Beauty

One of the defining features of limerence is the idealisation of the LO. Personality traits that in others can seem off-putting (if not obnoxious) become charming idiosyncracies in our LOs. It works with physical beauty too. At an early stage we can still be objective about the relative attractiveness of LO, but once the limerence is established, they become ravishing.

I’m fascinated by the neuroscience at work here. What is it about the process of limerence that causes this change and how genuine is it? Do our sensory processing systems really modify as a consequence of the hormonal and neuromodulatory soup that bathes our brain during limerence? Or are we just talking ourselves into it because we want a fix so badly, and trying to override the honest sensory input?

My gut feeling is that there genuinely is a neurophysiological change as a consequence of limerence, and we start to make associative memories that alter our perception of the world when LO is in it. The thesis is quite straightforward:

1) The glimmer sets in, and you start to seek LO’s company.

2) LO’s company gives you a neurophysiological high.

3) Your brain starts to associate LO’s company with reward.

4) LO’s appearance is now linked to the sensation of pleasure. You see their (imperfect) face and even before conscious thought can register, you get a hit of bliss.

5) LO’s face has become a configuration of matter that gives pleasure when viewed. Which is a pretty good working definition of beauty.

With physical appearance this is simple (simplistic?), but with behavioural habits or personality traits it’s less so. The same associative process could occur, but it’s a bit abstracted from the sensory stimulus to form a very strong connection. Age is also probably a factor. In early adulthood, the opinions and attitudes of others (especially LOs) are more formative and so become absorbed into our nascent worldviews more readily. LO’s can genuinely shape us and influence our psychological development. If they have characteristics that we admire, then other opinions can kind of get captured along the way as a bystander effect.

But as experience grows, the ability of others to reshape our worldview (particularly in dramatically different directions) tends to decrease.

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Whatever, pup. I’ve seen it all.

Under these circumstances, the other wily strategy that limerence can adopt is minimisation. God I am so guilty of this one. “She’s only saying that because she’s never been truly loved for herself.” “He’s hard-hearted because of the pain he’s been through.” Or – worst of all – “they only think that because they don’t understand the issue properly. I will explain it to them, and they will love me for my dazzling insight.”

A very good strategy for coping with limerence is to spot this mental game you are playing with yourself, and actually, respectfully, listen to LO’s opinions. Some of them may be so fruity that you can’t limer-gloss over them. Same with behaviour. Watch closely, and prioritise what you observe over what you want to be true.

Can’t help you with the beauty, though.

Those eyes…

Sigh.

Resilience

When you’re going through hell… keep going.

Winston Churchill.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realise that one of the most important life skills to cultivate is resilience. It perhaps seems a little odd to frame resilience as a “skill”, rather than a inherent trait, but the habits and strategies that can help one to cope with stress can certainly be learned.

One of the biggest challenges with resilience is recognising when the stress that you are under is something to be coped with, and when it is an indicator that you are in a toxic environment or situation that you should leave. There are times when the answer is clear enough: an abusive or demeaning SO, a job that is neither financially or emotionally rewarding, living in a neighbourhood in which you feel unsafe. The problem comes from the ambiguous cases: a job that is OK and pays well, but gives occasional bursts of stress that are wearing you down; the love affair with a person who is mostly supportive and kind, but can also be evasive or manipulative; the neighbourhood that has great house prices and is fine really, but you sometimes get spooked when walking home.

Self-awareness and self-honesty, as always, are the best methods for distinguishing between cases. Are you being oversensitive about the gang that hangs out on the corner of your street, or are you genuinely fearful?

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Look at them. They’re obviously planning something.

 

It’s not always easy, but we can usually tell if we’re overreacting, or if we’re actually suffering appropriate stress to a personal trigger that is hard-wired and pointless to try and unlearn. In the short term, bursts of stress like this happen all the time and in all places, and are not a major cause for concern. Resilience really comes into play when we are in a situation where the stress has become decoupled from the immediate stimulus, and turned into a kind of background black-cloud of low level anxiety that is always present. The ability to keep going until you are out of that situation is what I mean by resilience. The ability to cope until you have taken purposeful steps to a new environment that is less stressful for you.

One of the major benefits of developing resilience is that the emergence of limerence can be a common reaction to stress. It is certainly a spectacular distraction from the proximate cause of stress, and a response that your body has learned gives reliable pleasure in the form of positive reward feedback (dopamine hit), as a counter to the negative reinforcement of chronic stress. Eventually, of course, the limerence can transition to being a new source of stress. So, in fact, coping before it sets in would be a win-win, and resilience to stress can give automatic resilience to limerence.

The good news is that philosophers, psychologists and therapists are in almost unanimous agreement about the best strategies for stress mitigation. The even better news is that all of them are free!

1) Nature

We evolved in a natural environment. Long periods of humankind’s history were characterised by repetitive and arduous labour that required patience and singlemindedness. Sources of stress were mainly urgent and short lived. Within this framework, the autonomic response to stress – fight or flight – was not focussed on dealing with an overdue Powerpoint presentation on sales projections, or daily deadlines for filing copy with your spittle-projecting editor. Getting out into nature forces us to adjust to the diurnal pace of the natural world. Sunrise and sunset. Cycles of birth, feeding, mating and death. The time scale of seasons and weather and growth anchor us to the pace of life that we are suited to.

