Life as a limerent: autopilot mode

One of the most disruptive aspects of limerence is the total attention-capture that sets in. At first, the limerent is OK with that – after all there’s nothing more interesting or enjoyable in their world than their new LO, so thinking about them all the time is very stimulating. After a while, though, the inability to concentrate on other thoughts and activities takes its toll.

Many limerents will be familiar with autopilot mode: a state of being physically present but mentally absent. You are there, going through the motions of everyday life, meeting your obligations (barely), but your attention is elsewhere, in your internal world, ruminating and obsessing. Work begins to suffer. Projects don’t get completed (unless you think it might lead to LO’s good opinion in which case they get your full attention). Life in the external world drifts by as you watch from the muffled interior of your limerent bubble.

Partners of limerents will be familiar with it too. Zombie spouse. Mouthing words but staring into the middle distance. Shuffling along beside you, but answering your questions with, at best, a distracted and only marginally relevant reply that confirms they aren’t listening. Or worse, snapping in irritation because your talking is distracting them from their obsessive thoughts.


Urrgghh! I’m trying to concentrate

Paradoxically, sometimes zombie spouse can transform into manic spouse. Bursts of unfocussed energy and enthusiasm, or maybe sudden interest in a new hobby or activity (by astonishing coincidence, usually something that LO is into). Either way, the lack of attention on the here and now is infuriating.

This is no way to live. What can be done? Specifically, what can a limerent do once they realise they are living in autopilot mode?

1) Try to harness the energy

Limerence is usually associated with a boost of energy and enthusiasm. If you try to suppress or stifle it, it is likely to burst out in unpredictable and potentially destructive ways, rather than conveniently disappear. So, try and direct it constructively. The impulse to transform yourself – to make yourself more attractive to LO – can have positive outcomes. Exercise more. Improve yourself. Everyone benefits from you being fitter, healthier, and more interesting. Even if there is a problematic motive, the outcome is positive.

Beyond yourself, you can also direct the energy to new projects. I had an uptick in DIY activities during my last limerent episode. Partly that was a selfish drive to secure time to ruminate, and partly it was because the repetitive nature of manual labour was calming and has its own satisfaction. I may not have been as present for my family as I should have been, but at least our home was tidier and they had somewhere to put their books.



This might seem a bit trite, but here’s the thing: you’re going to have to go through the limerence experience one way or the other. You can either be totally withdrawn and selfish, or you can at least try to craft some additional benefit by improving yourself and your environment while it’s happening. You’re still stuck with the rumination, but you at least have a cleaner bathroom at the end of it. Zombies can do helpful chores.

2) Accept and adapt

Autopilot is actually an amazing invention. If you want to get to your destination safely, a device that keeps the plane or boat moving steadily forwards in the right direction is a godsend.

If you have become trapped in unhealthy limerence, “going through the motions” can actually be a positive response. Deciding, “I am going to keep going with everyday life despite all these strong emotions” is a purposeful decision. If autopilot is what is needed to keep you on the straight and narrow, so be it. Accept that reality and do your best to meet your responsibilities, fulfill your commitments, and be the best partner you are able to be under the circumstances.

There is nobility in keeping going despite personal pain and emotional distress. “When you’re going through hell… keep going” is one of my favourite quotes, because it acknowledges the value of persistence under duress. Autopilot mode can be an important safety mechanism. If you believe in the destination you are travelling towards (a future with your current partner and without LO), but don’t trust yourself to be steering the ship soundly at the moment, trust in the autopilot to get you through the turbulence.

3) Use it as a behavioural cue. 

When you recognise that you are in the grip of a bad limerence episode, and have started to slip into autopilot mode, it can be used as a trigger to make more effort with your real life. If you have a partner or family, use the autopilot fugue as a cue to focus on them. If you miss what your spouse has just said to you, Notice It, apologise, and exert yourself towards paying more attention to where you are and who you are with.

If you can repeat that cycle enough – spot absentmindedness, chastise self, focus on here and now – it can start to ingrain a new habit that makes autopilot mode a bit less automatic and puts you back in control of the tiller.

Coming out of the other side of limerence takes time. If autopilot helps you function during that time, use it, and then reshape it into a reminder that you have commitments to others that are worth meeting. Anything that helps you orient yourself in the proper direction has value.

