Caring about LO

Limerence is about bonding. There’s plenty of room to discuss whether it’s good or bad bonding, and how it relates to longer-term love, but the central experience of limerence is becoming powerfully emotionally and mentally connected to another person. That has consequences.

As has been argued here before, and in many other places, the best, tried and true tactic for managing limerence is No Contact. This presents a problem, in many cases. First, No Contact may not be practically possible, but to judge from most of the objections raised by struggling limerents, the reasons why it seems emotionally impossible are far more significant.

A common cause (and/or consequence) of limerent bonding is the decision to confide in LO. Many times, LO confides back, and this is what really cements the bonding experience. Sharing intimacies, feeling safe, feeling emotionally “seen” and understood, perhaps for the first time in a long while, leads to strong common feeling. This source of emotional support is not easy to shrug off. If the mutual confidences deepen, the relationship could verge on an emotional affair. Even if that bullet is dodged, the practical reality is often a closer than usual friendship, where you lean on each other for support.

I’ve covered the problem of attempting friendship with LOs before, but in this post, I’d like to look at the consequences of finding yourself in this trap when you come to the realisation that your limerence is out of control and hurting you (and possibly others). When the euphoria fades to addictive dependency, and you want to make it stop, but are entangled in a habit of spending intimate time with LO, what do you do?

One big sticking point is that the bonded limerent doesn’t want to hurt LO. They are your friend. You have bonded with them, however ill-advised you now realise that was. You care about them, and want to continue to provide support for them and (if honest) receive support from them. Severing a bond is painful. Going No Contact seems a drastic, even callous act. How would any friend react to being cut off cold?

A thorny problem. Here are some thoughts.

 

1) Beware the self-serving justification

How dependent on your friendship are they really? I mean, I’m sure you’re great and all, but is it maybe possible that you are resisting withdrawing from the friendship for less noble reasons?

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So cynical!

Many people are bad at saying “No”. The social stigma of being seen to be rude, or upsetting people, or generally having to uncomfortably explain why your behaviour has changed, is surprisingly psychologically powerful for people who are used to keeping others happy. Speaking as an Englishman, I can attest to how spectacular an impact the force of social embarrassment can have on life. Our proud nation has made dozens of sitcoms and weepy romantic films and books from the premise. The Remains of the Day is not intended as a “how to” manual for life. If you’re going to live purposefully (highly recommended), then the marginal discomfort of confounding others’ expectations with uncharacteristically assertive behaviour is well worth overcoming.

Of course, the other possibility is that you might, just maybe, be clinging to the responsibility to stay committed to the friendship, because of some other benefit that you might be deriving. Some sort of emotional reward that you might not want to give up.

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My isn’t it roomy in here?

Don’t make junkie rationalisations. They’ll keep you trapped.

2) Consider the need for self-preservation

In moments of clarity, limerents know that they cannot be sure that they will act as they should when in the presence of LO, because limerence is a bastard. Deciding to continue a friendship for reasons of misguided loyalty, or embarrassment at looking bad, or any other reason, frankly, could be seen as an act of self-sacrifice.

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In the kamikaze sense

Yes, it will probably hurt LO that you are no longer as available to them, but will it hurt them as badly as the limerence is currently hurting you? Will their life be as badly disrupted and derailed by your quiet withdrawal from it, as your life is disrupted by the suffocating uncertainty of limerence?

It’s fine to protect yourself from harm, even if the harm is being caused by an unwitting friend.

3) Staged withdrawal is possible

Cold turkey No Contact is a dramatic step. It may well be necessary – especially if your LO is manipulative or shows signs of wanting to keep you hanging on for their own gratification. If so, I really wouldn’t worry too much about their feelings, given that they are selfishly disregarding yours. But in the case that your LO is not a git, and is in fact a good friend, then a staged withdrawal is a perfectly sound strategy. In fact, psychologically it has a lot to recommend it. A series of incremental small wins (no texts today, no texts or social media for three days, no contact of any kind for a week) helps to reinforce the formation of a new habit of LO avoidance. Even just steering conversations away from personal topics can start a virtuous cycle. Most decent LOs will notice that you are becoming more emotionally distant, and get the hint that the days of oversharing have passed.

There is no evading the fact that deciding to un-bond from LO is going to hurt, and that the loss of a friendship is hard to bear. It’s perfectly fine to mourn it for a bit, but with the purposeful perspective that while it’s unfortunate that limerence came along and broke up a friendship, sometimes shit happens in life and you just have to accept it and move on. It’s part of who we are as limerents to be vulnerable to the friendship-threatening allure of LOs. Make peace with that, and accept that life will be better for everyone if you part company regretfully, but decisively.

