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The Romance Addict Trope, Explained - Love Isn’t All You Need

It may be true that all you need is love, but the Romance Addict puts finding the perfect relationship above all else. In movies and TV, this character feels like real life can’t start until they meet The One. Here’s our Take on three habits that the Romance Addict uses to self-sabotage, and how more nuanced versions of the trope reveal that buying into the empty promises of onscreen romance can doom your search for the real thing.

TRANSCRIPT

Christian: “Love… Above all things, I believe in love. Love is like oxygen.” - Moulin Rouge!

It may be true that all you need is love. But the Romance Addict takes this a little too literally. They put finding the perfect relationship above all else, and they feel like real life can’t start until they meet with the One.

Here’s how you spot this relationship-hungry character on-screen:

  • At their core, the Romance Addict is in love with love. Their grandiose ideas about romance probably come from fiction, rather than actual experiences, and like us, they might have watched a few too many rom-coms.
  • But this hopeless romantic’s high expectations for a fairy tale ending can make them easily disappointed by real-life relationships or hopelessly picky about potential partners.
  • Even more than they love love, the Romance Addict hates being single. Any time spent out of relationships feels like a failure. And they approach the hunt for the One with a type-A professionalism that takes the romance — and the fun — out of dating.
  • Although they may spout optimistic rhetoric about love in general, they’re likely to feel fatalistic about their own love lives and catastrophize their romantic disappointments.

The weird thing about the relationship addict is that they’re often a real catch — but they’re so obsessed with finding the perfect guy or gal that they often make themselves unlucky in love. Here’s our take on three habits that the relationship addict uses to self-sabotage, and how more nuanced versions of the trope reveal that buying into the empty promises of on-screen romance can doom your search for the real thing.

The Scripter
The first way that a Romance Addict can sabotage their chances for love is by scripting their relationships. The Romance Addict’s behavior may stem from a dreamy, sentimental place, but their actual dating life might be characterized by a neurotic drive to plan the future. The productive, perfectionist version of the Romance Addict tries to ensure their picture-perfect ending arrives in a certain way by a certain time, as if writing themselves into a rom-com — though, to anyone else, the specifics might seem more high-maintenance than enchanting.

It’s true that there can be benefits to the kinds of life goals they set. Research shows that married people have social, legal, and economic advantages over single people, an inequity called singlism.

Carrie Bradshaw: “Think about it! If you are single, after graduation, there isn’t one occasion where people celebrate you.” - Sex and the City (Season 6, Episode 9)

But scripters view reaching romantic milestones as a necessity. Most of their scripts align closely with social norms, placing value on conventional aspirations like marriage and children. And while these traditional goals can be meaningful for many, of course, often scripters haven’t done enough introspection to differentiate between what they really want, and what they assume they should want because it offers external validation.

Scripting love isn’t usually very fulfilling, or very successful. Often, the relationship addict’s dating history is kind of abysmal. Whereas we all know that serial monogamist who’s always in a long-term relationship (even if it’s not the most passionate affair): the choosy, volatile relationship addict might rarely be in a long-term relationship or take a while to settle down. Still, many consider themselves experts on love. By giving out unsolicited relationship advice to others, they attempt to affirm their precarious romantic ideas, even while, deep down, they’re plagued by doubts.

Underlying everything the Romance Addict does is a panic — as if they believe both that marriage and a family are the only things that matter in life, and that for some reason, they won’t be able to get those things (whether it’s because they’re unworthy, unlucky, or just doing it wrong. What’s sad about this is that — out of anxiety that they may never get what they most want — the insecure Romance Addict tries to fast forward through the actual romance part, just to be sure that they get the happily ever after.

Often, this character is talented or successful at their career, where it can be useful to be an expert planner with initiative — but they’re unlikely to fully appreciate their achievement at work because they haven’t placed the same importance on this as a milestone. Charlotte in Sex and the City stops working after she thinks she’s found her ideal husband and is a little taken aback by the long line of others who would kill for her amazing job.

When the Romance Addict brings their professional enterprise and organizational zeal to love, though, this doesn’t work. The script is designed to eliminate the risk in love — but it can also destroy the spontaneity. Passion and chemistry are replaced by a laundry list of traits that just look good on paper. Above all, this character seeks control.

