Can limerence be safely harnessed?

At first limerence is amazing. And then it isn’t.

This transition – from exhilarating to exhausting – mirrors the transition from initial high to desperate dependency for drugs of abuse, which is part of the reason why I like the framing of limerence as “person addiction”. So what is it that causes this transition? Why does something that feels great at first inevitably lead to a crash? Is it actually inevitable, or could we limerents [whisper it] find a way to get the high while minimising the risk of dependency?

Well. What a question! Let’s have a think.

1) The brain buzz

I’ve talked before about the neurophysiology of limerence, and how it is linked to reward systems in the brain. Dopamine is the primary player in this, but it’s a bit of an oversimplification to present it so straightforwardly. There are lots of other aspects to limerence beyond “simple” reward. Limerence is also linked to arousal, positive affect (i.e. happiness), sexual attraction, and bonding, to name a few other major psychological motivators. So, to try and pick that lot apart you need to consider the roles of a range of neurotransmitters and neuromodulators (serotonin, noradrenaline, acetylcholine, histamine), a few hormones (adrenaline, oxytocin, endorphins) and you can throw in various other speculative neurochemicals that might have a role too. What I’m saying is, it’s complicated. There is going to be a very substantial change in neurophysiology as a consequence of becoming limerent.

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Like, far out, man.

It also doesn’t end there. Once the transition begins, and LO starts to become an addiction, there are even more changes in store. Most limerents realise that once they start to crave LO contact, they are losing control of the situation. Often, they react by becoming defensive, and try to maintain the pretense that this is just a close friendship. Then, the real dishonesty sets in. Telling white lies about motivation or behaviour. Being deceitful about where they have been, and what they’ve been up to. Hiding their phone. In other words – behaving like an addict, with all the associated compromises of their self-worth, moral principles, and relationships with others.

What this means in practical terms is that limerence alters the way you perceive and react to the world in pretty profound ways, and is also likely to lead to changes in personality. That’s the kind of fire you’re playing with.

2) The energy needs to go somewhere  

The thrill of limerence is an unusual psychological and physiological state. That’s why it feels so good. Sustaining that heightened sense of overarousal is not normal. Kind of like the “fight or flight” response, if there is no pay off, the pent up energy gets internalised and goes bad.

By analogy to how internalising stress and anxiety can lead to illness (like hypertension, or anxiety disorders) trying to internalise limerence energy leads to unhealthy psychology. This is a large part of why I would advocate a purposeful response to the glimmer early on: either express your feelings for LO (if appropriate), or make a purposeful decision to avoid their company, and set boundaries to reduce the risk of escalating affection.

The biggest danger is when you try to maintain your supply of brain-altering LO juice, but through willful denial pretend that it will have no lasting consequences. You’re fueling a fire but then trying to contain it to your internal world.

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Thar she blows!

Redirecting that energy into some other project (creative, practical or social) can help, but if you keep fuelling the fire, you are never going to succeed in putting it out. Ultimately, if you charge up with energy but do nothing to discharge it, it will burst out in places where you don’t want it to.

3) The dangers of brinkmanship

One downside to the “person addiction” perspective for limerence is that it conjures the image of a seedy addict, seeking illicit highs or sleazy sexual kicks. But limerence rarely feels like that.

Early on (and for some people, over the long term) limerence doesn’t even feel primarily sexual or romantic. It’s often just that the company of this particular person feels energising and enlivening. It can also provoke a strong desire to help LO, emotionally or practically. Surely these are good things? Enjoying the company of another person and helping them achieve their goals?

Given that premise, perhaps it’s OK to get a bit of a limerence lift from time to time when you encounter a new LO, but then pull back when you get close to the brink of addiction? Can you let the LO energy grow for a bit, just to perk life up, but then let it subside? If limerence is a hill with addiction on the far side, can you climb to the fringe of the peak without tumbling over into the Valley Of The Junkies beyond?

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Enough with the leading questions, counsel

Here’s why I think it’s perilous. Limerence, in my view, is primarily a drive for bonding. Even if you don’t intend to act on the impulse, the drive is still there. Your body is firing you up with energy and euphoria to spur you to action.

Potential mate detected! Bond! Now!

If you continually expose yourself to the stimulus but don’t act, then the drive turns inwards into obsessive thoughts, psychological fixation, and reinforcing rumination. It’s like fruit that ripens nicely, then over-ripens, then starts rotting on the vine.

I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m not even as pessimistic as this jumble of thoughts might suggest. What I’m saying is that it’s very risky to try and experiment with limerence, unless you have a deep understanding of your own triggers and experience with methods for pulling you back from the brink. And absolutely, fundamentally, you don’t stand a chance of using limerence safely unless you are scrupulously honest with yourself.

Brinkmanship comes with risks. If you are not willing to accept the consequences of tipping over the edge, best to not even get close.

24 thoughts on “Can limerence be safely harnessed?

  1. I would hazard a guess that no limerent episode has ever culminated in a healthy and satisfying romantic conclusion. I hope I am wrong.

