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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.