When not to disclose

The previous post covered the benefits of disclosing your feelings to your LO, and when it may be a worthwhile thing to do. Disclosure is never a simple choice, of course, and can lead to more uncertainty if LO responds in an unpredictable way. Ironically, when not to disclose is usually more clear-cut.

By far the simplest indicator of when not to disclose is: when you really want to but know you shouldn’t.

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Argh! Dazzled by the blinding insight!

Now I may be a hopeless optimist about this, but I think most people have a good moral sense and know when they shouldn’t do something because it’s Wrong. I’m not a Pollyanna – I know that most people are also often lazy and selfish and thoughtless, but I don’t think they want to be those things. If you asked them they wouldn’t say “Yeah, I don’t much care about being decent, I like being feckless and weak willed.” It’s just that they can’t always muster the moral fibre to do the right thing. So, people are often not good, but they basically want to be.

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I should compile this stuff into a little book of bedside aphorisms or something

Given that shaky philosophical foundation, let’s look at some scenarios where a struggling limerent may need some help bolstering their resolve to hold their feelings in till they can master them.

1) Either one of you is committed to someone else. 

The obvious case. Yes, your feelings are strong and you are bursting to share them, but think about the impact on other people. While they remain in your head, those thoughts and fantasies are yours alone. Once they are spoken and out in the world, you have taken a positive action that compromises other relationships. There may be circumstances that we can dream up where that might be an ethically defensible act, but most of the time it is a selfish need for validation by LO at the expense of your integrity. Your decision to share intimate emotional secrets with LO is an act that makes them complicit in the deceit of either their SO, your SO, or both. If there are kids involved, then the repercussions really ripple out. Families have generational feuds over this stuff.

All that moralising is predictable enough, but really, deeply thinking about the consequences of intimate betrayal is a good way to help strengthen your nerve. LO now knows something fundamentally important about you that your SO doesn’t. How happy would you be with that asymmetry if you discovered it about yourself? Another important note is that the attempt to forge a closer bond to LO can backfire, and backfire badly. They tell their SO, or your SO. They tell their friends. You have no control over the information once it is out in the world, nor should you expect it. You have imposed yourself into other lives; consequences follow that decision.

2) You have authority over LO

The next obvious case is that in some manner, professional or otherwise, you have authority over LO, or there is a power imbalance that means you are disclosing to someone who is either dependent on you or subordinate to you. I’ve mithered before about workplace limerence, and it’s complicated stuff (power imbalances can vary or flip or have little real bearing on professional life), but it may be a situation where the precautionary principle is well applied. If someone works for you and you disclose to them, you put them in a very difficult position – regardless of how they feel about you. Admittedly, reciprocated limerence is a problem that you can probably manage to solve, but what happens once the limerence fades, as it always does? And you never know whether it will be reciprocated before you take the chance.

If it isn’t reciprocated, how is an employee supposed to navigate the nested difficulties of letting you know they are not interested romantically, but want your good opinion professionally, and need to work closely with you but not give you false hope, and are thinking about the reference they will get if they want to leave, etc. etc.?

Of course, if disclosure goes badly, the backfiring at work is a whole other level of fallout. They accuse you of harassment. They tell HR. They ask to be transferred. You have to explain yourself to your boss. Everyone else who works for you loses respect for you. Repercussions pile high.

Another level of complication is educational scenarios – teacher/student or tutor/tutee. If your LO is younger than 18 (or the agreed threshold for adulthood in your country) then suck it up and shut your mouth. No good will come of it – that should be obvious. For older students, the same principles apply as for the workplace, but more so. You have a position that grants you status as a source of wisdom and support. Abuse that at your peril. It’s hard to see any circumstance under which disclosing to a student is a good idea. Keep your feelings in. They will leave in a matter of a few years, so if you are truly enraptured, wait till then.

3) You think LO doesn’t reciprocate, but need to keep working with them

In another scenario, LO is a coworker, but not an obvious boss or subordinate, what then? Assuming your workplace doesn’t have specific policies about relationships you are free in principle to approach them. Here again, I would caution against disclosure unless you are very confident that LO reciprocates – and the false confidence of limerence doesn’t count. And you certainly shouldn’t disclose your limerence. You will have to work with LO in the future, and it will be a lot easier if you are discreet in determining whether they are interested. A compliment and a request for a date would be fine, disclosure that you spend all day obsessively thinking about them is going to make everyday life very uncomfortable for you both if LO is not interested.

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Not to mention the next office “away day”

4) You have disclosed previously

You disclosed before and LO um-ed and ah-ed and said “can’t we still be friends?” or “I have strong feelings for you too, but it’s complicated for me at the moment,” or other such non-committal flannel. There’s no point disclosing again. In fact, why are you still hanging around them? Run away! Save yourself!

 

Why not disclosing is hard

Given how easy it is to list the reasons why you shouldn’t disclose, it does rather beg the question why is it so hard not to? Surely any limerent with half a brain could see it’s madness under these circumstances? Certainly, any SO will see with crystal clarity how straightforward the decision is. Shut up, get away from LO, and focus on the primary relationship that you’re jeopardising!

I’ve spent paragraphs listing all the reasons why a limerent should restrain themselves, but limerence, though, eh? It’s not associated with clear thinking. It’s tough to think clearly when all your cognitive power is occupied with trying to come up with rationalisations for why you should be getting your next fix. The desire to disclose can be overpowering. You want them to know how wonderful you think they are. You think they might know, and might feel the same about you, but how can you be sure? High on dopamine and overconfidence, you want to share the giddy feelings of connection with them, to get closer by shared intimacy. And what could be more intimate that a confession of deep feelings? The boring real world fades away in the moment of connection. Surely it’s safe to disclose here in this mind-bubble that the two of you are sharing?

