Limerence and polyamory

Spin out post from a previous comment thread.

Long time reader, first time commenter, Landry asks:

What I’d like to know is how folks feel about polyamory and why is it that sexual/romantic/emotional exclusivity—however one defines monogamous fidelity—is so important. I know some of DrL’s take on this from an earlier blog entry, that limerents and poly types are a terrible fit. But I’m not sure I agree with that anymore. Now granted, my millenial LO is the one who got me re-considering this concept, got me wondering why I’m holding so fast to my (dated?) dogma about relationships. (OK, my LO and Mira Kirshenbaum and Esther Perel and Brene Brown—whoa, wa-a-a-y too many self-help reads on my night stand these days.) And it’s hard not to wonder how much of all the angst our limerence puts us through could be eliminated if we would just give up these notions about monogamy as the be-all-end-all ideal. Obviously, I’m not talking about single folks who get limerent. But the real heartache seems to come from being married and becoming limerent for someone else. Wouldn’t marriage be a happier state if we could just come clean about our feelings, accept that wanting someone else (at least once in awhile) is normal and OK, address the insecurities that non-monogamy can bring up, and…for heaven’s sake, move through it in grace and mutual compassion. Why exclusivity and mandatory monogamy, anyway?

I’ve previously speculated that polyamory is a non-limerent’s game, but am open to being wrong. The key thing for me is that I can’t imagine being limerent for more than one person at once. So poly limerents would seem to be in a situation characterised by being in a stable relationship with one (or more) significant others, but then becoming limerent for a new person, and then bringing that person into the team (with all the usual assumptions about consent and open communication etc.)

So, the question for the tribe: can limerents be poly? Has anyone ever been limerent for more than one person at once?

Also, a quick note on commenting policy: I’m pretty laissez-faire as I like to learn from everyone, but this is a support site for limerents and people impacted by limerents. Sharing your own experience = great. Bluntly critiquing other people’s conduct = not great.

Let’s keep this constructive and supportive!

21 thoughts on “Limerence and polyamory

  1. I’ll kick the discussion off with an observation: there is a danger that the poly route can be a rationalisation for limerents struggling to reconcile the fact that they are in love with their SO, but also limerent for LO. Trying to square the circle of this apparent contradiction in feelings.

    I guess one way to assess that is to ask “were you interested in poly before LO appeared?” If yes, then maybe you’ve discovered something about yourself. If no, then maybe you are trying to find a way to make conflicting desires work, somehow…?

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  2. I know two poly couplings (couples? meta-couples?). One were originally married (M & P), then a third member (B – a gentleman who was partnered with P) was added until he died. So I think all told the original couple have been married for 45-50 years, P & B were together 30-ish. They had a four bedroom house with three bedrooms in use and the fourth was the office for the one person who worked from home.

    They said it was a lot of work. It was also very sad when B was diagnosed with cancer and was very ill for a very long time. That plus aging parents… No children.

    Another good friend has 3 kids. Divorced from their dad. Now married to a woman (primary partner) and to a man (secondary partner to them both). Again, lots of hard work and communication and trying to make certain everyone gets their needs met without too much jealousy. I figure 3 adults to wrangle 3 kids to 3 different sides of the county with all their activities = WIN! They have said it is a bit tricky to explain to the kids but it’s not as though anyone is groping in the kitchen at breakfast to horrify the children.

    None of them have ever mentioned limerence but as it’s not terribly well known in the community at large, I’m not surprised. Certainly when describing how events unfolded it doesn’t sound as though limerence played a role. Everyone has said it takes a HUGE amount of communication, trust and more communication.

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  3. “Has anyone ever been limerent for more than one person at once?”

    I haven’t. But, when you look at my LE’s, I encountered 3 of the 4 LOs in the span of a decade between 20-30. I encountered the last LO in my 50s.

    There was one time in my life where I was sleeping with 2 women at the same time. I broke up with LO #2 and I started dating another woman. LO #2 came back into the picture and they overlapped for 6-8 weeks, max. I couldn’t handle it. I don’t remember feeling disingenuous to either of them, I just had to pick one.