We don’t need to go back to living in hovels and hand-tilling the soil to recapture this. Spending time in the natural world seems to automatically pacify. The sussuration of a breeze through the trees. Watching a bird of prey gracefully circle on a thermal current over a small wood. The surf crashing over rocks and sucking back over shingle. It’s built-in mindfulness in a slow-paced and tranquil environment.

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Serenity

It works even better if you can combine this with…

2) Exercise

Both gentle, regular exercise (such as a daily walk in the countryside) and hard physical exertion (such as crossfit) have huge benefits for resilience. They help with general cardiovascular health, burn off short term stress, and help you sleep. All massive benefits.

3) Friendship

The philosophers are united on this one: good friends help with mental health, happiness and peace of mind. Good friends, mind. Friends of the Aristotlean mode. Social congress, empathy, fresh perspectives, distraction from troubles, and sharing of burdens. Good friends offer all these. LO’s don’t count.

4) Daily closure

This last one is a bit more obscure, but linked to the need for good quality sleep. I have suffered on and off my whole adult life with insomnia, often caused by stress (and sometimes by limerence). One of the best ways to lessen the severity for me has been to strive for daily “closure”. To end the day in a consciously final way. To make a list at the end of the working day of all the things to be done tomorrow (so I don’t lie awake fretting about what the priorities are, and panicking about all the jobs I’ve forgotten). To turn off screens and noise at least half an hour before bed. To try (often vainly, I admit, as I type away) to preserve the bedroom for two tasks – neither of which should be work or blogging. I try to get into bed with a mind at peace, knowing that the plans for the next day have been put in place, and that worrying in the dark will not help in any way. It works more often than not.

All of these 4 ideas are easy, obvious and simple to implement. And yet, it takes so long to truly learn the lesson of it and consistently put these good habits into practice. The lure of passive entertainment, of booze and junk food, of limerent reverie and idle fantasy – all routes to easy gratification but lasting ennui. Finding the will to purposefully alter our habits to incorporate these virtues into our lives is surprisingly hard. It is a curiosity of the human condition that we can recognise wisdom but struggle so hard to implement it. Resilience comes from patiently insisting to yourself that you will make the virtuous choice, gain the benefit of health, peace and fulfillment, and live more wisely.

Choosing well

Awareness of limerence and the effects it has on your behaviour is an important step in establishing healthy relationships. Once the key features of limerence are understood, that knowledge can help enormously in how you respond to and develop any potential romantic relationship.

The most important principles, in my opinion, are:

1) Limerence is mostly about you and your own emotional needs

2) The strength of the limerence has almost no predictive power for deciding whether a long-term relationship with LO is practical or desirable

The first principle leads to an analysis about why you become limerent for certain individuals. I’ve covered this before, but it is likely to be a combination of your current emotional state, the patterns of relationship formation in your childhood, plus the complicating factor of sex. It really is worth the effort of honest self-analysis to understand your limerence triggers. In some cases, the triggers could be relatively innocuous and so nothing to worry about, but in others it could become clear that you are seeking (unconsciously) people with character traits that remind you of previous unhealthy bonding experiences. There is a whole medical literature on bonding and attachment, and its worth exploring if you find yourself serially limerent for people that make you unhappy.

That leads into the second principle: the strength of the limerence is almost certainly uncorrelated with the suitability of the LO as a long term partner. Limerence is all about cementing a bond. Quickly and deeply.

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Must make babies

 

This is not necessarily a good foundation upon which to build a long term bond of love and trust. In most cases it’s pot luck – once you emerge from limerence you get to find out whether the other ingredients needed to make a go of it are there. In other cases, where your triggers for limerence are misaligned with the conditions for affectional bonding, you are basically doomed to a dysfunctional relationship (or its inevitable breakdown). By using the power of limerence to select a potential life partner you are making a category error – using a thermometer to measure distance. Instead, you need to try and do two parallel things: enjoy the limerence while making objective judgements about the suitability of LO as a good mate choice.

This is important, but difficult, because during limerence your judgement is very seriously impaired. Happily, there is a surefire way of bypassing the terrible decision making capabilities of your limerent brain with a simple rule of thumb: judge people by their behaviour. I know! So obvious it’s a cliche. But how well do you actually do this? Limerents are often world-class empathisers and rationalisers. “LO does seem to be very rude about other people when they are not around, but that’s because they are insecure.” “Yes, she did just lie to her best friend about where she was last week, but she’s just a private person.” “I know he cheated on his wife, but she had withdrawn sex and didn’t treat him with respect.”

It’s an interesting philosophical question: functionally, is there really a difference between someone who is genuinely an arsehole, and someone who is actually a good person but hides it by behaving like an arsehole? Either way, you have to endure their arseholish behaviour. Many limerents will see this as a challenge – even a reinforcing stimulus for the limerence. “Through the power of my transformative love, I will liberate their true selves from the arsehole that the world sees, because only I can see their soul.” Lost or damaged souls can be like catnip.

But how about, instead of embarking on that campaign, you go and find someone who isn’t pretending to be an arsehole? It would save a lot of time and energy. Try and detach your observation skills from the limerence and watch how they behave. People generally do reveal their true beliefs through their actions (sociopaths and psychos possibly excepted) and you can use their actions as a reliable barometer of how a relationship with them is likely to unfold. Be vigilant. If you observe behaviour that you don’t like, resist the urge to go all-in with the emotional bonding. Enjoy the ride of the limerent rollercoaster by all means, but don’t make long term plans with them.

That’s all very well! I hear you cry (imaginary reader), but how do I identify good people while dating? I only meet arseholes. Some simple questions to ask yourself:

1) Why am I attracting arseholes? Is it because they can sense that their behaviour is attractive to me? Why would that be?

