A Chameleon on a Plaid Shirt

Who Am I This Time?

I went shopping this weekend. You’re thrilled, I can tell. “Ooh, she went shopping - alert the media!” Well, technically this is media so… alert achieved. That’s not the point. This is the point: I went shopping, I chose an outfit, I tried it on, I thought “Yup, that’s a me kinda outfit,” and I bought it.

If that sounds unremarkable to you, you may not be a love addict. Because a practicing love addict has no idea what “kinda me” looks like. My closet could have passed for the wardrobe department of a variety show. There was a leather jacket for Biker Ethlie, a silk blouse for Preppy Ethlie, and cowboy boots for Country Ethlie. There was spandex for Metalhead Ethlie and a cardigan for Girl Next Door Ethlie. What I chose to wear had far less to do with what I felt like wearing than with what I thought you wanted me to wear.

“Obsession,” the ‘80s hit by the band Animotion, got it right: “Who do you want me to be/To make you sleep with me.” I told Michael des Barres, who is an actual friend of mine and who actually wrote those lyrics, that for an acculturated 20th Century female it was more like, “Who do you want me to be/ To make you fall for me.” He said that’s why he was a platinum-selling songwriter and I wasn’t. (He didn’t say that. He’s British, and polite.) We both agreed that sex and love addiction are flip sides of the same coin anyway. Some days you’re the one clutching the ankle; some days you’re the one trying to leave the room.

Back to Ethlie’s closet. The basic text of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous talks about a “whole life strategy of obsession with and pursuit of love and sex… dictating who and what we had striven to be in the world, had supplied our principal source of identity, our entire self-concept.” As I wrote in LOVE ADDICT: SEX, ROMANCE AND OTHER DANGEROUS DRUGS, “sex and love addicts pick sexy, lovable careers and sexy, lovable pets. We buy sexy, lovable furniture for our sexy lovable homes. Odds are that some childhood crush formed our musical tastes and a lover’s compliment or criticism determined our hairstyle. The quantity of food you eat and the type of beverage you drink - there isn’t a thing in your day that isn’t colored by the addiction.” 

Ever picked up slang words or an accent from a lover? I have. Still can’t shake some of them. My mother wore high necklines for decades because one of her husbands (hard to remember which one) said something about her collarbone. I have an ex who never danced past junior high school because that cute Sherry or Sherri or Cheri made fun of him. We become a goulash of other people’s tastes and opinions. The love addict has no cohesion. We are incongruous. Dis-integrated. There is no self except the reflection in the eyes of our latest crush. How do you dress that?

When I made the decision to stop acting out on a pattern of sex and love addiction, I was afraid I would have to start dressing like an Orthodox Jew, or a Quaker. Modest, desexualized. What do you wear when your main goal in life is no longer to give some man an erection? But then, I also thought I would never be able to go to dancing again when I made the decision to stop snorting cocaine. I tend toward black and white/all or none thinking, apparently. Turns out, I still go out dancing and I wear short skirts when I do it. I just wear them because they’re fun to dance in, not to make you look at my legs. 

I didn’t realize that choosing clothing — and furniture, and automobiles, and street addresses — because they worked for me and not because I thought they would appeal to Him, whoever He was at the time, would give me internal consistency. Would restore me to wholeness. But over time, it did. Like they say in 12-Step World, we act ourselves into right thinking, not think ourselves into right acting.

If nothing else, have I saved a lot of closet space over the past couple of decades. It is much easier to dress one whole person than it is to dress a variety show. Tahari and BCBG usually work. Autumn palette, size M… and my birthday is in March.