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!

9 thoughts on “The best cure for limerence

  1. “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.” (bonus points if she’s a redhead)

    In my life, I have dealt with 3 of these women with 3 different outcomes.

    #1 – I had 4 yr relationship to the level of a declined marriage proposal. There was a real relationship with a real person that didn’t pan out. (redhead #1)

    #2 – The first woman I seriously pursued after breaking up was also a damsel in distress. However, she made it clear up front she wasn’t interested in me. We were able to craft a friendship for several years after we both got married. I didn’t feel any sense of loss.

    #3 – At the time I met the third woman (redhead #2) on a hobby site, there were some problems in my marriage. Over time, our discussion branched into other areas and I got the damsel in distress vibe from her. I pushed the boundary a little. I expected to get push back from her but I didn’t. I think that was when the LE began. In our later exchanges, she validated the vibe. We ended up parting company. I felt like I’d been dumped by a woman I never actually met.

    The question is have I always been susceptible to limerence but just never encountered the right conditions (i.e. dormant) or is tendency to limerence something that can develop over time?

    I’ve wondered before if my affinity for damsels in distress is like finding out you’re allergic to bee stings. Bees are benign, beneficial to the ecosystem but can kill you if you’re allergic to them.

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    • It’s an interesting question – can you become “sensitized” to limerence? Part of the difficulty I guess is that you have to go through a few episodes of limerence before you start to recognize it as a pattern, rather than the more obvious assumption that the first person you become limerent for must just be really special.

      Like you I’ve only had a few LOs in my life (3 or 4), so it took the last episode for me to really recognize this was a behavioural feature of mine. Others have LOADS of limerent episodes, so I guess they know sooner.

      Another complication is that the strength of limerence can wax and wane with stress or grief or other external factors. Some people report midlife as an especially vulnerable time too. I also wonder if it will dwindle with older age…

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  2. Thank you for writing this! I have found This particular conversation the most beneficial and helpful of all the things I have read about this ” condition” . Thank you for your transparency, I hope you have been reward by the universe!

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  3. Thanks for all of the valuable comments. I am very deep inside my head and obsessing over this woman that I work with. I dream about her all the time. I am married and have not told anyone of my LO. She works in our office only a few hours a week, so I do not get to see much of her. I so want to tell her how I feel about her but am very afraid of hurting anyone, so I just live with the constant heartache and distraction. I have fallen hard for her…I don’t know what I am going to do.

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    • “I am married and have not told anyone of my LO. ”

      Mr. Lee told me about it (last year) and while that wasn’t a moment I care to repeat in our marriage, he told me before it had a chance to get physical, or before he started telling her more about our marriage then he told me, etc.

      There was a recent fumble on our 25th wedding anniversary, but he has since realized how he had fumbled it and has gotten back on track.

      Admittedly, his LO left earlier this year so now she isn’t a physical presence that couldn’t be ignored entirely, so that really helped a lot. Doesn’t mean there are days that are harder than others.

      ” I so want to tell her how I feel about her but am very afraid of hurting anyone”

      If you tell your LO how you feel about her, exactly how will that improve your relationship with your wife? Before you set out to pursue your LO, be a mensch tell your wife first. Otherwise, you may find yourself using your wife. How?

      Predicated on the idea that your marriage is a good marriage with ups, downs, in-laws and never quite enough money – but not perfect, of course.

      “For the limerent, the spouse provides stability, a home life, children (if applicable), history, security, family, community, etc. Meanwhile, the LO offers excitement, emotional escape, sexual intensity (physical or mental flights of fancy and longing) and maybe even a newfound raison d’etre. As such, it is unsurprising that limerents would often prefer (in their dreams) to maintain the status quo, hoping their spouse will make continue to make sacrifices to keep happy while they enjoy the sizzle of the LO.”

      Not telling your wife about this deprives her of free agency. This is a big secret to lug around and she may be laboring under completely different worries. She may have noticed you being a bit ‘distant’ and has chalked it up to work or health worries and is quietly, or not so quietly, picking up steam on other things to give you some down time.

      Embrace the real. If that means separating from and possibly divorcing your wife, or her divorcing you, that is something you should seriously consider doing before disclosing to your LO. After all, your wife deserves the courtesy of being told what is going on. You may be surprised by her response. What if she is also limerent for someone else? Or has been?

      I hope for the best for you and your situation. Don’t drift. Drive.

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    • Your situation sounds very similar to mine (and ironically you have the same first name as my LO!)

      I have fully disclosed to my husband, which was tough – especially on him. He still doesn’t fully understand it. We agreed boundaries regarding contact with LO which I have stuck by. I’ve been seeing a counsellor too – she helped me view it objectively and to try and work out what needed work within myself and my marriage.

      6 months in and with no sign of the limerence fading I’ve handed my notice in at work. I’m hoping no contact will help it fade.

      Good luck to you. Hope things work out as well as possible.

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      • Sophie –

        If Mr. Lee’s experience is typical, not being around LO will help a great deal. They are not in touch via email, telephone, letter, carrier pigeon, etc. She does pop into his head and skew his responses occasionally (25th wedding anniversary!) but since her departure he has decided to face the anxieties that added fuel to his limerence fire. They are now banked rather than blazing.

        I hope that you find a new job soon, limerence doesn’t pop up again, and that you and your husband are able to go forward with renewed energy.

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      • Sophie, it would be helpful to know how that has gone for you.

        I work with a lovely woman, we are both single but I’m 10 years older, and we have several lifestyle differences that would make us an unlikely couple on paper.

        I’ve come to the conclusion that changing jobs is the only way to claim back my sanity (I personally feel I am going insane some days, unable to control the direction of my thoughts which ALWAYS come back to her – much harder sitting 4 feet away from her 5 days a week).

        I am actively looking for another job,

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      • Robert-

        Totally understand how tough that must be – especially 5 days a week (I only worked one day per week)

        If I’m honest, when I have a good shift at my new job, its fine.

        When things don’t go right (like this evening!!) I end up cross with myself for not managing my feelings better so I didn’t have to change jobs and simultaneously wishing LO was there to give me a hug (we got a little too close – if you want the details they are in the comments under “Emotional Affairs”)
        Neither is a particularly helpful response, it is still work in progress nearly 3 months since no contact! It doesn’t help that I have to work at times when I can get childcare, so the new job isn’t something I ever saw myself doing, but it pays the (therapists) bills.

        Good luck with your job search. Really hope things work out for you.

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