Yeah, it’s not. All the responsibilities you have taken on still count, even if you are high. The cold, hard truth about limerence is that it happens in your head, and is largely independent of external reality. A good mantra to repeat to yourself when you are tempted to disclose is “I have no idea how LO will react”. Because you don’t. You’re handing someone a life-grenade because you think that they are amazingly special and will appreciate the gift you are giving them. Some LOs will look at your gift, pull the pin and blow you up.

And you can’t complain because you gave them the bomb.

10 thoughts on “When not to disclose

  1. Thank you. This post is perfectly timed for me. Only one working day left of avoiding disclosing. Just keep focusing on reasons 1 & 3.
    This time next week no contact starts!
    I’m not sure if I’m distraught or relieved.

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  2. Wonderful post. I have come to believe that it may be wiser not to assume people in general have a good moral compass. When this person in authority, who fits the description of both points 1 and 2, disclosed to me without any regard for consequence, I realised (a little late) that some people, despite appearance, are basically selfishly manipulative for their own gain. Limerence on their part, whether real or fabricated, should always be seen as a huge excuse with a hidden motive of creating a hook for an elicit affair. It can be dangerously contagious, especially for one who is vulnerable. It is definitely not about love, even when they say they are in love with you. Do not be fooled. It is good to know the circumstances under which disclosing is unethical, no matter how infatuated one feels. It is important for those on the receiving end of such disclosures to protect and disentangle themselves. Never compromise your own integrity.

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  3. “LO now knows something fundamentally important about you that your SO doesn’t. How happy would you be with that asymmetry if you discovered it about yourself?”

    As LO #4 so eloquently put it in her goodbye, “Also, I’ve been trying to put myself in your wife’s shoes. How would you feel if she was corresponding with a man she was attracted to in the same capacity that you write to me? If you have to hide our correspondence from your wife, it’s not good…I hope you can understand my position.”

    While I thought “capacity” was an odd way to phrase it. I couldn’t argue with the intent. I took some exception to “…that you write to me.” If my wife had seen some of the emails LO #4 had sent sans my response, I don’t think mine would have been the only corpse on the floor. But, there was no point in challenging that. She was giving me a way out and I took it.

    As goodbyes go, LO #4’s probably ranks as the second best I’ve gotten from a woman. She was far more gracious than the “Buzz off , creep!” that she could have said. In the end, if we weren’t on the same page, we were pretty close and that was good enough for me.

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    • “If my wife had seen some of the emails LO #4 had sent sans my response, I don’t think mine would have been the only corpse on the floor.”

      Was LO #4 married too? If not, then really the only person to hold responsible for investigating or pursuing an undisclosed life outside of the marriage is you. Was there a Mr. LO #4 who could have chosen to leave their marriage for real?

      Not that it is any of my business, of course. Wondering aloud.

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  4. I take responsibility for my actions .

    By my statement, I meant that LO #4 said enough that I think my wife would have seen it as poaching. I can easily my wife asking LO #4, “Of all the shoulders in the world you could be crying on, why are you crying on my husband’s?” LO #4 could be right in that she didn’t have any idea of my being attracted to her but she can’t possibly claim she didn’t know how intimate some of the things we were sharing was. My wife was aware of my acquaintance with LO #4 but not the extent of it.

    When we started down the path, she was living with her boyfriend. I could tell she was unhappy but she never said anything. She asked me, “What do I telegraph to you? ” Her relationship collapsed when she caught him cheating on her and he allegedly assaulted her. She reached out to me and the limerence went into overdrive. When they were still together, I doubt that he would have been any happier to see the emails she was sending than my wife would be to have seen mine.

    I asked her for her address so I could send her a birthday card. She had me send it via her mother’s address. It neatly would bypass the question of “Who’s XXX?” if he got the mail that day. In the 5 years we’d know each other online, we never once broached the idea of actually talking to each other. My take on that was that was a boundary neither of us was willing to cross. After 3 months of no contact, she started corresponding again. We went a few rounds over that subject. She knew she was dealing with a married man and and it appeared she didn’t care.

    Less than a week after I told a mutual acquaintance I was detaching from the site we were all on, LO #4 sent me a Facebook friend request. She was actively trying to maintain the connection and I was willing to let her. We were never able to establish appropriate boundaries after that.

    I made an attempt to reset the boundaries on New Year’s Eve day, 2015, and she said goodbye on New Year’s Day 2016. 6 months later I was in front of a therapist to begin sorting it all out.

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    • My, she (LO #4) wasn’t being fair to anyone in her orbit. Glad it came to an end & I hope life continues to treat you and your family kindly.

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  5. Scharnhorst’s experience with LO #4 makes me wonder: ismate-poaching concomitant with the limerence spectrum? Is it more frequently seen with participating LO’s and the person experiencing limerence?

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    • Good question. I think many (perhaps even most) serious episodes of limerence evolve from a mutual “dance”. It could be that limerents are misinterpreting neutral/friendly signs from LO, but oftentimes it’s mutual culpability.

      Like Sharnhorst’s LO, mine most definitely pushed boundaries repeatedly, knowing full well I was married. But then, she would panic and withdraw and act as though any previous questionable behaviour was my misunderstanding. I quickly realised that ultimately her behaviour was irrelevant – I was responsible for mine and that was all that mattered in terms of my marriage. That clarified things.

      In terms of mate poaching – I think there are definitely LOs out there that delight at having an emotional hold over someone else’s partner; that delight in being LOs. I’m also sure that there are limerents that focus on married LOs. Every pathology is represented somewhere 🙂

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