Jeff Z (NY)
When I decided to write about Characteristic 3, I joked with the editor of this publication that "I would probably be late submitting my article because I'd be immobilized by a Romantic Obsession!" We laughed about this possibility and I promptly forgot about it. Now, at least thirty days past our agreed upon deadline, it's hard for me to share that I've been struggling with an RO (Romantic Obsession) once again, one that surfaced quite unexpectedly. More accurately, I've been trying to NOT go into full-tilt RO mode in hopes that I might actually learn why it is I have obsessions in the first place and also salvage a friendship with someone who I have come to know and dearly love. So it has been in this struggle that I've gotten acquainted with that part of myself that goes bonkers in emotionally intimate relationships. I call it THE LOVE MONSTER.
But before I discuss THE LOVE MONSTER, I need to share a little history about my relationship with my friend who also happens to be in this program. We met innocently enough about a year ago at the train station after a Sunday night meeting. We had seen each other at the meeting and he approached me in a sincere and friendly way. As we chatted, I learned that we had a lot in common with our respective addictions. He was a newcomer at the time and I felt honored that he respected the nearly six years I had invested in recovery related work. I have to admit that when I meet a prospective RO, I usually have it all plotted out in my little mind where I think things should go from the minute I meet the person. It felt great to meet someone with whom I felt a genuine kinship with who I had no crazy attraction to. I mean NONE, especially not a sexual / romantic one. Besides, he was in the middle of a very difficult relationship and I have a pretty strict rule about getting involved in love affairs with people who are in relationships: I don't.
So, things progressed as they will with good friendships. We started spending some time together after meetings and eventually started socializing outside of the rooms and, for the most part, really enjoyed each other's company. Sure, there were a few miscommunications here and there and a disappointment or two along the way, but I felt a healthy bond of friendship developing between two very different individuals. We made a commitment to be honest with each other early on in our friendship and that decision made the bumpy parts a lot easier to navigate. I was starting to feel like I was cured! At last I was capable of a mutually loving and supportive friendship with another gay man without all of the usual craziness that I know I'm capable of. But then he did the unthinkable, he broke up with his boyfriend and to my little confused mind became "available". And that's basically when all hell broke loose and THE LOVE MONSTER came for a visit and tried to destroy everything.
The MONSTER announced itself slowly at first and in subtle ways. I noticed my anxiety level rising when I spent time around my friend, something that I never had problems with in the past. I noticed that I wasn't cleaning my apartment so often and I all but stopped balancing my checkbook. I noticed a vague, overheated quality developing in me during my conversations with him. I noticed myself planning my life around him and his availability. I noticed myself anxiously waiting for his phone calls. I noticed myself dialing *67 so he wouldn't be able to trace that I had called him by dialing *69. I noticed myself thinking I wanted to kiss him. I noticed that I wanted to act out sexually after spending time with him. Then the worst happened: I started having fantasies about him, including sexual ones. Slowly and almost imperceptibly, I was once again inching my way towards complete immobilization and total self-neglect. But this was my friend! Why on earth was this happening?
And now here's where things can start to really get out of hand. If I follow the usual script, the one that requires me to alienate the other person by driving them totally nuts with tons of (unwanted) attention, I would have already been planning vacations, have bought very expensive presents, and have concocted such a ripe fantasy that reality could hardly compare. There's a REASON why they call them Harlequin Romances and I usually get to play the fool. I was (finally) able to see that I was involving another person in my insanity, someone whose friendship I cherished. I was slowly able to collect myself and muster up the courage to do something I never, ever tried to do in the past I asked him if we could talk about it. And he said yes.
I have to admit that this was probably one of the most painful things I've ever had to do in recovery. I asked my friend about a million times if it was OK to talk and he calmly said "You're my friend and you're not alone in this" (I damn well better NOT be alone! We're going to be fighting some monster after all!) He knew me well enough to know that something was upsetting me and felt that our friendship was strong enough to weather any storm. So we talked. I must admit, part of me was relieved and grateful for the opening to just let this stuff out and another part wanted to absolutely murder him. At long last I would have to face up to that aspect of myself that goes on search and destroy missions in just about every intimate relationship I've ever had and really see what the patterns were that I was "acting out" of. And that's when the miracle happened. A few days after we spoke I realized that there is a part of me that is a sad, lonely little boy who always wanted friends and companions his whole life but wasn't ever allowed to have them. And then I realized that I had been listening to and obeying this scary voice in my head for a long time that basically said "YOU CAN'T LOVE ANYONE BUT ME, NOT EVEN YOURSELF, AND IF YOU EVEN THINK OF IT YOU'LL DIE!" It was THE LOVE MONSTER!!! Then I had the most painfully obvious realization of all: THE LOVE MONSTER was my mother and I had lived in a state of paralyzing fear and self-neglect to appease her needy demands for most of my life. It all started to make sense. OF COURSE I would make up love fantasies, even about people I cared for. I wasn't allowed real connections with anyone else (my father in particular, but that's a whole other topic) so I MADE THEM UP to prove again and again that I wasn't worthy of anyone's love but hers, a love that was never forthcoming anyway. THE LOVE MONSTER usually got the best of things and I have a long, long list of failed relationships to prove this. (I will spare you the list, but I must admit that the other side benefit to all of this is that I have a much greater appreciation of Norman Bates in Psycho. But I digress).
I have to say that the aftermath of confronting this issue head-on has been very difficult and excruciatingly painful. I have had to confront a lifetime of self-imposed loneliness and feel (and cry and cry and cry) my way through it. I have had to admit that loneliness is both the engine and fuel for most of my addictions, especially romantic obsessions. Another layer of the recovery onion has fallen away, and I feel more vulnerable and exposed than I have in ages. The good news is that my friend and I are still friends and this sober action not only salvaged the friendship but deepened our relationship tremendously. I no longer have to live in some insane fear that if I admit that I love him very much (which I really do) that I will die. I honor and respect the gifts as well as the limits of this very intimate relationship. I'm glad that THE LOVE MONSTER is no longer ruling my life. I'm glad that I can genuinely love both myself and this wonderful human being who is my friend. It feels terrific. (Now if I could only stop crying…)