Lovers Who Kill Themselves
Last Thursday Rush Limbaugh spent a good half hour of his radio show lambasting me — including my view that love can be addictive. Certainly, he didn’t accept the idea that love has the worst withdrawal symptoms. (Of course, he was motivated to do so by my position that the Tea Party expresses magical thinking and addictive urges, which I presented on MSNBC’s Martin Bashir Show .)
But it was interesting that Rush’s main point of departure was my love addiction concept. I am more likely to be attacked for my view that addiction isn’t a disease. One might wonder about Rush’s own romantic history in this regard — he was married for the fourth time last year.
But, in any case, were I to talk to Rush, I’d point out that, when queried about why they stay with abusive spouses, women overwhelmingly claim to “love” the man. I’d say that intimate relationships are the predominant “causes” of violence and abuse, murder, and suicide, for both teens and adults.
I would describe how the dynamics of addiction apply in such relationships. A person is locked into a relationship with a person out of a feeling of need — of desperation at the prospect of leaving a partner — even though their connection leads, periodically or predictably, to violence and pain. As with substance addictions, the reassuring predictability of the thing guarantees its continuation even as it results in negative — sometimes life-threatening — outcomes.
There are several kinds of addictive love. On the one hand is the aforementioned “put-up-with-pain-because-I’m-in-love” variety, which can lead to injury and, more than any other type of addiction, death. On the other hand there is the “clutch-onto-each-other-like-we’re-sinking” variety. And — although the latter often appears more fuzzy and appealing — its result can be equally fatal.
As an illustration of that process, I would use the case of Romeo and Juliet. Do remember that Romeo and Juliet were two youngsters, each of whom committed suicide — they weren’t murdered or executed by hostile external forces. Shakespeare is not inclined to have people kill themselves without reflecting on their characteristics leading to this denouement.
At the end of the day, I reflected on Rush’s bashing me to millions of people at my favorite place on earth — Rockaway Beach, New York.
And my mind wondered to the suicide-drowning there some years earlier of Jeremy Blake, a rising star in the art world, after he found his beautiful and talented partner, Theresa Duncan, dead in their apartment from an intentional drug overdose (she left a suicide note). According to the LA Times , “The couple [were] extremely devoted and still very much in love after 12 years.”
Don’t get me wrong — I have no quick “love is addictive” answer to explain this joint suicide, which involved many layers (including Duncan’s career tailspin and encroaching mental illness). But it certainly had a “Love and Addiction” aura about it. According to the LAT, “In the days since their deaths, a clearer picture has emerged of a couple bound very tightly but suspicious of outsiders and increasingly losing touch with reality.” As I and Archie Brodsky said in Love and Addiction :
As with heroin and its irrecoverable euphoria, or cigarettes smoked in routine excess, something initially sought for pleasure is held more tightly after it ceases to provide enjoyment. Now it is being maintained for negative rather than positive reasons. The love partner must be there in order to satisfy a deep, aching need, or else the addict begins to feel withdrawal pain. His emotional security is so dependent on this other individual around whom he has organized his life, that to be deprived of the lover would be an utter shock to the system of his existence. For as with heroin and other addictions, it is traumatic for addict lovers to re-enter the broader world with which they have lost touch.
But Rush — for someone who has been divorced three times — seems (might one say willfully?) prepared to ignore that love does not always end well, and can be compulsive and have very bad outcomes, from tears, to violence, to death.