to forgive themselves. You want to know something, right now there are plenty of people in their 60’s and maybe older that have still not forgiven themselves for their past and will continue to carry it on through retirement or worse to their death. Just as the article stated regarding your situation, you have already experienced the suffering, now is the time for the beauty/ think of it as the fun. You weathered the storm and now are sailing on calm waters with the sun shining. Cliché I know, maybe before going to bed meditate/relax to sounds of calm waves. Listen I know I know, a divorce, a death all that can be overwhelming and leave us as if we can’t forgive ourselves and move forward, but actually we can. Even at my young age in my twenties, I have lost the best person I could have ever known and have come back from the depths of despair. I hope you can do the same from whatever suffering you have experienced.
    All the best.

  • santabarbaralifecoach@gmail.co

    We make the honest mistake of depending on others for our own happiness from a early age. When I hear people say she is my everything or he is my everything or my dog is my everything I cringe because what and when that everythng is gone what happens to them?

    I learned this the hard way you need to find happiness within yourself and by yourself first..so you can survive if the person you depend on for happiness is no longer in your life. Easier said than done Im sure.

    Loving and wanting to make others happy and wanting to love others is very healthy I feel that way myself all the time but I realized we cant set our lives up so we depend on others or things like material things cars etc for happiness.

    I love helping others so I became a life coach after studying for years.
    If you want a effective and affordable life coach email me at santabarbaralifecoach@gmail.com

  • I’m still here

    God must be involved in your relationship

  • Lara Zombie

    “All I wanted was a real boy. A real-life boy to call my own.” – i think that’s what Geppetto’s wish too. #justhavetopostit #lol

  • Abigail Odiet Wojahn

    Awesome girl. Gotta make lots of mistakes in the quest for love. I still love Eminem. YUMMY! Take care 🙂

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    “Love is when we see ourselves and others for what we are, not
    what we think we should be. Love is when we stop trying to protect
    ourselves and open up to what’s here—the pain, the joy, the beauty, the
    darkness, everything.” Thank you for those words of WISDOM and sharing your raw & beautiful story…:)

  • Marc

    I always worry about being “addicted” to love, though many have said that I am very loving, not addicted. It’s a big topic of conversation I have with others, but through it all, I have learned the key rule: to love myself first and be content with myself, so I am not in dire need of anyone (but at the same time, take joy in their company!). I even have advised others (who seem rather clingy or needful, constantly searching for “the one”) about it.

    So while I may falter a bit, I think I have learned a lot through the years, just like you have, and have come out better than before. I love so many, as they love me, and I am infinitely lucky and blessed (and so are you, as far as I can tell! 😉 ). Great article, thank you, and much love to you, now and always!!!

    — Marc

  • Wow. Impressive. Very powerful, honest, and most of all, true. Well done!

  • Lynnie

    Gosh. This post hits so many home truths I have experienced in the past. Thank you for being so open and honest. 🙂

  • Kat

    I can relate so much. When I left Hungary I left a boy behind. Granted, I was 17 then and we were actually in a relationship. But it was all about feeding off of each others’ misery, both depressed and needing the love from the other looking to be saved. Actually the “wanting to be saved” mentality followed me for a while in the future in relationships, crushes and my dreams. Eventually I realized noone can save me and it is not coming from outside. Love is not about need…love is much more authentic and much more loving than that 🙂

  • jo

    try reaqding some stuff on codependency, it opened my eyes as to why I was like this in the first place…

  • Tarapay Lunasea

    Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous is a terrific 12 step program. So is CODA. They both address these issues of love and relationship addiction. SLAA saved my life, literally.

  • Yes we do 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  • I agree with you so completely, Shanti! Thank you for adding your beautiful words 🙂

  • It does not matter when you start, Kris. I promise you that. I’ve only ever worked with one person under the age of 40. Most people I know who begin this journey are your age or older. Find a tribe, my friend. You’ll see. They’re just like you 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing, Kat!

  • Thank you for being open to my honesty 🙂

  • Thank you, Michael!

  • Well said, Marc! The key is definitely to start with self-love. To eat at home before going out, so you don’t have to beg on the streets 🙂

  • Thank you for seeing me 🙂

  • I already did 🙂

  • When you learn to get love for yourself, you’ll stop depending on others for it. And, just like anything, it’s a journey. Welcome to the path of self-love 🙂

  • Thank you, Tara!

  • You are so welcome, Sadhvi! 🙂

  • Amen to that!

  • I feel you about bulldozing through good people in this mentality. I think all we can do is develop self-awareness and try to do better in the future. After all, most people never catch themselves and never develop that awareness. Better late than never 🙂

  • It is definitely easier said than done. I think the key is to work on our relationship with ourselves every single day. Then, we feel fulfilled and don’t need to beg others to relate to us. Of course, all habits take time to form, but once established, they’re all hard to break (the good and the bad)!

  • Shirley Liu

    So true;) Thanks for the post, so full of wisdom.

  • Shirley Liu

    great words of wisdom;)

  • Shirley Liu

    i feel the same way sometimes. love and acceptance is the third layer in maslow’s hierarchy of human needs after food, clothing, shelter and safety & security. i feel it’s natural for people to be “addicted” to love if they feel they don’t have enough of it.

  • :: ληdгзщ βαгиэى ::

    This is beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes because I recently involved myself in the exact same scenario – I was unconsciously feeding a love addiction (and have since realized I was trying to fill holes that I need to heal myself with self-love). Your words helped me see that the chaos that ensued in my head when I was away from her, as well as the clarity and peace when around her was not in fact love, but addiction.

    Ive been rattled with guilt, however, because I broke up with her after realizing that I didn’t love her, I was in love with love itself, the idea of loving and being loved, only I didnt explain that. In fact, I gave no explanation. Three months has passed and in that time Ive gone through an amazing self-awakening (sparked by the events of our “relationship”) where ive learned so much about myself and this life I live. So much so that I feel knowledgeable enough to explain exactly what you’ve outlined.

    My point is that Im rattled with guilt over hurting her so. I know I did, although I have reason to believe she did the same thing I did, becoming addicted. Did you apologize to your tenth-grade discman boy, or just trust that he would heal? And if the latter, how did you take the steps to affirm that trust?

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful insight.

  • Richy Rich

    Hi. That was a very powerful and wonderfully written piece which evokes and describes, at every turn, just how near yet very far real and natural feelings are from each of us.
    Thank you for a little bit of inspiration and light

  • Richy Rich

    Hi. Though I don’t know you, I could’ve written exactly what you did. Mine, ironically, was over a woman I dated for a few weeks back in 1989. I got SO attached when we chatted online and on the phone. After months of agonizing and desperately needing and wanting her to show me the level of intensity that I put out, I thought enough was enough and had to change my phone number and try and promise myself I’d not go on disturbing and pestering her, with my occasional text and letter. It was pure addiction: twas never enough….whatever she offered or that I craved. All the best then. Richard

  • Ashtina

    I thought this article was very good. So I am young and not really experienced and I have been with my boyfriend for 6 years and I don’t think we truly love each other. We both want it to work so badly but what if were just forcing something that’s not supposed to be forced. Its like we’re both obsessed about having this great life together one day. Will that day ever come? Is it possible?