2) Is this person I am talking to being honest with me? Are they talking straightforwardly about their lives and showing genuine interest in mine? Or are they bantering and playing games and trying to get a rise out of me?

3) Am I being honest with this person I am talking to? If not, what am I hoping to achieve by misrepresenting myself and my opinions?

4) Perhaps if I selected potential dates on this honesty criterion, I would have more success?

Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that I’ve steered the discussion back to purposeful living. It really does make every part of life better…

 

Person addiction

Limerence certainly resembles addiction in many key respects. There are the neurophysiological highs, and the withdrawal lows. The cravings, the disruption of everyday routines, the habit formation. There is also the diminishing value of each fix, and the need for escalating stimulus as time goes on to get the same pleasure.  Ultimately, there comes the realisation that the LO is detrimental to your life, but you also know you can’t give them up without significant emotional pain.

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Heads you lose. Tails you really lose.

Despite these parallels, I struggled for a long time with how limerence fitted into an addiction framework. I confess that I do not have an “addictive personality” and so I could not relate my feelings of limerence to, say, alcohol or gambling addiction. Like most people though, there are others close to me that do have these issues, and so limerence did at least help me understand them a little better; at least to the level of empathising that “why don’t you just stop?” is worthless advice.

I read up on sex addiction and love addiction, and again, while there was some overlap, there were also fundamental differences that made limerence seem to be a separate category. In particular, the other two addictions seemed focussed more on the compulsive behaviour than the other party (or parties) involved.

The penny dropped for me when browsing limerence.net and coming across a comment by David Perl along the lines of “limerence is addiction to a person.” That really crystallised it for me: addiction to a person. LO is the drug. It’s not romantic love or sex per se that you crave, it’s LO. It has a nice clarity of focus; good explanatory power.

For whatever reason – whatever combination of your own emotional state and unmet needs and their particular recipe of personality traits – the company of this person gives you an emotional and physiological high. You seek reward until addiction has set in, and then your behaviour becomes erratic and irrational and withdrawal becomes painful. The drug parallel also helps from the perspective of overcoming limerence. You are probably not going to be able to be friends with your LO, just like an alcoholic will never be able to be a social drinker.

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Go on. Just a little sip of LO. You’ll be fine.

This is especially true if your LO is manipulative or narcissistic or limerent for you too. Because those guys will be enablers. They’ll be your drinking buddies, egging you on, telling you how boring you’ve become since you stopped hanging out so much, or how much they miss you – and can’t we just go back to how things were before you got so uptight?

Now, there can be ways through limerence, so it’s not necessarily essential to go cold turkey. If your LO is actually a decent person, you stand a better chance of establishing new habits, and a civil acquaintanceship is feasible as long as you steer clear of intimate conversations or situations. It will be hard and may call for constant vigilance, but then that is the price of liberty. But to return to my perennial theme: your road out of the addiction is self-awareness, honesty, and the determination to live a purposeful life. Act decisively, and work for the future you want to live.

Emotional affairs

Spend some time on the pages of the collective sum of human misery that is the agony aunt blogosphere, and you’ll come across the idea of the “emotional affair”. Definitions vary somewhat, but the basic idea is of a love affair that does not become physical. Certainly, the definition of “physical” can vary – be it a hug, a kiss, a drunken fumble, or intercourse – but the idea is that the primary betrayal of the SO comes from the sharing of emotional intimacies with the affair partner.

Some people dismiss the whole notion of an emotional affair as absurd, and an example of unreasonable jealousy on the part of the SO. Those people are non-limerents. (I’d bet my house on it). Their view (the non-limerents, who are wrong) is that sharing intimacies is not a violation of monogamy, because friends can be emotionally intimate – indeed, they argue that this is a healthy and normal aspect of friendship, and the gender or sexual orientation of the friend is entirely immaterial to the situation.

In fairness, I am sure people who sincerely hold this view do exist. They pop up in the comments section of sites dealing with love all the time, to lament how all the girlfriends of their male friends dislike them, even though they have absolutely no designs on the man. They remain baffled by this pattern of partners who for some inexplicable reason don’t like their SOs spending hours discussing personal and intimate topics with another woman.

Before I became properly aware of the existence of non-limerents, I confess that I held a rather uncharitable view of these people. I am ashamed to admit that I thought they understood perfectly well why they raised the hackles of partners, and that they actually just enjoyed the attention of lots of their (sexually compatible) friends, and got a bit of a thrill from knowing that they had an emotional hold over someone else’s SO.

 

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I know. Shocking. I have such a suspicious mind.

It probably doesn’t help that this is the pathetic clichéd excuse of someone who is actually having an affair, and the first argument presented when a sceptical SO finds the first flirty text on a borrowed phone. “We’re just friends.”

Now, thanks to the consciousness-raising of Dorothy Tennov’s work, I am more open to the idea that non-limerents could, genuinely, seek the sort of intimacy that limerents crave from their partners in friendships. It’s another one of those tragedies of misunderstandings between the two cultures: non-limerents can’t understand why their limerent partner is jealous of their friends, and limerents are distraught that their LO is starting an affair.

So, why is it that limerents react so badly to emotional sharing, and can we learn to reach a middle ground of mutual understanding?

Maybe.

Let’s approach this by considering what an emotional affair means to a typical limerent. As I’m assuming this is most of my audience, I’m going to work from the starting point of how to identify an emotional connection that crosses the line from friendship to affair. I guess the commonest difficult situation that a limerent will encounter is developing limerence for someone other than your SO. Is this automatically an emotional affair? What can you do about it? How should you act?