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  4. This last year have shown to me that I can’t be limerant for more than one person at once. As my current LE with LO2 was really warming up, out of the blue LO1 contacts me. She’s the one that got away, we were together for a year, split up and I got terribly limerant. I turned down other women because I couldn’t bring myself to think of anyone else. It took years for it to die down, but it never went even as I married my SO. We’d very intermittently swapped messages over the years, but it had been a long time when she messaged me. We swapped loads of messages over the course of a few days and my head was full of her. LO2 got bumped out of the picture. Why have the copy when you can have the original (they are very similar, or at least LO2 is just like LO1 at the same age).

    We met up for lunch, had some wine and she confessed that she made a mistake leaving me and regrets it every day. BOOM – what I’d been waiting to hear all these years! Suddenly I was cured of LO1. It was like a switch went off. My mind then reverts back to LO2. Like a video game when you defeat the boss on level 1, and you move to level 2. That’s where I am now, on level 2 figuring out how to quit the game because I think the only way to complete this level is to sleep with LO2 and as we discussed before, that is potential Armageddon for my family.

    Anyway, for me my mind can only cope with one at a time, and I’m trying to make that my SO.

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    • I’ve heard of this “off switch” end to limerence from a few people now, Vincent, and it really interests me. Do you think it was the abrupt removal of uncertainty? It’s strange, because with you being together for a year it seems as though uncertainty should have died earlier. Was she non-committal during that year?

      My limerence episodes have always faded slowly after going NC. I can kind of imagine an LO doing something so objectionable that it kills the limerence dead, but declaring their feelings doesn’t seem as though it would fit the bill!

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      • Yes, I’m sure it was the end of the uncertainty. She finished with me and started seeing someone else and married them. We still saw a lot of each other for the first couple of years and it was clear that we still had feelings for each other although I felt mine were far stronger. This recent episode very clearly showed me I was wrong about that for all these years that I was pining for her, comparing everyone else unfavourably to her. Turns out she’s always felt the same. I guess that was all I needed – blissful closure. Shortlived as it turns out because LO2 then just took over my mind.

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  5. I think the majority of the readers are suffering from Limerence while in a monogamous relationship. It also appears from reading the posts that we ( especially myself) are in a committed relationship physically, and want desperately to be on board mentally, with all the emotions that our limerent brain controls. There was a long, long period that I had that bliss and peace of mind. I want it again.
    I have a suggestion for us faithful Limerents. When you get off the high from the current LO,
    (eventually you will) to prevent a new LO, locate your soft spot and be alert. My SO has been instructed that I’m going to introduce him to any new males (especially if they are charming and kind) in my life within my age group. I don’t find huge age gaps appealing, because it makes me feel old. (ha ha) Must keep humor to survive Limerence!
    Good Luck to you Vincent!

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  6. I have never been limerant for more than one person. A combination of not knowing many potential LOs and not having enough emotional energy!

    I’m trying to refocus on my husband at the moment. Despite the NC LO is still very much in my head. This was not helped by a mutual colleague/friend posting a photo online which included LO and another colleague who was leaving. LO wasn’t tagged so it wasn’t blocked. It’s stupid what can bring things back to me.
    All the more reason to stay off of Facebook!!

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  7. Another thought: given that some people become limerent very easily – i.e. quickly become limerent for lots of LOs – it could be that those people are especially suited to poly lifestyles. Or at least the sort of poly lifestyle where there is a primary partner and a sequence of secondary LOs that hang around for a while.

    In some respects, I can see the argument that it’s responsible/purposeful to arrange for this reality with your partner beforehand – e.g. “I’m likely to get infatuated with other people quite often, and want to be able to act on it”.

    The moral conundrum, of course, is how the primary and secondary partners really feel about the arrangement.

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    • The questions seem to be becoming a little muddled.

      “Has anyone ever been limerent for more than one person at once?”

      The answer from most respondents appears to be “No.” This is consistent with one of Tenov’s criteria for limerence:

      – “Inability to react limerently to more than one person at a time.” – “What is limerence?”

      So far, all the examples listed are between 3 people, a limerent, an LO, and an unknown SO who the limerent doesn’t appear to be in a LE with at the moment. There’s nothing that points to simultaneous LOs in a polyamorous relationship.