20 thoughts on “Life as a limerent: autopilot mode

  1. I’ve probably been on autopilot mode for the last year, certainly at home with SO and the kids. My mind wanders off into LO land when I should be giving them all my attention. Even this week I’ve been focusing on helping LO with her next career move. In my mind I’m justifying it because the sooner she is sorted, the sooner NC can begin, but of course I could just leave it and not get involved. I’ve been out with the kids yet making calls, texting etc on her behalf or even with her.

    Ive been trying mindfulness a bit, and one of the techniques you learn is recognising that your mind has wondered and bringing yourself back to the present. I think this is a useful practise to master, but I’m not quite there yet.


  2. I can’t thank you enough for this blog, Dr. Limerence. I’ve been dealing with a massive bout of limerence for much of the past year. Until last week I’d never even heard the term. It is a huge relief to know that I am not alone in this experience and to understand what the hell is going on! Thank you!!


  3. Firstly, thank you so much for this blog. I discovered it by chance a couple of months ago whilst in the depths of my strongest ever (midlife crisis) limerent episode. Before finding this blog I had never even heard of the term limerence, but now I’m in the know it has explained so much about me (a limerent for 30 years) and helped me realise that I am not going mad, or at least I have company in my madness. I was on the verge of seeking counselling, but the posts here have helped me understand what’s going on and given me some very useful coping strategies that have been working. I’m not out of the woods yet but I feel more comfortable and in control, although I’m not quite ready to go full no contact yet, which I believe is the only cure. Thanks again!!

    Regarding the post above I completely agree that you should “try to harness the energy” and get something good out of limerence. I’m amazed at how much energy it can give you. As a result of my current episode I have lost around 2 stones (12.7kg) in weight, am as fit as I was 20 years ago and have put some renewed effort into projects that had fallen by the wayside. Hey, I know it’s mostly to impress my LO but when I’m over that I’ll should still have some positive outcomes.

    I think the energy that you get is a key part of what I’m addicted to as much as the LO herself. Not long ago I had gone no contact for around three weeks and I began to feel quite normal again – a middle aged man with lots of responsibilities and little energy. I couldn’t help myself and purposely got in touch with my LO again to get back some of that amazing energy that I was missing. It did work, but I know it was a relapse and it’s very junky like behaviour. I’m currently locked into a cycle of meeting my LO every 2 weeks to get my fix. I know I should really stop but I don’t want to lose that energy, which can be used for the greater good (that’s my excuse anyway).

    Anyway, I won’t bore you with all my thoughts or my whole story but I wanted to share a few general points from my own experience:

    – It is possible to completely get over an LO. I am friends with a past LO and I can honestly say that I have absolutely no limerent feelings for her and I actually find her a liitle annoying and not attractive at all. What did I ever see in her!? This a good thing and proves that you can definitely get over an LO.

    – I was interested in the comments about proto-limerence and I think this is an early stage of limerence, although it seems not all experience this stage. As a teenager my first LO was a film star who I knew little about and had zero chance of ever meeting. I laugh now and find it very odd that I was ready to run away from my life to be with a celebrity in another country who I knew nothing about. What’s even more funny is that later down the line she came out as a lesbian, so I really didn’t ever have a chance with her.

    – As a middle-aged man, I think a part of the whole limerence thing is proving that you’ve still got it! In true midlife crisis style my LO is 13 years my junior and there’s a primordial part of me that is desperate to prove I can attract this younger mate. If I knew for sure that she reciprocated I often wonder if that would be enough? (probably not).


    • Hi Royce,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’m struck that you got over limerence for an old LO to manage friendship. Out of interest: did you disclose your feelings to her, or did you have a relationship? If not, did the limerence just naturally fade, or was there some event the ended the uncertainty?

      Also, I agree that midlife is a common time for limerence. Many people report a sort of “last chance” feeling, which could match with your desire to prove you can still attract someone desirable. We just have to hope that enough wisdom has come with age to not mess our lives up too badly as a consequence.


      • “Many people report a sort of “last chance” feeling, which could match with your desire to prove you can still attract someone desirable.”

        Ouch. As the spouse of over two decades that really tells me something about how we’re truly viewed.