1) Your thoughts are your own

An important first principle is that no one should feel guilty about their feelings or their thoughts. I really don’t believe in thought-crime, and anyone who makes you feel guilty about your thoughts is almost certainly jealous and controlling, and unpromising material as a life partner.

As limerents, we are not able to turn off our feelings and stop being limerent at will. When developing limerence for a new LO while in a monogamous relationship, you should not feel guilty about the emergence of limerence. The only thing to feel guilty about, in my view, is your actions after it has set in. The emergence of limerence should lead to personal analysis: why am I vulnerable to this? Is anything happening in my life at the moment that might make me susceptible? Do I need to work more at my relationship or have I been trying to ignore its deterioration for too long? Or, quite possibly: have I succumbed to an LO who knows how to manipulate my limerent tendencies?

The key thing is not to try and kid yourself that you can handle the limerence, and that really this is just a kindred spirit who totally understands me, and that wasn’t really the glimmer that was just me feeling connected to a good friend. I should be allowed to luxuriate in their intoxicating company, no harm done. Denial of the problem is an evasion: willful ignorance that puts your relationship at risk.

2) Sometimes LOs are unavoidable

You may have to spend time with them. If so, boundaries are your ally. Set some clear ones: no chit chat about sex. No discussing your or their partner’s shortcomings. No discussions about love (or limerence). If your interactions are in a professional setting, this should be easy, as you shouldn’t be discussing that shit at work anyway. If your interactions are not at work, then why are you interacting with them? Ha! Gotcha!

OK, maybe you’re one of those people that has more than a handful of friends, and socialise and stuff. If so, the same principles apply. No quiet chats in the corner while everyone else is getting the drinks in. No lingering hugs or kisses. And don’t indulge them – many LOs can enjoy the attention and seek to cultivate your limerence through flirting and touching of their own. These people are not your friends. Boundaries are your friends.

3) You will probably know when you’ve crossed the line

Limerence is not associated with a subtle emotional landscape. I have known my closest friend since school, and love him sincerely. Never once, when discussing intimate topics, have I felt butterflies of anxiety and hope, nor crushing despair when he misheard, misunderstood, or plain mocked me for my disclosure. I can listen to his own problems without prejudice, or without wondering how best I can frame my answer to meet his approval. That’s the point of genuine friendships: there is no anxiety or emotional compromise, even when you disagree. In contrast, in the foothills of an emotional affair, your limerence will assert itself. And when it does, that means you are close to the tree line.

For the sake of clarity, here are some topics on the wrong side of the line: Declaring your love for LO (even as a joke). Explaining that you are deeply unhappy with your partner and would like to leave, if only you could find the right person. Gazing into their eyes, and complimenting them on their beauty. Kissing LO.

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My friend. This is so Platonic.

I would hope these were obvious, but with some people, you never know.

4) If you can’t stop it, be purposeful and show integrity

I’ve already offered the opinion that we can’t be authentic friends to our LOs. It follows that if you attempt it, you will almost certainly crystallise the limerent reaction and be completely hooked. At that point, your existing relationship is on very thin ice. If you are in full-on denial mode, then you are likely to start devaluing your SO, idealising your LO, and behaving in a way that destabilises your primary relationship. Assuming that you wish to live a purposeful life, and not pass through it like a ping-pong ball in a tumble drier bouncing from crisis to crisis, now is the time to start being honest with yourself and others. If your relationship with SO is dead to you, then tell them. You probably should disclose the limerence. You may not want to, but giving the truth to the person you committed to is the least you can do. They may hate you and leave you. Suck it up. That is the consequence of your decision – if you take it with integrity then you should be able to live with it. And they will at least know the reality of their lives.

After disclosing to your SO, and deciding whether you both want to continue with the relationship, you have to respect their requests. If they demand no-contact with LO, and that is unbearable to you, then that tells you quite clearly how you are prioritising your relationships. Otherwise, cut contact and focus your efforts on being a better partner, and clearly communicating your needs.

If the primary relationship ends, the LO may not want to be in a relationship with you. Tough. If you became so limerent for someone else because you were discontented with your relationship, then the primary relationship was not working for you. Seek a new one, with an LO that reciprocates.

The basic message here is that limerents understand emotional affairs, because they crave exclusivity and respond powerfully to interactions with LOs that stray from the simple friendship template. An affair is never a good option, never a purposeful choice in life. Limerents feel the sting of infidelity keenly, because they are emotionally all-in in their relationships.

Limerence links

I’m still a little taken aback by how limited the awareness of limerence is in popular culture. In fact, there is even a surprising dearth of information about limerence on the web. Here are some of the resources that have helped me:

For general definitions and descriptions, the wikipedia page is really quite good.

For an excellent general resource, with essays, videos and a supportive forum, you can’t top limerence.net.

For a psychological perspective, there are some popular psych pages that summarise the current view of limerence in that community. Also, for a bit more detail, there is a paper available here that covers the apparently emerging view that limerence should  be regarded as an addictive disorder. This does seem to be the way the field is evolving since Tennov coined the term, which makes some sense from the perspective that if it’s not causing a problem for the individual then it doesn’t need a special descriptor. Another perspective, though, is that it diminishes the concept of limerence as a common experience that can help people understand their experience of love better, because it limits it to the extreme cases.

