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Hooked On Tainted Love

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Hooked On Tainted Love

Even tainted love is a very powerful drug

Dear Duana,

I’ve had a secret lover for over a year—secret, because he’s my boss and 25 years older than me.  I’d be in love with him if that was an option, but it’s not; we both have too much trouble with the age difference and what that means for our life goals, not to mention my family’s reaction.  We’ve always known we’d have to give each other up, but every time we break up, he calls me less than a month later and we are back in bed.  I’m so tired!  I’m tired of loving him more than he loves me, and I’m tired of being too scared to ask him not to call until he can be only friends…because I’m terrified I’ll never get that call.  I’m young and want to move on with my life—and ‘Tom’ is like this tiny little anchor wrapped around my waist and I’m the one who put him there.  I always give my friends grief for going back to their exes and doing the on-off thing, and here I am doing it myself.  What can I do?  What CAN I do?

Sarah

 

Dear Duana,

I’m a gay man from a homophobic country, and I’m secretly in love with my roommate ‘Ernest’.  But it’s one-sided.  Ernest is marrying his girlfriend and views me as just a friend.  I feel crazy every day.  I don’t know what to do.  ??

Carl

 

Dear Sarah and Carl,

Let’s start with what not to do:  Please don’t be harsh with yourselves. 

There are so many things that can stand in the way of love—so many, that the heartache of tainted love is something most of us eventually experience.  You’re going through it, I’ve been through it, and I’ll bet a lot of our Wise Readers out there have loved and lost someone who, for whatever reason, couldn’t be theirs…even though their love was real.  And it is normal to feel confused and lost and grief-stricken at such a time.  Add others’ disapproval, and I think you are suffering more than enough without adding self-created pain.

 

While your letters initially look so different, and your pain is real and individual, what strikes me is how much you have in common with each other and with other lost causes of l ’amour.   You both love someone you cannot have; you both want him anyway; and I think you’re both ultimately asking the same questions:

How do I let go most of the way without losing this man completely?   How do I keep this man in my life at least a little bit without going crazy?

 

The answer is very, very hard: You don’t.  You let go totally, because you must, for your own progress and freedom and peace and Life.  And you do it knowing you are losing him for a long, long time and perhaps forever.

 

Love is a drug: Ditch your dealer.

Here’s the thing.  Love may be a verb, an action, and a choice, but it’s also a drug.  When you or I or anyone else loves someone, they hijack our dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and other dendrite receptors for a while.  They become, in effect, our dealers and our drugs of choice.  It’s not like we’re high—we actually are high.  And guess what happens when the contact ends?  Yep.  Withdrawal.

What happens if a heroine junkie quits for a time—then takes ‘just one hit—just this time’?  A raging return to addiction.   And when women have sex sans condoms, about 97% of the semen contains chemicals that create emotional bonds tying that woman to that man.  Carl, that’s not a worry for you—it only works on People With A Vagina.  But the addiction thing still holds.

I’ll bet you know your own answer by now.  Quit the stuff/Tom/Ernest cold-turkey, and stay quit.  He may never be a safe substance for you.   Carl, that means finding another roommate as soon as possible.  Sarah, that means telling Tom you can’t take his calls anymore.  And then, not taking his calls anymore.

 

 

(When) Can You Ever Be Friends Again?   

There may come a time when you can interact without those feelings arising, and then, you could try friendship (without benefits).

The friendship would lack a lot of the spark it has now; in all likelihood and in my hopes, you’ll each have moved on and formed other attachments that are workable and joyful.  But at least some friendship could be had.

How can you tell when that time has come?  I don’t know of any research on it, but the litmus I like to use is this:  When you could calmly see your old flame walking down the street holding hands with or kissing someone else or announcing his love for her; when you could envision telling him about someone else you love, without feeling awkward about it; then you’re ready to be just friends.

Now that’s a high bar, and one it will probably take many months or maybe years to reach.  And I welcome readers to offer other solutions.  But this much is true: If you reconnect with this man before you’re really over him, you’ll be renewing an addiction to a substance that made you feel crazy and miserable and confused.

 

Carl and Sarah, I know this is tough.  Finding peace and then real, workable love in our lives doesn’t just involve saying Yes to the right opportunities, which is easy, but also being able to say No to the wrong ones—which is very hard, because so many of the wrong ones feel incredibly right.  But saying No now is the price for being open to the one to whom you can later say Yes.  And shorter term, it’s the price for your own peace and well-being.

Once you’ve gone through the withdrawal.

I don’t like to give people the answer they don’t like, so I didn’t enjoy writing this one.  But people do get over every loss but the death of a child; it’s a fact.  On a biological level and upwards, stopping all contact feels like it will kill you, but it’s the answer that will bring you peace and better opportunities soonest, rather than dragging out pain and addiction longest.  Love is a drug, but plenty of us have recovered.  All my best as you brave it out and move on to love that really works for you.

 

Cheers,

Duana

 

There also is much science on loss and the adaptation level phenomenon that shows people get over just about everything but the death of a child.  May we all be so fortunate as to never face that grief.  May we all embrace our resilience.

 

 

Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, coming in January, 2015. She also contributes at Psychology Today and teaches psychology at Austin-area universities. Get a free chapter of Love Factually!

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