Hi, my name is Amy Shank and I'm an amaholic.
You may be wondering what an amaholic is since it's not an actual word and Latin is a dead language (RIP). I'll give you a hint: Robert Palmer is in the club. Not an 80's Pop Rock fan? Okay: Simple Plan is also in the club. Not willing to admit you used to listen to Simple Plan? Fine. What I'm trying to tell you is that I, Amy Shank, am a dic . . . am addicted to love. It's true many pop rock stars have glorified the "love bug” (you're not "Clumsy," Fergie . . . you're just insane) and with good reason. Love can be the best thing in the entire universe, or the shittiest and most dangerous addiction of your life.
Let me start with the biological basics. We were programmed from the beginning of our dopey little lives to desire love. It originated four million years ago as a survival tactic to encourage hominin pair-bonding and reproduction (check out more here, ya girl's done her research). How it works is simple: feelings of love trigger our brain's “reward system” lighting up dopamine pathways; yes, the exact same pathways and parts of the brain that are engaged during drug addiction. Don't get me wrong! I believe love is the most natural and beautiful thing in the world, however, you can see where this might go wrong. While it's suspected that the various feel-good drugs merely hopped on the same love train we'd been riding naturally all along (most drugs lack the intrinsic value that love provides . . . but talk to me later about mushrooms), quitting love and quitting drugs has almost the exact same awful feeling effects right down to the physical pain; the part of your brain that's activated during a toothache? Same part that's activated during heartache. Just like an addiction, you can build up a tolerance for love, needing more and more from your partner as the relationship continues and after being "cut-off" from your source you'll experience the same withdrawals and potentially a few relapses (ever seen those on again off again couples? Ever been one?). If you've ever quit smoking cigarettes, you'll know the constant craving, thinking about it nonstop, being reminded of it every time you wake up, eat, or need to poop. Replace that with a person and you've got yourself an analogy, baby (maybe not the poop, although I don't know your life). You've heard of the crazy things people will do for crack cocaine? How many more dicks have been sucked out of desire for love? I think you get my point.
I might sound like a Bitter Betty, and yes, it’s true, your girl just recently got her heart broken. For the first time in my life, I was forcibly required to quit love, not on my own terms (most people refer to it as: a break up).
Let me explain:
I've always been extremely careful and extremely smart when it comes to matters of the love organ (ehem, heart). I've dated nice, sensitive guys who treated me like I was a sexy gift from God, but no matter how wonderful they were, when I felt that we weren't going to work for one reason or another, I broke up with them. Once it was felt, it was decided. No going back. No loose ends untied. No prisoners taken. The break-ups weren't “clean” by any stretch of the imagination, but still we remained on good terms, some even friends. I was able to move on healthily and happily to the next beau, learning as I went. I can't really say I had ever been “hung up” on a guy for more than week before the healing began. My mom even said to me the other day that she used to question whether or not I was normal because I had never really had my heart broken. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree because up until a year ago, I had convinced myself I was a robot alien sent from Venus to destroy hearts with my icy cool logic.
Not the case. I'm human, oh yes, I am as human as human can be. Here's the deal: a year ago, almost to the day, I decided I was going to step into love. I could feel myself falling, so I decided that this time I'd use my icy objectivity for the good of man and not wait until the end to break it out. I decidedly allowed myself to be open and honest about my feelings for, we'll call him “Dude.” I allowed him to make me immeasurably happy, I let him into my brain and bones, I even told him I loved him as soon as I knew (which was before he told me). I made a point to love him, no matter what. Let me be clear: this was a choice at first. There were many points at which my alien-robot arms waved frantically, yelling, "DANGER! DANGER JILL ROBINSON!" and tried to get me to back out, but I dug my heels in because I wanted to give love an actual shot to be the wild, uncontrollable ride I knew it could be.
We went through incredibly hard times; we even ended up living together much earlier than expected due to, well, life happening. Our relationship survived through a lot of turmoil and by month six it felt like we had been together for years. I felt like he knew me to my core and that I knew him. No one had ever known me the way he knew me, mostly because I never let them. He became my best friend and I his. We were each other's favorite people on the planet. For a while, it was bliss . . .
Until it wasn't. I trusted him so much that I began to allow him things that guys of the past couldn't have gotten away with in a million years. I trusted him so much that I stopped trusting myself. I started questioning who I was and who I wanted to be. Do I really like my friends? It's okay that he doesn't have a relationship with my parents? I don't need other people. Other people are stupid! Not needing to go out ALL the time became never going out at all. Loving myself became secondary to loving him. We had a lot of differences, the main ones being that I was a free spirit who fed off of newness and change, and he was a grounded old soul who found comfort in familiarity. This may have worked at some point, but at the time, neither of us was willing to give up on any of it. Well, I should say, at the end neither of us was willing.
Here's what I think happened: In the beginning, I acted solely out of love, and it was good. For a while, it felt amazing. Loving someone unconditionally truly is the best natural high one can experience; but that amazing natural high . . . that's powerful stuff. They say once you try heroin you'll chase that high for the rest of your life; I've never tried heroin, but all things considered, love's got to be the same. I got debilitatingly attached to my love with Dude. I had been in love before, but this love was different. This love was dangerous because I had finally allowed myself to hope, to believe that he might actually be the one. I was vulnerable: for the first time in my life I had completely let my guard down with a significant other. I started not being able to imagine my life without him, I had thoughts of growing old together, raising kids together; I wanted to spend my time with no one but him. It felt so good to think those thoughts and feel those feelings. Tin Man, your heart was in you all along! For a moment I really thought I was ready to take a leap with Dude.
