Falling in love is one of life’s most mystical, magical experiences. It’s so wonderful, around 3 to 10 per cent of the population are addicted to it.
Yep, love addiction is a thing.
And while it sounds harmless, like a teenage girl mooning over a photo of her idol, the reality is far from it.
Love addicts appear like a gift from heaven – and end up being a living hell.
Here’s nine ways to spot a love addict – or tell if you’re one yourself.
Tracey Cox says love addicts appear like a gift from heaven and end up being a living hell (stock image)
They’re more interested in falling in love than being in love
Few people would argue that falling in love is an intensely enjoyable experience.
But there’s also charm in the less exciting, more peaceful pace of an established healthy relationship.
The hedonistic rush of the new feels great but we’re realistic: we know it wears off as the relationship progresses from infatuation to a ‘truer’ love.
The ‘warts and all’ stage of love is what most people aspire to. Knowing your partner sees you clearly – your flaws as well as your good points – and loves you anyway is the pinnacle.
Not for the love addict.
The minute that emotional high starts to wane, they panic, believing this means the relationship isn’t right for them after all.
‘I always know when it’s time to leave. If my heart doesn’t race when I first see them, it means I’ve chosen wrong,’ one 24-year-old love addict told me.
Finding ‘The One’ is life’s most important purpose
All the love addict’s time and energy are devoted to finding that one magical ‘love’: nearly all their life choices are based on the search for the perfect relationship.
Where they live (lots of singles), what they choose to study at university (the course with the most prospective partners), where to work (a job that exposes them to the most available people), their hobbies (a car mechanic course because it’ll be packed with men; yoga class because it’s mainly women), friends (the person who has three unmarried brothers or sisters).
You get the picture.
Tracey says a love addict will devote all of their time to finding the perfect relationship
They’ll do anything to win you over
At the start, love addicts appear to be the partner you’ve been waiting for all your life.
Desperate to please, they’ll pretend to be interested in things they absolutely aren’t, just to present as your perfect match.
Love addicts will happily betray all their morals, if it means keeping a person they perceive as potentially ‘The One’. Friends, family, work – all are tossed to the side. They’ll give up religious beliefs or adopt yours as their own to please you. Vegans become carnivores, pro-vaxers are suddenly anti-vax, animal rights activists decide fur coats are fine after all.
Eager to get confirmation you feel the same way, they fast-forward relationships, wanting to prove their love and keep the excitement high.
‘He told me we were going to marry on the first date. I got flowers sent to work, whisked off on exotic weekends away. He wanted to plan every detail of our lives together when we were only three weeks into the relationship.’
This woman had just escaped a particularly toxic relationship that started out fabulously.
What typically happens next is that obsession kicks in.
Tracey says love addicts will pretend to be interested in things that they aren’t, just to win you over (stock image)
They obsess about the person
Anyone who’s watched ‘You’ on Netflix knows how this plays out: love addicts are hard to escape.
If they’re not ringing or texting or turning up uninvited to wherever you are, they’re fantasising about what life is going to be like with you. (The stuff of fairytales, of course).
They replay past meetings or conversations in their heads, looking for clues you’re as keen as they are, read and re-read texts or emails over and over.
Constantly anxious you’re going to leave them, they become suspicious and jealous of anyone else who dares to take your attention.
They can’t stop thinking about you because their partner is the only thing that makes them feel good in life.
‘The thought of living without her was unthinkable. I couldn’t bear to think about it. The arguments, her cheating, the constant mood changes, none of it mattered. I’d have put up with anything to be with her,’ one woman told me.
Anyone who’s heard of the term ‘co-dependent’ will guess that co-dependency and love addiction are close friends.
Co-dependent people, for those not in the know, aren’t able to be self-sufficient or fend for themselves. They’re partial or completely reliant on their partner.
All love addicts are co-dependent to an extreme degree: it’s a pre-cursor for the addiction.
‘She wanted my input on everything from what to wear that day to how many poo bags to take with her when walking the dog,’ one man told me. ‘She needed minute by minute, hour by hour reassurance of how I was more in love with her than anyone I had ever met before. It was exhausting.’
Their choice in partners is often appalling
Because love addicts see love as ‘soul-searching’, practical considerations like a wife or husband or glaringly obvious abuse problem is dismissed as semantics.
Consequently, they often end up with people who are already attached to someone else or airbrush out an obvious problem like alcohol or drug addiction.