        I advise not using that phrase in person, or the limerent may have the opportunity to do just that. As will their ex-spouse (if you are currently encumbered with one).


      • Re. the “ouch” – I think this is a misunderstanding. I’m not implying that the limerents are thinking “I’ve never had anyone desirable and this is my last chance”, it’s more like “the part of my life in which I form relationships with desirable people is coming to an end”. And anyway it’s not a consciously-formulated thought, it’s a deep feeling.

        It’s not that partners are seen as undesirable, it’s that mid-life limerents are panicking about the end of their “fertile period”.


  4. No, I never did disclose. I just didn’t have the courage although I think my feelings must have been pretty obvious. We hung out a lot together and got pretty close as friends but it never went any further than that. She had just come out of another relationship so maybe she just wanted some emotional support. No contact was what stopped it and the feelings slowly fizzled way. I started hanging out with a different group of friends and she moved away to live in another part of the country. I’ve see her a few times since and we’re friends on social media – she friend requested me. The uncertainty doesn’t bother me in the slightest anymore. This LE was around 20 years ago and I’ve had a few more since then, including getting together with the person I’m currently married to. The problem with my latest LE is that the feelings have been stronger than anything else before – maybe this is down to a second adolescence? I think I have enough wisdom and resolve to navigate this latest episode and deep down I’m sure that it can’t go anywhere. I do still love my wife, she’s a great woman, and I’m trying to focus more of my mind and actions on this.

    I really appreciate what you are doing with this site and please keep writing the posts. Finding out that limerancy exists has been a revelation and this blog has been immensely helpful during tough times.


    • What’s your goal?

      Do you want to simply get past the LE or do you really want to learn something about yourself?

      You take on the latter and it could take you places you had no idea you’d visit and you could come to see your life from a very different perspective.


      • “What’s your goal?” That’s a question I’ve managed to dodge quite frequently in my life and something I should really think about more. In this case I suppose my main goal is to get past the LE without it having a negative impact on anyone else. However, I’m definitely open to learning some more about myself and seeing life from a different perspective. I’ve learnt some new things already over the last few months and I’m keen to get as many positives as possible out of this latest episode. I’m intrigued to know what these new places are and how I would access them?


      • “I’m intrigued to know what these new places are and how I would access them?””

        Everybody’s life is different. I can only tell you my story.

        For me, it went something like this. I’m wired to want to have things make some kind of sense to me. The analogy I work from is my life is a “Yellow Brick Road.” When I look back on my life is what I’ve done and where I am make sense? What events shaped my destiny and how did I respond to them? What does that road look like in my mind? Where does it start and where do I see it going?

        When I started looking back as part of the reevaluation of my life triggered by the problems in my marriage, it broke down into 3 major chunks, pre-LO #2, LO #2 and post-LO #2. The first and third chunks made sense but I couldn’t connect LO #2 to my pre and post LO #2 chunks. I just couldn’t get that piece to fit. When I really started looking at things, which included working with a therapist, I found that my conception of my pre-LO #2 life was wrong. With help, I reoriented that chunk and when I did, LO #2 fell into place and my life made a whole lot of sense. Reorienting my pre-LO life required me to confront some baggage I’d carried since childhood. That was made easier by the fact that all the people I would have had to confront were long dead. I didn’t have to deal with any fallout those confrontations might have made.

        I was able to look back and see how some events like my parents’ divorce and my father’s suicide altered the direction of the road. Between my mother’s and the grandmother’s who raised me influence, I developed a taste for certain LOs. My father committed suicide while I was in the Navy and it caused them to alter my orders from going to San Diego via Idaho to to going to Seattle via New York a year later. It was the first time something someone else did had an effect on my life I could actually put my finger on. I was later able to understand the effect of being born to two, eventually divorced alcoholics, and later by two grandparents had on the dynamics with my marriage to a younger woman who was raised by two age-appropriate parents. The first few years of marriage were challenging.

        I can’t say that I wouldn’t have met the LO #2 or my wife had I gone to San Diego, I only can say that I met them because I went to Seattle instead. My wife once said she thought I had unresolved issues over my fathers death. She also said she thought I still had feelings for LO #2. She was in the right quadrant but had the wrong parent. She also had no clue as to how my mother and LO #2, and later, LO #4, were connected.

