Excerpt from the book LOVE ADDICT: SEX, ROMANCE
AND OTHER DANGEROUS DRUGS.
My pet name for love addiction is affection deficit
disorder. I crave affection, yearn for affection, long for
affection . . . I can never seem to get enough affection.
Interestingly, I have the same problem with appetizers.
Sit me in front of a nice buffet and I can eat for a week.
The mechanism that signals the brain, “No more, thanks.
I’m fine!” doesn’t function properly. I’m never fine, and I
always need more.
Like any other psychiatric disorder, love addiction has
both symptoms (subjective: what you feel) and signs
(objective: what others notice). The buzzing in your
ears and red haze in front of your eyes when you see
the guy you like drinking sake with another woman is
a symptom. Immediately throwing up your sushi is a
sign. Running outside and slashing her tires is a felony.
If you feel a crippling surge of adrenaline when you pass
by your ex-lover’s house, you are probably normal. If
you feel a crippling surge of adrenaline when you drive
by any house painted a similar color, you may have a
problem. If you glimpse a pretty girl across a crowded
room, get an instant erection, and announce, “I have
found the mother of my children!” you are probably
normal, if you are a heterosexual male. If you have seen,
felt, and announced the same thing a dozen times, you
may have a problem. We love addicts are rarely the wife
who wonders why her husband complains that she’s
a backseat driver. We’re more likely to be the mistress
who wonders what it would be like to drive her car
through her married lover’s living room window.
Here are a few telltale signs and symptoms of love
addiction, with all apologies to blue-collar comedian
You might be a sex or love addict if . . .
You check your crush’s daily horoscope in the morning
along with your own. Extra points for checking theirs
first. Ditto for their Facebook page.
You leave a second (or third, or fourth) voice mail
message before the first message is returned, just in
case (a) she didn’t hear it properly; (b) he’s shy and
needs encouragement; (c) maybe you dialed wrong;
(d) maybe you forgot to leave a callback number; (e)
maybe she called and you missed it . . . . Pick a letter.
I’ve got the whole alphabet.
You changed your route home to pass your love
object’s house. Extra points for parking outside the
house and waiting. (Standing across the street counts,
if you live in a big city. Extra points for standing in the
You can develop an instant fondness for a hobby or
musical genre you found abhorrent only days before.
You know your lover’s e-mail password or voice mail
You have read your lover’s e-mail or listened to their
You have read your lover’s journal. Extra points if you
flipped through it first, looking for your own name.
You have checked your lover’s underwear.
It hurts a little when you learn that an attractive
person—any attractive person, even a person you
don’t actually know—has gotten married or engaged
to someone who is not you.
You work in a job that requires partial nudity.
You rearrange your desk so your coworkers can’t see
what’s on your monitor.
Your Life List of sex partners is in the three figures. (For
rock stars and professional athletes, make that four
You keep a Life List of sex partners.
The only phone numbers you know by heart are your
mother, your latest crush, and your psychic. Mother is
You really believe that you can save that [stripper,
convict, biker, serial philanderer, suicide survivor]
with the depth and purity of your love.
No, that’s not a real test.. It’s just a little pop quiz based
on my own experience. I’m the kind of love addict who
can walk into a room filled with admirers, find the one
person who is not interested, and fall in love instantly.
It’s their very unavailability that makes them desirable.
If you could only get him (or her, or him/her, or wherever
you sit in that church), it would prove, dammit, that
you’re not the unlovable dweeb you know yourself to
be. Because if someone that hard to get gets got—and a
quickie in the ladies’ room stall counts—well, you must
be all that, plus tax and tip. Why do women love bad
boys and men love bitches? Well, they’re dangerous,
and that’s exciting. We tend to confuse excitement with
happiness and fear with lust. But mostly, it’s because
they treat us like dirt. They see us. We are dirt.
This gnawing low opinion of ourselves makes love
addicts great groupies. We gravitate to stars like
planetary bodies circling a sun, except in stiletto heels.
Sometimes, we take it all the way to becoming an actual
star. If I’m famous, then they, whoever they are, will
have to notice me! I once asked a television personality
at the height of his fame whether he was finally getting
the attention he craved, whether it finally filled that
aching black hole. “Not really,” he said. “It’s always the
wrong kind of attention, or from the wrong people, or
at the wrong time.”
Affection deficit disorder. It’s a lot like alcoholism: one’s
too many and a thousand’s not enough.
Ever stalked anyone on Facebook, or whatever the
social network du jour may be? Be honest. I won’t tell.
You really never friended an ex-lover, or a future lover,
in order to keep an eye on their relationship status? “It’s
complicated” was invented for sex and love addicts who
want to keep their options open. Ever checked their
roster of friends to see if any competition has shown
up? Made a mental note of what events they RSVP’d to?
