Celia, a 32-year-old businesswoman, 11 months sober from sex and love addiction, has decided that she is ready to start dating again. However, she is worried about relapsing, especially because she has tried to establish lasting sex and relationship sobriety several times in the past without much luck. This time, however, she plans to do things a bit differently. For starters, she has developed a strong social support network, mostly other women in her SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous) fellowship, along with some very specific goals for healthy dating.
- I want to stay sober both in and out of any romantic relationship.
- I want to date casually, as practice, before I attempt a more serious relationship.
- I want to date safe, stable, well-adjusted men who treat me with respect and dignity.
- I want to date men who respect the fact that I’m in recovery and need to be active with both my 12-step meetings and my social support network.
- I want to date a man who has a life of his own and doesn’t expect me to be by his side 24/7.
Celia has discussed this list of goals with her therapist, her 12-step sponsor, and the women in her support network, modifying it slightly in response to their feedback. (Based on their input, she added the item about dating casually before trying to find Mr. Right.)
For some recovering sex/love addicts, a simple listing of goals such as the one created by Celia will suffice as a dating plan. Most, however, seem to need more detailed guidance. In such cases, the more formalized “traffic signals dating plan” suggested below can be quite useful, illuminating who is a good person to date and who is bound to disappoint. As is the case with an addict’s goals for dating (discussed in detail in my previous posting to this site), traffic signals plans should always be discussed at length with supportive and knowledgeable advisors before they are implemented.
As one might expect, red lights are characteristics that are unacceptable in anyone a recovering sex/love addict might date. Addicts should agree to not date or to immediately stop dating anyone who displays even one red light trait. Yellow lights delineate characteristics that should cause a recovering sex/love addict to proceed with caution. Green lights, obviously, are traits that are healthy and desirable in another person.
The traffic signals dating plan created by Celia reads as follows:
Red Lights (Stop Dating This Person Immediately)
I will not date a man if:
- He is actively addicted (to anything)
- He is still seeing or living with a past or current romantic partner
- He lies to me about anything meaningful
- He is unemployed
- He lives with his parents
- He habitually ignores my calls, texts, emails, etc.
- He leaves me feeling more anxious than comfortable when we are together
- He lets me know all about himself and his life but seems uninterested in me and my life
Yellow Lights (Proceed With Caution)
I will be cautions about dating a man if:
- He seems self-centered, talking a lot more about himself than listening or being curious
- He has recently (within six months) ended a long-term relationship
- He only calls when he wants or needs something
- He expects me to pay for everything
- He expects me to make all of our plans
- He doesn’t get my jokes, my intellect, or share at least a few of my interests
- He doesn’t seem to want to meet my friends, or for me to meet his friends
- He seems more interested in sex than in spending time with me
Green Lights (This Has Solid Potential)
I am looking for a man who:
- Displays interest in me as a person, asking about my life and my feelings
- Offers to help me out with things I am doing, and appreciates it when I do the same for him
- Surprises me with playful experiences
- Has interesting hobbies and displays a sense of creativity and fun
- Shares my personal, moral, and spiritual values
- Shares at least a few important interests with me (movies, gardening, exercise, etc.)
- Will enjoy being sexual with me, and with whom I will enjoy being sexual
- Returns my calls and texts in a reasonable amount of time, and shows up when we’ve made plans (and is happy to do so)
By outlining positive and negative characteristics in this way, recovering sex and love addicts like Celia are more likely to be alerted to problematic people early on (and to continue seeing people who may actually be a reasonable romantic fit). Plus, having a solid and clearly delineated dating plan helps addicts avoid getting caught up in the moment, when they might forget what’s important in the excitement of meeting someone new. With a written traffic signals plan, recovering sex/love addicts can look at a potential new paramour and say, “Hmm, this person is super-hot, but he/she is also unemployed, living with an ex, and seeing three other people – all of whom contribute to his/her financial wellbeing. I think I should walk away.”
Celia’s hope, as she moves forward into actually dating, is that having a clearly delineated traffic signals dating plan will stop her from ignoring the red lights that would easily alert a non-addicted person to various issues with a new relationship. In other words, she knows that she has a “bad picker,” and she is hoping her dating plan will help with that. She also hopes that her new attitude of trying out some “practice relationships” will keep her from feeling overwhelmed by dating, especially if things start to go awry in a particular romance.
Needless to say, most healthy (non-addicted) people don’t need this sort of dating plan because they intuitively recognize red, yellow, and green light characteristics in potential romances. However, these are not the folks who become sex and love addicts. For sex and love addicts – men and women who struggle with developing and maintaining healthy intimacy – these written and well-defined guidelines, as obvious and overly simplistic as they may seem, can be a godsend. Hopefully, over time, as recovering addicts utilize these benchmarks in their dating ventures, they will develop a more grounded sense of who to choose as a romantic/sexual partner, and they’ll reflexively make healthier and safer choices. Until then, however, a formalized dating plan is a very good idea.
As a final note, I’d like to clearly state that sobriety from sex and love addictions is different than sobriety from substance addictions. With alcohol and drugs, total abstinence the long-term goal. With sex and love addictions, the goal is learning to be sexual and romantic in healthy, life affirming ways. (This is similar to how eating disorders are treated, where the ultimate goal is health rather than abstinence.) Thus, sobriety for sex and love addicts means healthy dating, shared fun, emotional intimacy, and mutually supportive interactions and connections.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of National Clinical Development for Elements Behavioral Health. In this capacity, he has established and overseen addiction and mental health treatment programs for more than a dozen high-end treatment facilities including Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu and Los Angeles, The Ranch in rural Tennessee, and The Right Step in Texas. An internationally acknowledged clinician and author, he has served as a subject expert on the intersection of human intimacy and digital technology for multiple media outlets including The Oprah Winfrey Network, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, and CNN, among many others. He is the author of several highly regarded books, including Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Love, and Porn Addiction. For more information please visit website, robertweissmsw.com.