Tales of a Love-Addicted Tinderella
“If you love a flower, don’t pick it up.
Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love.
So if you love a flower, let it be.
Love is not about possession.
Love is about appreciation.”
The guy on the elephant?
Dude, you have to be kidding me. You’re an adult. Do you have any idea the abuse inflicted on these animals for our dumb pleasure?
The guy holding a beer bottle?
A Boozing Partying Joker? No thank you. I don’t drink a lick of alcohol. Hell, I apparently don’t even know how to spell the word.
The chubby guy sitting naked on a toilet tatted up with his penis blurred out?
I’m coming right over Baba. Really? What the Eff homeboy?
The Mexican bearded version of George Clooney… and his third picture is a kid?
For a love addict like myself, the online dating app was like gasoline tossed on a small but steady flame. Swiping at pictures of men in search of ‘matches’ helped absolve my pain and distract my mind. Thanks to Tinder, meeting men is now akin to playing slots. Lots of loose ones out there, and good luck on getting a Big Hit.
A failed relationship can spur on severe withdrawal akin to weaning off heroin. While you’re jonesing, you do what you need to cope. “Love is the hardest addiction to quit,” addictions specialist Stanton Peele, Ph.D., said in his 1975 book Love and Addiction, which unwittingly opened the door to the discussion.
In A Spy in the House of Love, by Anais Nin, the heroine Sabina views her “love anxieties as resembling those of a drug addict, of alcoholics, of gamblers.” She recognizes the same irresistible impulse, tension, compulsion and then depression following the yielding to the impulse.”
I discovered Tinder two years after its debut. I downloaded the dating app, created a profile, and started trolling.
Tinder became an international sociological research project, spanning more than one year and five countries. At least, that’s how the addict in me pitched it to my recovering self.
Love Addict 101
My name is Maryam Henein and I’m a Recovering “Love Addict.”
To Get Current: James, the man I’ve been with for the past four years, has basically pulled the plug on our relationship, picked up, and moved to different continent 5,773 miles away. I was not invited. Yes, we had several breakdowns and a few breakups, but we had breakthroughs too. I am confused because there is still love, attraction, and synergy.
And I am angry because despite MDMA sessions, the Landmark Forum, and ayahuasca, the uncoupling wasn’t conscious. I’ve found myself with his cats in a two-bedroom apartment I cannot afford. The love addict in me feels abandoned. And fuck, I want my fix.
When we expressed exclusivity, I made a conscious decision to commit. Up until then, I had been a serial monogamist with one proverbial foot out the door. I’d often harbored secret thoughts of leaving. But this time, I flipped the coin, landed tails, and decided to try commitment for realsies.
Thanks for letting me share.
Love addiction is defined as “a condition in which individuals do not fall in love with someone who will return their affection. Rather, they are attracted to somebody who will neglect the relationship.”
With that said, I don’t quite like the term “love addict” or labels in general – as it’s a little bit misleading and kind of off-putting in a Red Flag kind of way. Besides, based what I’ve witnessed in S.L.A.A. (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous) meetings, love addict types run the gamut. The term is broad, overarching, and really doesn’t do justice to describe how it manifests in me in particular.
I’d venture to say that love addiction is more common than we think. Many relationships display elements of love addiction, its mirror opposite ‘love avoidance,’ and the toxic issues that ping pong between them. At the core are feelings of neglect and abandonment.
Based on extensive research, love addiction likely stems from a childhood where your most precious needs for validation, love, and connection from one or both parents wasn’t being met.
I was well aware of my wounds and triggers. And now a year later, between Tindering and ironically attending SLAA virtual meetings, I could see how I had injected my relationship with a semi-conscious fear of abandonment along with an underlying subconscious fear of intimacy. This underlying vibration or frequency off-gassed neediness. This in turn set off my partner’s issues, and a snowball effect ensued.
He ultimately ran away. Lost Interest? No longer cared?
Chances are, if you’re a Love Addict, you’ve attracted a “Love Avoidant.” They are two sides of the same coin.
James was the yin to my yang.
Tinder in La La Land
11 miles away. Active 10 seconds ago
“To all women who are stupid enough to think they can meet the man of their dreams. Keep on dreaming. All men in the world are registered here to hook up and fuck.”
