A Love-Addicted Tinderella
The unfulfilling quest of hopeless romantics in the digital age
By Maryam Henein
“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.” ― Osho
Guy on an 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?
Chubby guy sitting naked on a toilet tatted up with his penis blurred out?
I’m coming right over. Really? What the eff, homeboy?
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, but good luck getting a Big Hit.
A failed relationship can invoke severe withdrawal similar to weaning off heroin. While you’re jonesing, you do what you need to cope. “Love is the hardest addiction to quit,” wrote addictions specialist Dr. Stanton Peele, author of the 1975 book “Love and Addiction.”
In “A Spy in the House of Love” by Anaïs 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 a sociological research project for me, spanning more than one year and five countries. At least, that’s how the addict in me pitched it to my recovering self. The following recounts the highlights of my trysts on Tinder and the failure of my relationship.
Love Addict 101
Hi. My name is Maryam Henein and I’m a Recovering Love Addict.
Mr. X, the man I’ve been with for the past four years and known for 10, has picked up and moved 5,773 miles away. I was not invited. Yes, we had several breakdowns and a few breakups, but we had breakthroughs too. 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 commit for realzies. Now, I’m angry because despite MDMA sessions, the Landmark Forum, and ayahuasca ceremonies during the relationship, the uncoupling was neither loving nor 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.
Love addiction is “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,” according to Pia Mellody, author of three books on love addiction, and senior clinical advisor at The Meadows.
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. Besides, based on what I’ve witnessed in S.L.A.A. (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous) meetings, love addict types run the gamut. Meetings exist in 43 countries. I’d venture to say that love addiction is more common than we think. Many relationships display elements of love addiction, its mirror opposite being love avoidance. At the core are feelings of neglect and abandonment.
“In the initial part of addictive relationships, the love avoidant exhibits an illusion of intimacy, caring, and connection,” writes counselor Jim Hall on his site Love Addiction Help. “They come on strong and appear charming, strong, stimulating, caring, generous, and devoted.” However, a love avoidant is at odds with love. By avoiding intimacy and withholding love, they gain a sense of control in the relationship, explains psychologist Dr. Janice Caudill.
Love avoidants are good at keeping partners at a distance by using various “deactivating strategies,” which are actions characterized by a denial of attachment needs
Love avoidant types are good at keeping partners at a distance by using various “deactivating strategies,” which are “actions characterized by a denial of attachment needs, and a compulsive self-reliance,” according to Elements Behavioral Health’s support site Love Addiction Treatment. Someone who is avoidant (consciously or unconsciously) keeps their partner at a distance in order to preserve their sense of independence.
My jaw literally dropped when I first read about love avoidants. They were describing Mr. X. He was the yin to my yang. The relationship had started off so different. This was a man who told me that we needed to hug every day and that I was his queen. I so wanted to be his queen.
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 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 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.” Fischer told me 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,” Fisher says. “Looking at someone’s face, it’s possible to glean their age, grooming habits, and cultural background — even aspects of their personality.”
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 fears abandonment and typically pursues the established relationship. The love avoidant however fears intimacy and distances themselves from it.
This, it turns out, can result in a lot of tears and travel.
Months after Mr. X left the country, I learned he’d cheated on me while we’d still been living together. I headed to an expensive yoga retreat in the South of France. (So what if he was temporarily working in the region?)
I practiced yoga five hours a day for 10 consecutive days. I lost 10 pounds. I cried. I cried a lot. I cried so much, I gave myself a permanent eye bag.
Every so often, I swiped at Frenchmen, who by the way rank No. 5 (out of 196 countries on Tinder) for highest number of Tinder users. Yet since 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 halfway 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.
Two weeks later, back in France from our respective trips, Mr. X and I fell back into days of ocean swims, cooking, sex, working 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 Bernal and Jason Schwartzman.
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 Quebec girls who jump in the sack with you; you’re a cute guy. But you will not be seeing where I live.”
We met at 11:40 a.m. outside a restaurant called Soup Soup. 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, except his woolly gray socks, and lay sprawled on the bed. He was a cute Canadian Brazilian 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 really just wanted to get back to work, I gave him a hand job. And then another one. During round two, in between strokes, I remembered a story Mr. X 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.
Hookup Culture: And The Beat Goes On
Within days of returning to Los Angeles, I suffered a broken wrist. It was September and hard to swipe. My Tindering simmered. Then Mr. X 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, he professed his love and asked me to follow him to Europe.
We met in Roma 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 followed the edges of the countryside: 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, Mr. X 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. I temporarily fled to a neighboring island.
Soon after he invited me to visit a magical area he had discovered, and then a week after he uninvited me. “We’re just friends and sometimes lovers,” he typed via Skype.
What the fuck was he talking about? How had I gotten back here?
Swipe Right If You Are Insane
Mr. X and I spent three days together before I left again for Los Angeles. It had been another adventure-filled exotic summer. Another year had gone by: short intense spurts between long bad goodbyes.
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 doppelgänger for Billy Crudup. I used to have a celebrity crush on Billy for years, until that is 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.
“Let’s vape and chill.”
Sherman Vape was a 49-year-old fuckboy.
I knew I was going to be attracted to him. He was feisty and a bit odd. He refused to have a meet and greet anywhere but in his man cave in Sherman Oaks, which he proudly owned. I refused to go alone, so I brought along my vegan chef yoga teacher girlfriend and newly-appointed Tinderholic.
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. 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. 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 he was 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, being dominated would allow me to turn my brain off.
He dove for my left armpit. 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.
It was as if I was suddenly with Otto from A Fish Called Wanda. I wanted to crack up but I took a whiff instead. I had no choice. Perhaps after five years, it was healthy for me to inhale a heavy dose of someone else’s pheromones.
“What do you think?” he asked.
When I asked whether he’d used mainstream soap, he looked offended.
I had sized him up correctly. It would go down like this: I’d go to his house occasionally and we’d have fun with no strings attached. Sherman would dominate me in bed; 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.
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.
Sobriety meant deleting the app. Let’s be real: I wasn’t going to find my person on Tinder. I still thought my person was Mr. X.
“There’s a more basic need that people using Tinder are looking to solve, and that’s relationships,” concludes Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist 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 Mr. X 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.
A local showed us the way. Inside, we found 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.
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.
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? As love addicted as it may seem, I love Mr. X. But I am figuring out what life looks like as I take responsibility for my own happiness, successes, and failures, and try and love myself the way I want to be loved. Some days are easier than others, but I now know that I’m more than just another swipe across the screen.
Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist best known for directing the internationally-acclaimed film Vanishing of the Bees, narrated by Ellen Page. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of the health and wellness magazine and marketplace HoneyColony. Follower her on Twitter.