Content warning: This piece contains masturbation, emotional abuse, violence, drug use, profanity, and discussion surrounding suicide.
Disclaimer: Some names have been changed.
It’s a balmy summer afternoon and I’m still lying in bed, music blasting all other sound from existence. Toes pointed and body shaking, I orgasm to LO’s voice for the thirteenth time as he holds another long note. I’ve already spent the last two hours masturbating to his latest albums and fantasizing about running into him at the next show.
Yeah, I could go bike riding on the trails with Tim and drink beers along the Red River, but that means actually getting dressed and interacting with people. I would much rather lounge half-naked in the comfort of my room and be serenaded by LO.
LO’s singing is not the only thing that I’m enamoured by, it’s his lyrics, riffs, sense of humour, politics, taste in music — everything. His left-leaning, progressive stance is so different from the Winnipeg punk and metal scene, where it seems like the majority of dudes are apathetic, misogynistic buffoons.
In 1979, after years of research on romantic love, psychologist Dorothy Tennov released her first book Love and Limerence. The state of limerence, Tennov writes, is when someone has obsessive and intrusive thoughts about another person (called the limerence object or “LO”) and an intense longing for reciprocation.
While sexual attraction is an essential component of limerence, consummation isn’t the main objective. The ultimate goal is to have a relationship with LO and receive their emotional commitment.
I was an enthusiastic choir kid from kindergarten to grade 12. When my parents forced me to go to church, the singing and after sermon snacks were the only things I looked forward to. At home, I would make mixtapes of songs from the radio.
During the dial-up internet days, my father dutifully printed off lyrics at his workplace for me so I could learn my favourite tunes. One of my fondest memories of living at home was being able to lock myself in my room, listen to music, and sing along to my CDs and tapes.
When high-speed internet came around, I spent time in Yahoo karaoke chat rooms and sang Evanescence, loving the comments from strangers about how much I sounded like Amy Lee. I took piano and violin lessons, neither stuck. But being in choir and harmonizing with a group of people felt like home.
I’ve been quietly following LO on social media for half a year. He’s very amusing, and a lot of his posts are flirtatious. I know he has kids with his partner, but maybe they’re non-monogamous? I plant this seed in my mind and water the thought on a daily basis, letting the idea of being in an open relationship with LO flourish.
Meanwhile, I’ve started interacting with him online in small ways — commenting on his posts and sharing opinions about his music. The hours after replying to him are agonizing. I don’t have my notifications turned on, so I obsessively open and close apps to re-read what I wrote and overthink my choice of words, wondering if there was a better way I could have crafted my sentence.
My guts twist when I re-open an app and don’t have any likes or comments. Sometimes I delete a post to end the torture. But the times I do receive a notification from him, a surge of energy courses through my body. It’s electric and I can’t stay still. I need to do something or talk to someone while I’m in the mood because no doubt I will crash soon.
Along with the intrusive thoughts and yearning, Tennov says when experiencing limerence, your emotional state depends on the limerence object’s actions (or your interpretation of their actions and to what degree you believe they’re reciprocating). You frequently imagine vivid scenarios where LO reciprocates, which provides short-lived relief from unrequited limerent passion. More often than not, you can only be limerent toward one person at a time, with the average limerent experience lasting between 18 months to three years.
For a college elective, the first project our instructor assigns is a brand analysis and strategy for a local brand. Since LO had recently been posting about his band’s negligent marketing, I message him asking if his band would be interested in being my client. I am both thrilled and terrified when he agrees.
I set myself up in an empty classroom and interview him over the phone, asking him questions about the band’s history, values, personality, and audience. Even though I’m sweaty and on edge, the conversation flows smoothly and it feels like we have amazing chemistry.
When it comes time to meet in person and share the results of my project, LO messages me saying he can’t make it. My instructor is in the middle of a lesson when I read the message and abruptly leave to cry in the bathroom.
Am I being annoying? Does he not want to see me?
I look into the mirror at my bloodshot eyes and puffy face.
Fuck, I’m pathetic.
As self-conscious as I feel, I ache to be around him.
Tennov says the intensity of limerence increases when there are obstacles in reaching the limerent goal of emotional reciprocation. These barriers can be external (such as LO being in a relationship or living in a different country) or internal (lacking the confidence to ask LO out or being uncertain about how they feel about you).