Charlotte York: “I have decided that this is the year I’m getting married.”
Friend #1: “Charlotte! That’s wonderful!”
Friend #2: “Who’s the lucky guy?”
Charlotte York: “Well, I don’t know yet!” - Sex and the City (Season 3, Episode 7)

Recognizing that love is to a large degree mysterious and out of our control, not a recipe you can replicate with the right ingredients, can be devastating to the relationship addict. In the worst cases, they even turn to obsessive or violent behaviors to cope.

But impossible standards are a mindset you can work through as we see in Insecure’s Molly Carter. In therapy, Molly learns about another scripting habit called magical thinking, which revolves around her need for control. Rather than continuing to orient her goals around what she’s supposed to do or what her life “should” be, Molly has to develop a more open-ended mindset so that she can start valuing the achievements and relationships she’s been discounting as not enough.

Therapist: “You frame a lot of things in your life with ‘should.’ If your ‘shoulds’ didn’t come to fruition, would you be open to your life looking a different way?” - Insecure (Season 2, Episode 2)

Later on, when she finds herself insisting on fixing a romantic relationship that’s no longer working, she’s forced to honestly ask herself why, and whether this is what she really wants.

Sooner or later, the Romance Addict has to accept that some things will always be outside of their control. When scripters finally grasp that love doesn’t go according to plan, they usually do get happy endings — which just may look a little different than they expected.

The Dreamer
The second way that a Romance Addict can manifest or sabotage themselves is with the quintessential romantic’s problem: idealizing love. The dreamy Romance Addict can be deeply sweet. Obsessing over romance makes them a master of the adorable hallmarks of on-screen romance: dramatic professions of love, grand gestures, and constant devotion. But they spend a lot of time in their imagination — dreaming up elaborate fantasies in their heads, which might be based only on a couple of actual interactions. This can mean they’re not on the same page as partners they don’t even know that well. There’s a word for this compulsive longing for your feelings to be reciprocated by someone who may be more of an idea than a reality to you: limerence. And it often feels like romantic stories can encourage these one-sided, unreal infatuations, without offering much in the way of guiding us through the messy, mundane parts of maintaining a relationship. Through the Romance Addict character — who’s often a fan of rom-coms, fairy tales, or other grand romances — more recent narratives offer us a meta-critique of the way that narratives can shape or distort our expectations of love.

Heather Davis: “So, the moment you’re craving isn’t anchored in real emotion. It’s a script dictated to you by our society’s patriarchal love narrative.” - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 1, Episode 18)

We see them compare their lives to romantic comedies and tragic love stories, using pieces of culture to build up their own personal mythos of romance.

The dreamer Romance Addict fixates on what life could be — if only they had their fairy tale romance. They view love as all or nothing, which can make them brave in love — and capable of experiencing romantic heights. But when life doesn’t quite live up to the picture they created in their head, it just feels unfair to them. Molly bases a lot of her romantic aspirations on her parents’ union, which she believes is ideal — so she’s shattered when she learns that her parents’ marriage overcame an affair. The Romance Addict’s love-sickness (or love-bombing techniques) can also be off-putting for partners who value reality or a down-to-earth perspective.

Sometimes, more dramatic portrayals of Romance Addicts demonstrate how the compulsion to seek out love can be seriously intense or destructive.

Netflix’s Love deals with love and sex addictions in a clinical sense, through the character of Mickey Dobbs. Being addicted to romantic validation and dysfunction is just as damaging for Mickey as her drug and alcohol addictions.

Mickey Dobbs: “Hoping and waiting and wishing and wanting love… Hoping-hoping for love has f***ing ruined my life.” - Love (Season 1, Episode 1)

Science agrees — the feeling of love gives us a hit of positive hormones similar to what we get from other addictive substances.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend frames Rebecca Bunch’s romance-addicted traits as funny at first but later reveals them to be symptoms of borderline personality disorder. As Rebecca learns to thrive with a disorder that heightens the influence that emotional attachments have on her, she shows us how hard life can really be for relationship addicts. She’s dealing with extremes of how much power love, idealizing, and isolation can have over us.

Extreme romantic Lorna on Orange Is the New Black even appears to suffer from erotomania, the delusion that someone is in love with you, despite evidence that they’re not.

For all its dangers, love is important — in whatever form you’re able to find it. But the key for most dreamers is understanding that relationships are a two-way street; they have to love a flawed person instead of an idea. With any luck, they’ll find that love, in reality, is much richer than the version they spent so much time imagining.

