Exaholism and other love 'conditions' you probably don't have


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There was a time, a few years ago, when no matter how well (or, more often, terribly) my romantic life was going, I occasionally stopped to wonder how The One That Got Away was doing. Not “I wonder if we’ll ever get married”, just “I wonder how things would have turned out if that had gone differently”.

It was little more than an occasional half-arsed daydream, really, but by current standards it would appear I was suffering from a chronic case of “Exaholism”.

Yes, as the faux-pathologisation of the dating/self-help world continues apace at a rate that would make the authors of the DSM-V blush, “Exaholics Anonymous” is now a real movement. And, like so many other relationship-related ~conditions~ people (inevitably women) are reported to “suffer” from, it’s just another way in which we are trained to feel bad about natural responses to love, its loss or its lack. Here’s a rundown of some new and old favourites:

We feel like Dr Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project would probably have been described with at least one of these love ...

We feel like Dr Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project would probably have been described with at least one of these love "conditions".



The term was coined by Denver psychologist Dr. Linda Bobby, who has set up a social network - you guessed it, exaholics.com - to help those who still feel “hooked into the relationship, and it’s difficult for them to heal and move on. They will use words like ‘devastation’ and talk about the loss — they tend to think fairly obsessively about their ex and have trouble in day-to-day life as a result of that.” Now, I don’t know, but doesn’t all of the above sounds like a pretty reasonable response to an upsetting breakup? Sure, if it’s been months and you’re still making headway through a box of Kleenex each day, it might be time to seek help, but do you really need a 12-Step Program to reach a place of “neutrality” when it comes to your ex? Hey, I’ve devised a great program that will get you to the same place: it’s called time. You can send all of your cheques to me.

“The Fifty Shades Of Grey Effect”

You read that correctly; a number of leading health professionals chalked a rise in the rates of sexually transmitted diseases diagnosed in people over-50 down to the popularity of E.L. James’ racy paperback. Speaking on the topic, Dr Charlotte Jones of the British Medical Association's GP Committee said, “When it comes to forgetting about safe sex we always think of the vulnerability of young people. But there's the Fifty Shades of Grey effect where older people are being more explorative, but not necessarily remembering to use a condom. Anyone, of any age, going into new relationships should be thinking about safe sex and particularly the role of condoms.” Dammit, people, didn’t you watch the Grim Reaper ads?

“Relationship Expectations”

Yes, evidently this is something you can “suffer from” in this day and age. What does it mean? It means you’re the sort of mental case who dares to think ahead about what a new relationship’s future might hold. Shocking stuff, huh? Also not surprising, really, given that the only people who are likely to be able to truly enter into a relationship with zero expectations are Buddhist monks - who are also the least likely to, you know, enter into a relationship.

“Love Addiction”

While the notion of being addicted to the rush of falling in love has been around since Freud’s time, it was Robin Norwood’s 1985 New York Times Best Seller Women Who Love Too Much (shades of Bridget Jones’ Women Who Love Men Are MAD, anyone?) that really pushed the idea that love addiction was a scourge among women. Since then, women’s magazines have been plagued by articles to the effect of “10 Signs You Love Him Too Much”, positioning women as love-crazed lunatics and men as emotionally unavailable, stone-hearted ciphers. But that’s nothing compared to the original; Norwood’s book featured such low-key warning signs as “Everything deteriorates: her work, her health, her relationships. She can die from stress-related physical disorders or from being so preoccupied with someone else she doesn't take care of herself. Some of these women actually become suicidal.” Okay!!

“Cohabitation Effect”

Clinical psychologist Meg Jay’s 2012 New York Times op ed found that “Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages—and more likely to divorce—than couples who do not”. Cue: the coining of “the cohabitation effect”, which is where couples slide into marriage as a matter of convenience rather than as the product of a rational decision made over the course of a number of board meetings, also known as “real life in the 21st century”. While there’s no doubt truth to Jay’s research, what’s the alternative: carrying the bride over the threshold on the wedding night only to find that you have nothing in common when it comes to keeping a house?

“Premature Escalation”

No, it’s not something you can take a nose spray for: this is what happens when you dare to send too many texts or IMs before you actually meet your date, thus creating an unrealistic expectation of said date’s personality based solely on their ability to string a sentence together. Thus spake sex and relationships expert Emily Morse: “Since our whole world is so instant now, people can craft entire personas through their slew of texts ... by the time you meet your partner for an actual date, you've built up this whole image and fantasy in your head of who you think they are, and then they turn out to be totally different.” Shock, horror! But then - imagine this! - how about you adjust your preconceived notion of the date’s persona accordingly, based on actual face-to-face experience? What’s that condition called?


  • I LOVE this! Thank you for such a wonderful article on how ridiculous the self-help industry is when it comes to love. It's nearly always women who are seen as the needy, pathological ones when it comes to relationships. In my experience, it's always been the men who are pathological (either emotionally stunted or obsessive). Not to say that women can't be like that (I know a few) but we need to see it as a HUMAN thing, not a gender-specific trait.

    Date and time
    July 02, 2014, 10:39AM
    • Lol, some of these are really OTT.

      I am pretty sure that I saw a study showing that the "cohabitation effect" disappeared once you controlled for religion and cultural background. The idea being that traditional religious/cultural expectations were that you would not cohabit before marriage, but also would be less likely to consider divorce as a viable option. There are different ways of spinning these results but one interpretation is that very low divorce rates in particular cultural groups may not speak to marital satisfaction as much as pressure to remain in unhappy marriages.

      Let's remember as well that divorce is not always a tragedy - sometimes it's just a pragmatic solution to a relationship that isn't working, or where marriage wasn't a good idea in the first place. Neither is divorce an endpoint-measure. Many people nowadays divorce and then remarry or find a new partner, and some, like me, are far happier than we would have been if we trudged along trying to save a hopeless marriage. They're called "irreconcilable difference" for a reason. ;)

      Red Pony
      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 1:32PM
      • While I admit that a lot of people probably take it too far, I gained a lot from Women Who Love Too Much and I think this article diminishes it's value by quoting one small excerpt completely out of context. Codependency is a genuine psychological affliction. Not sure how helpful articles like this are if someone's mental health is suffering and they may benefit from counseling.

        Date and time
        July 02, 2014, 2:42PM
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