Having doubts about LO’s feelings toward you magnifies insecurity and undermines your former satisfaction with yourself. You attempt to make yourself more desirable by altering your appearance and improving yourself according to what you believe LO would like or approve of.
I come home from high school and open the door to my bedroom. Mom is sitting at my desk reading my journal.
“What the hell?” I snap, throwing my backpack on the floor.
Mom rips the pages from my journal and spits, “If you don’t like it go to your little boyfriend’s house,” then storms past me, taking the pages with her.
I slam the door behind her and cry. Using a Q-tip, my brother unlocks the door to my room to pester me and I resort to sitting on the floor and using my body weight to keep the door shut, screaming to be left alone.
I leave the house with a couple of outfits and take the 90 to stay at a church friend’s place. When I return home after the weekend, the door from my room is missing. Mom says I keep damaging it, so I don’t deserve to have one, even though she put a hole in it when she was angry. I am not the only one to blame.
For months I live without any privacy.
No personal space.
No boundary to keep anyone out.
There are times when I’m crying and have to hide in my closet, otherwise, my brothers peek in and laugh and call me names. But even hiding in my closet doesn’t stop my siblings from coming into my room and opening the closet door to mock and taunt me.
My parents rarely intervene.
LO and I meet at a tavern in downtown Winnipeg on a sunny weekday afternoon in July. Aside from music playing overhead, it’s quiet and there’s barely anyone else at the bar. Oddly enough, I’m composed and not at all nervous. LO arrives late wearing a band shirt and cut off blue jeans. We drink lagers and chat about heavy metal and his band’s haphazard marketing. I share social media and merchandise ideas that align with his band’s values along with their general aversion to reaching a broader audience.
As we finish up our fourth and last round of beer, I work up the courage to ask if he’s in a monogamous relationship. He claims he doesn’t know and questions why I’m asking. I shift in my seat, casting my gaze downward, then meet his eyes and confess that I’m attracted to him. LO lights up and, since his family is out of town, jokes about doubling me home on his bike. He settles the bill before we hug and part ways.
The following afternoon we talk on the phone and I explain what I had envisioned between us. I tell him I imagined being part of his family unit: taking care of the kids while he and his partner run errands or go on dates, spending time with him, listening to records, and making out. Essentially, I tell him I want to be his girlfriend with his partner’s knowledge and consent.
LO says he’s really flattered that a “beautiful young woman” wants that with him, and even though his partner is a pretty open person, there are too many moving parts in his life for what I’m proposing.
I’m upset, but not surprised. Now that I know there isn’t a chance, I can finally move on.
In The Journey from Abandonment to Healing, author and psychotherapist Susan Anderson outlines five distinct stages that follow the loss of love and coins the term abandoholism, which she defines as the unconscious tendency to become attracted to unavailable partners.
Anderson says people get caught up in a pattern of pursuing hard-to-get partners because of childhood neglect. Children who struggle to get love and attention from their caregivers are left feeling unfulfilled and in doubt of their own self-worth. These feelings are internalized and carried forward into adulthood, where the adult recreates the same child/caregiver scenario by placing a love interest on a pedestal and equating insecurity to love.
Moving on is the last thing I do.
LO initiates and maintains contact with me, sinking his hooks in deeper. We talk and flirt via DM and occasionally over the phone. I still care about having his partner’s consent to do anything more than flirt, so I never let it go too far. But whenever I’m intoxicated and venture close to talking about sex, I inevitably feel guilty and apologize. It never seems to bother him, though.
So I keep holding on, hoping something will shift. Maybe some responsibilities will come off his plate and then he’ll have the time to pursue an actual relationship with me. Maybe if I’m patient and wait it out, I can change his mind by showing how caring and attentive I am and how much I have to offer.
I don’t own a turntable or CD player, so we share our favourite, cherished albums with one another using Dropbox. What feels particularly intimate is how he sends me his unreleased album two months before the official release. I listen to it almost exclusively for the following weeks, appreciating the evolution since his last album and familiarizing myself with the lyrics.
During a phone call, LO tells me he was on a long drive with his partner when she asked about the meaning behind one of his new songs. Through their conversation about the song, LO has the impression that his partner would be turned on if he were with other women behind her back.
I’m wary. It doesn’t make sense. I try clarifying how exactly the conversation went, but LO can’t give me a clear answer and says he will have to talk to his partner again. I’m confused and getting worn out.