        That’s where the therapist proved her worth. She said that the reason I didn’t understand the relationship with LO #2 was because I didn’t understand my relationship with my mother. It turned out she was right. The therapist said it appeared I was seeking an emotionally corrective experience and from what LO #4 said, I’d succeeded in doing for her what I couldn’t do for my mother. The quest was over. I got her to stop crying and contributed to her happiness. Being with her wasn’t part of that. I could quit now. She said I should declare victory and enjoy life.

        You won’t know what you’ll find until you look.


      • Glad you managed to figure some things out and it sounds like you’ve learnt a lot from analysing your background. I think I work in pretty much the opposite way to you and never really think about what’s shaped me or where I’m headed. I just take it as it comes. My life history has also been a lot less eventful than yours, no major traumas and stable parents that are still together now, so I’m not sure what looking back would tell me. I think limerency is just somthing that is naturally in me and that it rears it’s head when I connect with someone. Interesting, I’ve never entered an LE straight the way (proto-limerence excluded) and I have always got to know the person quite well before the feelings begin. I certainly will think some more about what may have shaped my life so far.


    • “ The problem with my latest LE is that the feelings have been stronger than anything else before – maybe this is down to a second adolescence? I think I have enough wisdom and resolve to navigate this latest episode and deep down I’m sure that it can’t go anywhere. I do still love my wife“

      I’m exactly where you are. Hitting mid-life, much younger LO, loving wife and kids, but for some reason this LE is so hard to deal with even though I know it’s all wrong, I can see LO’s flaws and know there’s no future for us. I think this second Adolescence point is interesting. I’ve not experienced such intensity of feelings since I was 19/20. There must be something different happening now. The last flush of youth point is also valid too. What an ego boost it would be if this hot young thing actually wanted me?


  5. I think there must be something in the hormonal and physiological changes that make midlife episodes particularly powerful. My first LE when I was a teenager is the only thing that comes close to how I feel now, when I would have been going through similar changes. Before the current LE I hadn’t had an episode for over ten years so something must have changed.

    I too can see the flaws in my LO and my wife always come out on top if I dare to compare them. I think one of the biggest attractions of my LO is that she makes me laugh and has a great sense of fun. It’s like how I used to be with my wife when we first got together, before the realities of life and children kicked in. I suppose I’m just harking back to when times were more fun and carefree and trying to recapture some of that lost excitement. Agree that an ego boost also has a big part to play.


  6. I’m at the point in the narrowing tunnel where something’s gotta give. I’ve been able to move forward and improve things about me, replace the floorboards on the back porch, made huge strides with SO and have an active sex life with her that would make any teenager jealous. LO is my bosses boss. There was some mutual limerence and she lured me into her narc web. The headline is “Middle-Ager meets Younger Executive who is Single with 2 four year olds: She Damsel in Distresses him and he White-Knights her like there’s no tomorrow, his mental health now entangled in a hardening epoxy of limerence”. Happily/dreamily I went to her home to help set up for a holiday party, and she brought me into her bedroom (and into her personal bathroom). Sounds romantic, but the point of that was to change her lightbulbs and clean out the bathroom vent. Looking back, she was likely ovulating at the time, so I think that’s part of it pheromones. I swear to you all here – and I know you’ll believe me – we could have had sex that evening if I had one percent less self control (or more realistically 1% less fear). And I’m sure that the resulting baby would be cute as a button and 2 months old today. The end of the evening fizzled and other people left, and I declined her offer of strong alcohol. Her kids (though only 4), knew what Momma was doing and one of them asked me “Are you going to stay overnight?”.

    The next morning after Nothing Happened, she started pushing me away. I pushed back by Disclosing my crush on her, with an apologetic “I don’t want this to affect our long-term working relationship” line. As you would expect but I didn’t, she pushed back by raining down horrific boulders of workplace consequences from her position two levels up. Allegations. Directives. workplace henchmen to grind me to dust. I’ve been out of work 6 months ( -but fully paid while an investigation took place). This time off provided a good period of NC and also enabled me to fix up the house… fix up me, work on my relationships with my children, and wife. It was not easy working with SO – but she happened upon my computer and some writing I had done to a limerence support board. Graphic writing about being kind of sorry I didn’t engage get to lay the boss, and wanting to see LO’s yoga pants again, but this time rolled up at the bottom of the bed. Talking with SO about all this limerence was by far the greater effort – but I managed to introject some of my own strengths that I saw reflected in the mirror of LO. I stood up for myself and our marriage by providing the strength and leadership my wife has been wanting for 24+ years. As a result of this, she’s hornier and hotter than she was as a 23 year old graduate student when we first met.

