The answer might be hard to take.
Instant attraction. Constantly thinking about them. Racing heart when your phone dings. The same fated-to-be-together signs folks use to defend their “true love” after two weeks are usually the same warning signs that science calls “red flags.”
Recent evidence suggests that these flutterings might turn into long-term relationships — that the “strong initial attraction that some label as LAFS [love at first sight]” could last — but more often than not, couples drift apart as the flutterings flutter away. That’s because the flutterings are hormones there to perpetuate the species.
While we can build on hormones telling us someone’s attractive, that’s not love — not right away, anyhow. While we’re figuring out what this new connection is, we need to make sure it isn’t codependent love addiction.*
How to Tell the Difference
- Meet someone and decide you’re soulmates (or whatever word you use)?
- Drop the “L” word within a few weeks?
- Feel nervous/anxious around them?
- Think constantly about what they’re doing?
- Want to be around them all the time even at the expense of your interests, friends, and family?
- Get envious of time they spend without you?
- Change things about yourself because you think you’ll be more appealing?
If even one of those has some truth to it, there might be codependency issues that need attention. And if someone’s exhibiting those behaviors towards you, it’s a cause for at least mild concern.
Love isn’t psychotic, and it doesn’t make you lose your mind, worth, or sense of self.
A Brief Example
Mary knew a man named Tom, and years into knowing one another, he told her about his love-at-first-sight feelings towards her. Although both were in marriages to other people, he asked her, “What if there was no [her name] or [his name]…?” What should have been red flag number one for Mary actually triggered her dopamine receptors.
Tom planted a seed that day, and then he tended it well. Before Mary knew it, she was filing for divorce because Tom needed her, and they were going to be together forever.
Mary and Tom are fictional, but the situation isn’t. What Mary was hit with was powerful. She wasn’t unhappily married, but she was complacent. Her life was routine. Tom was an adventure, and said all the right things through classic love-bombing and triangulation. Mary had no idea that she was prone to respond to these forms of manipulation because of the childhood and relationship trauma that led her to develop codependent love addiction.
“A love addict gains their sense of security and self-worth from another person and is essentially addicted to the high of the intensity of infatuation and romance in a relationship.” — The Cabin Hong Kong
The hard part is that unless we’re educated on all of this stuff, we usually don’t know what’s happening. It’s one of those “we don’t know what we don’t know” situations. And that’s where we get hurt.
“Love addictions are formed as a defense against psychological pain. …They have too high an opinion of the object of their affection, and too low an opinion of themselves. Because of this, love addicts pour too much time and energy into their relationships, while neglecting their own well-being, family, friendships and even careers.” — Lena Firestone on PsychAlive
With the help of therapy and hindsight, Mary knows that the whole situation was driven by codependent behaviors she adapted over time fueled by a manipulative, narcissistic man-child. But then? At that moment? She thought she was so in love.
What do I do now?
If you can relate to Mary and Tom on any level, then please ask yourself:
- Is this person emotionally/physically/legally available? And flip side — are you? If not, just run. Run now. Run far.
- How long have I known this person? Please know that love at first sight is attraction at first sight. You might be able to build on it, but don’t rely on that alone. People need to get to know each other to build lasting things together, and that takes time.
- What do I really know about this person? You might have great conversations and some things in common, but what do you know about this person on an intimate level? You can know their stories and have no clue about their character. And to save you some time, “total years known” does not correlate with how well you know each other. Just ask Mary.
- What am I looking for in a partner? Does this person share my goals? Are we trying to force a connection from two different places?
- What happens when this person isn’t around? Do I crave them, have severe mood swings if I don’t feel secure, struggle to function normally, or have severe withdrawal symptoms without them?
“Not all codependents are love addicts, but all love addicts are codependent.” — Pia Mellody’s Facing Love Addiction
Be honest with yourself about the nature of your relationship, despite any hopes, dreams, wants, and desires. You could potentially save yourself a lot of heartache and time.
How’d your personal inventory turn out?
Contrary to all the rom-com ridiculousness — look for the calm, not the crazy. Lasting love feels like a harbor, not a hurricane.
*From Recovery Ranch: Traits of a Love Addict (Abridged List)
- Mistaking intense sexual experiences and new romantic excitement for love
- Being desperate to please and fearful of the other’s unhappiness
- When not in a relationship, feeling desperate and alone
- Inability to maintain an intimate relationship once the newness and excitement have worn off
- Choosing partners who are emotionally unavailable and/or verbally or physically abusive
- Choosing partners who demand a great deal of attention and caretaking but who do not meet, or even try to meet, your emotional or physical needs
- Giving up important interests, beliefs, or friendships to maximize time in the relationship or to please a romantic partner
- Using sex, seduction, and manipulation (guilt/shame) to “hook” or hold on to a partner
- Finding it difficult or impossible to leave unhealthy or abusive relationships despite repeated promises to oneself or others to do so