“What we seek in love is finding someone with whom we feel safe to reveal our true self.” ~Karen Salmansohn
I wasn’t always in a relationship, but I was almost always in love.
I even had crushes in kindergarten. I hated school because my grade school teacher didn’t like me. Maybe my crushes helped me avoid feeling the void, the loneliness, and the sense that I was not of this world, an outcast.
Being in love let me ignore those uncomfortable feelings. Of course, I did not understand any of this at age six. Now I do.
As an adult, I wanted a lover because I wanted someone to treat me better than I treated myself. I wanted him to fall in love and stay in love with me. I wanted this because I needed something as desperately as the desert needs water: to feel good about myself.
I wanted someone to mirror back to me the good he saw in me—my beauty, intelligence, and worth.
I wanted someone to accept and appreciate my quirks, even when I didn’t. I wanted someone to see me for once. I wanted to be okay in the eyes of one person, at least. It never occurred to me that that “one person” needed to be me.
I also waited for a life partner to enjoy life. His love would protect me. I had no guarantee that I would not hurt again, but if there was one person guaranteed to love me, then I could endure other disappointments that life would throw at me.
I wouldn’t go camping, to concerts, or even to the Sunday market unless I had someone with me who was “the one.” I missed out on so much while I waited for the love blanket to protect me so I could feel safe enough to discover myself.
I was a love addict. And I didn’t know it.
Society pushes this notion on us. Vacation ads feature happy couples. Valentine’s Day comes and people post pictures from their night of love on Facebook. Meanwhile, we lonely love addicts make do with heart-shaped chocolates purchased on sale one day too late.
How much of life I allowed myself to miss! Instead of drowning in regret, I faced the truth and noted the signs of my love addiction. Maybe these symptoms will seem familiar to you:
- You’re preoccupied with your love objects—checking their Facebook page, Googling them (many times), daydreaming about them. They become our dreams!
- An email, text, or smile from your love object, it all sends you into ecstasy. But the next day, the void and the longing come back. The fix has lost its effect.
- You listen to your love object’s voicemail repeatedly and save them… forever.
- You gush about your love object any chance you get. And you project qualities you can’t own in yourself, shadow or light, onto them, because it is safer. (For example, you may detest your partner for arrogance, a quality that you deny in yourself, or idolize them for their talent, which you’ve never allowed yourself to express.)
I am thirty-nine years old. This awareness is relatively new for me. When my last addictive relationship ended, for the first time I experienced what a heartache is.
After we broke up, he went off to date the woman we had the biggest fights over. That broke my heart. But it also showed me that I did the right thing by leaving him. At that point, I realized he was more wounded than I was. That did give me some relief but didn’t really take the pain of self-betrayal away.
I lost thirteen pounds in three weeks and had to drive myself to the ER.
At ninety-seven pounds, I couldn’t eat. I knew my life was in danger and even wondered if my heart was bleeding. With compassion, the ER doctor said, “You will heal, I know, because you were strong enough to drive yourself here.”
Yes! Right then, I began the excruciating but necessary journey into Self.
I discovered and felt in my body how much I was depriving myself of life by getting addicted to the crumbs of love—when I actually wanted the whole loaf. I realized that I had never really believed I deserved that much.
Then, I fell in love again. Just when I thought I was done, for a while at least. He had a similar past, so we immediately bonded.
During our six-week relationship, I recovered from my love addiction. We used the relationship as a love lab and processed all the feelings and thoughts that came up. We swore to radical honesty and kept our word. With full transparency, we found out what happens when we just show up as ourselves—addictions and all.
We made passionate love, shared breakfast in bed, went to the farmer’s market on Sundays, did grocery shopping, and kissed at the most beautiful spots on the island.
He rubbed my feet as I fell asleep, and I lathered sunblock lotion on his body before we took off to the beach. I went snorkeling with him, and we swam naked in secret, secluded beaches with only turtles for discreet company.
I understood he would move back to New York and it would end, and I appreciated this gift from the Universe, as he helped me be okay with loving someone. Period. No desperate attachment. I knew he didn’t owe it to me to stay with me forever.
I discovered that my feelings were my own. I, not the other, was the source of my feelings.
I wasn’t born with my feelings for him. I had created them. I had allowed them. And I was going to love Jim, Mike, Darren, and Chris in the future the same way. I realized they were the objects of my love, but they were not the bearer of it. I was.
Oh, what a relief! What a blessing to overcome love addiction in the thick of an intense, beautiful connection. I was sad when he left, but I was not left with nothing. I had a happy life and fulfilling work. This was all new for me and I felt so light and free.
The truth is, when you are a love addict, you have way less love in your life than you were aiming for.
Ironic, isn’t it? The reason is simple: Making one person the only source of love does not work because love is in everything and everyone. When we miss that, we miss the point of life. Really.
I now see love in all forms—in the guy bagging my groceries so diligently, in the blissful expression on my best friend’s face as she comes out of her massage session, or in the way the 7/11 guy jokes about my glasses that are too big for my face. Witnessing these things is love. So is painting my toenails while watching an Eckhart Tolle video on YouTube.
I missed all this while I was hooked on someone. I missed life. I missed myself.
I hope I live long enough to pass this onto my kids when I have them. If I have a daughter, I will teach her about real love so that she does not end up experiencing what I did. I will teach her that even if I am her mother and love her to death, she owes me nothing because she deserves it by just being her.
We all do.