It is surprising and frustrating to me that the experience Tennov recognised has not gained more popularity. A few mainstream media sites have picked up the concept and run articles about it as a curiosity, but there does not seem a general awareness that limerents and non-limerents have a fundamentally different experience of love, and that those differences are likely to be the root of a lot of heartache. If limerents were educated about the nature of their condition at a formative age, I’m sure it would result in a much better outcome in terms of forming stable and healthy relationships.

Ah well. Maybe this site can do some good.

Why does limerence exist?

One of the curious consequences of learning that non-limerents exist, is that for the first time we limerents can start to wonder both “who has it better”, and “what is limerence for, anyway”?

The first question should keep the philosophers busy indefinitely, but the second question does seem more open to analysis.

Limerence seems, it is fair to say, an exaggerated response to the stimulus of meeting a potential mate. It’s hard to reflect on this issue without thinking from the perspective of reproduction, because the drive for limerence is almost always associated with romantic and sexual desire.  Non-limerents clearly live fulfilled and happy lives, having children and long-term relationships and deep bonds of love and affection. Obviously the massive initial emotional maelstrom of limerence isn’t essential for reproductive success or personal security and survival. So, what benefit might it serve? Especially in an environment in which potential mates could be fellow limerents who will reciprocate in kind, or non-limerents who may be driven away by the asymmetry of romantic obsession.

Amazingly enough, my thoughts on this fit into a convenient list form!

1) Pair bonding

This seems the most obvious benefit. Humans frequently adopt pair-bonding as a stable evolutionary strategy for increasing the survival prospects of offspring. Having two parents who share and are committed to the task of raising children through the vulnerable (and, for us as a species, relatively long) early years, increases the odds that those offspring will survive to adulthood and reproduce themselves, thus propagating the parent’s genes into future generations, flooding the gene pool. It is an obviously beneficial and stably inheritable trait.

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I love puns

It is blatantly obvious that limerence would really help with this process. The surge of positive feeling for LO, the powerful need to be in their company, the urgent desire for reciprocation and consummation – all of this stabilises the pair bond. It’s also been noted (by Tennov and others) that the typical duration of limerence (around 2 years) corresponds with the period needed to conceive and deliver a child and nurse them through their most vulnerable period.

Oftentimes, happily, the limerence will give way to stable affectional bonding, and the pair bond is cemented for extended periods beyond the limerent ecstasy. But other times, the limerence turns out to have been masking an incompatibility that makes longer-term bonding (once the mania has passed) intolerable. So, for all the benefits for pair-bonding, limerence also seems to increase the risk of misfires: bonding that barely lasts beyond conception. So, could there be other forces at work?

2) Handicap signalling

One curious evolutionary strategy that is best exemplified by the peacock’s tail, is the so-called handicap principle. The reasoning is that if an individual can so conspicuously display a handicap and yet still thrive, they must have extraordinary fitness. “Think how powerful I must be to be able to carry this millstone”. For the example of the peacock, the idea would be that the male is so strong that they can afford to squander their strength in carting around a cumbersome tail – and indeed, only a healthy and strong male could achieve it.

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can strut despite this beast, ladies

As humans we can of course question the wisdom of signalling our value by squandering it – gorging on cake to demonstrate how much cake we used to have – but it is an interesting thought that limerence could fit into this model.

The idea here is that limerence is such an disproportionate response to attraction that the limerent is signalling their willingness to completely commit to LO, even to their own potential detriment. The benefit, from the LO’s perspective, is that their emotional capture of the limerent is so complete, they have no anxiety that they could lose out to another mate. The limerent reaction is like the peacock’s tail – a handicapping obsession that demonstrates the limerent’s capacity to pair bond par excellence. In human terms “I am so absurdly besotted with you that even a rich, beautiful, healthy, powerful competitor could not turn my head.” In less human terms, the LO can be confident that they will not invest in reproducing with a mate who will flit away when an alternative individual of higher mate-value appears.

3) Maths

As a final thought as to why we seem to live in a population of limerents and non-limerents – this sometimes awful farce of mutual misunderstanding – we need to consider the power of dynamic equilibria. Limerence is, from an evolutionary perspective, a bit like altruism. It seems as though selfishness in both survival and reproduction would be a good strategy, and yet altruism exists. Similar concerns arise with limerence. Why should a limerent sacrifice their openness to other potential mates? Surely non-limerents have an advantage by not being handicapped by obsession.

Indeed, why do non-limerents and limerents both exist?  Surely the “better” evolutionary strategy would win out.

Well, it turns out that at a population level, the optimal strategy for propagating genes doesn’t have a lot of meaning, because populations are dynamic. For altruism, a convincing mathematical argument can be made that neither selfishness nor selflessness are optimal strategies all the time. It depends on the behaviour of other individuals within the population. This makes intuitive sense – if everyone is an altruist, then the first mutant selfish person (I suppose, strictly, combination of genes that result in selfish behaviour) to appear would have a selection advantage by exploiting the rest of the population. “Selfishness” genes would start to spread through the population. Eventually, if this led to a preponderance of selfish people, competition becomes detrimental, no one can be trusted, and suddenly, altruistic behaviour (especially within kin groups) becomes an advantage. The goodies gang up and out-compete the selfish gits.