Because their feel ‘true love’ is something ordained from higher powers, they find it hard to leave unhealthy or abusive relationships, clinging onto the belief that their love with eventually cure the person.
Love addicts often return to exes that have hurt them deeply, despite promising their loved ones they wouldn’t.
‘I didn’t plan to fall in love with him,’ a 54-year-old love addict professed, after having an affair with her third married man in two years. ‘If your souls connect, you’re meant to be together. He will be so much happier with me than with her. It’s fate.’
But there is a flip side.
Is love addiction real? Not convinced its possible to addicted to love?
Helen Fisher is an anthropologist, human behaviour researcher and the world’s leading expert in romantic love. She says anybody who says love addiction isn’t real, hasn’t looked in the brain.
Fisher and her colleagues used a special type of imaging to identify an area in the brain that becomes active when something becomes an addiction. Whether it’s alcohol, nicotine, drugs or love, the area lights up.
Not all agree this proves love addiction – but most experts in the field do agree people who behave like ‘love addicts’ follow the behavioural pattern of addiction.
They search for a ‘high’ and swing between despair and euphoria, willing to put up with abuse to get it.
The causes of love addiction vary, though unresolved children trauma – particularly with a distant or emotionally cold mother – appears likely.
If you think you might be a love addict or know someone who is, you’ll find lots of information at Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (slaafws.org).
There are many excellent books on the topic (including Crazy for You: Breaking the spell of sex and love addiction by Kerry Cohen). Find a good therapist at cosrt.org.uk, bacp.co.uk and relate.org.uk.
They can’t tolerate any imperfections
While some love addicts cling on until the bitter end, the majority have short-lived relationships.
Once the gloss wears off and a real person emerges from the best-behaviour version we present at the start, a lot of love addicts want out.
Their relationships rarely get past a few months because once the love and sex hormones wear off, they aren’t interested.
The idea that you should have to ‘work at a relationship’ is incomprehensible to them. If you’re with your true love, it’s destiny! All will magically fall into place. Your life will be like a fairytale where the characters kiss and live happily ever after.
Conflict isn’t allowed to exist. Your pesky in-laws, demanding friends, a job that robs them of time with you – none of these real-life intrusions that impact on all relationships are allowed to impact on theirs.
This is what one young love addict told me when I asked how her last relationship ended.
‘I really thought he was my person. We talked about having kids together and moving in. It was his mother that ruined everything. She hated me and he didn’t stick up for me enough. I don’t take second place to any woman.’
They feel angry when you ‘fail’ them
When infatuation fades, love addicts feel cheated – angry that yet another relationship hasn’t lived up to expectations. They’re irritable, start to detach, become critical and distant – and leave.
This isn’t love! Love doesn’t include having to compromise or put up with doing things they don’t want to!
Love addicts think love is sexual and romantic excitement. They have no idea that commitment, tolerance and good communication skills are what forge truly deep relationships.
If YOU dare to break up with THEM, before they’re ready, the emotion they feel is so intense, they think living is pointless.
Most love addicts, however, rarely wallow in despair. They typically move on very quickly to their next partner, eager for the next high.
When they aren’t in ‘love’ they’re desperately unhappy
But not all.
If that high turns out to take a long time to find, they feel desperately miserable.
Love addicts – quite obviously – don’t have the highest self-esteem. The whole point of finding this perfect relationship is to make themselves feel ‘complete’, ‘whole’.
They hate being alone because they don’t like themselves and aren’t comfortable with their own company.
Some love addicts will use sex to fill the loneliness, hooking up with strangers to at least get a physical high.
Not surprisingly, love addiction can manifest itself in two ways: obsession or avoidance.
Obsessive love addicts pursue love, thinking it will stop them feeling bad about themselves. Avoidant love addicts steer away from emotional intimacy at all costs.
The pain of yet another ‘failed’ relationship outweighs the hope of finding one.
Help! This is me!
Don’t panic if you’re reading this and thinking, ‘Oh my God I’ve done that – and that – and that!’.
Love sends all of us temporarily mad sometimes – especially at the beginning.
The key thing to ask yourself is this: are you like this in all your romantic relationships? Or do you just get a bit carried away now and then?
Love addiction is a pattern, not a one-off.
Want more information on love addiction? Visit Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (slaafws.org). You’ll find more advice on sex and relationships at traceycox.com, as well as her podcast, SexTok, her books and product ranges.