Next month, there’s a new movie coming out with Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal called “Love and Other Drugs,” so I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss the ways that romantic love can function as an intoxicant and how serial romance relates to other forms of addiction.
In an earlier post about different forms of love, I described one version where loving a person springs from the way he or she makes you feel and involves little concern for the other. What the “lover” wants is the heady feeling of intoxication, that blissful state where you feel as if life has become a sort of heaven on earth and all your troubles have disappeared. Falling in love means living happily ever after. Hollywood, that relentless pusher, pedals this drug in one romantic comedy after another.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to stay high forever. As we come down, we begin to realize that the person we love isn’t so perfect after all. Even worse, we find that we still hate our job, we still don’t make enough money, and nothing about reality and its frustrations has changed. Obviously, we made a mistake in our choice of love object … time to move on. Lather, rinse and repeat.
As I said, this kind of love involves no lasting interest in or concern for the other person. I’d go farther and say that the drive behind romantic love is often to avoid authentic love, a condition that involves neediness and dependency, and which might mean having to deal with occasional frustration, anger and even hatred. In other words, romantic love is a flight from the reality of love into an ideal fantasy where you’re merged with someone who perfectly meets your needs.
Some people wake up from the delusion of romantic love to find that the person they’ve chosen may not be perfect but is still pretty good; authentic love may begin to develop. Other people can’t bear reality and move on to the next affair. For them, love is a drug that brings the greatest high we humans have ever known; when it wears off, they need another fix.
This dynamic lies behind a number of other addictions, of course: one of their primary functions is to produce a feeling state that helps the addict escape truth and reality. In many instances, the reality which the addict wants to escape is actual need and real dependency upon other people. As many experts have noted, addicts often have stronger relationships with their drugs than with their significant others; but that may be the cause of the addiction and not the effect, as we usually believe.
Finding Your Own Way:
Are you a love junkie? If you’ve had a series of short, failed relationships, this may be the reason. Maybe you find the reality of love with dependency difficult to tolerate.
Do you have any other addictions? I don’t mean in the casual way people use that word today, as in “I am totally addicted to Haagen-Dazs vanilla swiss almond ice cream!” Real addiction interferes with your life; while it brings immediate pleasure, it usually leads to long-term suffering.
Maybe you spend money in ways you can’t control — compulsive shopping is a kind of addiction. Alcohol? Drugs? Sex? Surfing the Internet? Pornography? Are you using your drug of choice to avoid people, to escape feeling true need and desire for somebody else? You might find it too frightening to make yourself that vulnerable, and feel safer in the arms of your drug.
While addictions have a physiological component and involve other psychological issues, wanting to avoid the reality of love, need and desire for a separate person often lies at the heart of them.