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Dear Dr. Robert--

I am 30 years old and live in Indiana, and I was curious about the concept of interpersonal relationships in regards to separation, divorce, and breakups. From what I have read I seem to have read that it is almost impossible to have any relationship with an ex, however I have read about and met people who have had relationships with their ex, some of them even getting back together and living happily indefinitely (so this reconciliation idea is not pure fantasy as some would have me believe.) Yet in my own circumstance I am perplexed as how to even get my ex-girlfriend to talk to me about anything, anything at all, much less the relationship itself.

So my question is sort of a simple question: How can I compare the two scenarios? And what I mean is this, "Why do (statistically) the majority of relationship separations rarely come together again, and yet there is proof that people can reunite after separation?" I've even heard that it matters what the reason for the breakup is, and yet I see people that have reunited in far worse situations than mine, and I can't seem to make any connection with my ex at all; all of my attempts to just get her talking to me were wasted.

And, why are people generally not learning from the few successful long lasting reconciliations, causing there to be less devastations? And then of course, their is the yo-yo relationship, getting back together-breaking up-getting back together? What causes them to go around and around, and why are they successful over and over again at getting back together, but keep on breaking up? I know this deals with the fragility of human behavior, however I see many possibilities that people could possibly learn to reconcile their differences with their separated partners if they only learned how to follow the minority of successful reconciliations rather than the majority of the "it'll never happen" frame of thought. What are they doing right, and what is everyone else doing wrong?


1. Do stalkers have Obsessive Love Disorder?

2. Is Obsessive Love and nostalgic love, the same condition, or just remarkably similar.

-- Sincerely, Chad

Dear Chad--

Although you stated that your questions were motivated by "curiosity," I heard your letter as a fairly desperate call for help, and I hope to respond in a way that will be useful to you. I assume from your letter that you have been stalking your ex-girlfriend. You probably think that I must be mistaken, and perhaps I am, but I don't think so.

Stalking is usually defined as "the willful, malicious, and repeated following and harassing of another person." Now I don't know if your attentions towards your ex have been malicious--motivated by a desire to cause her harm or pain--but when you say "I can't seem to make any connection with my ex at all; all of my attempts to just get her talking to me were wasted," I understand that there have been many attempts, and that these were perceived by your ex to have been harassment--unwanted contact, that is. This behavior towards her is stalking because your meetings with your ex are not mutually arranged--she doesn't want to see you--but rather engineered by you so that you can try to speak with her even though this is against her will, and you know that it is.

While the public attention, that slave of publicity and fame, usually is directed towards celebrities stalked by strangers, as many as 80% of stalking incidents take place within the context of an intimate relationship, and this stalking is most likely to occur in personal relationships that recently have broken up. Stalking is not at all uncommon. In fact, a recent study (Fisher, Cullen, and Turner, 2000) of women in colleges showed that around 13 percent of them--a surprisingly large number--were being stalked by ex-boyfriends at some time during the seven month period of the study.

In another study, Zona and colleagues (1993) have described three types of stalking:

Simple Obsessional:

A prior relationship exists between the victim and the stalker (the stalker is acquaintance, neighbor, customer, professional relationship, dating, or lover.)

The stalking behavior begins after either the relationship has gone sour, or the stalker has perceived some mistreatment.

The stalker begins a campaign either to rectify the schism, or to seek some type of retribution.

Erotomania (based on the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, 4th ed.):

The central theme of the delusion is that another person is in love with the individual.

The delusion often concerns idealized romantic love and spiritual union rather than sexual attraction (a perfect match).

The object of affection is usually of a higher status and can be a complete stranger.

Efforts to contact the victim are common, but the stalker may keep the delusion a secret.

Males (seen most often in forensic samples), come into contact with the law during misguided pursuits to "rescue" the individual from some imagined danger. Females are seen most often in clinical samples.

Love Obsessional--similar to the erotomanic individuals except that:

The victim is almost always known through the media.

The delusion that the victim loves them may also be held.

The erotomanic delusion is but one of several delusions and psychiatric symptoms--this individual has a primary psychiatric diagnosis.

This individual may be obsessed in his or her love, without having the belief that the target of the stalking is in love with him or her.

A campaign is begun to make his/her existence known to the victim.

