I know a lot of junkies.
Not your typical run of the mill junkies that you might be thinking of.
No. I’m talking about the kind that are a seemingly common staple in the kinky and/or polyamory community: NRC addicts.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, we’re all here for the endorphins. Each and every one of us wants to get that “rush” or “those” feelings we associate with a cathartic scene, flirting with a sexy person, developing a new connection, or even just walking in a crowded dungeon knowing you are attracting some eyes on you.
What is NRC?
First, we have to talk about New Relationship Energy (NRE) a term writer Zhahai Stewart. She first coined in the mid-80s when trying to describe the “heady rush of escalating emotional connection and the hot juiciness of a growing sexual attraction” that she had experienced in her polyamorous relationships. It can be alluring and intoxicating. New Relationship Energy (NRE) affects nearly everyone, poly, kinky, vanilla, or other. The process of ‘falling in love’ is bagged not-so-neatly with a flux of other emotions and chemical reactions within our bodies. We like it. We enjoy it. And that’s okay.
New Relationship Chemistry (NRC) falls under the same umbrella. It brings into focus the chemical reaction happening within when a new relationship begins. A lot of dating advice glosses over the concepts of compatibility and chemistry. Beliving most people have an intuitive grasp of what these two words mean and why they’re so important to a successful relationship. Everyone kind of assumes we know what compatibility and chemistry mean and whether we have them or not.
When sparks fly…
We wrongly use the terms ‘compatibility‘ and ‘chemistry‘ interchangeably, but I assure you, they are not the same thing. It’s easy to want to loosely define the intangible thing which exists in the space between people—the spark or fizzle within the connection. But discerning the difference can avoid missteps and in turn lead to a sunny, lively, and long-term relationship.
- Compatibility – What are your lifestyle and relationship standards? This is where the organic positioning between two or more people meets. A vegan and a staunch carnivore diet individual are most likely incompatible with each other. Think of compatibility as the long-term potential of two or more people. When we believe we have high compatibility with someone it’s often because we have a likeness in lifestyle and morals. Note: High compatibility usually includes preferences, priorities, and intrinsic beliefs.
- Chemistry – How does the other person(s) make you feel when you’re together? When a high degree of chemistry is present, it’s not hard to relish the feelings of contentment, or tenderness. This, creates a positive feedback loop. That loop is through which people sustain a base level of making the other feel more and more pleasant. I would even go as far as to say that chemistry is simply the result of propensity and nuanced behaviors that complement the same of the other person. Note: High levels of chemistry usually come from opposite yet complementary qualities in people.
This is why a new relationship is a time of excitement and anticipation. It’s also a time when you can’t help but think about how life will be different with the person you have just met. There are several chemicals that play a role in new relationships. These include but are not limited to serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, and vasopressin and this is where it gets a little complicated.
So, what about the “addicts”?
Have you seen the people who seem undiscernibly in love with being in love or having a new partner? The ones who seem to hop-skip-and-jump from new relationship and kinky attachments at the crack of a whip when things start getting real. You know the friend who is perpetually enmeshed, excited, and titillated by the process of digging deep into a person, so deep they forget where they themselves are?
Remember those chemicals I mentioned earlier? When you are in the grip of New Relationship Chemistry, your brain will tell you things like, ‘Just one more text‘, ‘Just one more selfie‘, ‘Just one more hour/day/week together…’ and will steer you to excess of these emotions. You may have something truly special budding, but NRC can be so nebulous, you struggle to make clear cognitive choices.
NRC/NRE addiction is another form of relationship addiction. This is characterized by cravings and a loss of control when it comes to being in a relationship with a specific person. Like love addicts, people with relationship addiction seek feelings of euphoria and gain intense chemical reactions and releases while in pursuit of or in a relationship.
I have a lot of polyamorous clients who have come to me wondering why when the perceived passion (i.e. honeymoon period) fades away, why they lose almost all interest in someone. Once things slip into more long-term situationships, they’re feeling an itch for someone or something new. This is where NRC takes over. It can be addictive. It isn’t a basis for a healthy relationship, even though it can feel great, and provides motivation to get to know someone better and start building a relationship. Unsurprisingly, it isn’t sustainable. Too many people think that when the NRC is gone, the relationship is dying. If you’re still together without NRC, you have a chance of something wonderful.
Signs of NRC/NRE/Relationship addiction
Initially, relationship addiction can mimic normal relationship behavioral patterns. Becoming infatuated with a partner, craving closeness, craving frequent intimacy (sex, kinky activities, etc.), and feeling out of control emotionally are also normal. Like love and sex addiction, NRC addiction shares some defining characteristics. These include but are not limited to:
- On again, off again cycle
- Using sex (kinky or otherwise) as a band-aid for your relationship
- Ignoring friends/family/other partners uncharacteristically
- Feelings of being “stuck” in the relationship
- Using the relationship for well-being or identity
- Justifying abuse – if it’s not consensual it’s abuse
- Pre-mature commitment
- Signs of co-dependency
- Blindness to external and internal red flags
- Frequent relationship highs and lows
- Embedded emotional fatigue – feeling tired, confused, irritable, or insecure after time with someone
- Feeling unloved, resentful, or undesired
- Reluctantly changing one’s self to be in the relationship – this can include habits and/or behaviors
- Feelings of anxiety or depression
- Using substances to cope with relationship issues
- Binge eating, gambling, or acting compulsively
In addition to the above traits, someone can experience other addictive qualities that are like love addiction and codependency.
The chemicals affecting ‘chemistry’
People facing NRC addiction are often dependent on the high of falling in love. Elements like hope and wishful thinking, combined with the thrill of the chase or a release of dopamine, may become addictive for some. Cuddling and touching releases the bonding hormone known as oxytocin, which can keep people connected to relationships.
Both chemicals can be released in the brain when someone enters into a relationship, especially one with a strong degree of sexual attraction and chemistry. They may appear dependent on the relationship, using it to cope with stress, depression, or to fill a void. Like codependency and NRC addiction, relationships can function to provide someone with self-esteem, relieve abandonment issues, and attain self-love. As a result of this need for love, individuals can stay in toxic relationships, maintain relationships with people who abuse substances (playing the enabler), and become emotionally distressed.
Once someone has become addicted or depends on something to feel good or to feel normal, they can experience withdrawal-like symptoms or even depression. In the case of NRC addiction, someone who is off and on with another may feel extremely lonely or depressed. The lack of chemicals when apart from their significant other can cause someone to crave them even more. Constantly feeling disappointed or resentful can easily create low moods and impact someone’s self-esteem. In response, someone can develop negative relationship beliefs or increase substance/kink abuse to try and numb the pain.
What can you do?
If you or a loved one goes from one unhealthy relationship to another and has exhibited one or more of the traits listed above, know, you can get help. Facing any addiction is challenging, but it can be done with the right support, treatments, and medications. Additionally, combining harmful substances with unhealthy relationship patterns will only wreak havoc on mental and emotional health. Since other problems can exist underneath NRC addiction, it is important to get to the root so that the individual in question can form healthy bonds.