      To a serial limerent, polyamory could be a very desirable condition. They get the benefits of consummation with agreeable parties while neatly avoiding any unpleasant ethical, moral, or legal considerations a non-agreeable partner might take into consideration. It may take a lot of work but if everybody buys into it, the dilemmas are avoided.

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      • “So far, all the examples listed are between 3 people, a limerent, an LO, and an unknown SO who the limerent doesn’t appear to be in a LE with at the moment.”

        It’s when the SO also appears to be unknowing is where things get very real.

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  8. “I’m likely to get infatuated with other people quite often, and want to be able to act on it”.

    It seems easier to me to not get married at all. If someone is better suited to a revolving door, or a moveable feast if you prefer, why commit to an individual. It seems a little greedy or something. Unless both parties want it from the beginning.

    Maybe I’m simply getting too tired to be inclined to juggle so many people and their emotions. It sounds like so much work for very little fun. A vibrator is fun & doesn’t need its feelings validated. I don’t want firefly relationships. I like having something with deeper roots and more interconnections.

    But whatever works for others is cool.

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  9. So grateful to be getting some conversation going on this topic of polyamory and limerence! Thanks to everyone for their comments. I’m especially intrigued by DrL’s assertion that perhaps some poly types have a tendency toward low-threshhold limerence. Very interesting… I’m going to ask my poly LO about it. ☺

    For the record, I don’t at all consider myself to be polyamorous and never thought about it at all until I met this young woman—indeed, I fully expect to have my poor limerent heart put through a meat grinder when she moves on, as she inevitably will, to her next amour. And also for the record, I fully recognize that what LO and I have engaged in is not the ethical non-monogamy that true polyamorists practice, but rather straight-up plain ol’ cheating. (Not that I’m proud of it.) As for more than one LO at at time, I spent most of my time in high school and college having multiple simultaneous crushes that I would now call limerent. But none was reciprocated to the point where nucleation occurred, and that point is key. I’m quite confident that one nucleating limerence is all I could handle at a time. Like several here have said, Who has that much time or energy? Plus these days, I don’t meet enough limerence prospects.

    That said, I’m not sold on the romantic concept of there being only one “the one” out there for each of us, certainly not for one’s entire life. Serial monogamy has been my experience, with my current relationship (ie, my marriage) lasting some 18 years now. (And I was limerent for her before we got together.) While I’ve had the occasional fleeting attraction now and again since getting married at 36, I only experienced limerence once 10 years ago (at 43) and then just this past fall. In the first case, I did disclose my feelings to my wife (although at that time I had never heard of the term “limerence”) and, believe it or not, we agreed to each of us having an affair. To keep things fair and equal, I suppose, although she was not limerent for her lover. We all survived the experience, though it was not easy. (I would call that an experiment with an open relationship, btw, not polyamory.) And my LO and I had our time together. Alas, it was not at all the spiritual/sexual/emotional/physical union of my dreams. It was just…OK. But we got it out of our system and we are still friends to this day (though she lives on another continent and we don’t see each other very often, which is probably a good thing). I learned then that real consummation is not what this is about. Now I see this is consistent with what we’ve all read about here and in Tennov.

    This is why I wondered about genuine consummation with my current LO—not just the “patty cake” we’ve played. (Lee, I just love that description. Thank you.) But this is not something that standard monogamy accommodates. I’m not sure if polyamory is the framework or the occasional opening of a relationship would do the trick. Despite the issues that most marriages have, I don’t want to leave my wife. But well…this limerence is a bastard. I believe that real consummation might have gotten me past it. Now instead what I’ve gotten is a few tantalizing experiences that I fear are simply going to seal this thing in amber.

    Why not tell my wife this time? Yeah… well…for professional reasons I won’t go into here, disclosing to SO is simply never going to be a viable option in my case. If it were, I would have done so before any of this craziness got this far. So now I’m going to give it a go with this gradual No Contact strategy. Wish me luck!

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    • “Why not tell my wife this time? Yeah… well…for professional reasons I won’t go into here, disclosing to SO is simply never going to be a viable option in my case.”

      I’m glad you’re going NC but if you’ve cheated on your wife you may have exposed her to an STI/STD and that isn’t going to help your marriage. Ditto if she finds out from someone other than yourself she may decide to make a decision for herself. One that will effectively erase you from her life.

