“I don’t know what’s worse. Getting addicted to my girlfriend or getting addicted to alcohol.”
I overheard this line in a pub a few years ago. The guys who were sitting next to me on the bar burst into laughter as they cracked the joke. For some reason, this rhetorical and sarcastic statement stayed with me.
Now, I realize: both addictions are equally bad.
Becoming addicted to a person stimulates within us the same symptoms as any other addiction. In my opinion, addiction to a person is even worse, since people and life are equivalently unpredictable—and once we lose someone, we might never get a taste of them again, unlike a drink that we can easily attain.
No one plans to get attached to a lover. When we feel attracted to someone or are in a relationship with them, we don’t gaze into the distance and state, “As of now, I declare my attachment to that person.”
Attachment is sneaky if we’re not aware of ourselves—it arises without our consent. We only realize we’re attached when our behavior with a lover becomes toxic, or when they are no longer present in our life.
We are susceptible to different forms of attachment; however, I reckon that attachment to lovers is the most challenging, as it is comprised of various emotions, including sexual desire. Adding to that, lovers can easily trigger wounds from our childhood or from past traumas.
Now, attachment (or addiction) forms only if we are subject to it. We wouldn’t eat, unless hungry—or drink, unless thirsty. Likewise, we wouldn’t get attached to someone unless there’s something missing within us that we need.
That said, our state of mind dictates our vulnerability to attachment. If we’re fulfilled on our own, have resolved our subconscious childhood problems, and have learned and grown from undesirable experiences, it is unlikely we’ll become addicted to a person.
Attachment doesn’t know time; it only recognizes how we feel and what we are right now. Consequently, we could become attached to a lover that we’ve recently met or to a lover with whom we have been for years.
So, how come? Attachment isn’t about grabbing someone by the leg and crawling behind them as they walk. To be attached means to feel comfortable and secure around that person. It’s like when we’re cold and someone wraps us with a blanket—that feeling of warmth, certainty, and safety is pretty much the same as being close to a lover to whom we’re attached. To put it differently, it’s a need. Patterns of attachment start to surface when our needs aren’t met. Then, we behave in a self-centered way and focus on what we are being given, rather than focusing on the whole experience.
We need our lovers to inflict particular emotions on us; these could be negative emotions, such as anger, pain, confusion, or guilt—or positive emotions, such as excitement, sexual pleasure, hope, or fulfillment. In other cases, we need them to give rise to certain experiences in our life that we subconsciously wish to repeat or keep because they sound familiar.
Either way, there’s a void that our lover fills through our attachment to them. Our addiction is to the image we have of our lover, the emotions they stir, and the experiences they yield.
Although the solution appears to be within our lover, the truth is that the solution is within us. On the surface, it may appear as though our lover needs to change. But in reality, we need to take a closer look at what they provide for us and investigate its origin. It could stem from a childhood experience, a trauma, a void, or simply a lack of self-love.
By constantly checking in with our emotions, we can avoid getting attached to our lovers. We can practice focusing on our experience with them, instead of whatever they provide us. So long as we emphasize what they give us, we will always be asking for more. However, when we enjoy our moments with them and simply appreciate the experience, they will be far more giving than we can imagine.
For anything we lack, we can start giving it to ourselves, and then expand it to others—be it attention, love, self-esteem, or validation. With time, we will attract the people who have done this work on themselves just like we have. Then, none of us would “need” the other.
Choosing a lover, seeing them for who they are, and appreciating the entire experience is the first step toward genuine companionship.
Letting Go of Attachment to People—the Buddhist Way.
Bonus: The One Buddhist Red Flag to Watch Out For.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy editor: Catherine Monkman
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