Ginny is a 30-year-old realtor. She says she dates constantly, but she can never seem to find the right partner. She says, “I’m online all the time. I’ve got profiles on every dating and hookup app that’s out there. I even joined JDate, even though I’m not Jewish. Honestly, if I meet the right guy, I’ll convert. And it’s not like I never meet anyone, because I do. And usually they seem great for a few weeks, but then the cracks start to show and I can hardly stand to be around them. So back I go, looking for love again and again, hoping that one of these guys will turn out to be as good as he seems when I first meet him.”
Interestingly, even though Ginny’s many online profiles clearly state that she is seeking love and a long-term connection, she really isn’t. What she’s actually chasing is the emotional and neurochemical “rush” of first romance, technically referred to as limerence. Limerence is that brief relationship stage when everything about the other person seems exciting and fascinating, and the other person’s shortcomings can easily be ignored. This neurochemical response is the crux of love addiction.
Love addiction, also referred to as relationship addiction and romance addiction, is defined using the following three criteria:
- Preoccupation to the point of obsession with intense romantic fantasies and new romantic relationships
- A loss of control of romantic fantasies and relationships, typically evidence by failed attempts to either settle down with one person or just be alone for awhile
- Negative life consequences related to out of control romantic fantasies and new relationships—shame, depression, anxiety, problems at work or in school, financial issues, declining physical health, loss of interest in other (non-romantic) activities, distancing from friends and family, etc.
Behavior patterns commonly displayed by love addicts include:
- Relying on romantic intensity as a way to escape from stress and other types of emotional discomfort
- Mistaking sexual and/or romantic intensity for love and genuine intimacy
- Missing out on important commitments (with family, work, or elsewhere) to search for a new relationship or to fix an existing relationship
- Using sex, seduction, and manipulation to hook or hold on to a partner
- Feigning interest in activities you don’t enjoy as a way to meet someone new or to keep an existing partner
- Constantly struggling to maintain the sexual/romantic intensity of an existing relationship
- Seeking a new relationship while still in a relationship
- Giving up important personal interests, beliefs, and/or friendships to maximize time in a romantic relationship or to please a romantic partner
- Feeling desperate and alone when not in a relationship
- After a failed relationship, using anonymous sex, porn, or compulsive masturbation to avoid “needing” someone
- Consistently choosing partners who are emotionally unavailable, addicted, verbally abusive, or physically abusive
- Promising over and over to give up on relationships and focus on self-care, only to soon be back out there looking for companionship
For the most part, love addicts use the high of limerence to achieve the same type of escapist relief (from stress and other forms of emotional discomfort) as sex addicts. The primary difference between love addicts and sex addicts is that love addicts tend to focus obsessively on one person at a time, while sex addicts will “act out” with anyone who’s attractive and available, typically chasing multiple “fixes” (sexual encounters) simultaneously. That said, love addicts often look and act like sex addicts (compulsively engaging in sex with lots of people). The difference is that love addicts use sex as a tool for hooking and keeping a romantic partner, whereas sex addicts typically do the opposite, using the lure of romance to hook a sexual partner.
Love addicts, like sex addicts, are largely in denial about the problematic nature of what they are doing. Rather than recognizing that they are the common denominator in their endless failed relationships, love addicts typically place the blame on their dates, lovers, partners, spouses, and anyone else with whom they’ve ever become entangled. Sometimes they become intensely controlling and demanding, trying to get their partner to love them the way they want to be loved, regardless of whether the other person is actually capable of doing that (and almost nobody ever is). Then, when that person inevitably fails them, they act out romantically once again, beginning anew their obsessive search for “the one.”
If you feel you may need clinical assistance with love addiction, therapist and treatment referrals can be found here and here. You might also want to check out 12-step groups geared toward sex and love addiction, most notably Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA).