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.

10 thoughts on “Can’t we just be friends?

  1. I don’t even know where to begin asking with questions, but I am thankful for reading this. It gave me the courage to cut of contact with my best friend, my LO, my fantasy, my dream. She doesn’t know why, but even if she did — it more than likely wouldn’t hurt her in the same way it does me. I’ll miss her for the rest of my life — but I understand it’s not even “her” I will be missing …

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    • Thanks for your comment gigi. Losing the company of good people is one of the hardest aspects of limerence in my opinion, but recognising that friendship just isn’t feasible is a really important part of the self-awareness that’s needed to live with it.

      Great that you know it isn’t “her” – your fantasies and dreams come from within you, and I wish you the best of luck in finding the right person to help you fulfill them.

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  2. Okay, old article, but I’ll leave a comment anyway.
    I have a close friend. We love each other, we support one another, and we miss one another when apart for a long time.

    Throughout our friendship, on and off, I’ve experienced what might be called limerent feelings for her, but I recognize that I’m not really in love with her and that these intrusive thoughts are not of my own will. I’ve never seen our friendship as a pathway to something more – I’ve only felt, at times, intense sadness that it isn’t something more. I have no hope that we’ll one day be romantic partners. I cannot see it in reality, and more importantly I DO NOT WANT IT. I don’t look at her as an LO – she’s my friend whose wellbeing I care about. We’ve gone through a lot together and have a very positive bond.

    There’s just this burden every time I talk to her one-on-one. One voice telling me “She MUST be the love of your life!” and another voice saying, “Leave me alone, let me have this friendship.” She’s had a troubled romantic history (which I’ve witnessed) and I don’t want to be another guy who wants something from her.

    I feel like this is something that, if I address it with her, can be better dealt with. I have no expectation of a romantic relationship, I take ownership of my feelings, I respect her feelings as well and the decisions she may make moving forward about what kind of friendship she wants to have, if any, after I tell the truth about what’s going on with me and what I need.

    At this point, the limerence is a dead limb that needs to be amputated for the body to heal. Yet you seem to be saying that the so-called LO is the dead limb that needs cutting? Forgive me, but cutting off contact with my friend doesn’t sound like it’ll fix anything. If anything, it sounds like running away.

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    • Hi Mitchell,

      Thanks for the comment. It’s true that there is potentially a lot to lose in ending a friendship with a good LO. I’m not trying to suggest that you should cut off LO like a gangrenous limb, or that there is no value in friendship with an LO. My main point is well illustrated by your story: if you choose to try and maintain a friendship with an LO you have to accept that it means a prolonged period of carrying an emotional burden, internal conflict about what you want out of the relationship, and the need to hide a very significant part of your emotional life from LO.

      I can understand why someone would choose to make that sacrifice for an LO who was a very important friend. Genuinely. But, I would also urge anyone in this situation to think very deeply about the psychological costs of trying to deny their feelings to preserve a friendship that has become mixed up in a very powerful brew of longing and heartache. Unfortunately, limerence inevitably forces a degree of insincerity into the friendship.

      So, on your final point, I agree that disclosing to “amputate the limerence” may be a good strategy. It’s uncertainty that keeps us in limerence purgatory. Really, the choice is how we act to remove that uncertainty: disclose, or go no contact. Either is feasible, but disclosure is less predictable.

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      • Disclosure of feelings is not actually a cure for limerence. I myself have just gotten myself out of a limerent obsession, before I even knew what limerence is.

        I disclosed to LO that I had feelings of an unknown nature 11 months ago, and that my feelings for her were indeed love 10 months ago. I spent the last 10 months in a limerent friendship, deluded that my LO would over time feel the same way in return, when she got over the hurt and betrayal of her past relationships.

        I did not come to terms with her inability to commit to a relationship until after I went No Contact a month ago for my own mental health.

        I sent a message explaining that I wanted something she didn’t want to provide, and that she wanted something I couldn’t sustain any longer. I wanted more, and she was worried that by being more, she was going to lose the closeness of our friendship if it went wrong.

        When the breaking point came, I simply messaged her saying ‘You want a brother, I want a girlfriend. I can’t see how this works without either of us getting even more hurt.’

        A short conversation basically discussing hurting each other as little as possible later, we weren’t friends any more. I messaged her sister to get her to be there for her, then I said goodbye and though I haven’t really stopped looking backwards, I haven’t stopped myself moving on with my life. I have come close a few times, but my friends kept me from contacting her long enough for me to realise for myself it’s not a good idea.

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      • “Disclosure of feelings is not actually a cure for limerence. I myself have just gotten myself out of a limerent obsession, before I even knew what limerence is.”

        I agree that disclosure is not necessarily a cure for limerence, but it can put one on the right path. Certainly with two people who are available, disclosure puts the cards on the table. Of course, there can be collateral damage due to having mutual friends, social media, etc. Now, certain LOs can string someone along after disclosure, because the LO doesn’t want to lose the attention. But an unattached person can move on, in time, to another person.

        “I sent a message explaining that I wanted something she didn’t want to provide, and that she wanted something I couldn’t sustain any longer.”

        Disclosure between my LO and I sent us into an EA, though we both have families. After she (not clearly) ended the EA, my limerence became quite terrible, as I tried to remain intimate friends with her because my attachment to her was unbreakable and unbearable. Countless wasted hours ruminating and eventually a solid attempt (online) to figure out what was happening to me, and finding this site. We were still quite attached to one another into July. It has since become a situation where she cannot provide me the same access I had to her, which in turn has me concluding that No Contact is the only answer for me. I cannot be “just friends” like anybody else with her. I don’t really “want” this, but I have known for a while that this is what needs to happen.

        Maybe drlimerence can write an article about limerence by Generation (baby boomer, millennial, X, etc.)? Though that seems like quite an inexact science. Maybe it’s more about how each Generation, in general, communicates with one another, or just simply a different distribution of LO-types by Generation.

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    • Mitchell,

      I completely agree. After reading your story, I’m glad to see I’m not alone. I too have a close friend as a LO, and have learned to logically process the emotions rather than be controlled by them.

      I met her over 14 years ago (she was my boss), and after several years of watching guys lose their minds over her, I swore to myself I wouldn’t be like the rest. Fast forward to about 4 years ago, and after watching her go through a few flings and a failed marriage, I finally fell limerent.

      I had developed a fondness of her within about 5-6 years of meeting, but her marriage (in yr 6) kept me correct. I didn’t become limerent until after her separation, which led to over a year of us hanging out multiple times a week (dinner, drinks, tv on her couch, etc.).

      One day (I can still recall the moment) I finally said to hell with avoiding the feelings, and within 6 months of falling, I confessed to her in detail how I felt. The interesting part is that although I confessed, I never went for it or really requested anything from her (such as a decision). She’s also never told me that I didn’t have a chance, nor rejected me.

      Since then, we’ve hung out quite a bit, and have gone on several trips together, including a year ago which was the last time I saw her. That day was actually her birthday, and I woke up in bed with her to a sweet “Good morning”. (Talk about a head rush, yet to this day I’ve never touched nor kissed her.) The following day I moved away.

      It’s eerie how closely we’re connected. We message eachother weeks-to-months apart, often exactly as one of us is thinking about the other.

      I replied because you are correct. Severing a close, intimate friend is not worth it sometimes, so long as you acknowledge that what you’re feeling is involuntary and logically you can wade through the emotional tides.

      I intentionally put myself as close to the fire as possible, to test my resolve. I’ve learned a lot about myself and people, from our friendship.

      With her, I know that what I once wanted would never work out. She’s not what I want in a SO. She’s almost 15 years older, and despite our incredible friendship, she isn’t capable of the love that I require in a committed relationship. It took years and logic to see this.

      When we sync up and hang out though, it’s still a rush that I can’t compare to anything else. While, at one point it did cause great suffering, now I just feel fortunate to get to experience such a strong emotion that the majority of people will never understand.

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  3. I’m happy to have found this site and this particular post. I do have a question. But first, my situation.
    My limerence has been one of many years. A decade to be precise. At first, it was a simple obsession with someone who didn’t speak my language. This has motivated me to learn that language. I have once quoted to my friend (before I know the term limerence) “The motivation that comes from these attractions are far bigger than ones that I can conjure up myself” I see how sad this is now.
    After being able to speak with a mutual language we had a couple of dates. Holding her hands was by far the highlight of my life at that point. But she went quiet and I went into hell. I have told her from the start and she knew as well about my limerance. I left the country and did No Contact for about a year. But she was still on my mind.
    After, we slowly went back into a friendship. Myself knowing full well that I was still in limerance, I hoped and tried hard to be just a friend. To my surprise, we did have two sexual evenings after that. But after that, we still were just friends. For the past 3 years since those nights of heavenly pleasure, of tasting the forbidden fruit, we’ve gotten to be close friends. Goodness friends. But my emotions would boil up more often than not and would end up in pain from my side or hers.

    Trying hard to keep this LO, who is a good one, who cares for me, got to know me almost better than myself, has coached me and guided me and supported me many many ways, I decided last month to work on my limerence for both our sakes. I told her I needed to No Contact.

    My question now is, (although I’m not out of my limerance yet) once I have stepped out of this mindset, oh do I long for the moment I look back and laugh at my obsession, can we be friends? Can we be brother/sister as we were for so long, even though it was hard as hell?
    To lose this person from my life feels like, at the moment, a huge loss, a handicap almost.

    Many thanks in advance

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    • What do you want out of life? If it works for both of you, go for it. It works for some people but not for others. I have a co-worker who has been in a similar relationship for decades. They’ll never be free of each other but they’ll never seal the deal ever. She married and divorced but their attachment never wavered. There’s a thesis worth of material in their story.

      If either of you want something more from life, it’s going to take one very understanding partner to enter into a relationship that will likely always be a triangle. It sounds like there will always be a level of intimacy between you and your LO that might be difficult for another person to accept. People on the third side of the triangle usually don’t like it.

      Your LO was a part of your life and you’d like that to continue. That’s legitimate. A potential SO may not like sharing you with another woman on that level. That’s also legitimate. You may find someone who’s ok with it, Just remember to afford her the same courtesy. Would you be comfortable with your SO maintaining that close a relationship with someone she slept with?

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    • Hi Hus Amer,

      It is going to be a huge loss. No denying it. The question is whether that sacrifice will allow you to live a more fulfilled and more worthwhile life. Only you can really answer that one.

      My observations on the situation you describe: you have disclosed your limerence, you have had a sexual relationship, and you have been in a close friendship with your LO for many years now. Those are all circumstances that could have resolved the limerence, but you are still limerent, and still idealising her, and wanting a full romantic relationship with her. It’s hard to see how you could ever reach the point of not having those feelings for her by carrying on as you are.

      Another observation is that this is quite unusual behaviour on her part. Most people are uncomfortable with an asymmetry this big in their friendships. You have been upfront about your feelings, but you say almost nothing about her response. I wonder if that means that she will not express her feelings for you clearly, leaving you in (limerence-reinforcing) uncertainty. Why would she want to keep a love-struck friend so close, without committing to a romantic relationship? What is she getting from this?

      These are all questions you need to ask yourself, but the big one is “what do I want from my life?” If you want romantic love and lasting commitment with a partner, then you are much likelier to find that with someone else. And as Sharnhorst points out, that someone else is unlikely to be well disposed to your LO still being in your life.

      These are tough decisions, but as I said at the outset of the post, I just don’t think it is possible to be friends with someone that we are actively limerent for. I’m also sceptical that the limerence would ever go away just by waiting and hoping. But the good news is: you get to choose what your future will bring.

      I wish you luck, and emotional fortitude!

      Like

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