- Dr. Lauren D. Costine
Love Addiction and Lesbians – Counselor Magazine
Love Addiction and Lesbians
Have you heard the joke about the lesbian and the U-Haul? It goes like this: What does a lesbian bring on a second date? The punch line, an in-joke about the potent emotional entwinement that happens quickly in lesbian relationships, is a U-Haul. Two dates and it’s a move-in. This harmless enigma makes nearly everyone laugh. Even straight people seem to appreciate the psychology and intensity of lesbian relationships.
Lesbians have long considered the U-Haul joke to be a complex, cute, funny, and sometimes embarrassing component of our unique lesbian lifestyles. It’s sweet, yet intense. You see, we’re close; we know how to bond and we’re not afraid of intimacy. This is one of the things lesbians have to offer the world, the seemingly innate ability to attach to one another and to commit almost effortlessly.
It can be mesmerizing. We also know from a psychological perspective that the U-Haul metaphor does have a dark side. Far from being something ideal, this instant merging often points to a deeper problem: lesbian love addiction, a very common phenomenon with real consequences that millions of lesbians are adversely affected by. Like countless other addictions that have claimed our psyches, love addiction has, for lesbians, become the insidious superglue that offers a quick-fix solution that hides and prevents the real underlying, unmet needs inherent in our addiction to love, women, relationships, and fantasy.
There is a happier, less conflicted way of coupling—a relationship style that is less harmful to the individual self—but it takes awareness of the issues that complicate lesbian relationships for this healthier state to become the new norm.
Let’s get a sense of what makes this lesbian love addiction issue so prevalent that it has turned an in-joke into an allegory. To understand love addiction, let’s look at the three types that commonly manifest in lesbians: the love addict, the love avoidant, and a combination of both, the love ambivalent.
Love addicts fall in love easily and quickly without really knowing the other woman. They are addicted to the way falling in love makes them feel, more specifically to the feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin, which are emitted in the beginning stages of romance. Many love addicts have a sudden need to spend all their time with their new love, and many women move in together within a couple of dates or months (hence the U-haul joke).
Love addicts have difficulty setting boundaries, losing their sense of self once they are in a relationship. Some women even stop taking care of themselves to better fit into their new partner’s life. They lose touch with their own friends, family, self-care, and personal interests. Additionally, love addicts can have a pattern of falling for women who are perpetually unavailable physically and/or emotionally, and have their heart broken over and over again. They can jump into one relationship after another to avoid being alone.
Love avoidants are addicted to the seducing and chasing—they get high from pursuing other women. Romeos and Casanovas aren’t gender-specific roles! Like love addicts, love avoidants are also addicted to the high of falling in love. However, they are afraid of authentic intimacy and consequently distance themselves emotionally once the honeymoon period ends. They can feel emotionally smothered by their partners once the glitter wears off. They find fault, criticize, and blame in order to create the distance that makes them feel safe.
Love ambivalents have love addict characteristics in one relationship and then love avoidant in the next. They can also vacillate between love addict and love avoidant behaviors within a single relationship. Love ambivalents are either lightly or deeply ambivalent about their partner and doubt or fear their ability to commit. This is a pattern found in every relationship.
The Female Brain
As we now know, men and women don’t have the same exact brains as male researchers once assumed. Recent discoveries indicate there are significant differences in communication modes and the connections made between the sexes. For example, women are more wired to connect to others. It’s a biological strategy that helps human beings form groups and thus create community, which in turn improves our chances of surviving in hostile environments. In other words, we crave relationships because our brains are wired to favor them. This explains, in part, why two women might be more inclined to connect more quickly than men traditionally do. This insight helps us understand how, following directions from the brain, lesbians suffering from love addiction slip into habitual patterns and roles that adversely shape their lives. We also omit oxytocin and dopamine when falling in love—men do not in the same way—therefore when two women get together the “oxyfest” is beyond intoxicating. It can also lead to addictive tendencies for those who cannot get enough of how these chemicals make them feel.
Typically, addictive relationships don’t just fizzle out or finish with mutual understanding and a kiss goodbye. Instead, they end as abruptly as they started. They come crashing down with the force that sudden withdrawal produces in someone coming off of alcohol or drugs. The body and central nervous system go into a state of duress from physical withdrawal. Science has shown that breaking up, at least when love is involved, creates a type of physiological withdrawal in the body. Humans are wired to dislike this kind of rejection or sudden change in connection. When we throw love addiction into the mix—when a person is not only attempting to heal from a broken heart, but the added wound of a toxic relationship—the withdrawal can feel like a death. Recovering from lesbian love addiction can produce this kind of all-consuming grief, but the experience is essential to the healing process.
It is during this incredibly painful period that many women seek help through therapy or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) or similar support groups. Without the support of others, many lesbians find it impossible to detach from their partner, to resist reaching out—calling and texting or visiting places they know they will see their ex. If they don’t get help and support at this time, the pull to end the pain by returning to the drug is too powerful. Symptoms often include:
Cravings to act out irrationally with love addicted behaviors
Inexplicable aches and pains
Physical illness or exhaustion
Switching to new addictions
Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
Desperation and fear
Suicidal thoughts or impulses
Desire to isolate
Obsessive thinking or fantasizing about the partner
Sadness, despair or depression
Emotional highs and lows
Irritability, anger or rage
The healing process from love addiction can prove to be one of the most difficult things a person will ever have to endure, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I tell my clients that one day withdrawing will be over and they’ll feel like a new person. In order to recover from love addiction, clients have to commit to the process of healing. This means experiencing the withdrawals and avoiding the urge to return to their partner. Once the psychological separation from toxic behaviors and ways of thinking is made, and the person who truly cares for herself and her needs emerges, a new person with a strong internal sense of liberation will step in. Allowing clients to go through (not around) the pain is the essential part of healing. Avoidance leads to repetitive behaviors; true insight comes from the ability to stop, notice, and experience what is taking place, no matter how painful.
Help Clients Develop a Relationship with Themselves
For clients, learning how to reestablish a relationship with themselves after going through withdrawals isn’t easy. It takes time and determination to get to know themselves outside continual love relationships with other women. I advise my clients against jumping into dating again until they have a well-developed sense of who they are and why they became addicted to love, romance, sex, and fantasy. The reasons women suffer from this addiction become apparent once they can identify the root causes of their cravings, which are often deep-seated unmet needs. In my experience, women who do the work continue to experience greater and greater freedom in their lives. They are better prepared for healthy intimate relationships after this process, and are more likely to attract partners who are ready for this, too.
In many ways, it’s simple. If clients spend all their time and attention focused on finding and maintaining girlfriends, partners or wives, they have less time for self-care. Ideally, they all make time in their lives for inner work such as therapy, SLAA, support groups, somatic healing work, experiential activities such as working with animals or at the very least, exercise, self-time, and mindfulness practice. The more clients see what stands in their way to a healthier self and what prevents them from creating healthier partnerships, the better they all become at healing the wounds.
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