Is this going anywhere or not?
I feel played, so I slowly distance myself.
“Hey, I saw that!” a security guard shouts as I scuttle to the next bathroom stall, locking the door behind me and picking up the mickey of vodka off the floor. Amanda is laughing from two stalls over and the security guard is banging on the door while I chug as much liquor as I can.
“Hand it over,” the woman demands, and I sheepishly open the door and give her the half-finished bottle, my throat and stomach burning. I’m only 17, so that’s the last of the alcohol I’ll be drinking for the night.
Comeback Kid is having their hometown CD release show for their latest album Broadcasting. During the opening sets, Amanda and I stand at the edge of the mosh pit, pushing any rowdy people who get too close to us and avoiding the hardcore dude-bros throwing fists.
I blackout, and when I come to, I’m sprawled across the bathroom floor of the Ramada. A girl from Miles Mac Collegiate hands me water and paper towels to clean myself up. Apparently I puked all over the floor, right after punching a girl in the face for bumping into my friend.
How am I not kicked out yet?
Amanda and I catch a cab to her house, and when we get inside, I throw my clothes off in every direction and pass out on her couch.
For the next decade, drinking alcohol to the point of blacking out is my standard routine for going to see bands.
It’s fall and LO and I run into each other at a show. I knew he would be there, yet I still have a visceral reaction. I’m standoffish when he says hi, but after I get a few drinks and a hit of MDMA in me, I initiate a conversation with him when he’s alone at the bar, buying himself a beer.
He comments on how I didn’t seem happy to see him, and I admit I’m not sure how I feel about the way things went down. We continue chatting for a bit, then stand beside one another while the headliner, one of our mutual favourite bands, play an hour-long set. It feels perfect. We rock to the music, bumping into one another and spilling our drinks.
When the show is over, we talk more while people clear out of the room. The venue staff walk around us, collecting empty cups and sweeping crushed beer cans from the sticky floor. I look LO up and down and hug myself.
“I want to put my hands all over you,” I say, squeezing my arms.
He asks what my plans are and looks past me into the lobby for his ride, who is waving at him to get going. His family is out of town, so we entertain the idea of listening to records at his place and he says he will text me when he gets home. We walk toward the lobby and before he leaves, I stop him and ask for a hug. We embrace for a long five seconds and I knead his back.
“That didn’t help,” he jokes.
I laugh and wave goodbye, then wander to the merch table to talk with members from the touring band.
The guitarist asks what I’m doing for the rest of the evening and I tell him I don’t have anything planned. We get a cab to my place, drink more alcohol, and make out while Thriller spins on my new, secondhand record player.
LO texts me a simple “where you at” around 1:30 in the morning, but I’m too preoccupied to respond. Yet I can’t stop thinking about him. I have a hot, talented, and absolutely single guy in front of me, but I just want to be with LO.
Hours pass and I try sleeping next to my guest, but all I do is toss and turn. The guilt of craving someone else is so heavy that I leave my bedroom and lie on the cold living room floor with a spare blanket. My visitor takes a cab back to his hotel around sunrise and I crawl into bed, relieved.
Mom and I were on our way home from shopping when she told me her mother, my Grandma Phyllis, killed herself. I think I was 15 at the time Mom told me. I’m really not sure what prompted her to share at that moment.
She said after Grandpa Edgar passed away, Grandma was left to take care of her young grandson and mom alone and became very tired and distraught, spending a lot of time in bed, neglecting to eat regular meals and maintain her hygiene.
I sat silently in the passenger seat of our green Dodge Caravan, staring out the window, trying to understand. When we made it home, I went to my room, flopped on my bed face-first, and sobbed.
Mom was two days to 11 years old when her father died and 16 years old when her mother completed suicide.
Late morning rolls around and I still haven’t slept. There are so many things swirling through my mind, so I text LO and ask him if we can talk. When he calls, I tell him how I was pining for him all night and feel horrible, but know that I would likely feel even worse if we had hung out and if something happened between us.
I declare that he deserves to have someone desire him as much as I do. He says “wow,” and after a lengthy pause, he wonders if we’re both attracted to idealized versions of one another since we don’t actually know each other that well. It’s a definite possibility. I feel like an absolute moron and don’t know what to say.
