By Sasha Cagen, from Quirkyalone A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics
“Without obsession, life is nothing.”—John Waters
It’s a little-known fact, but quirkyalones, for all their independence, also have a tendency to be swept away when they get close to love. We are passionate, romantic characters, and that click happens so rarely that the search for a partner can take on the character of a holy grail. If you only meet someone who stirs your interest once every two years, this is bound to be an epic event. If things don’t go according to plan, or even if they do, well, this can be difficult. We sometimes plunge into romantic obsession, or R.O.
R.O. is a distinct emotional experience: the dark side of the quirkyalone’s passionate character, and our dirty little secret. R.O. is not unique to quirkyalones, but we are more likely to dip into this troubling state, as compared to people who see their relationships in shades of gray. R.O. generally comes in the wake of a short-lived relationship, when you are trying to uphold an illusion and the rest of your life is not in order. The beloved is unavailable in some way. There might be one-in-a-million quality connection, but reality (geographic distance, emotional unavailability, or the annoying fact of one party already being married or involved) stubbornly intrudes.
In the wake of meeting someone who fulfills all our desired soul mate qualities and yet does not deliver on his or her soulmate potential, the quirkyalone goes through a crisis. A great gulf opens up between the contentedly single quirkyalone, and the fixated one, who keeps replaying the same cinematic image from the beginning of the relationship over and over again.
Of course that picture becomes more complex, if, over time, a real relationship develops. But if it is thwarted by awkward logistics, the initial image becomes fixed, like a record repeating. We all see the potential of that relationship held in one moment, and we can’t forget it. You are not necessarily in love, because there hasn’t been enough time.
But still, there is a death, the death of a dream, a possibility. R.O. is an addiction, a way to remain close when the relationship is over. It’s an expression of disbelief that the relationship could be over. As you experience R.O., you are conscious that your behavior is self-destructive, but you’re totally engulfed by the emotion and can’t leave until you are ready.
You must grieve.
R.O. is also about being valiant, being willing to make sacrifices for love, even when rationally the relationship is not love at all. All appropriate romantic comedies are put into service as templates of experience. The patron saint, the ultimate, the gold standard, is, of course, Lloyd Dobler (as played by John Cusack) in Say Anything. Once I was utterly convinced that I should be the female Lloyd; not quite holding a boombox outside his window, blasting “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, but still, willing to go that extra mile, even to travel thousands of miles to show up at his door.
The big problem with Lloyd is that he can only get away with his stalker moves because he is male. It would be seen as a desperate gesture from a woman to stand under someone’s window late at night. She would come off as Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. This inherent unfairness is perhaps one more reason that female quirkyalones persist in their R.O. behavior long after such grand gestures are going to get them anywhere—in the warped mind of someone in deep in R.O., the willingness to contemplate such gestures almost becomes a blow in the battle for women’s rights: equal-opportunity stalking!
Are R.O.s all bad? Well, they aren’t great. One does not necessarily want to go through dozens of R.O.s in a lifetime. They can be emotionally exhausting, they often alienate your friends, and if you are scarred too many times, too many R.O. could just make you worn-down and cynical. Many of our friends will not understand the lengths to which we can go in R.O.—the months that we spend dissecting the end of the relationship, the way we continue to track someone’s behavior even when the breakup is ancient history. It can be bewildering for us, too, seeing as this tempest of emotion stands in such contrast to our staunchly held image of confidence and self-reliance.
A few years ago, I was in the grips of an R.O., which thankfully, was my last (we do tend to decrease the frequency of these outbursts with age, thank the Lord). I went to the Internet in search of insights. I punched those two words into Google. In an essay, “Obsessive Love,” Hakim Bey writes, “The emergence of Capitalism exercises a strange effect on romance. . . . as if the Beloved becomes the perfect commodity, always desired, always paid for, but never really enjoyed.” Since we do not seem to be on the verge of socialist revolution, we may have to deal with the byproduct of R.O. for a while. The following list of diagnostic signs and remedies should help.
RO CHECKLIST: DIAGNOSTIC SIGNS
R.O. can certainly lead to some rather surprising behavior. After years of experience, I understand the dichotomy between the self-assured quirkyalone, and the swooning, porous romantic inside, and I am prepared to help you. The following list contains clues that you too may be in the throes of an R.O. Review the following checklist. If you have engaged in two or more behaviors, proceed to the “Remedies” section.