Swipe Left. I didn’t want to believe that.
My girlfriend sided with Tom.
“Tinder has killed the act of dating. Today it’s all about whether you’re DTF.”
“DT What?” I asked genuinely.
“Down to fuck,” she answered nonchalantly.
Was this happening all over the world? Had technology combined with the toxic dynamics between sexes killed relationships while I was busy in one?
“Yes, Tinder seems to be known as a hookup app, from what my clients tell me, but I’ve also seen a few people develop relationships based on Tinder meets,” says Dr. Shannon Kolakowski, psychologist and author of Single, Shy and Looking for Love: A Dating Guide for the Shy and Socially Anxious.
But what possible information can you glean from a few pictures and a short profile? Well, for those of you who think a picture cannot tell more than a thousand words, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University would disagree.
“There’s a reason they call it ‘love at first sight,’ not love at first conversation, first smell or first joke.” According to Fisher, snap judgments based on nothing more than an image—the kind Tinder users make—may not be as superficial or unreliable as they seem.
The human brain is built to take in visual information, and that information goes deeper than mere aesthetic judgments. Looking at someone’s face, makes it possible to glean their age, grooming habits and cultural background—even their personality.”
Mexican George Clooney, 48
3 miles away. Active 2 minutes ago
I could tell by his pictures that Mexican GC valued family, was conscious about his looks (lots of good-quality selfies), and that he was a professional. Fused with his description, I surmised that he was cultured and well-traveled. He described himself as a “liberal capitalist who eats granola.” He was the cream of the crop compared to all the fuckboys, gangsters, Hollywood posers, and straight out losers I came across Tindering while in Los Angeles.
It was a match. I waited to see if he’d message me. Right off the bat there was witty playful banter. Wow, I had caught a live one. But after he asked me to join him for a drink, it didn’t take long for me to divulge that I was just out of a relationship and not interested in dating or having sex.
“I just want to see what kind of men are out there,” I typed. I didn’t tell him I was writing a story.
Instead of finding me lame, he admitted he was pining over a woman, and had joined Tinder to keep tabs on her. Thanks to the app (this has now changed), he could tell when she was last active and how many miles away she was from him. Red Flag alert. He had been with her for only four short months and for all intents and purposes was quasi-stalking her.
His behavior certainly made me feel better about my own. For a month or two Mexican George and I kept in touch and gave each other pep talks. I’d cry on the phone about how I missed my ex, and he’d go on and on about his Mexican celebrity ex. We were pathetic. The only difference was that I knew it.
Despite his broken heart and severely bruised ego, he had no problems kissing me on his way to the bathroom, during our Ethiopian dinner. I had known him maybe a total of 207 minutes.
Don’t be so fucking eager as Mallory Knox stated after shooting a man she’d been having sex with.
This wasn’t going to work out. Mexican GC was way too much drama and machismo for me. In perfect timing, he moved away. A year later, I saw him in my bank. He was plastered on a poster on the wall, grinning next to a woman, helping secure home mortgage loans.
One Billion Swipes A Day
Together the love addict and avoidant engage in a dysfunctional relationship pattern called the “distancer-pursuer” relationship – the love addict’s primary emotional fear is of abandonment and is typically the pursuer in the established relationship. The love avoidant’s primary fear however is intimacy and their natural response is to distance themselves.
This, it turns out, can result in a lot of tears and travel.
After I learned James cheated on me while we had still been together, I headed to an expensive yoga retreat in the South of France. (So what if he was temporarily working in that region?)
I practiced yoga five hours a day for 10 days straight. I lost 10 pounds. Broken Heart + Yoga = most effective diet ever. I cried. I cried a lot. I cried so much, I gave myself a permanent eye bag. Notice I just said one.
Every so often, I swiped at Frenchmen, who by the way rank #5 among 196 countries on Tinder. Yet since only 17% of people in France use online dating sites, and I was in a small French village, the men were mostly gray and seemingly married.
And then, in perfect love addict/love avoidant fashion, Mr. X and I met half way in a small village where my group just happened to be visiting for a few hours. At the end of the retreat, an Italian girl drove me to the French Riviera where he was staying before he went off to Ibiza, where I was not invited.