      I don’t know anyone who subscribes to the belief that one person is always going to be the perfect companion until death. But marrying means you are going to do it despite it being hard. When it gets too hard you discuss it and if necessary, divorce. Not find a new flame, rewrite history to justify your actions and then inform your spouse/SO. Your spouse deserves better. So do you.

      Using the word ‘never isn’t a good sign. I hope I’m mistaken.

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      • I wish I could edit my posts.

        Anyway, you can tell your wife. You have chosen not to do so, at least thus far. So to be honest with yourself at least and use the word ‘won’t’.

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      • One of the beauties of “patty-cake” is that STDs aren’t really a risk. 🙂 But I hear you. The risk is to LO’s career, not mine, and I can see no reason to justify harming her future for the sake of my present. I knew very well when this all started that I would have to face serious consequences if my wife finds out what happened (and it is past tense now, thankfully)–but I guess I had been unhappy enough for long enough to take that chance. That realization in itself was an eye opener and we are now in couples’ therapy trying to work on our relationship. Believe me, I have been honest with myself about all of this and I will accept those consequences with as much integrity as I can muster if/when the time comes. I just hope it doesn’t.

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    • If you won’t name LO to your wife because you are protecting SO professionally rather than your wife (professionally – there is no reason to pretend that you lied to save her from anything) I really hope you have been forthright about the limerence; there is someone who tickled your fancy, you have put NC in place and are serious about untangling your marriage. If it comes to an end that it wasn’t for lack of whole-hearted effort. I am concerned that if your situation is uncovered independently or worse that I will be reading about you on another web site entirely (chumplady).

      Good luck to you. I hope both of you get clarity and peace of mind sooner rather than later. I don’t envy you the process and I hope the results are helpful to you and your wife.

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      • Lee, we don’t know anything about Landry’s LO or wife, or the professional complications associated with disclosure. It’s not always the best option – with the caveat that if it does come to light through other routes then there may be even worse consequences. There is also sometimes time-sensitivity to disclosure.

        It sounds to me like Landry is handling it well now, with couples counselling and more honest conversations about the state of their marriage. Disclosure at a later date may be a option.

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      • “Disclosure at a later date may be a option.”

        Sure but the longer he delays doing so the bigger the risk that his wife is going to feel doubly betrayed. IF she is going to couples’ therapy and laying it on the line and he is not. She may be holding back too, of course. If that’s the case they’re both wasting time and money because neither of them trust the other.

        Also the more likely she will feel he was protecting LO at the expense of their marriage. He’s also tacitly suggesting that if she knows the identity of LO that she will take vengeance upon her, rather than taking him to task. If that isn’t her style, she’s being downgraded and insulted. If it is, why does he find that dynamic worthwhile in his private life?

        It’s his gamble to take. I’m simply pointing out that as the non-limerent spouse his thought processes may backfire. It’s a different point of view.

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  10. “That said, I’m not sold on the romantic concept of there being only one “the one” out there for each of us, certainly not for one’s entire life.”

    When I was a kid my twice-divorced father told me, “There”s somebody for everybody but nothing says there’s only one somebody for everybody.”

    I just can’t handle having more than one woman in my head at any given time. It simply doesn’t work for me. If were to find myself back on the market, I’d look for another relationship.

    The right person can add a lot to your life.

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    • That’s interesting. As the partner who was effectively told, “You’re too old, short, familiar and successful”, I have no interest in finding anyone new if my marriage comes to an end. I invested myself into it fully so I feel very burned by the devaluation.

      Oh, a relationship may come along after death or divorce but I see no point in pursuing one. Maybe it’s easier to think about when you’ve already dabbled along the way.

      Does serial limerence go hand-in-hand with serial monogamy rather than a poly lifestyle? It sounds as though respondents have a secure base and a steady presence of one person plus someone on the outskirts, if not making inroads, too. At least while in the throes of limerence. I guess I might too if someone were hellben on pursuing me and singing my praises while Mr. Lee was mooning over Miss Exotica. But that would be an emotional vengeance bomb, one that is more likely to blow up in my face, not limerence on my part.

      So, yeah, if it ends I’m not looking for a new bedfellow. I do well on my own and I wouldn’t want to rush into a relationship to fill a void within me.

      That’s not to say anyone reading here would do so, this is me musing out loud.

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