    Sounds perfect, right? So now I’m back to work – I’ve been absolved of any wrongdoing but NC is now required by the workplace. Helpful. But I wanted this all to be gone, and all I can think of is wanting to see LO again – maybe she’s sorry she over-reacted, maybe she wants to hang out and talk things over, who knows maybe she wants to meet somewhere discreetly and hold hands and snuggle…. AM I COMPLETELY CRAZY?! WHAT?!

    I’m going to miss LO – she is leaving the workplace in 10 days for another job. Part of the investigation showed her in a negative light about this whole thing. So now there are only three potential days where I’m on duty at the same time as her, and one of them is a mandatory training that she’s organized with a training company. She may or may not attend. I might suddenly develop a bad cough on that day – but my workplace supervisors expect me to man-up and attend as a professional without contacting, talking to, e-mailing, phoning, or smoke-signaling LO.

    My interest and longing for contact with LO is still there… so I think something’s gotta give. It’s very real and very powerful, I am drawn to it like an oasis in the desert. My feelings are not under my conscious control… I’m not in the desert – I am already in the oasis. Why won’t I just give her up, let her go, and move on?



    • “Talking with SO about all this limerence was by far the greater effort – but I managed to introject some of my own strengths that I saw reflected in the mirror of LO. I stood up for myself and our marriage by providing the strength and leadership my wife has been wanting for 24+ years. As a result of this, she’s hornier and hotter than she was as a 23 year old graduate student when we first met.”

      Mark – while that sounds terrific and all, this may be more of an instance of your SO performing the “pick-me dance” than not. It takes time to process betrayal and remember that there is high tide and there is low tide. Try to be mindful of her timetable and process as well as your own.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for this. I get it about the pick me dance. High tIde and Low tide….you mean periods of high/low sex drive.?

        I like that the ongoing focus for recovery is on home rather than LO. In the comparison of a garden, maybe the LO is a new plant/weed suddenly springing up out of seemingly nowhere, a beautiful, majestic flowering plant that outshines the other paltry hibiscus, peonies and petunias. Only this weed is noxious, and duplicates itself quickly, taking over the garden and killing off everything else. Then this weed, which was at first a champion and award winning flora (“now everyone will know I’m a good gardener!”) dies itself, but doesn’t wither and blow away, it rather collapses itself into a blackened heap of decaying leaves and stems, an oily residue leaking out from the terrible mess.

        It’s possible this could grow again so I’d better be ready to nip this in the bud when I see it next time. But hopefully the work I do today can make that less and less likely.



      • Hi Mark –

        No, I’m suggesting that the rush of sexuality may be due to anxiety and fear on her part. Anger may be on the horizon.

        Or not. But where there is a betrayal there is a lot of emotional turmoil. How things are now may not truly reflect the state of your relationship. You should invest in her emotional well-being too. Which you may already be doing, of course.

        Best wishes.


  7. I could hear the laugh being suppressed, on the other end of the phone, when I told my daughter that I had fallen in love with an 80 yr old married man. Like, What? Who does that??
    Um…raises hand…that would be me.
    At age 65, 3 years a widow and happily unmarried, I sat down next to him in church. I describe that day as, the first day of the rest of my life.
    I told him that I was gaga and he assured me that he would be my best friend. Would I really have wanted him to say anything else? Of course not! But yes.
    I have experienced the good, the bad, and the crazy, of this limerence thing. Intense emotional suffering, I feel like a mare in heat, in dissociative identity crisis, in my eyes, pain and sorrow….It was so bad I cried out to the Lord for help. That’s when I learned about limerence and Psalm 143:3. Sanity is restored, but it seems I am in it for the duration, however long it may be.
    Thank God for this site, and bless you all!


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