Rather than sulk alone, I visited a dear friend in Italy where I turned to Tinder once again to escape my obsessive thoughts. “I’ll just see who’s there, distract myself, flirt a little,” I thought to myself. I found Fabio, a cop and cyclist in Roma who typed excellent English. We never met. And Elvio, a tall, dark, handsome photographer with a beard, warm brown eyes, and full lips. He had twin boys and a great eye. We never met either. (Later, he admitted to jerking off to me once, after checking me out on Instagram.)
Two weeks later, back at home from our respective trips, James and I fell back into days of ocean swims, cooking, sex, working together on our respective laptops and weekend jaunts. We fell asleep curled up in each other’s arms just like old times.
And then summer ended and so did we. I made a pit stop in my hometown of Montreal before returning to Los Angeles. It wasn’t long before I picked someone up on my Tinder radar.
5 miles away. Active 0 minutes ago
“I want to have a Cougar experience with you,” was Joey’s opening line. He looked like a cross between Gael García and Jason Schwartzman.
“I am really horny.”
“Bummer. That’s what your hands are for.”
Somehow his audacious demeanor was more cute and comical than offensive.
“I really like going down on a woman, and I’m very sensitive, so would you be kind enough to shave for me.”
“Lol. Joey. I’m not going to be shaving my pussy for you. Repeat, you will not be seeing my pussy. I don’t even know you. Sorry, this is not the way I operate. I’m sure there are tons of Québec girls who jump in the sack with you; you’re a cute guy. But you will not be seeing where I live.”
“Dude. Your lack of trust and thinking this fucking awesome guy right here is some psycho killer is equally off-putting. Try not to touch yourself before tomorrow. If we do go back to yours, I want you to be ultra-sensitive so I can tease you properly.”
We met at 11:40 a.m. outside a restaurant called Soup Soup. I definitely had not touched myself. He literally skateboarded up within inches of me and looked confidentially into my eyes. They were brown and warm, and I knew in an instant, he was safe. We got some lunch, and I let him inside my house.
For an hour, I actually worked while the boy lay on my newly appointed Airbnb couch. And then he asked me to take a ‘break.’ I disassociated and watched it unwind… He kissed me. I kissed back. I felt nothing. It was empty. But I felt grateful that it was possible to kiss a stranger without interrogating him about his dental hygiene habits.
Joey took off all his clothes, sauf his woolly gray socks, and lay sprawled on the bed. He was a cute boy. I was wearing a black tight cotton dress, which I kept on.
He wanted to pleasure me but since I didn’t feel like getting naked and wanted to get back to work, I gave him a hand job. And then another one. During the first one, he asked if I could get some lotion.
“I’m not getting any toxic hand cream to put on your dick. I have something much better.”
I returned with some organic coconut oil. He came pretty quickly and then minutes later got hard again. During round two, in between strokes, I remembered a story James had shared about a woman he’d recently met. She jerked hogs off for a living. He said her arms were “sick.” No doubt. It’s a lot of work.
Joey complimented my touch and told me that had never happened to him before. Given his age, it was possible he was telling the truth.
Hookup Culture: And the Beat Goes On
Within days of returning to Los Angeles, I ironically suffered a broken wrist. It was September and hard to swipe. My “Tindering” simmered. Then James visited for Christmas. We enjoyed each other’s company. We cooked a great meal for our friends on Christmas Eve and brought in the New Year together. I was in a state of gratitude. I loved him still. And yet I knew soon he’d be gone again.
That spring we began meeting in different continents for what resulted in romantic encounters. In the jungles of Costa Rica, before he professed his love and asked me to follow him to Europe.
We met in Roma where I was studying food politics and teaching a class before we fled to Athens to embrace the height of the economic turmoil. We joked that in Greece we’d create our own myth. We outlined the edges of the country side: grilled sardines, Greek salads, ocean swims, bike rides by the ocean, mosquito attacks, snorkeling, and ancient ruins.
And then slowly by mid-July in a small village along the Aegean Sea, James stopped interacting with me. He didn’t share. He didn’t converse. Was he suddenly bored?
“As a love addict, you first cannot put a finger on what is happening, but you can feel it, and the shift in your partner is anxiety provoking,” writes Hall. “You may make excuses and even blame yourself for the change you see.”
