In the previous post, I talked about reverie, and how limerents tend to rehearse scenes in their minds as a way of feeling connected to LO and trying to prepare for future meetings.
Another aspect of reverie that I didn’t touch on is the fact that we often rehearse imagined scenes to help ourselves make sense of what is happening to us. Imagining different scenarios is one way of incorporating the presence of LO and their effect on us into our “life narrative”. What does it mean, this life-upending drama? How should we be responding?
Terry Pratchett once described humans as “story-telling apes”. It is a critical way that we process information. Rather than trying to respond to every new experience as a unique event, we use familiar stories as quick shortcuts for slotting the new experience into our existing worldview. As an example: if someone cuts in front of us in busy traffic, we tend to make assumptions based on the narrative structures that we use to organise the world.
Limerence is no different (apart from in its intensity, perhaps). When the limerent experience overtakes us, we will attempt to interpret it in terms of familiar stories: Seductive Eve, Don Juan, True Love, Happily Ever After. Stories are an incredibly potent way of organising our thoughts and feelings into an understandable (and memorable) pattern.
So limerent reverie is, in part, driven by an attempt to impose a narrative onto the limerent experience in order to make sense of it. It is also a golden opportunity, because we can shape the narrative.
Everyone has a unique and special life, but talk to authors and you may encounter the slightly cynical view that there are only seven basic plots, populated by archetypal characters. One can quibble the broadness of some of the categories, but the basic message is incredibly powerful. These archetypal stories have been refined over generations by people trying to make sense of the world, and we’ve all inherited this legacy.
Instead of having to figure out a complex world from first principles, we greedily consume stories about archetypal heroes and heroines facing fictional trials, and subconsciously absorb the refined lessons of all the generations before us. It’s very efficient.
The other important implication of this story-based learning is that it works in a way that bypasses our hypercritical conscious minds and instead moves us at the emotional core – that same “deep down” part of ourselves that hungers for limerent reward. Telling ourselves stories is a very effective way to communicate with our limerent brains.
So how can we use this knowledge to help regulate limerence? A major part of it is deciding on which story we want to be living. Are we living the “star-crossed lovers cruelly thwarted by fate” story, or are we living the “valiant hero resisting the call of the sirens” story? Who we are in the pantheon of archetypal characters? Are we the Innocent, seduced by a Villain? Are we the Mentor, tested by unwelcome desires for the Innocent? Are we the Hero, facing trials as we explore the world? Are we the Victim, trapped by a Monster and battling to free ourselves?
Where we are in our individual hero or heroine’s journey?
Now, to an extent of course this is play-acting. Casting ourselves into epic narratives can feel a little silly and pretentious, given that we are actually living in the modern world, not the age of myth. Part of the reason this may seem a little odd is that modernity has led to a disdain for classical narrative structures. Contemporary literary fiction is more often concerned with existential ennui than grand narratives.
But archetypal stories deal with powerful themes. They offer ways of conceptulising ourselves, and our aspirations, allowing us to reorient ourselves emotionally into a new role that is very satisfying at a deep level. We know how heroines should act. We know what good mentors should do. These are inspiring ideals; noble versions of ourselves worth striving towards. The stories give us a quick and integrated framework for behaviour, once we decide what role we want to play.
Recasting your own play
A good first step in thinking about how these ideas relate to your current experience is to ask yourself: what role am I subconsciously playing? It’s common that limerence can make us unwittingly adopt a bit-part role in LO’s life story, when we should be the lead in our own story. It’s also valuable to think about the larger “plot” of your life. Do you have a meaningful direction? Have you set out on a quest to explore the world and what’s in it, or are you living in stasis, repeating the same routines and waiting for an initiating trigger to start you on your journey? Can you use the limerence experience as the trigger – a call to action?
When reverie beckons in the future, use the power of daydreaming to tell yourself a story of how you would like your life to be. What purpose will you pursue? Who are you?
It may not be easy to answer the question – especially for those who have been putting the needs of others ahead of their own for a long time – but one thing’s for sure: finding an inspiring narrative is a way more powerful motivating force than a sense of obligation. “This is the person I want to be. This is the role I want to play in the drama of my life,” is far more inspiring than “I know I should behave like this, or other people will think badly of me.”
Thanks to Rose for the post idea.