Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Is It Love....Or Addiction?

There's no denying that I miss him. The same guy that hurt me so badly just a little over a week ago is the one that I'm craving, the one that I wish would wrap his arms around me and make it all better. For the last 10 months, he has been my "home." His face, his voice, his touch, his smell....I instinctively turned to him for comfort and affection. We used to snuggle up together on the couch and I would stroke his hair and sigh and say to him, "All is right with my world."

I thought that what I was feeling was love. You would think that after almost 49 years on this planet, and several long-term relationships, I would know what love feels like. But no, I'm pretty sure I'm still clueless on this topic. I just read a book called How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard Halpern, PhD, and in it he describes something called "limerence." Limerence is actually what we're feeling when we feel like we're "in love." When you think about him all the time, when you can't get enough of him, when you get scared at the thought of losing him...that's not love, that's limerence. For whatever reason--maybe it's chemical, maybe it's karma, maybe he satisfies some deep longing from your childhood--you are inexplicably attracted to him. You were probably attracted from the moment you set eyes on him. You hang all your happiness onto this one person. You believe (irrationally) that only this one person is ever going to make you feel this way, that you're never going to find anyone like this one person ever again.

And so when suddenly he's gone--even though it was your own choice--you suffer major withdrawal, as surely as an addict going through the DTs. The first day without him, I had an anxiety attack. My heart was racing, I was panicking, I felt like I couldn't breathe. What had I done?? I vacillated wildly between rage and depression and just wanting his arms around me. I tried to numb myself with too much alcohol and food, and keep myself busy busy busy so I wouldn't think about him. I gradually realized that it wasn't him, per se, that I was missing so badly. It was the way he made me feel.

That's not love. That's addiction. I was able to overlook some pretty serious red flags, throughout the entire course of our relationship, because I just didn't want to lose that feeling

It doesn't help that he's actively trying to win me back. He's coming at me with both barrels, texting me from other people's phones, leaving notes declaring his undying love on my front door day and night. But I'm willing to bet that what he's feeling isn't love either.

Even now, I'm not sure I trust my ability to discern limerence from the real thing. But I'm pretty sure that real love is what I was feeling for my husband Ely in the month before he died. We had been together for 15 years, and not all of them were happy. We came very close to separating in 2008, and there was an entire year that we barely spoke or touched each other. But that last October was a good one. We were enjoying each other's company, we were recapturing our friendship and I was feeling like we were going to make it after all.

On his very last day, I hung his Steelers sign up over the TV. Now, I hated that thing. I didn't like football memorabilia in my living room. But I hung it up because I knew it would make him happy. After all we'd been through together, all the years, and the fights, and the doubts, and the stresses of raising kids and running a household together, I had still somehow ended up at a place where I wanted to put a smile on his face.

He walked in and saw it and smiled. He kissed me and said, "Aw, you do love me!"

He was right.


  1. Limerence...I'll have to check that out. I never realized this aspect of me has a name...I have only recently, vaguely, made the association between these feelings of "love" and my addictive nature. Very enlightening. Thank you!

  2. He says it's possible to have limerence in a real love relationship, and also possible to have a real love relationship without ever feeling it at all. The test of addiction is whether you find yourself staying in a relationship that you know is not good for you because you're "in love." In any case, it rarely lasts more than a few years anyway, and then people think they "fell out of love." But that's not true at all! That's when the real work of building a true love relationship begins, and it's usually based on things like mutual respect, shared values, honesty and friendship.

    At least that's what the book says. I'm the last person in the world who should be pontificating about relationships, lol.