By Lauren Richey Tampa Tribune, Fla.
Relationships aren't easy.
You've probably had at least one that really messed you up -- the one who got away, or the one who stomped all over your heart.
It's not something you can easily forget, and for a while your life is consumed with longing, loneliness and desperation.
But what if this was every relationship? What if every date had the capability of halting your whole life, if every romance was all-consuming and sent you spiraling into an overwhelming obsession with a single person's attention?
That's the reality many people with love addiction face.
Love addiction, as well as sex addiction, has affected 6 percent of the population in the United States, according to a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic. That's more than 10 million people dealing with uncontrollable anxiety over finding a mate for life.
You may know a love addict and not even realize it.
Shary Hauer, a successful career coach who lives in Clearwater Beach, delves into the gritty details of her own love addiction in her upcoming book, "Insatiable: A Memoir of Love Addiction" (She Writes Press). In it, she reveals every toxic relationship throughout her life and fleshes out the reasons behind them, even going back to her childhood and college years.
Hauer says love addiction is a chronic craving for or pursuit of romantic love in an effort to get a sense of security and worth from another person.
In the introduction to "Insatiable," she provides a taste of how intense love addiction really is:
"Immediately, I started reconfiguring my life around him. I had to get a bigger bed -- he was six foot two -- and a slew of new dresses and Botox. I'd need to book hair and nail appointments. Get a bottle of Shalimar. And shimmery body butter. A lingerie overhaul was essential. The kitchen required a new coat of paint, and I had to call the landscaping guy. Then order new silk sheets and fluffy towels. I was manic, wired, not sleeping for days. The frenetic high of a cocaine-like craving. FOR CHRIST'S SAKE, WE HADN'T EVEN HAD A SECOND DATE."
But love addiction isn't an official diagnosis, and it can be difficult to treat, she says.
While discussing her own experience with love addiction in "Insatiable," Hauer suggests a few reasons why she believes this kind of addiction isn't taken as seriously as it should be.
"There's always going to be something, whether it's the Internet, movies, your parents, to pressure you to have that traditional life of marriage," Hauer said. "Once I reached a certain point, I didn't even know I was doing it, until people told me how out of whack I was."
Each relationship Hauer describes has a similar storyline: Meet a man, fall very quickly and anxiously for him, let him consume your life, end relationship badly. Then repeat.
Though these aren't necessarily the exact stages for every love addict, they all follow a similar recipe for disaster, she says.
"Usually it points to some level of neglect, abuse or abandonment," Hauer says. "These can come in a lot of different forms. Usually that is the basis of the hunger, the thirst for attention and for love.
Hauer says she felt neglected as a child -- lost in a large family -- which she points to being the underlying cause of her love addiction. That is not the same for everyone, however. Any traumatic experience with abandonment will do.
Toward the beginning of her book, Hauer talks about the roots of her addiction:
"I couldn't go to my mom and dad to tell them about my troubles; they had no time to listen. Not until I was nearly forty, when I was diagnosed with chronic clinical depression, did I realize that I had been depressed since childhood."
Hauer says that in her case, love addiction was just always kind of there. "I don't feel like it progressed to the point where I thought my life was going to go out of control, though I know for some people it does," she says.
As a professional executive coach, Hauer has helped high-profile companies build strong corporate leadership through her consultation. This professional experience seeps into her personal viewpoint as a recovering addict.
"How do we get men and women to start thinking about new possibilities, to start honoring these callings that may not be of external value but internal value?" Hauer asks. "That's what I do everyday, to help people enforce that what they're hearing inside of them is valid; don't shun it or minimize it."
After discovering the magnitude of her condition with her therapist, Hauer began her journey to recovery. She quit romance cold turkey in 2007 and has been celibate for nine years. Although this isn't the solution for everyone, she says, she has focused on making herself happy and living a fuller life without the help of a romantic relationship.
Through it all, Hauer says, she found a philosophy that worked for her, and that she believes can help many love addicts suffering like she did.
"I want to tell people to have a tremendous life, to do the things you love, to do the things for yourself and love will find you, I truly believe that," Hauer says. "I wanted to learn to water ski, to do yoga, to take spiritual lessons, to do the things that I loved to do, without wondering 'am I going to meet a man there,' because I know for a fact that it doesn't work.
Having that philosophy is important to escape the suffering."