There are long intervals of silence and I eventually conclude that it would be best not to be in contact anymore. Hanging up, it feels like I woke up from a coma.
What the fuck happened?
Did I really spend the last two-and-a-half years fantasizing about and attempting to pursue a relationship with a man who already has his life established?
Sitting across from Paula, my new counsellor, I give a brief overview of my family history, the emotional abuse and neglect I experienced growing up, and my pattern of being attracted to unavailable people. I tell her about the situation with LO and how disappointed I am with myself for spending so much time and effort to make something work between us.
Paula nods, occasionally jotting down notes on her notepad, then says something like, “So you’re here to understand the impact of your grandmother’s suicide — how it may have affected your mom and her ability to mother you, and how this has shaped your life and the way you navigate relationships?”
It’s 8 in the evening and everyone is seated on their mats in the White Bear Lodge. Jim pours ayahuasca into a small, wooden cup and has a helper walk around, giving each person a dose of the warm, syrupy liquid. After everyone drinks the medicine, the flashlight is turned off and there’s relative silence for 10 minutes. Jim begins singing, unrestrained, his voice harsh and abrasive.
I fidget in my sleeping bag, staring at the ceiling and wondering when I’ll start to feel the effects. The air is thick with mapacho smoke. Jim finishes his song and makes a whooshing noise, then a man to my right sucks in air and starts singing.
People scattered throughout the room take turns singing icaros in a counterclockwise direction. When the fifth person begins to sing, tears stream down my face, wetting my ears. The woman’s voice is soothing, like a tight embrace from a trusted friend.
Waves of grief and sadness wash over me. My throat constricts and I turn to my side, hugging my legs to my chest. The despair is so heavy I can hardly breathe. My thoughts wander to Grandma Phyllis, and I imagine how lonely she must have been after losing Grandpa. I think of Mom and how she must have felt scared and abandoned after Grandma took her own life. I cry thinking of the lost love and connections and the grandparents I will never meet.
I drink water and grab my teddy bear, then retreat farther into my sleeping bag, attempting to drown out the singing and escape the smoke. I’m overwhelmed. I clutch my stuffed animal and begin to panic.
Is this ever going to stop? Am I going to be sad and afraid forever?
I try to assure myself that it’s OK to feel this way and to let the feelings pass through me, but I spiral and can’t escape the notion that I’ll be helpless and confused and fearful for eternity.
My stomach and intestines wring and I have a sudden urge to expel waste, so I carefully put on my boots and hobble to the outhouse. Gases and liquids explode from my body, and when it’s over, I’m stunned. I can’t help but laugh as I clean myself up and return to my nest of blankets and sleeping bags.
After a couple of hours, Jim lights a candle and goes around the lodge to each person, spraying perfume on our heads and blowing mapacho smoke around us. I sit at the bottom of my mat with my hands together in a prayer position waiting for my turn, and when Jim cleanses me, a smile grows on my face. Weight and darkness leave my body.
I am light. I am peace. I am love.
The next morning I talk to my friend Fraser about the ceremony and how I believed the fear and confusion would never stop. I don’t understand why I was caught in a loop for what seemed like hours. From his experience participating in ayahuasca ceremonies for the past eight years, Fraser says it can take days, weeks, or months to understand what the medicine was showing us. I try to find comfort in his words and embrace the unknown, but I’m restless all day.
In the evening I start reading a book I checked out days earlier from the library, Homecoming: Reclaiming and Healing Your Inner Child by John Bradshaw, and it clicks. A session with Paula one year earlier floods my memory.
“Each one of us has an inner child that needs our love and attention. When we grow up with parents who have unhealed wounds and cannot be there for us in the ways we need, we become wounded ourselves,” she explains.
I frown, sitting on a brown leather couch, holding a cup of chamomile tea.
“So what can I do to heal my inner child?”
Paula tells me about a workshop she went to in Chicago, where the facilitator got the participants to select a stuffed animal to represent their inner child. She recommends I do this, and to treat this outer representation of my inner child with the tenderness and compassion I need and deserve, especially when I’m going through difficult times.
After that counselling session, I had chosen my teddy bear to be little Alanna. Now it made sense. The inexplicable feelings of panic, confusion, and sadness I experienced at the ayahuasca ceremony belonged to my inner child. The wounded child who’s been longing to be acknowledged and loved by the most important person in my life: me.