What Is the Difference Between Loving and Being in Love?
Most of us have grown up on the “once upon a time… and they lived happily ever after” relationship fable. It is written into the script of nearly every Disney film and we have bought it, lock, stock and barrel. We lose ourselves in dreaming of Prince or Princess Charming who will fulfill all our romantic desires, will never disagree with us and will appear eternally youthful and beautiful.
Recovery pioneer John Bradshaw coined the phrase Post Romantic Stress Disorder to describe an all too common dynamic in relationships. You meet the person of your dreams, as your emotions are on overdrive and your heart races. You are enamored of this oh-so-perfect person. You can’t wait to be in his or her presence and you are loath to leave it. His book, which was released not long before he died this past year, is entitled Post-Romantic Stress Disorder: What to Do When the Honeymoon Is Over. It highlights the hormonal high-jacking that takes place and has you pondering your discernment when it comes to attracting a partner.
Bradshaw elaborates that the ‘in love’ experience is “dominated by the physical, when testosterone is off the charts for both people. That’s what happens when you fall in love. The dopamine and norepinephrine kick in and suddenly you’re higher than you’ve ever been. You may think you died and went to heaven — or hell.” Cue the Robert Palmer song, “Addicted to Love”
He adds that the duration is fairly fleeting; 18 months or so and then the reality of who each person is, begins to trickle in. It isn’t always pretty. That’s when the mettle of the two gets tested. What initially attracted you to them may begin to drive you bonkers (that description is not found in the DSM-V by the way) and you may wonder what you ever saw in them. Time to determine whether you want this connection to sustain over the years. When a couple face the potential life challenges, such as illness, injury, financial issues, job changes, children being born, children leaving home, their true nature surfaces.
The ability to handle these expected events stems, in part to what was modeled by the adults who raised you. Were your parents loving, demonstrative and supportive of each other as a couple? Did their behaviors feed or starve their relationship? When (metaphorically speaking) ‘push came to shove,’ did they actually verbally or physically push and shove or did they work together in harmony?
For some, the expectations of what love looks like also comes from a desire to feed what might be perceived as gaps in their own lives. Beloved author Shel Silverstein’s book called The Missing Meets the Big O highlights this idea beautifully. A sense of incompleteness pervades the lives of many and, rather than beginning within to initiate the healing process, they engage in a journey of seeking externally for what they believe is absent within themselves.
Phyllis Klaper, a clinician, whose professional skills have had her working with clients who face relationship and addiction issues, shares her perspective, “I didn’t know. I honestly did not know that being IN LOVE was temporary and that LOVING another person encompassed so much more… than just sex and date night. I mean, I knew it, but I didn’t really “get it.” I carried my idea of what love felt like at 16, into adulthood. I did. So, when the TEMPORARY MADNESS subsided, as it always will, I was left with this emptiness, this “what’s wrong with me?” feeling. I chased that madness like a junkie chasing a fix. I did. I chased it, I was desperate for it, I needed it, and when I couldn’t have it… I was lovesick (dope-sick) If that’s not the description of addiction, I don’t know what is. And when I managed to re-create that in love “feeling,” the sickness went away… temporarily. Always. Every time. It is becoming clearer and clearer that my core addiction is the need to attach myself to another human being so I will not have to face the pain of being dope-sick. Now, after spending 3 years alone, unattached, experiencing the emotional and physical pain of withdrawal, from, dare I say it, another human being… I understand why I needed it, that I don’t need or want that drug, and that authentic grounded love is what I am waiting for. I’ll know when it arrives. There will not be a trace of desperation or fear. That’s how I’ll know… until then, I’m good. Better than good.”
She isn’t alone in her longing for love and lusting after the high that comes with it, while hoping against hope that the inevitable crash doesn’t come.