Catherine Townsend: Sleeping Around

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The Independent Online

Hi, I'm Catherine and I'm a love addict." I'd never heard the phrase uttered outside a Robert Palmer video or bad poetry, but sitting on an uncomfortable chair in a church basement at a Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) meeting, it was all getting very real, very fast. I wasn't sure if this definition applied to me, but I needed some answers.

A few weeks ago, I saw a therapist because I couldn't stop thinking about my on-off ex Paul. "For someone who is love addicted, going through a break-up feels like going through withdrawal," she said. She was right: I'd had splits before but never like this. Even though I'd really loved Paul, the magnitude of my depression astonished me. OK, so crying into my pillow isn't exactly chasing the dragon, but it was starting to feel that way.

Like Alcoholics Anonymous, SLAA has a 12-step structure, which includes recognising a higher power and admitting powerlessness over your "addiction" – in my case, my ex. I checked out the 40 Questions for Self-Diagnosis, and was pleased to discover that none of my sexual behaviour has been compulsive. But I still wasn't sure about this whole thing. I identified with some questions, ie "Do you find yourself unable to stop seeing a specific person, even though you know that seeing them is destructive for you?". Well, yeah, but don't we all?

Inside, the ratio of men to women and the air of nervous desperation reminded me of a speed-dating event, except that a few people were crying – they usually wait until after speed dating for that!

I can't talk about what happened at the meeting, obviously, but I was moved by people's stories. I'm not convinced that I'm a full-blown addict, but I do identify with elements of it, especially obsessing over a relationship as a way to blot out loneliness.

When I got home, I opened a package my mum had sent me for St Valentine's Day, after I'd told her that I wanted to figure out why I'd held on to the idea that Paul and I would live happily ever after for so long. It was an old school photo of my dad, and it took my breath away because he was a dead ringer for Paul. Inside was a card from mum, saying that she hadn't wanted to say anything when she'd met Paul, but he had the same mannerisms as my dad, including being passive-aggressive. "He's not a bad person," she wrote, "but he's not right for you."

I had to laugh: I'm a relationship writer, couldn't I have seen this coming? I loathe St Valentine's Day, but I may swap cards after all. Do they do one that says, "Congratulations, You Didn't Marry a Carbon Copy of Your Emotionally Retarded Father"?

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