The Collector
The third way that a relationship addict might self-sabotage is by collecting relationships. “The One” is that ever-elusive needle in the haystack, so finding them might seem like something of a numbers game. If they fall in love often enough, a relationship addict will have to find their soulmate eventually, right? First, they jump into new relationships easily; their eagerness for this to be the right thing right now leads them to ignore obvious flaws or red flags. They’ll take the smallest signs of compatibility to mean it’s a love written in the stars or have even idealized love so much that they can picture their future with just about anyone.

Rachel Hansen: “Just ‘cause some cute girl likes the same bizzaro crap you do… that doesn’t make her your soulmate, Tom.” - 500 Days of Summer

But pretty soon, the collector promptly invents reasons to end their relationships. Counterintuitively, they can be quite shallow — only interested in someone who fits a very specific profile and dumping partners for the most trivial of reasons.

The pattern reveals that the collector suffers from a surprising fear of commitment: the thought of choosing wrong is more daunting to them than putting the choice off forever.

Love at first sight has long been considered romantic — but, it also leaves plenty of room for the hero to show just how fickle his affection can be. Switching between romantic fixations so quickly signals that on some level they see their romantic interests as interchangeable: more than they want one specific person, they want a relationship.

Getting bored and always searching for the next person is textbook for these collectors or ‘serial daters’ according to The New York Times. As clinical psychologist, Dr. Chloe Carmichael explains, “most [of them] don’t realize what they’re doing. They might sincerely believe that they haven’t met the right person and be unaware that they have a fear of intimacy.” For many of these characters, relationship collecting is a form of denial — it allows them to avoid some essential truth about who they really are or what they really want, which might diverge from the fairy tale. By his own account, Ted Mosby on How I Met Your Mother wants nothing more than to get married, but for most of the show, dating around is a distraction from the deeper truth: that he’s not really looking for a wife; he’s just biding his time until Robin wants him back.

Ted Mosby: “Nothing hotter than a guy planning out his imaginary wedding, huh?” - How I Met Your Mother (Season 1, Episode 1)

Charlotte and others, too, only find peace when they realize they love someone who’s not the ideal type they’ve been searching for — which ultimately suggests maybe they’re not the person they thought they were (but maybe that’s a good thing). In the end, it’s up to the collector to face facts about their behavior instead of hiding it behind a constant rotation of love interests.

Conclusion
The Romance Addict can develop a healthier outlook through better boundaries and less catastrophizing — and usually, they discover that whatever they were afraid of wasn’t as bad as it seemed. The Romance Addict may have a lot of wrong thinking to overcome, but they also have the most important thing right: that love is worth it. We can admire their perseverance, their sensitivity of feeling, the ferocity of their passion. The point is usually just that their image of love needs some serious updating — this also means loving your friends, family, your job, your community, and most of all, yourself. Love is vital for us all — but it’s up to the Romance Addict to realize that includes much more of their lives than they think.

Dr. Noelle Akopian: “Maybe it’s not that you don’t have love in your life. Maybe it’s that you don’t recognize it when it’s there.” - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 1, Episode 15)

SOURCES

Allen, Summer. “How Thinking About the Future Makes Life More Meaningful.” Greater Good Magazine, 1 May 2019. greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_thinking_about_the_future_makes_life_more

“Borderline Personality Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Dec. 2017. www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml

DePaulo, Bella M., and Morris, Wendy L. “The Unrecognized Stereotyping and Discrimination Against Singles.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 15, no. 5, 2006, pp. 251–254., doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00446.x.

DePaulo, Bella. “The True Meaning of Singlism.” HuffPost, 11 Mar. 2013. www.huffpost.com/entry/the-true-meaning-of-singl_b_2438009

Emery, Léa Rose. “Why Does The Government Incentivize Marriage?” Brides, 15 Dec. 2017. www.brides.com/story/why-does-the-government-incentivize-marriage

Holt, Brianna. “Confessions of a Former Serial Dater.” The New York Times, 11 Apr. 2020. www.nytimes.com/2020/04/11/fashion/weddings/confessions-of-a-former-serial-dater.html

Raypole, Crystal. “Ta-Da! Magical Thinking Explained.” Healthline, 25 Feb. 2020. www.healthline.com/health/magical-thinking

Wylde, Kaitlyn. “Love Is Addicting, According To Science, And This Is Why Your Brain Can’t Get Enough.” Bustle, 18 Feb. 2016. www.bustle.com/articles/142747-love-is-addicting-according-to-science-and-this-is-why-your-brain-cant-get-enough