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Judging from your letter, your stalking of your ex-girlfriend is of the simple obsessional type. In other words, you are not delusional or suffering from erotomania as in the other types, but now that your ex has broken up with you, you continue to attempt to speak to her in hopes of repairing the relationship. As I said earlier, because your attentions are both repeated and unwanted, this is harassment (stalking).

Now, an obsession is a preoccupation with a fixed idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion. In this case, your obsession involves the fixed idea that somehow you will be able to convince your ex to give your relationship another chance. I am sorry to say this, Chad, but it is obvious to me that your ex is entirely and completely finished with this relationship, not just on the boyfriend-girlfriend basis, but on any basis at all, and that is why you have had to stalk her, instead of simply sitting down with her to discuss the situation. In other words, your behavior is stalking because it is unwanted by her, and she indicates that it is unwanted by refusing even to speak with you about anything at all, much less about resuming your affair.

In the kind of scenario you mentioned of reconciliation, there is no stalking. Stalking never arises because the two people involved continue to relate to one another--continue to talk, that is--until, somehow, they decide to give their romance another try. In other words, although they have broken up, there is no harassment of one by the other; their conversations are more or less desired by both parties. In a another kind of scenario, which you also mentioned, the two parties do not get back together as lovers, but continue in life as friends--friendly ex-lovers, that is. Unfortunately, neither of these scenarios is your situation, and, as painful as this is, it is time for you to accept this, and move on with your life.

To put this another way, in the cases in which ex-lovers either reconcile and continue on together, or in which they do not come together again as lovers, but do remain friends, both of them desire to continue the relationship in one way or another. Your situation is completely different since your ex is doing everything possible to make clear to you that she does not desire to continue the relationship in any way at all, including even speaking with you. I have taken pains to put this to you in a couple of different ways because I understand very well from my own psychotherapy practice that once someone holds an obsessive idea it is extremely difficult to let go of the idea, no matter how incorrect or improbable that idea may be, and no matter how clearly the incorrectness or improbability of the idea is explained. In fact, I imagine that you may be reading my words, but denying that they apply to you in any way (I hope this is not true).

In fact, there is another aspect to all this which is not often mentioned in discussions about stalking, but which is just as important as the idea of obsession, and that is the aspect of compulsion--in other words, the fact that stalker is somehow compelled, sometimes against his or her conscious will, to continue trying to make contact with the target of the stalking even though the stalker may know full well that the target does not welcome any contact, that trying to make contact is futile, and that persisting in annoying the target may result in serious trouble for the stalker, such as coming to the attention of the police or other authorities. If you will read the letter from a woman who says she is obsessed with an ex-boyfriend, you will see that I consider this kind of obsession to be a variety of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and that In most cases of OCD (please remember that I am not making a firm diagnosis in your case--you need a personal interview for that), I recommend treatment by means of medication (usually an SSRI such as Prozac or Zoloft), in combination with cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. In my opinion, Chad, before you make even one more attempt to speak with your ex, you should consult an expert psychotherapist and get the proper treatment for your problem. I understand that you are suffering, but you will not solve this by making any kind of further contact with your ex, but only by reaching out for expert help, as you already have reached out to me. Please do this before you do any real harm, or cause yourself any real difficulties.

Chad, I know how painful it can be to lose a love which has been important to you, and I sympathize. As I wrote in reply to a question from a woman who was "dumped," as she put it, by her boyfriend, "Everyone who has ever been through this kind of breakup will tell you that there is not much to do about the sense of rejection and loss except to wait for time to help heal the wound, to spend time with friends if possible, and to understand that it is better that this relationship has broken down now instead of a year from now, or five years from now, when you would have had so much more of yourself invested in the outcome."

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To answer your two specific questions:

1. Obsessive love disorder is a type of anxiety disorder which manifests in many different forms, and which may or may not be responsible for stalking behavior. To put this in simplest terms, obsessive love disorder is thought to begin in earliest childhood when a baby is not properly attended to by its caregivers. Since the infant is totally dependent upon its caregivers for life itself, it calls out for contact by means of crying (its only verbal language). If those cries are too often ignored, the baby eventually will withdraw into its own world, cut off from the normal kind of interchange with others in the outside world. In other words, instead of reaching out for contact and being rewarded with contact, the infant reaches out for contact, does not succeed, and so is forced to rely on its own fantasies (fantasies of the breast and nipple, for example) in order to calm and soothe itself.