Ultimately, formulating these sorts of arguments mathematically shows that the most “stable” situations are actually dynamic equilibria, where the abundance of traits in a population shifts around an optimal ratio (of, say, selfish to altruistic individuals). It seems likely that the same argument applies to limerence. In some circumstances, non-limerence is an advantage because your relative emotional independence can allow for freer mate selection, without the anxiety that your (limerent) partner of the moment may leave you. Conversely, with too many non-limerents, the presence of a limerent mate is an advantage, if they form a better pair-bond when the main concern is finding a mate who won’t leave you. So, the most stable situation is a mix of limerents and non-limerents – a bet hedging strategy that results in a dynamic equilibrium within the population.

And evolution cares not a wit about the emotional turmoil that any of us poor replication engines suffer.

The best cure for limerence

Limerence is not actually a disease, and so talk of a cure is perhaps a bit misleading. Limerence does seem to be a common feature of many people’s experience of love, but in the context of seeking cures, we are focussing on times when limerence is detrimental to someone’s health and happiness.

In a previous post I talked about ways to get rid of limerence, or at least ways to get rid of limerence for a specific LO. But many serial limerents come to a point in life where they wish to be able to control, or at least moderate, their core sensitivity to limerence. While not a cure as such, the best strategy I know for managing limerence – and a great deal else – is to live a purposeful life.

That needs some explanation. There are several aspects to what I would call a purposeful life, and they are interconnected. Overall, the idea is that you do not act in an unthinking way. You prioritise long term goals over immediate thrills. You pursue activities because they give you satisfaction, rather than gratification. But the main thing is that you recognise the most powerful choice you can make in life is how you act. Feelings are complex, mercurial things, stimulated by subconscious drives that are hard to untangle, and while they should be acknowledged and respected, it is our actions that define us. Judge others and yourself by your actions, not your feelings or motives.

All very high-falutin’, but what are the requirements for living more purposefully and how can it help with limerence?

1. Self-awareness
The first element is self-awareness, and the key issue is honesty. Be absolutely honest with yourself about who you are and what you are doing, and why. Especially if it is something ignoble. You will never find peace until you understand yourself properly, and are able to transcend the little lies and rationalisations that we all tell ourselves to maintain our self-image. Through adolescence and early adulthood we tend to try on different personas and see how they fit. This is normal and healthy self-exploration, but as adulthood progresses, we need to come to an acceptance of who we are at our core, if we are to live authentic lives. It is OK to not want to go on an overseas adventure to South America because you find it frightening, as long as you are honest with yourself about your reasons (and don’t pretend to yourself that you really are the sort of person who is fine with being in the middle of the Patagonian wilderness without shelter or support, but it’s just not possible at the moment because of job commitments). I don’t subscribe to the “say yes to everything” school of thought. Don’t set yourself goals that are antithetical to your nature because you think you should aspire to them. Home in on your true self, and accept yourself completely, and then you can make informed decisions about when you should do something that is frightening because it is worth doing. There are times when your fears hold you back from self-fulfilment, and there are times when your fears are protecting you from danger. Without self-awareness it is hard to tell the difference.

In terms of limerence, this means being honest about your motives when making decisions about LO. Recognise when you are doing something because it might give you a fix, rather than because it is the right thing to do. Then forgive yourself for being human, but do the right thing, with purpose. The way to get good at this self-analysis is to…

2. Understand your drives
We are all of us a hugely complex milieu of influences. I am not sure we are ever able to fully understand the foundation of our own temperaments and psychological makeup, but there are lessons to be learned from examining our most powerful drives. Even if you never get to the heart of why you have a tendency to self-sabotage, for example, correctly recognising the pattern and then taking purposeful steps to counter the behaviour in future can be transformative.

Sometimes, the origin of these drives can be pretty grim. Disordered bonding in childhood through abuse, neglect or trauma is not going to be properly overcome with a good think. Therapy is a very good idea, but with the usual caveat that finding a good therapist is no small feat. Given the range of lived experiences out there, I’m not going to try and draw universal truths here. I’m going to illustrate the idea with a personal anecdote:

I have only ever become limerent for “damsels in distress”. Specifically, women who are bold and confident on the outside, but hiding an emotional wound within. I don’t fully understand why, but it is probably a combination of cultural conditioning, romantic notions of knights in shining armour, and a mother who was not good at maintaining relationships (including with my father) and had abandonment anxieties. Regardless of the fractional contributions of each influence, I am now very aware of the fact that I am vulnerable to limerence with women that fit this model. Armed with that awareness, I can take positive steps to respond in a more sophisticated way in the future, recognising that my own triggers are being activated, and not that this person before me is a wondrous but broken soul, who doesn’t understand how wonderful she is and needs me to save her.

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See how the wenches applaud!

The same strategy of searching for triggers applies to many other aspects of life: when and why do you start procrastinating? Why can’t you seem to get some jobs finished? Why does that thing that they do (you know, that thing, urgh) irritate you so much? What sends you into a rage, and causes you to pick arguments for their own sake?

Getting a handle on your drives and triggers, even if you don’t fully understand the basis, can allow you to change your behaviour. To act differently. To act purposefully to overcome your vulnerabilities. Then you can choose…

3. What do you want to do?

“We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This is one of my favourite quotes for two reasons: it highlights our tendency to self-aggrandisement, and it (less obviously) highlights the importance of doing over being.

There is a natural tendency to identify ourselves by what we do for a living. “I am a lumberjack”, for example. But linking self-esteem to identity can be destructive. “I am a writer”, is actually quite significantly different from “I write for a living”. Understanding yourself and your drives can lead you through this distinction. If you want to express a new idea, or share your life experience with other people, then you sit down and write. If you want “to be a writer” then you are aspiring to the notion of an imagined identity, with associated cultural and personal expectations. You may shop for the perfect writing desk. You may strategise about the most promising genre for a bestseller. You may get defensive if people ask how the writing is going, because, as you see it, there is an implicit criticism of your identity as a writer by making you confront why you haven’t written anything.