Displacement activities

A question from the postbag:

What I wanted to ask is whether you think other activities might be helpful as a replacement or as some sort of therapy? One therapist suggested to me that perhaps I needed other hormone-high activities — ocean swimming, sky diving, etc — to replace the ‘addiction high’ of the limerence/crushing/obsessive phase.

It’s a good one.

The idea is certainly appealing – work yourself into a “high arousal” state through a new hobby or sport, in order to break the link between excitement and LO, and establish a new hyper-stimulus with an LO-free activity.

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Woop!

I can’t speak from experience on this one. I never attempted thrill-seeking as a strategy to break the limerence.

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Unless you count having an extra scone with afternoon tea

One thing that did help, which is along the same lines in some ways, was to make an effort to have more new and stimulating experiences with my family – to make my life richer by linking newness to my “old” life, rather than letting all the novelty come from LO. Success was mixed.

As the limerence was fading, it worked well. I laid down happy new memories and felt more positive about life (and purposeful). But when the limerence was bad almost all activities were invaded by thoughts of “I wonder if LO would enjoy this,” or “I wonder what LO is doing now”, or “I can’t wait to tell LO about this.” That experience was actually one of the key triggers for me realising that I was out of control and needed to take urgent action to try and stop the limerence. I was tainting quality time with my loved ones.

So my gut feeling is that it’s likely to be complicated. If you have made the purposeful decision to leave LO behind and embark on that new, better life you like the idea of, then it’s a definitely worth a try. However, if you are still in the depths of your limerence, then it may just be more experiences that will become linked in your monomanic obsessive mind with “things you are doing while thinking about LO”.

The instincts of my guts are not always to be trusted, though, so what does everyone else think? Has anyone tried this as a strategy? Help, hindrance or meh?

Enquiring minds want to know…

When LOs return

My LO is coming back.

For professional reasons, we are going to be working on a project together for a few weeks. I thought about declining the job. I also thought about the implications of making professionally reckless decisions on the basis of my own personal hangups. I looked at my responsibilities, and decided on balance to take it on and work together again for mutual benefit.

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It’s safe to ride these things, right?

I then scrutinised myself carefully for rationalisations, and then had a good laugh about how much more seriously I’m taking all this since starting the blog. So, I think I’ll be fine, but shields up just in case.

When LOs come back into our lives unexpectedly, it’s bound to be a challenge. Regular readers will know that I’m very sceptical about the possibility of being friends with an LO. Whatever it is about them that resonates so strongly with you is not going to just conveniently go away. Even No Contact, for all its virtues , is not guaranteed protection against limerence; a remembered encounter, an unexpected dream, a Facebook mugging – all can set you back. So how can you protect yourself when LO bursts back into life? How will I protect myself over the coming month?

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Ready for anything

1) No personal stuff

Friendliness is fine. Friendship is unrealistic. The more you share about your life and your feelings with LO, the more you will strengthen the bond. I don’t mean being a humourless robot, but when the conversation drifts towards personal issues, I’m going to try and artfully steer it away again. A good rule of thumb is that sharing information is fine, sharing feelings is risky.

2) I am not a counsellor

I kind of have this drive to want to help people in emotional distress. I’m probably hiding it well behind this clever disguise of a blog that I’ve been writing all about emotional distress, but, shockingly, I do seem to have the empathy gene. For all its virtues, empathy has its downsides – and is partly rooted in a complicated muddle of selfish and altruistic subconscious urges. Given that, a guiding principle is that any impulse to try and intervene to help LO sort out their emotional problems is to be resisted. Helping people is good, but not at the cost of compromising your own emotional stability.

3) I would like this to end well

For all the difficulties caused by my limerence, and for all the blame that can be shared around generously between LO and me, I would like the whole experience to end well. I still care about LO and her wellbeing, and I wish her a long and happy life. I enjoy her company, and don’t want to see her as an enemy just because I enjoy it a bit too much at times. So, adopting a mindful pose before the next interaction should be to the benefit of everyone involved. No alarms and no surprises.

This cautiously optimistic attitude should be modified for anyone with an actively disruptive LO who is not playing nicely (the narcissists, the predators, the flakes), but for generally well-meaning people I think it’s a realistic goal.

 

So, that’s the plan. I’ll report back in a few weeks on how it’s gone…

Edit: Link to follow up here.