I never understood obsession until I experienced romantic love.
They tell us obsession is unhealthy when it comes to love, but I’ve never experienced love without a large dose of obsession along the way. Maybe it’s different for some people. I can’t say. But I know my patterns and I know what I see from everyone I know.
Some form of obsession — at least in the beginning or the end of a love — seems close to universal, but it’s strongly heightened for those of us who feel emotions very deeply.
I’m thinking about this tonight because of a conversation I had with a friend who went through a painful breakup six months or so ago. My friend knows she did the right thing to end the relationship, but she can’t quit wanting the guy and obsessing over him. She even tried to date someone else for a couple of months, but she was just going through the motions.
When she allows herself to talk with this dysfunctional and manipulative man, she is angry and hurt. But when she cuts him off completely, she’s so depressed she wants to die. She knows her obsession is unhealthy for her — but she can’t seem to get past it.
For many years, I’ve grappled with the light and dark sides of love. I’ve tried to understand it and I’ve tried to figure out how to love in emotionally healthy ways. Every time I think I have it figured out, I’m confronted by the reality that romantic love is a far more powerful force than I can understand or control.
Love is like a fierce and powerful storm that pulls me toward it with its power and potential for good and beauty — but it’s something that can destroy me, too.
I’ve seen love do terrible damage to me when I can’t have it. Some people would play semantic games by saying it shouldn’t be called love when it can cause that kind of damage, but I think romantic love truly brings out both the best and the worst in human beings.
Love can make us giving and loyal and self-sacrificing. Love can make us willing to give anything we have — even our lives — to make someone else happy and safe. Love can make us capable of feats we didn’t know we could achieve in order to take care of someone we love.
But love can also make us obsessive and scared and jealous. Love can make us willing to throw away our values — sacrifice everything we are — in order to have what we believe we need. Love can make us capable of turning into monsters who are capable of destroying — even capable of destroying ourselves.
It’s easy to concentrate only on the good side of love. I like to do that. It’s far more pleasant. But love brings with it something dark and dangerous. We can pretend that has nothing to do with love, but we’re lying to ourselves. That dark side is always lurking underneath the beauty.
To be in love — to need a specific human being with a powerful and irrational lust for possession — is a form of madness. At least part of the time. Even if we like to ignore this dark side.
My friend who’s struggling with this issue deserves better than the awful man she’s obsessed with right now. Part of her sickness is not realizing she deserves better. We all have a toxic brew inside our heads and hearts that can pull us toward people who are wrong for us at times. It can even be hard to understand while we’re in the middle of it that this person is part of a bad pattern.
This woman is beautiful. She’s bright. She has a great personality. She could have pretty much any man she wanted, but she doesn’t know that. She’s obsessed with someone who would destroy her if she let him. She’s locked in the dark side of love.
Psychologists would probably tell me that emotionally healthy people can have the positive parts of love without the negative parts tagging along, but I don’t think that’s realistic. For most of us — maybe for all of us — love is a struggle of figuring out how to have the object of our obsession before we destroy ourselves and everything we believe in.
For me, the madness of love is knowing I absolutely must have one particular person or else nothing will be right. It’s knowing that the attraction isn’t for a particular set of characteristics of one person. It’s knowing that it’s this one woman — to the exclusion of everyone in the world.
Love is an all or nothing thing for me.
Even when I feel that “all or nothing” intensity, I know love can die eventually. When it does — seemingly through no control of my own — I can move on in life, maybe fall in love with someone else.
But until that obsession is gone, nothing is right. The dark side of love is dangerous to me — and it’s done serious damage to me over the last few years — but I see no way to have the beautiful love I need without risking the obsession and hurt which I fear.
Is love worth it? It has to be worth it, because I need love — specific love — just as much as I need water or food or air. I need love to make life worth living.