We judge others by what they have done, because that is the only measure that really matters. You may be a wonderful, sensitive, romantic soul, full of ideas and potential (I hope so, because those people are great). However, other people do not have access to that interior world; they can only see what you have done. So, make sure you are doing something that you care about, and enjoy, and do it with purpose.

4. The pursuit of happiness
The final aspect of a purposeful life comes from this last notion: do something that you care about, because it will bring you happiness. Proper happiness. Lasting satisfaction of time well spent, a life lived with purpose, and an ambition fulfilled. Not the transient pleasure of spectacle, or the passive distraction of a listicle (although some aren’t too bad), or the thrill of an illicit high. Happiness comes from self-esteem and self-actualisation, and they come most reliably from concrete achievement.

So, to draw this rather long post to a close: limerence is not a route to a purposeful life. In contrast, living a purposeful life can protect you from unwanted limerence, empower you to act when you become limerent for someone who actually could be a worthy SO, and enable you to direct the energy that limerence can give you towards worthwhile endeavours.

Live purposefully!

Can’t we just be friends?

Is it possible to be friends with your LO? You do, after all, enjoy their company. And they really seem to understand you. And you care about their happiness. Surely those are all important aspects of being a friend?

Well, I’m going to take a hard line on this one. No. It is not possible to be an authentic friend to an LO. It is more feasible to be a friend to a former LO, especially if the limerence was discharged through a sexual relationship and so no hint of frustrated romance remains.

To pick this apart a little, we need to think about what friendship is, and how limerence prohibits the only kind that matters.

I’m going to take the Aristotlean  view of friendship here, and sort friendships into three categories, on the basis of the benefit that we derive from them. They are: friendships based on Utility, Pleasure and Goodness.

 

1. Utility

This can be seen as the “lowest” form of friendship, and centres around the fact that you get mutual benefit from the friendship, at a somewhat transactional level. Examples would be the friend that you can always count on to go clubbing with you when you’re in the mood. Or the friend that is also a big fan of [struggles to think of the name of a currently popular band] and so goes to gigs with you. Or the friend who is really good at IT, or goes for lunch with you because your schedules match. Basically, someone whose company is congenial, but who you only really see in a particular context. This kind of social friendship is a good thing, of course, but not very stable. If your interests change (as they tend to do) the friendship will fizzle out.

Now, you could try and be friends with an LO at this level, but you’d be pretty bad at it. They just want you to sort out the concert tickets, but you want to know Everything About Their Soul.

2. Pleasure

This is a level up from the utility friend, and is someone that you actively seek the company of, because you really enjoy it. The friend that you can chat freely with over coffee. The friend that knows your kids’ names, and commiserates with your bad luck, and who makes you feel good by sharing your triumphs. The majority of friendships probably fall into this camp. People you care about, who often have some shared interests and opinions, and who you can rely on to make you laugh, and who are basically on your side.

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Friends you go beach-jumping with

These are the sort of friends that we spend a lot of time with, but when our opinions or passions change, we start to see less of. When we start getting interested in politics, they tire of our company. When they move away to a new city, we swear we’ll stay in touch, but within a few years even the Christmas cards dry up.

An LO as pleasure friend is a problem, because you’re getting a different quality of pleasure from them than your other friends. They are a drug, and so moderation is tricky. There’s a lack of sincerity about this, because LO wants a coffee and chat, and you want everything. This is the most pernicious category for self-delusion too. “We can just be friends” at this level is an invitation to limbo. You get enough of the dopamine high from their company to keep you craving, but suppress your true feelings for so long that it’s bad for your mental health. You’ll also probably expose yourself to the joy of seeing them partner-up and want to talk about their marvellous new SO. And the SO will see through your pining in a heartbeat. This is not an authentic way to live.

3. Goodness

This is the highest form of friendship, and the Aristotlean ideal. Here, friendship is a proper connection of souls. In Aristotle’s view, true friendship comes from seeking goodness in others, and cultivating it in yourself. Exactly what is meant by “goodness” is a bit elusive, but essentially it signifies moral integrity, personal authenticity and a will to live well. Good friends in this context, seek each others company from a desire to help each other improve as people through mutual respect for one another’s merits. There is generally complete honesty and trust, with the recognition that a betrayal of that trust would be an irrevocable harm to the friendship as it would destroy its foundation. These are the friends that last a lifetime, even through relocations, absences or big changes in life. The great benefit of such a Good friendship is that the other, lesser, forms also come automatically: we tend to gain pleasure and utility from the company of a Good friend, as well as the virtuous uplift of socialising with someone we admire as an individual. To gain the friendship of such a person requires us to live well too.

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Even going beach-jumping together in winter

This kind of friendship requires emotional intimacy. For an LO, even a highly admirable one, this intimacy is likely to heighten the desire for romantic and sexual fulfillment. Where that isn’t an obstacle, then consummation can be added to the friendship, but this person would not be an LO for long; they would become a significant other. For an unavailable LO, this depth of friendship would be near impossible to sustain without the descent into limerent obsession. If the limerent has an SO themselves, that relationship will suffer. A simple way of illuminating this is to think of good friends who are of the opposite gender to your limerent tendencies. A friendship with them is unlikely to destabilise your feelings for SO. A true friend, a good friend, is someone whose time and company you esteem and enjoy, but who does not make you contemplate leaving your SO. It is not realistic that a LO can fulfill that role.