My anxiety fueled his and the love addict/love avoidant dynamic ensued. When I tried to say something, he accused me of being needy. But I knew I wasn’t being so. I had been working on myself. He was projecting. So I temporarily fled to a neighboring island.
Soon after he invited me to visit a new destination, and then a week after that he uninvited me. “We’re just friends and sometimes lovers” he typed via Skype.
I had not gotten that memo. What the fuck was he talking about? How had I gotten back here?
55 miles away. Active 2 days ago
It didn’t take long for me to turn to Tinder again despite the fact that it was slim pickings because I was in the middle of nowhere. By this summer’s end, I decided that I would need to say goodbye to James wholeheartedly.
Cyril was a mixture of French and Greek. He was tall with long dark hair. According to his mug, at least. We texted sporadically for about two weeks. He seemed healthy mentally, and we decided to rendezvous. But the day before we were set to meet, James returned (earlier than expected).
This time, I was determined to stay to my side of the bed. And yet when he told me to come into his arms, I didn’t say no. It rained torrentially that night. We lay there awake in each other’s arms, listening to the soothing pattering. Surely, he felt our love too?
James and I spent three days together before I would leave again. It had been another adventure-filled exotic summer. Another year had gone by: short intense spurts between long badbyes.
Swipe Right If You Are Insane
Up until now I had been all swipe and no real action.
Sherman Vape, 49
6 miles away, Active 0 seconds ago
Sherman was the most attractive man I’d seen on Tinder, or anywhere else for that matter, in a long time. He was a doppelganger for Billy Crudup. And I had had a celebrity crush on Billy for years, until he left Mary-Louise Parker – mid pregnancy – to be with Claire Danes.
It was a match! He was an Italian real estate agent from Boston. We swiftly established a mutual appreciation for 420, and soon he was raving about his Vaporizer, and asking me to come over to his home.
“Let’s vape and chill.”
I almost fell for it. But wait. It was obvious Mr. Vape had enticed a fair share of DTF women into his lair with his weed and good looks.
“If you want to see me you should make an effort to meet me in a neutral place,” I wrote.
“Call me,” was his response.
When I called, he told me he liked to do “meet and greets” at his house, and that seeing him at a Starbucks or whatever wouldn’t reveal if he was a psychopath.
I laughed. He wasn’t dangerous. He was lazy and spoiled by his good looks.
“Put on your big girl pants and come over.”
Sherman Vape was a 49-year-old “fuckboy.”
I knew I was going to be attracted to him. He was feisty. And since he wasn’t going to budge, I brought my vegan chef yoga teacher girlfriend and then newly-appointed Tinderholic along with.
As we stood by his vaporizer, he caressed me. And my girlfriend. He wanted to see me seduce her. We laughed at his audacity. At that point, I walked over and peeked into his fridge. It was a processed food disaster area. I poured out the skim milk into the sink without thinking twice as I warned him about man boobs from the added antibiotics and hormones.
The second time. I visited alone.
He greeted me at the door with a kiss on the lips and strong roving hands over my body. He wanted to smoke herb and trade massages. I was down with that. He was 6’ tall with full lips and for the record, he was way cuter than Billy.
I leaned up against his kitchen counter, and he pressed himself against me.
“Give me 18,” he whispered in my ear.
Pushups? I had no idea what talking about. When I didn’t move, he took his foot and encouraged one of my legs to reposition itself inches apart from the other. I obeyed. This could be good, dominating me would allow me to turn my brain off and disappear.
He kissed me and bit my neck. It was hot– for a few seconds, until I wondered if I would get thrush from kissing a strange fuckboy. Where had his mouth been? Meanwhile, he’d already admitted via text that he only flossed occasionally.
Then, he dove for my left armpit and sniffed it. I was perspiring. He seemingly approved. He cupped the back of my head with his hand and moved it toward his own armpit. “I am ripe. Take it in,” he said. Suddenly, I was with Otto from a Fish Called Wanda.
Hey, don’t get me wrong, I like pit diving. But with someone I love. Not with a second encounter. I took a whiff. I had no choice. Perhaps after five years, it was healthy for me to finally inhale a heavy dose of someone else’s pheromones. Like smelling salts, his scent was just enough to arouse consciousness and snap me out of it.
“What do you think?” he asked.
When I asked whether he’d used mainstream soap, he looked offended.