Gritted your teeth as you looked through their mobile
photo uploads, just in case they were (shudder) with
someone else? On the flip side, how conversant are you
with Ashley Madison or other websites for cheating
spouses, or with the amateur pornographers on XTube
and its ilk? Does your significant other know you have a
profile on Match.com?
While we’re speaking of the electronic frontier, raise
your hand if you’ve ever cursed Caller ID or *69. Drunk
dialing was so much easier back in the days when
you used an actual dial. Texting, with or without
naked pictures, is pure quicksand. Here’s a clue: If you
exchange thirty texts a day with someone you haven’t
met in person, you are not having a relationship. It just
feels like one. Because every text is a hit, a jolt of the
love drug. And it’s all about the hit. Sometimes the hit is
having three lovers at the same time, two of them with
the same first name. Imagine the suspense! Sometimes
the hit is literally that: a lover so unpredictable that you
never know when the wrong turn of phrase might lead
to a whack upside the head. Imagine the suspense!
Love addicts need suspense. Reality is humdrum.
We crave drama, we thrive on fantasy, and we settle
for superstition. We ask everyone we know to read
his mind, for us and solicit relationship advice from
fortune-tellers and psychics. We practice divination
through song lyrics and analyze voice mails like they
were tea leaves. We do everything short of plucking the
petals from daisies, chanting, “He loves me, he loves me
not.” Sometimes we do that, too.
Here’s another hallmark of unhealthy romantic
obsession, as compared to your standard, gardenvariety
crush: it comes with a sense of urgency so
profound it feels like life or death. I like this description
by a woman caught in the throes of obsession:
The compulsion to call was completely beyond my
control. I couldn’t stop myself. I would hold off for short
intervals, but always there would come the tide of an
overpowering necessity. I was engulfed in it; I felt such a
sense of panic that I really believed I would die if I didn’t
pick up that phone.
“A tide of overpowering necessity.” The phrase is striking,
lyrical, and accurate. It’s also me cheating. I took that
paragraph from the book Alcoholics Anonymous; it’s
actually about the writer’s relationship with booze. I
just replaced the word “drink” with “call” and “phone.”
Works, though, doesn’t it? If you’ve ever felt a sense
of all-consuming urgency to dial that number, drive
by that house, or read that diary, you know what it’s
like to be inundated by an oceanic wave, struggling
desperately to reach the surface and just please, God,
finally breathe again.
You don’t want to. You have to. Compulsion: a key
distinction between addiction and willful misbehavior.
Willful misbehavior requires some measure of thought,
and if thought was involved, you’d use condoms.
If thought was involved, you’d check their marital,
disease, and/or legal status before taking your pants
off. If thought was involved, you’d at least check to see
if there was someone else in the room.
When I am in the grip of a good endocrine storm—and
don’t get me wrong, I love a good endocrine storm as
much as the next crazy person—I run an urgency check
on it. Can this wait until tomorrow? A sane person
would say, “Of course it can.” A person in the grip of an
uncontrollable compulsion would say, “Nooooo!”
Another way to tell if you have love addiction, as
opposed to puppy love (and, seriously, how graceful is
it to still have puppy love at thirty-eight?) is that you
suffer the twin phenomena of craving and withdrawal
as in any other addiction. Craving is the need to replay
the voice mail just to hear the sound of his voice, and
the exhale that comes when you do. Craving is the
agitation you feel waiting for him to show up at the
door, so anxious that even if he’s on time it feels like
he’s late. Craving is what makes you drive by, hang up,
check again, ask around, look at pictures of the two of
you . . . and then snap at your kid.
When the craving isn’t satisfied, the addict goes into
withdrawal. Withdrawal isn’t depression, although
it’s often misdiagnosed as such. Withdrawal in love
addiction is just like withdrawal from any other mindaltering
substance: miserable, painful, intense, and
astonishingly physical. Who would have thought
that simply not picking up a phone would lead to
sleeplessness, nausea, and headaches? He cancels a
movie date, I get a rash. Go figure.
The temptation is to do exactly what the film noir junkie
does. It’s called chipping. He’s not shooting up, not
really. Just a little snort here and there. Just a pop. Just
enough to “get even.” With love addiction, that translates
as rereading old text messages (or love letters, if you’re
of that generation). Looking at pictures from happier
days. Caressing love tokens. Often it means caressing
the nearest naked body, because you need so badly to
be desired. Think of it as picking butts out of the ashtray
after quitting smoking, except with real butts.
There will be no test in these pages where you tick off
how many times a week (or day) you masturbate. Sex
addiction isn’t about how often you do it. It’s about
how often you do it when you didn’t really want to. A
perfectly normal person with a high libido can enjoy
pornography, kinks, sex toys, and Dr. Ruth-knows-what
within the framework of a healthy relationship. An
addict can also be a virtual virgin, lost in sexual fantasy
to the point of paralysis or suicide.
It’s not about what you’re doing or how often you’re
doing it; it’s about what it’s doing to you.