The limerent desire to always drift into deeper intimacy will conflict with the terms of reference for lesser friendships, and lead to personal agony and inauthenticity with a potential good friend. There are many people in the world. We should seek good friends from those that are not LOs.

How to get rid of limerence

For all its promise of ecstasy, limerence can be an oppressive and disruptive force in life. Most often, it is when limerence develops for somebody inappropriate – perhaps the worst being an LO who at some level likes the attention, or doesn’t know how to handle it sensibly, and so gives off mixed signals that keep the limerent in a perpetual state of (reinforcing) uncertainty. I think anyone who has experienced limerence has at some stage wanted to turn it off. So, is that possible? No.

Short post today!

Ha, ha. I am funny.

Given the impossibility of turning off limerence, the next best thing is to develop strategies for hastening its natural demise. Here are four of the best.

1) No contact

The best and tried-and-tested strategy, that merely requires superhuman discipline. No contact with the LO will, inevitably, surely, lead to a fading of the limerence. If nothing else, it does give enough distance for objectivity to reassert itself and allow you to recall LOs obvious unsuitability and negative qualities. Of course, if LO is actually admirable, then this is not so promising. Smart arsery-aside, no contact is a very sensible strategy. Starve the source of limerent reinforcement. View the LO as a danger to your wellbeing, and cut all ties. Avoid their company wherever possible. Absolutely no social media contact. Get into the habit of always choosing the option that diminishes the chance of accidental contact. Absolutely, under no circumstances, allow your limerent brain to persuade you that you have got your feelings under control and you can be friends with LO now. Yeah, friends. No harm in that. Just friends. Who like to play chicken with the cripplingly intrusive thoughts that add so much spice to their life.

Sometimes, no contact is not possible for practical reasons. So next you could try…

2) Aversion conditioning

The goal here is tricking your brain into devaluing the LO. It’s not a noble strategy this, but it can be effective. When in the company of LO, instead of reflecting on how lovely it is the way their chin has an adorable chubby crease as it merges with their oh-so-kissable neck, find a flaw and fixate on it. Your luck’s in if they have wonky teeth, or a prominent spot, or a receding hairline. The basic goal is to counter your traitor brain’s attempts to idealise the LO by feeding it negative data.

Appearance may not be the best approach here, as it is, after all, still their body and therefore hugely desirable by definition. More potent can be the memory of past shame. An inevitable aspect of limerence is some encounter with LO – perhaps where your flirting was a bit clumsy or LO was in a bad mood – when you were hoping for a bit of sparkle, but instead got the horrible stomach-lurching rejection (or at least, obvious failure to reciprocate). I’m good at shame. I do shame well. If you do too, use this as fuel. Next time you are chatting with LO, and feeling all happy and chilled, REMEMBER THE SHAME. Remember that feeling of being foolish and ridiculous and rejected and wallow in it. Let it seep into you while LO is telling you all about the problems they are having with their SO (that you could obviously save them from). Make the shame taint every good experience with the LO. No mercy.

A particularly effective strategy for me was vividly imaging my wife sitting on a chair in the corner of the room. Try flirting through that.

3) Transference

Assuming avoidance and aversion haven’t worked, your next hope is transference. You need a new LO. One who is suitable, or at least less toxic. If you have a SO, try and reconnect with them. Suggest new adventures. Get out of the ordinary routine. If you are keeping the limerence from them, this might be difficult to explain, but damn it, give it a try. If you don’t have an SO, then the world is your oyster. That limerence is a huge pent-up mass of romantic power. Unleash it on a worthy recipient. Cast around for someone else who gives you the glimmer, and seek their company at the expense of LO.

A possible byproduct of this, of course, is that LO may notice, and then get jealous, and finally see your value and then… oh, God damn it limerence, you monster!

4) Disclosure

Your last option is disclosure. Tell LO, straight to their face.

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AKA the nuclear option*

This will work, assuming that your LO isn’t a manipulative piece of shit. Disclose to them how strong your feelings are, that you don’t want to just be friends with them, that you want a romantic relationship, and that you hope that they feel the same way too. Really make it impossible for them to feign misunderstanding or confusion. If they laugh and change the subject, change it right back.

This might seem catastrophic. You will ruin a beautiful friendship. But be honest with yourself: it isn’t beautiful. Or a friendship. And after you’ve been honest with yourself, be honest with them. If they feel the same way about you, then you have got your heart’s desire. If they do not, then the uncertainty that is the essence of limerence is ended. They will probably now avoid your company, helpfully precipitating the no contact strategy. You will know that you can never pretend that you are just enjoying their company as a friend, and maybe one day their feelings may deepen…etc. It might hurt like a bastard at the time, but it’s a good strategy for living an authentic life to directly tell people that you care about, how you actually feel.

There are occasions where disclosure is not appropriate, of course. If they or you have a SO, and you do not want those relationships to end (side note: if you do want those relationships to end, then end them before you disclose. Nobody said being a decent human being was safe and easy). If they are vulnerable, and there is a power imbalance of some sort (professional being the most obvious). Finally, if you do disclose, and the LO evades the issue, makes light of it, or gives you a vague or non-committal response, you are probably limerent for someone who is going to make your life a misery of indecision and insecurity. You are better off without them. Seriously. Go back to strategy 1, and repeat until you win.

 

*Yes, I know it’s a volcano.