“I used Dial. But that was yesterday.”
He offered to take a shower.
I had sized him up correctly. It would go down like this: Sherman would dominate me in bed; I’d go to his house occasionally and we’d have fun with no strings attached. We’d smoke dope and trade massages. He wouldn’t ask too many questions. It would be naughty and exciting, and I would expand my sexual horizons. And maybe even pick up an STD.
It was late. When I got home, I gargled with colloidal silver.
“Getting under to get over” was clearly not going to work for me. I wasn’t going to go from fantasy and distraction to promiscuous sexual activity.
I wasn’t ready to date, and I wasn’t ever going to have Tinder Sex. At 40, I had never even had a one-night stand. And apparently, I wasn’t starting now. Forget contemplating sexually-transmitted diseases.
Was I a freak because I couldn’t do casual sex like a shitload of people?
“Well you know what Krishnamurti said,” a new friend recently told me, “it’s no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Tinder had been a technological distraction, keeping me, a digital nomad and love addict, from feeling the grief of what I thought would be a shared life.
“Tinder is merely a quicker vehicle to provide substance for a user,” adds April Masini, ‘the new millennium’s Dear Abby’. “If the user happens to be an addict – to love, to sex, to not being alone – then Tinder is the latest, greatest hypodermic needle.”
Except it wasn’t working. I knew too much. I was ‘on to myself,’ as they are fond of saying in Twelve Step Rooms. Tinder would only widen the hole inside of me, not fill it.
Sobriety equaled not acting out on a daily basis, so I deleted the app. Let’s be real: most Tinder users are on it to find sex, not a life partner. I wasn’t going to find my person in Tinderland. I still thought my person was James.
“There’s a more basic need that people using Tinder are looking to solve, and that’s relationships,” concludes Dr. Ramani Durvasula, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology and author of the new book Should I Stay or Should I Go? “They’re having trouble with them, and it’s epidemic.”
Instead of forming a deeper bond with James over the years, our relationship became one of diminishing returns. A few weeks following my return to Los Angeles, I accidentally found some stunning pictures online that he had taken of a woman. I wasn’t jealous per se. He had taken pictures of many attractive people over the years.
But the location was a special place, a magical cave we had discovered together. That day at a nearby beach, James went for a swim while I put on my mask and snorkel and stayed near the coastline. And then, I decided to swim out (farther than ever before) to meet him in the deep blue. It got wavier and soon water entered my snorkel, causing me to choke and panic. He instructed me to remove my gear, but I stubbornly refused. “You Know I’m No Good” was playing on my waterproof iPod.
“There’s no fucken way I am dying to Amy Winehouse right now,” I thought to myself as I tried to calm myself down. And then I called out in desperation. “James. James.” I was drowning. But he was right there behind me.
When I collapsed on the beach, he lay beside me, took my hand, and kissed my forehead. I was alive and near him. I felt our love.
And then a local showed us the cave, buried deep. There was a large pond of seawater and a ceiling covered by stalactites. We got naked and kissed and swam in our very own blue lagoon. We returned two more times to take photos.
I understood why he’d want to bring another model to shoot in this stunning location. But it still hurt. Who was she to him? Same background. Different girl. I didn’t seem to really matter anymore.
It was time to finish this story. I had no choice. Mexican George Clooney had been right, I was a fool with Stockholm’s Syndrome. The process of writing had really allowed me to see my crazies.
In spite of what 12-step programs proclaim, I refuse to call my condition a “disease”. A human condition. Faulty programming, maybe. But definitely something that can be rewired and healed.
Yes, James had slowly managed my expectations. But I wasn’t a victim; I allowed him. I needed to disengage from the entire dynamic. It was sick love addict conduct. James didn’t want to be with me the way I wanted to be with him. He wanted no emotional bond or accountability.
This time around, I experienced the excruciating withdrawal, without the help of a dating app to buffer my emotions. And I’ve begun to reassess. Who am I five years later, now that our relationship and friendship has seemingly ended? How will life look as I take responsibility for my own happiness, successes, and failures, and love myself the way I want to be loved? Will I ever stop loving James even though he doesn’t seem to value our galactic connection and tremendous potential for healing? And what shifts do I make within myself to align with a person who can reciprocate my affection – and value me as more than just a swipe across a screen?