But this self-calming and self-soothing, as necessary as they are, come at a very high cost: they are a model for a kind of love which does not depend on input from and interchange with the beloved, but which can take place in a world of complete fantasy. Once this model is established, the adult may find him or herself obsessively pursuing a desired lover as if that person could somehow supply the nurturing and detailed care which were missing in infancy. Of course, this is impossible, since no adult can love another adult in the way that a parent can love an infant. In other words, the adult desires to return to an idealized state of perfect union with the mother (picture an infant sucking at the breast while being embraced by the mother), but this can never happen. Seen from the outside--from the point of view of another adult, the object of desire, that is--these desires will appear as unreasonable demands, and so often will provoke a rejection, which, like the initial frustrations of the infant, only serves to increase the demands, which then provoke further rejection (a vicious cycle), until the obsessed person eventually is completely rejected by the adult lover.

2. Nostalgia is a mixed feeling of happiness, sadness, and longing when recalling a person, place, or event from the past, or sometimes when just thinking of the past in general. Although it may be somewhat unrealistic in that the recollections are not really accurate memories of the past, but rather somewhat idealized versions, nostalgia is a common human experience--not an illness like obsessive love disorder--and would not be responsible for such unhealthy manifestations as stalking.

Chad, I sincerely hope this helps--that it will help to awaken you from your obsessive and unrealistic attitude towards your ex--and that you will seek the personalized help I have recommended.

Be well.

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Dr. Saltzman--

To tell you the truth, your answer to my question wasn't very helpful at all: I must say that I am more than irritated by your response. Nonetheless, I shall try to make sense of your answer in a way that may make some things clearer to you.

First of all I was not stalking her. I wrote her many letters, and tried to call her. ALL OF THESE WERE ATTEMPTS AT APOLOGIZING FOR MYSELF. There is absolutely no malicious intent. . . unless you count trying to re-befriend someone you've hurt as a malicious endevour. She may not have wanted the contact, but that's the problem. . . she thinks the worst of me. She holds a grudge against me for something I did not do.

You state that the meetings were not mutually pre-arranged, but if we were to reconcile or to "make-up" then one of us has to take initiative, right? Well, I tried, but to no avail. I used to think it was the right thing to do, to go and show someone a sincere apology, but no one seems to care how sorry or regretful I am, or how much I really want to make things up to them. Of course I understand that you don't know the full story, and neither do I. But there has to be SOME way to make things better between her and I, so that neither of us are hurting like this anymore.

The only thing you are right about, is that it is a cry for help, a cry to find the SOULUTION to my relationship trouble, so that my ex can know that I just want us to be on good common ground with each other again. To have no harm against her. I'm not wanting to hurt her, I'm wanting to appease her hurt and get her to understand that.

On the one hand, I can't go make things up to her because she'll just tell me to leave. But on the other hand I can't continue living a life just wishing and waiting for something to happen that isn't going to happen unless I take the initiative. So yes, I am at a dilemna Doctor. But what is the answer?

Hello again, Chad--

I am sorry that my reply did not work for you. I do hope to be helpful to everyone who writes with questions--and many people have written to report that my words have helped them--but I do understand that advice from my point of view as a psychologist might not help everyone equally.

Yes, it is true that you did not give me any real information in your first letter, such as the grudge that she holds against you, and why she is mistaken, but I do not think that matters much. It was apparent to me from your first letter that this woman does not wish remain open to you. I do not know how you can change that. After all, this is not just about what you want, but about what she wants too.

I do not know how you can stop hurting except by coming to understand that not every problem has a solution, that not every love works out well, and that attachments to others can cause pain and suffering as well as pleasure and happiness. In other words, real life is not like a romantic movie where everything works out well in the end. Often lovers end up crying for the loss of their love. That's why they call it the blues.

You are not alone in your suffering. This kind of loss is a normal part of human life which, sooner or later, must be accepted by all of us, just as we must accept many other kinds of losses, illnesses, and eventually death. Perhaps hearing this will prompt you to understand and begin to let her go.

I suggest that you do everything possible to get over your obsession with this one particular person, and move on in life to other experiences and other friendships. I imagine that some counseling would help. That is my advice, if you can hear it.

Be well.

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