A reader asks:
Hi Ethlie - I recently discovered that my boyfriend is a sex and love addict and very much a pornography addict. He’s also an alcoholic currently in relapse and working on recovery, so we’re on a much needed break.
In reading about his sex and love addiction, I discovered that I too am a sex and love addict. I’m just more of the avoidant type. I had not dated for many years before I met him, and when he arrived I believed he was “the one”. Needless to say, the dynamic we both created in our relationship was extremely toxic. I’m currently seeking help and I’m avoiding contact with him.
What I would like to know, is if there’s any chance for he and I to ever reconcile, and have a healthy relationship as a couple? If he regains his sobriety from alcohol and if we both committed to a 12-step program and therapy for sex and love addiction, is it possible? - K.H.
Dear K. H. - I put a lot of thought into your question and metaphorically tore up a bunch of draft responses. I don’t take it lightly, because I know you’re in pain and I don’t want to make it worse. I also know that the answer you need to hear — the only answer you can hear, really, because it was the only one I could ever hear — is “Yes.” I can’t give you that answer. The closest I can come is “Maybe. But not today.”
You think you are a sex and love addict, and I suspect you are correct: the easiest way to diagnose yourself with sex and love addiction is to diagnose your crush with sex and love addiction, because, boy, do we know how to find each other. Blindfolded, in the dark, one hand tied behind our backs, we find each other. This makes both you guys 12-step newcomers, and newcomers are about as stable as some exotic isotope of plutonium. On top of that, he is (if you’re lucky) newly sober off alcohol. The AA Oldtimers knew all about relationships with newcomers. They called it the 13th Step, or “cripple fucking.”
Cringe, I know. Those Oldtimers wouldn’t last long on 21st Century social media, but they had a point. Neither of you is in good working order, relationship-wise. One bright and funny gal I knew who went to SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous) said she wasn’t dating for a while because “I don’t like what I can buy with the emotional capital I have to spend.”
I will say this about the toxic relationships I sobbed over (and prayed to God over, and curled up on the floor in fetal position over), and it may give you comfort: They usually come back. Thing is, I usually don’t want them any more when they do. Maybe they had changed too much. More likely, I had changed too much. Or maybe I was never really in love with the person in the first place, but rather with the idea of being in love.
Let me tell you a story from my early sobriety. I was having an affair with a married man — not my first, but it would turn out to be my last. My sponsor sat me down and told me that, while she was in my corner, she could not support me in that behavior. She might change her mind, she said, but right now it just felt immoral and unethical, and I was hurting myself and others.
The part of that sentence that kept me from committing suicide or driving my car through someone’s living-room window was “I might change my mind.” It meant maybe I could date him again after a few weeks had passed. Or maybe six months. Maybe in a year he’ll get a divorce, and then she’ll have nothing to object to.
That’s the magic of “one day at a time.” You never quit drinking or drugging or clinging to someone’s ankle forever. You quit just for today. After all, they might change the rules. Maybe Narcotics Anonymous will decide that cannabis gummies are okay after all. Maybe the FDA will approve a drug that cures alcoholism. Maybe Ethlie will prove to be a pathetic pessimist, and the right therapist can transmute your boyfriend from Ryan Gosling in The Notebook to James Garner in The Notebook.
Maybe. But not today.