Excessive Googling (In the Internet age, the number one symptom of R.O. It’s one thing to Google the object of your affection once or twice after you have first met, but if you find yourself re-Googling every day to see if there is a new link, or Googling his or her friends and family, consider that you may have a problem.)
Compulsive phone behaviors (checking phone messages, making excuses to stay at home to wait for a phone call, and when you call your own phone to make sure it’s working. All clues.)
Forwarding emails or voicemails for examination by others
Major over-romanticizing. Turning past moments together into a movie. (Not the good kind either.) The cheesiest fuzzy-camera movies, in which the same romantic moment happens over and over again. Imagining yourselves as a cute elderly couple, telling people how you first met, a la When Harry Met Sally.
Obsessive discussions with friends that test everyone’s sanity. It always starts with a disclaimer, “Really, I’m not going to talk about this again, but do you think that when he said ‘I’ll call you later,’ he meant ‘I’ll call you later tomorrow,’ or ‘I’ll call you later in life?’ Or maybe he meant I should just call him.” Quirkyalones are creative types. This creativity can be deployed to find meaning in the most casual of interactions.
Breaking things off early because you feel threatened by your own interest. And then obsessing about the person anyway.
Talking to strangers about the beloved. Combing through your address book to find old friends who have not heard the story yet. Talking to your mother about R.O.
Coming up with bizarre excuses to go to the beloved’s neighborhood. (As a quirkyalone, you are in denial and don’t want to admit that you are a stalker.)
Rehearsing speeches, either the big ones about the demise of the relationship, and even the “Hey, What’s up?” or the “Hey, How are you?” speech.
Overly dramatic accusations. (In your head, so much has already gone between you.)
Trying to worm your way into the beloved’s social circle. Cultivating friendships that you would honestly not want unless you were trying to get close to them.
Going to a department store to sniff their perfume or cologne.
As a quirkyalone, you are attracted to melancholy. Enjoy it. It’s classic romantic behavior. But now you’ve felt all there is to feel, you’ve bored your friends to death, and now Mr. or Ms. Wonderful has caller ID or a cell phone with an “ignore” button. Now is the time to collect your dignity and move into another state of mind. Everything previous to this moment was about your future together. Now it is time to embrace a new vision, with just you as the romantic lead. Here are some strategies:
Cut off communication. In obsession, you only perceive part of reality. You really don’t know the object of desire, at least not in totality or his or her current state. Confronting the person and continuing a dialogue only helps if it helps you to see the person for who they really are. If you are not experiencing relief from talking, stop. No more emails, voicemails, or text-messaging!
Embrace clichés. There is nothing wrong with you, nothing you could have specifically done differently. You can’t change someone. Real love doesn’t feel like this. This really wasn’t meant to be. Let go and let God. Repeat these end-of-the relationship affirmations to yourself, and then … .
Place a personal ad. Even if you don’t go on any dates, you’ll feel better knowing that there are other fish in the sea.
Explore extreme dislike. It’s much easier to deal with rejection when you can hate the offending party. (This may or may not be true, but it does seem to be an unavoidable and oddly satisfying part of R.O. recovery.) Pick one visceral moment of dislike—recall an insensitive comment he/she made, or one that involves the five senses (they say that smells generate the strongest memories). Meditate. Then take out a piece of paper and list the beloved’s unappealing characteristics. (See page TK, Dated then Hated.)
Befriend your diary. When you are in the throes of an R.O. go back and read some of your old entries. You may be able to recognize a pattern; with the knowledge that past beloveds were not all you cracked them up to be, you may be better able to cut the current R.O. short. Either way, the best remedy is to continue writing in your diary. The feelings are powerful and cannot be denied. Express it all in words. Months later you’ll be able to go back and see the light.
Smile inwardly. Remember that running into the subject of an R.O. years later can be extremely satisfying. You will probably realize that they are far more annoying/arrogant/slimy/skinny than the fantasy image you constructed. When you see the people they have dated after you, you realize that they are with the girlfriend/boyfriend that you as a quirkyalone would never want to be. Wow, you did want someone to give up his or her identity completely to be with you!
Wash your sheets.
Obviously, you can always find someone new to obsess about. But I didn’t say that.
NOTE: if you landed on this page because you were googling on “romantic obsession” or you just have a bad case of RO that you would like to be free of, consider reaching out. I wrote this chapter on Romantic Obsession back in 2003, and since I started coaching women one-on-one in 2011 I have noticed that many clients come to me because they want to be free of an RO to get back on track with their lives, in dating and all ways. So if that’s you, click here to learn more about my coaching services–and be in touch. I would love to hear from you.