Romance stories, books, and movies have been popular for ages. You only have to look at the list of chickflicks and rom-coms showing in theaters and the romance novel section at Target to see the hold romance has in our psyche. Even films completely unrelated to romance, like action movies, often have a plot thread involving a romantic or sexual storyline. The recent surge in popularity of the Fifty Shades of Grey book and movie franchise speaks to the attraction women have toward romance intertwined with sexual intimacy.
Many people find that they enjoy romantic movies or stories occasionally. However, in some cases it has morphed into a behavior pattern that feels compulsive and out of control, a manifestation of sex and love addiction. Women (and also at times men) can become overly dependent on romance as a way to escape difficult or painful feelings. They may begin to read romance novels for hours on end, becoming irritable when they can’t get their “fix.”
The addictive grip of romance can feel similar to love addiction, with one major difference. Romance addicts tend to be in love with the “chase,” or the pursuit of a romantic partner, according to Marnie Ferree in her book No Stones: Women Redeemed from Sexual Addiction.* They find the intensity of the beginning stages of the relationship, the romantic gestures, the early expressions of love to be intoxicating. But once the excitement wears off, they become bored. Whereas a love addict seeks to find one individual to become completely dependent on and lose themselves in, often the romance addict is more obsessed with the thrill of the chase.
The chase can take place either in actual relationships, or it can be in the form of the emotional high that comes with romance in books, movies, or fantasy. Romance addiction is a highly fantasy-driven manifestation of sex and love addiction. The fantasies stem from the early exposure to media depictions of romance and become personalized to the addict.
Romance addiction can begin to intertwine with sexual addiction, as romance novels or films often carry an erotic element. Similar to what is felt in love addiction, the message portrayed through these novels is that you cannot be happy without a romantic relationship, and if a relationship is difficult, it must not be true love. Children’s stories beginning to cater to this message as well, as many Disney princess movies center around the development of a romantic relationship. Even Christian romance novels can carry the same false fantasy of romance that leads into addiction, even without the erotic component.
The fantasy that is coupled with romance addiction can develop into its own addictive qualities that can affect marriages and relationships. Addicts who are discontent with their current relationship or lack thereof may live in fantasy about the perfect mate, preferring the illusion to reality. This inevitably leads to dissatisfaction in real relationships, as actual relationships cannot measure up to the perfect mate. These fantasies can interfere in a couple’s sex life, as an addict can fantasize about other partners while having sex with his or her spouse. These behaviors block intimacy with one’s spouse. They also may lead to emotional affairs, which are just as damaging as sexual affairs.
What are some signs you might be struggling with romance addiction or fantasy addiction?
Do you become consumed with reading romance novels or watching romantic movies for hours on end?
Is your fantasy life interfering with your daily activities, distracting you, or making you less productive?
Do you become irritable when you can’t get your fix from reading or watching romantic materials?
Are you constantly dissatisfied in your romantic relationships, as they don’t measure up to what you fantasize about or expected based on depictions of relationships in the media?
Do you find yourself daydreaming or fantasizing often about romantic or sexual encounters?
Are you more excited by the intensity and thrill of the beginning of a relationship than the commitment that comes afterward?
Do you find yourself fantasizing about other partners while being intimate with your spouse?
Are you hyper-aware of the attention that you can get from the opposite sex by the way you dress or look?
Do you find yourself having obsessive thoughts and fantasies about relationships with people you’ve just met?
Is it difficult to stay in the present moment with your children, spouse, or friends because you’re caught up in a fantasy world that feels out of control?
If any of the above statements describes you, or if you’re curious if romance or fantasy addiction is part of your story, we’d love to help. Restored Hope is a mental health counseling office serving the Ann Arbor area of Michigan. We specialize in supporting female sex and love addicts in their journey toward freedom from the trap of their compulsive behaviors. Give us a call today at 734.656.8191 or email us to hear more about how we can help you.
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