Ask Me No Questions

and I won't be able to fill the damn column

Remember back in February or March or maybe it was 2019 — it’s been a weird year, people — when I did that webinar and I got more questions than I could answer, so I spilled them over into a column? Well, there were even more questions than I could fit into that space, so I set them aside for a quiet day. It’s a quiet day. Here we go:

Q: How would you describe the difference between addiction withdrawal and feeling bad after a breakup?

A: I compare withdrawal from love addiction to withdrawal from nicotine. Craving a cigarette isn’t about being sad; it’s your brain urging you to feed it a substance it is addicted to. Sure, a nicotine fit can make you sad (also angry - very, very angry), but we experience it subjectively more as a physical than an emotional response. Withdrawal from the love object that injects your brain with the neurotransmitters it is habituated to feels more emotional than physical, but that’s mostly the baggage from songs and movies and the expectations of your Aunt Rose. Deep down, they’re the same thing.

“The craving will pass, whether you pick up the cigarette or not” is a mantra that has gotten many an ex-smoker over the hump, but we rarely think to use it when it comes to a breakup. And that’s tragic, because the desperate conviction that if only you DO SOMETHING TO MAKE THEM CHANGE THEIR MIND you will feel okay again has led to suicide, to stalking and to murder. The craving will pass, whether you pick up the phone or not.

Q: Having gone into therapy for sex addiction, I came to realize that I am likely a love addict as well. For a heterosexual male, this is a difficult thing to admit. In part this is cultural stigma. How to we, as a society, get men to “come out” as love addicts?

A: Yeah, love addiction and sex addiction are flip sides of the same coin, and if you’ve got one you’ve probably got the other as well. But I can relate. When I started out addressing this in my own life, I wanted to be a love addict rather than a sex addict. It was more attractive to be the victim, not the perpetrator - at least in public. Look what they did to me! Look how they hurt me! Poor me! feel sorry for me! Comfort me!

At the same time, it feels so much better to be the person leaving the room dragging you behind me, than the person clutching your ankle. Love addiction feels weak; sex addiction feels powerful. I am a vixen! I am a conqueror! See all the broken hearts I leave in my wake!

Men will generally own being a cad sooner than they will beg for comfort, because you had Coach Miller and I had Aunt Rose. How do we as a society get men to be vulnerable and honest and in touch with their feelings? It’s a moral evolution, I think, and it’s happening in front of our faces. I was a sentient being when wife-beating was considered a sitcom punchline. (“To the moon, Alice.” Google it.) Today, we have guys like you asking questions like this. Like they say: It’s progress, not perfection.

Q: I feel like I’m in a bind: I ENJOY being helplessly attracted to someone, because that’s how HOT they are. I find the mixed signals and the unavailability makes me want them even more, but eventually it all leads to nothing. I hope I can learn another way to love because this is all I know.

A: I feel you about the mixed signals. Intermittent conditioning is a bitch. We’re like those rats in a cage: When the lever reliably produces a pellet of delicious food, they eat when they are hungry. When the lever never produces anything, they just give up. But when the lever occasionally produces a pellet of delicious affection — I mean, food — and they never know when that will be, they push the damn lever until they go crazy.

The “anyone who thinks I’m not good enough for them is automatically hot” part is likely a product of low self-esteem and a great topic to address in therapy, which is above my pay-grade. In the meantime, I suggest hanging out with people who like you.

Go ahead, ask me anything. Email talktoethlie@gmail.com, tweet to @LoveAddict_Book, or just Comment below. Talk to you soon!