This past year, I realized there was something seriously wrong with the way I was dating and living my life. I was caught in cycle after cycle of intense romantic relationships. As the cycles grew shorter and shorter due to an increased tolerance for the “high” (ie, honeymoon) of the relationships, it became quickly unsustainable.
Think about the worst breakup of your life.
Now imagine that happening every 1–3 months.
Relationships and romance quickly became a life-sucking black hole for me in those years, as all of my energy was directed towards experiencing the highs and lows of other people’s lives. I was distracted at work, lost sight of my friends, and despite experiencing the same things as any “normal” person would on the surface of my life, my mind was only half-there.
One half of it on the life happening in front of me and one half in fantasy-land, imagining being with whoever was my partner at the time.
This all came to an end in March of 2019 when I hit rock bottom.
Many people might imagine rock bottom would be a place you arrive with a high velocity, smashing into it without control.
In my case, it felt more like I wandered into it.
I had been casually seeing someone after a series of breakups that year. After two short weeks, I ended it. That broke even my record despite a hefty collection of short-lived encounters. I had a realization that even if I tried I was incapable of maintaining a healthy relationship. And boy, I thought I was trying.
Despite my destructive behavior, I actually did want a committed relationship at the time. Or at least, I thought I did. A litany of emotions swept through my life: frustration, shame, anger, bitterness, and general numbness and apathy. My being was in conflict because I thought I wanted a steady relationship, one that would eventually lead to a dream wedding, but everything I tried didn’t seem to be working.
“Why doesn’t life ever work out?” I would cry out.
In my misery, relationships had been the only answer. As a child, I escaped in fantasy novels and computer games. In middle school through college, it became soap operas and porn. Every day, as I lived under the strict rule of my parents, I had little control over my own life. I would escape to late-night calls with boyfriends and the tear-jerking plotlines of Korean dramas.
The only time I felt in control and truly alive was when I was in my fantasy world. Everything else felt dull in comparison. As I moved from high school to college, the ingredients for love addiction came together gradually in my life.
In college, I lost my virginity to a guy who didn’t care about me. Without my awareness, sex was the final catalyzing ingredient needed to fully set my addiction in motion.
As I pondered all of this after my most recent breakup, I had a sharp realization.
I’m the common denominator.
In every relationship, I had always blamed the other person, the situation, or something external to me. But… if it wasn’t those things, then it had to be me.
It took another discussion with a friend about codependency for me to stumble upon definitions of love addiction online, and the realization finally clicked into place. Everything made sense.
My method of approaching relationships was fundamentally flawed and broken. I didn’t know what a healthy relationship was supposed to look like, but for the first time in my life, I admitted that I didn’t know the answer.
I eventually found my way into a local SLAA, which stands for Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous. The group consisted of everything from people who had committed infidelities, compulsive masturbators, people who had just gotten out of long relationships, and also others who hadn’t been in one for a long time.
I pondered on the first three steps with some resistance before I finally released myself to them:
“1. We admitted we were powerless over sex and love addiction — that our lives had become unmanageable.”
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”
At this point, I understood that I needed help and that I was out of control.
I made a commitment to myself then to break the cycle. This was what I wrote, desperately and unknowingly, during a Sunday evening group meeting:
Eventually, I wrote out the terms of my commitments more tangibly. It took the form of these guidelines:
To some of you, the terms might sound ridiculous. “Romantic intrigue? Who even says that?”
I know, I know. But I also had a realization at that time.
When children are young, they don’t have the full picture of life and the ‘why’ behind things. They need to be told prescriptively, in a firm, black-and-white way that a set of behaviors are required of them. It does not make sense for the parent to explain, “ Okay, now, you need to go to bed at around 8:30 pm because if you do, it’ll allow the cells in your body to recover and heal. And if you go to sleep at the same time every night, it will help sustain your circadian rhythms and improve your mood and general quality of life.” The kid would most likely stare at you confusedly and wonder if they were supposed to go to bed or not. For children, you give them rules to follow and hope that the “why” will fall into place later.
In the same sense, I gave myself rules. I simply didn’t have the luxury at the time to protect my ego, which wanted to believe I was above this sort of rule-setting. I put all that aside. I knew I had to humble myself in the face of this massive and entrenched addiction that had taken hold of my life.
And I sought help. I told my friends what was going on, got a mentor in the SLAA program, bought some books, and made it a habit to ask people around me what their idea of a healthy relationship looked like. And most of all, I started watching and observing more, with eyes wide open. Fantasy began to fade away and reality began to set in.
Most of us addicts escape from reality for a reason. Simply put, life is hard. We grew up with abusive parents, or maybe those parents were never around. We got scolded into tears or got beaten into submission. The reality is that children are meant to be treated as precious and valuable, and when they are not treated as such, something inside them breaks.