Who is to blame for limerence?

A common feature of limerence for many people is a feeling that your ordinary life has been struck by a powerful external force that has changed your perceptions, your priorities, and your ability to regulate your own emotions. There are lots of fairy tale representations of this phenomenon – Cupid’s arrow, potions of enchantment, True Love – that help to cement the idea of a magical or spiritual driving force for infatuation with a particular person.

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Chubby little troublemaker

A key realisation for managing limerence, is recognising that this sense of an “external force” is an illusion. Even once you accept the reality that limerence arises from within you, and that you are providing the fertile soil of imagination in which it grows, it can still be hard to fully shake off this idea. Frankly, in many cases, LO can reinforce your sense of special connection by encouraging emotional intimacy, or radiating an aura of attractiveness that seems uncanny. Despite wanting to resist, limerents find themselves baffled by their own helplessness when LO turns on the charm and makes them dance as though bewitched.

So, how much blame must LO’s bear for the development of limerence? Should flirts bear some responsibility for misleading hapless limerents? Is there some truth to the idea that limerents are powerless to resist a predatory LO’s powers of enchantment? Just how culpable are LOs in feeding the mania?

Let’s work through some case studies to figure this out.

1) The unknowing LO

One of the most powerful counter-arguments to the idea that LO bears some blame for the emergence of limerence, is the existence of oblivious LOs. A good example is discussed (at possibly a little too much length, if I’m honest) in Tennov’s book. It involves a young man, Fred, who was studying abroad in France for a short period, and became limerent for Laura, the receptionist of the hostel in which he was staying. It is clear from Fred’s diary entries that the “relationship” between them was superficial, business-like, and (as he knew himself in lucid moments) nothing more than the friendly acquaintance that would be expected for someone in Laura’s position.

This case is a clear cut example of Laura becoming an LO simply because she was there. Fred “needed” a limerence experience for some reason of his own, and it grew from an entirely one-sided fantasy played out in his head. His only explanation for the triggering of limerence was a moment of chance closeness (when helping her deal with an overfed fire), followed by a glance when paying his bill:

It was the way she looked at me that did it

Really, Laura did nothing to encourage him – and a fair amount to discourage him – and yet he succumbed to limerence regardless. In this sort of scenario, it is hard to think of anything that the LO could be blamed for.

2) The narcissist LO

At the other end of the scale, we have the narcissist LO. They see the limerent as a source of narcissistic supply, and delight in keeping them hanging on, validating their own wonderfulness. In these cases there seems plenty of blame for the LO; they may even have initiated the initial glimmer, fanned it into a flame, and then cultivated an attachment on their own terms. Even worse, because these LOs are not emotionally invested themselves, they can run hot and cold with the limerent, depending on what other entertainment they have in their lives. If they are bored, their pet limerent will be stroked and cajoled and given attention. If they have spied another shiny object they want, then the limerent is an irritation and treated disdainfully or ignored. This feeds the uncertainty engine of limerence.

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Uh huh, Uh huh. Look, I’m late for my date. Just tell me again how gorgeous I am.

This is the scenario in which vulnerable limerents can reasonably feel they have been treated unfairly. Once the pattern of behaviour is recognised, however, it is then up to the limerent as to whether they decide to continue the dance.

3) The mutually-limerent LO

This is a tricky one. If both limerents are single, then Happy Days. But if they are not both available, then a mutually destructive spiral of behaviour can unfold where they oscillate between drawing together and then drawing back. It is also likely that the strength of the limerence will vary – both between the two, and over time – and so one can be pulling when the other is pushing, and that unsettles both, and so the unhealthy tug of war continues. In the thick of an episode like this, the idea of apportioning blame is a bit redundant: both participants are both instigator and sufferer, and whoever is most blameworthy can vary day by day.

4) The ambivalent LO

The preceding extreme cases are easy to understand and mentally organise. However, to judge from my inbox, far commoner is a situation where the LO is ambivalent, or hard to “read”, or non-committal in one way or another. Here we are on more middling ground. Sometimes, the limerent feels encouraged by something LO says or does:

he always kisses me goodbye, and holds on tight

she says that I understand her better than any other man she has ever known

But sometimes they are discouraged:

he says that it’s complicated at the moment, and he’s sorry if he led me on

she gave me a hug, but whispered ‘you should stay away from me’ in my ear

It often seems as though the LO values the company of the limerent, and seeks their emotional support. Perhaps they are flattered by the attention, but not interested romantically. Perhaps they are non-limerent, and so operating from a completely different set of assumptions about what friendship and love are like. Perhaps they are embarrassed by the attention, but also very shy or tender-hearted and can’t bear the thought of hurting the limerent’s feelings by rejecting them bluntly. Perhaps they just want to be friends and are irritated by the limerent’s emotional incontinence.

Whatever the real situation, it becomes very difficult to disentangle who said what or did what or led whom on. But ironically, this incredibly common and complicated and confusing situation, clarifies everything.

Yes, LOs may sometimes be “getting something” from the limerent in a way that is selfish and transactional, but here’s the thing: so is the limerent. Without fail – by definition – the limerent is getting an astonishingly powerful emotional high from the company of the LO. And we limerents very often don’t ask nicely, or behave transparently, or admit that our friendship is not really just a friendship to us. We keep going back day after day to get our happy fix. We share intimacies, because it lights up our reward pathways and makes life seem more vital, more colourful and more exhilarating. We hang around waiting for the “I feel safe with you” comments, because of the thrill that gives us.