That's when it happened.
Insecurity and fear snuck in. Dude had a problem with a lot of the things that make me inherently me. As aforementioned, we were very different. My free spirit made him nervous. He liked what he knew, I liked anything new. He didn't trust easily, I was the girl who says, “Hey, will you watch my laptop, my phone, and my wallet holding all my credit/debit and social security cards?" We fought, argued, and bickered A LOT; sometimes over things worthwhile, sometimes over the stupidest technicalities. It was exhausting. No one ever “won.” That's when I stopped fighting for myself and began to stew in the terror of losing him. I stopped acting out of love and started acting out of fear. I think we both did.
We'd take breaks then get back together. I even broke up with him once. I can tell you that for a moment I really felt like I could be that strong again, but the better half of me was sooooooo deep in it that I knew it wouldn't last. It took about three days before I went back. This is where the “dick sucking” came in (I guess figuratively and literally). I did anything and everything to keep him around. I was too messy? Dishes done that day. I don't cook enough? Scrambled eggs the next morning. You don't trust my only friend in San Jose? Maybe you're right, she does seem to be hiding something. He probably could have said, “I'm moving to Milwaukee!” and I would have followed him. I was gone.
By this point in the relationship, I was the least like me I had been yet. I didn't go out. I started hating everyone around me BUT Dude. I even saw and talked to my parents less because they didn't have a comfortable relationship with him. I had lost all sense of self just to make sure that Dude. Stayed. Around. He became the only thing worth keeping in my entire life. Woof.
Well as you can imagine, he broke up with me and I handled it . . . less ideally than one might hope. What I believe happened is that he saw all the damage we were doing to each other and had the strength to walk away. I saw it too. But I was too deep in it to care.
I became a junkie in need of a fix. Before we broke up, I had the good sense to move out. I did it because I thought it would help our relationship. I guess in a way it did. It didn't stop me from making excuses to go by the house, though: “Boy, I really need this decorative washboard!” “Hey, did I pay you for rent? Oh, I can do that on Venmo. Hahahahahahahaha . . . technology!” But each time, he'd refuse to connect with me. I'd stand there in the doorway, pleading at him with my eyes to acknowledge me as the person he loved, not the substance he quit. One night I finally got him. I told him I was in San Jose. I needed a place to crash. I had gotten too high to drive home.
“Sure thing,” he said. “I'm not home right now. You take the bed, I'll sleep on the couch.”
I tried not to wait up for him, but not really. After he got home we talked for two, maybe three hours. I begged him not to “do this” using my love like a bargaining chip. Eventually, I broke him down.
“We're not good for each other,” he'd say. “I can't do this anymore.”
I looked at him and realized I no longer recognized him. Also realized I no longer recognized myself. I definitely didn't recognize the reality of what was going on. I wish I could say that I stopped there. I didn't.
The last I remember of the night was lying next to his worn down body on the couch. I was asking, begging him to just lie next to me. “I'm not going to do that. We need to go to sleep now.” He really meant it that time.
Over the course of the next day, I began to replay the events of the night. I was broken, I was embarrassed, but the realizations throughout the night were starting to set in. How weak I had allowed myself to become. How foreign my whole world was to me now. I had left him a note in the morning. It was more bargaining. “I love you, I cherish you, I will wait as long as it takes to be with you.” I remember feeling right about all of it except for the very end. Would I wait for him? I finally began to decipher what was my love and what was my addiction. It reminded me of my first break up, only this time I was on the opposite end of things. Dude was cool and calm . . . logically and decidedly phasing me out. I was hanging onto a ghost. By telling him I would wait for him, I was doing to Dude what my ex had done to me: refusing to let go.
For the first time, my logic and my emotion worked beautifully and gracefully in tandem. I adopted the acceptance and resolve of a Buddhist monk about the thing I could not change. I ended the night with an eloquently crafted text to Dude. I left in all the stuff about loving him; I did, I do, I probably always will; but I also told him that, because of that, I wasn't going to wait for him. I wanted him to be his best self with or without me. I let him go.
I don't blame either of us for any of it. I don't think blame comes into play in this, blame is derivative of insecurity, anger . . . all things we should deal with on our own time. Sure, we were both in the wrong, but we were still doing our best. We just allowed ourselves to get so attached to one another that the fear of losing each other overrode the love that got us there in the first place. We were doing all the things immature people do: projecting our fears onto each other, mistrusting out of insecurity, allowing petty disagreements to completely rock our foundations because we were so goddamned scared. We were lovesick people who turned just plain sick. What we were doing was wholly and totally unfair to both of us.
When it comes to life lessons, this experience definitely ranks itself in the top three (yes, it's right up there with “Never Give Your Hamster a Roller Coaster Ride”). I entered the relationship thinking I knew a lot about love, myself, the world at large; I've come away with actual experiential knowledge that reminds me that I am very young and have a loooong way to go. Though I will say that my patience, my understanding, and my ability to love has deepened greatly. I can only describe it as humility brought on by the extreme vastness and complexity of love (I'll come up with a better title later). Things I've claimed to have learned?
- Unconditional love does not mean unconditional surrender of self. Always put yourself first. It is not bad to be selfish. Only when you are taken care of can you take care of another human. If it doesn't work it, it wasn't meant to be.
- Unconditional love means making every attempt to see the best in someone, always. You should be a reminder to them of who they truly are, not an enabler of who they turn into out of fear.
- You are going to learn and re-learn these lessons your entire life; it will be in different ways, with different people, and it will have different names, but with each new time comes a new piece of the puzzle of luuuuuuurve.
Stay tuned for Part 2!