Cupid, Draw Back Your Bow
... and shoot yourself in the face
The current trend on my Facebook feed is “Post a picture of yourself at 21.” We members of the Formerly Cute (stole that from Garry Trudeau) like to remind the world that we really, really were cute once - promise! I posted that the only available pictures of me at 21 were mugshots. Everyone thought I was joking. I wasn’t. At 21 I was arrested while living with a coke dealer who called me his precious baby and assured me that no one would ever love me like he did. (The subtext of that, of course, is that no one else would ever find me lovable… and I bought it.) And if he hit me occasionally, well, jealousy is a natural part of passion. Isn’t it?
It sounds insane when I look back on it, of course, but at the time it seemed perfectly reasonable. I thought that kind of intensity is what love was supposed to feel like. And once I felt it, it was so intoxicating that I would return to the poisoned well again and again and again. Because I’m an addict.
The cocaine didn’t help. But my real drug of choice always was what they have come to call “limerence,” a potent cocktail of lust and longing that is self-defeating by definition, because you can’t long for something you actually have. It creates a compulsion and obsession no different from what an actual cocktail does for a practicing alcoholic.
“If you see someone across a crowded room and your eyes lock and your knees tremble… run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.” The late John Bradshaw, who wrote the first popular books about codependency, said that to me sometime in the early 1990s. I thought he was an idiot. What else is worth living for other than that exquisite flutter, that intoxicating rush of erotic anticipation, that blissful sensation of limerence?
The problem isn’t the fluttery feeling, of course. The problem is the intoxicating part. Anything that gets you high holds within it a promise that it at some point you will crash. The question is, where’s your pain threshold? For some people, the party is worth the price of the hangover. I can’t stop doing something until what it’s doing FOR me is overpowered by what it’s doing TO me. Prison is a hell of a hangover.
Bradshaw’s theory was that when you see a person and feel an instant connection, it’s not because you are karmic soul pairs. It’s because that person hooks into some childhood trauma that we don’t recognize or remember. He drops his left shoulder like Daddy does. Her hair catches the light just like Mom’s. I lean more toward a biochemical theory: A fellow love addict is broadcasting on the same pheromone wavelength as you are. We love junkies seem to always find one another… in the dark and in another language, if need be.
That doesn’t mean it’s not hot. It’s waaay hot. But it blows holes in our culturally endorsed notions of love at first sight. Think back to your first soulmate, your first true love. Remember that delicious feeling? Okay, think about that person today. No delicious feeling, right? Next, think about your latest soulmate. Same delicious feeling. Now think of three or four more trueloves – you probably have a few rattling around, same as me – and remember that delicious feeling. Picture them standing in a row, and picture that feeling as a radiant glow that attaches itself to one, then another, then another. Limerence is temporary at its core.
Author Susan Cheever put it nicely in her memoir "Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction”: "Addiction to other people -– especially addiction to sex partners –- is the only addiction that is applauded and embraced. Few parents will be thrilled to hear that their child is binge drinking, using drugs, or taking out college loans and gambling them away. Most are delighted that their child has romantic partners. Few of us want to drink too much or become drug addicts or rack up unmanageable credit card debt, but most of us want to fall in love.
"The problem is that we are not addicted to just one person, the person with whom we are in love. We are addicted to the feelings of new love, of being swept away, of being adored, of being obsessed. These feeling usually last from six to 18 months. After that, it takes a new person to evoke the same feelings."
Different faces, same feeling. What’s special and wonderful and intoxicating isn’t Him or Her at all. It’s the limerent glow. We associate the glow with the person, and so pine for the person, long for the person, kill for the person and die for the person… but it was really the glow itself that captivated us. Like some Star Trek alien sprite that inhabits human bodies and makes them irresistible. It’s not for nothing Cupid is portrayed as an imp with a lethal weapon.
I’m all for romance. I just don’t want to bleed to death.