So, ultimately it comes down to this: we can hardly blame our self-centred or ambivalent LOs for sometimes using us for their own emotional needs, because that’s exactly what we are doing to them. Much healthier than trying to tally blame and convince ourselves that they are more in the wrong than we are, is to focus on what we are doing, what choices we are making, and what we want to do next.  We have to decide who’s in control of our lives.

From the perspective of an unhappy limerent, it doesn’t matter how much to blame LO is: you have to decide if you are going to let it continue. They could be the biggest flirt, or give you more mixed signals than a mis-wired telephone exchange – all you have to decide is do you want to leave them in charge of your fate? Are you willing to subordinate your life to an asymmetrical relationship? Or do you want to take responsibility for your conduct, and accept that they will behave as they choose?

Nobody ever got over limerence by proving to themselves that it was all LO’s fault. Taking charge of yourself is the path to freedom.

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Who is to blame for limerence?

  1. Another really interesting post. Thank you. This blog is so helpful.

    I’ve no idea whether my LO was mutual or ambivalent, but for the sake of the last remaining shreds of my sanity, I’m going with him being ambivalent. He was (note use of past tense – over 3 weeks NC now!) always very friendly to all colleagues and customers and going out of his way to help someone was not uncommon, so I had convinced myself that I was not special to him and it was all in my head.

    If it’s all in my head then only I’m to blame. If it’s only me to blame, then only I can free myself of it. I’m getting there. Just wish my husband didn’t keep randomly asking questions about LO and what the attraction was. I understand why he feels he needs to know, and I do answer as truthfully yet tactfully as I can, but it then seems to trigger the return of some of the limerent fantasies which I know are unhelpful.

    Thank you for your support as well. Made it back from holiday without making any contact with LO or killing anyone so will put that down as a success.

    No luck on the souvenir frogs lips, so chocolate donkey droppings anyone? 😂

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    • Welcome back Sophie, and congrats on both the 3 week NC and the successful non-lethal holiday!

      Chocolate donkey droppings do sound delightful, but I think I will pass, thanks…

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  2. ” Made it back from holiday without making any contact with LO or killing anyone so will put that down as a success.”

    I concur! 3 weeks is a great start and I hope that as time passes not only does he fade but you’re able to find more joy in the life you have.

    ” Just wish my husband didn’t keep randomly asking questions about LO and what the attraction was. I understand why he feels he needs to know, and I do answer as truthfully yet tactfully as I can, but it then seems to trigger the return of some of the limerent fantasies which I know are unhelpful.”

    Speaking from the perspective of the spouse of the limerent, his ego may have taken a mighty wallop and he is now reflecting upon your relationship and wondering if it’s worth continuing. It’s to be expected. He may feel duped, used, shortchanged and possibly lesser-than Mr. Sparkles. Witnessing you moping and mulling over someone outside of the marriage isn’t doing wonders for him either. Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

    To be honest, it’s when a spouse no longer asks and suddenly you realize they aren’t discussing much of anything with you that you need to be worried, rather than relieved.

    “No luck on the souvenir frogs lips, so chocolate donkey droppings anyone?”

    I’ll give them a try. Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?

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  3. As an adult with agency, the limerent is always responsible for their actions.

    What’s common in all the types above is they fit the limerent’s profile and they afford an opportunity to the limerent. Type 1 limerents put the “O” in LO. Someone is an LO by nature of their very existence. I knew a Type 1 limerent in college.

    With LO #4, I got the glimmer pretty early in the acquaintance. I tested the boundary early on. I expected she’d shut me down. Not only did she not shut me down, she responded to what I said. I had the picture in my head of us being on the opposite side of a chain link fence. Maybe this is ego on my part, but I think she was aware that what was going between us was more than superficial. Whether it was a conscious decision or not, it seemed like we had at least an implicit understanding of the boundaries and we respected them.

    When she sent the email that said she’d been assaulted and was ending the relationship, my first thought was, “F–k, I don’t need this.” I’d seen this twice before and I had this feeling things would get worse before they got better. I was in a therapist’s office with the email 2 weeks later because I thought I was overreacting and this shouldn’t be a problem,. The therapist’s response was, “A woman 2000 miles away, whom you’ve never met, sends you this and you’re in my office. Yeah, there’s a problem.” I asked a married co-worker if she’d be concerned if a casual acquaintance of her husband’s had told him that. She said, “Hell, yes, I’d be concerned. She probably shouldn’t be confiding in any man about this but to do it with a married one is really inappropriate. It’s too easy for that to go sideways.” She’s a smart woman.

    A week or two later, she started reaching out to me. I swear I could feel her in the room even though she was 2000 miles away. And, I liked it. There was no fairy tale ending to this. It was only a question of getting out alive while causing the least amount of pain to anybody. I didn’t want to hurt my wife, I didn’t want to hurt LO #4, and, if possible, I didn’t want to hurt myself. If things went south, LO #4 was going under the bus. She’d never know. It wasn’t going to excuse my actions, it might help to mitigate the consequences. I anticipated my wife’s questions and had answers in the can. And, how close it came to going south was my wife picking up my flashing cell phone one morning and putting it down without opening it.

    I thought she’d shut me down after I disclosed. She allowed me the opportunity to return. But the genie was out of the bottle. I pushed her pretty hard on some things. We went back and forth (Type 3). I accused her of having a dismissive style and compared her directly to LO #2. I don’t think she liked that. When she came out of the woodwork after 3 months of NC, I told her I didn’t know what was worse, thinking she ignored me or knowing she didn’t think she could trust me.

    I think there was something more than a “friendly online relationship” but I can’t blame her for what happened.

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  4. Thank you for another insightful post. And thanks for all the contributors for always providing a lot of interesting discussion.

    Heh… emotional incontinence – delightfully apt turn of phrase.

    Like

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