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    • I believe it can happen. I encountered mutual limerence over 20 years ago, which led to the marriage I’m in now, kids etc. I’d say it’s a happy, healthy marriage and getting together definitely felt like a “satisfying romantic conclusion”. Yes I’m here now but, I think this is down to my natural limerent tendencies rather than not being with the right person.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just to add, I shouldn’t really have said “mutual limerence”. Although it started as limerence for me, before progressing to love, I do not know whether my wife had or still has limerent feelings. I suspect not, but it’s not something I would like to ask her about.

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      • Royce it seems you did indeed safely harness limerence!
        But it was mutual limerence. I wonder if one sided limerence can ever be safely harnessed?
        I am intrigued by your story. How long did your limerence last? How was the relationship when limerence died and real love took over?

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  2. I wonder if it doesn’t happen quite a bit, actually. It’s surely the inspiration for so many poignant love songs and poetry, right? Mutual limerence that gets to be acted on. Of the several shorter-term relationships I had before settling down at 37, only one was mutual limerence. But it didn’t last any longer than the others. It was way more intense in the beginning, but then ended more painfully.

    I was limerent for my wife when we first met (in college), although she barely knew me. Seventeen years later when we reconnected, my limerence was instantly re-ignited and I believed I truly fell in love and so did she, although it was never limerence for her. She’s not in our tribe.

    Am I in a healthy and satisfying marriage? (I have to say, I chuckle at the notion of calling marriage a “romantic conclusion.” That does about sum it up sometimes, does it not?) I don’t know. Probably I’m not, or else I wouldn’t have been totally hung up on another LO this past year. Worst limerent experience ever… I’ve theorized that it’s akin to what they call terminal lucidity–except, it’s my libido.

    Terminal libidity, anyone??

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Another factor in harnessing limerence is whether your LO behaves as you think they will. Actively managing limerence takes effort and how well you manage it depends a lot on how your LO responds. Your agenda, whether you and your LO are aware of it or not, may a lot different from your LOs agenda assuming he/she is aware of it or not. It would be really surprising if you’re aware of their agenda. Your LO has as much agency as you do and is entitled to exercise it. I think LO #4 and I were aware of the shaky ground we were on but I have no idea of what her agenda was.

    I had this mental image in my mind of LO #4 being on one side of the fence and her being on the other. Ideally, that image should have been two fences, one for her and one for me. But, since she was initially unavailable, I could neatly bypass any of the more uncomfortable issues of what I was doing and get by with only one fence. I didn’t have to worry about my boundaries as long as she was maintaining hers. When her relationship collapsed, that boundary disappeared and I had to scramble to re-establish mine. When we became Facebook friends, I felt like I’d let the Trojan Horse behind the wall and I had a dream about her in which I almost drove my car over a cliff.

    I had the contingency plan ready if it blew up. When I ran through the list of outcomes, it was clear that the LE was going to end. Ending was questions of when and how it could be pulled off with minimal consequence. If the poop hit the fan, LO #4 was going under the bus. She’d never know. There were two reasons I think she and I never talked in the 5 years we crossed paths. One was it would have made the acquaintance real and eliminated the quaint 19th century thing we had going online. The second was it formed the crux of my plan if things went south. I wouldn’t be able to deny what happened, I could only attempt to minimize its significance. Since we never met or even spoke directly to each other, how serious could it be?

    I’ve said this before, too. The therapist asked what I wanted from LO #4. I told her I wanted her to be honest with me and know what she thought or felt about me.

    The therapist’s response was, “What would you do with that knowledge if you had it?”

    Having been through this, rather than try to manage it, it was ultimately better to do the work to eliminate the vulnerability so I’m no longer attracted to the glimmer. I wasn’t good, I was lucky. Had LO #4 not responded the way she did, things could have been a lot worse for me.

    Solving problems is good but avoiding them in the first place is even better.

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    • Actively managing limerence takes effort and how well you manage it depends a lot on how your LO responds.

      Yes, great point. There are lots of factors influencing the limerence experience that are outside the limerent’s control.

      To labour the analogy: brinkmanship is even riskier if there’s someone beside you who could push you over the edge.

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  4. “Early on (and for some people, over the long term) limerence doesn’t even feel primarily sexual or romantic. It’s often just that the company of this particular person feels energising and enlivening. It can also provoke a strong desire to help LO, emotionally or practically.“

    This is so true for me. LO is hot, dont get me wrong, and my mind does go that way from time to time, but it’s a need for her company and a desire to help her that drives it, plus I would add a desperate need for reciprocation or even just acknowledgement of my efforts, and a desire for exclusivity. I want to be the guy she turns to, no-one else, and I just want her to tell me how amazing I am basically. Seems so pathetic when you write it down 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “If limerence is a hill with addiction on the far side, can you climb to the fringe of the peak without tumbling over into the Valley Of The Junkies beyond?”

    Maybe…but the conditions would have to be right.

    When I was working through things after saying goodbye to LO #4, the therapist labeled me co-dependent. But, co-dependence wasn’t a good fit so I kept looking and discovered limerence. There are a few sites that talk about limerence but I liked this one the best and started to hang out here. DrL’s blogs helped me put things into context and develop a more nuanced understanding. I think I have a pretty good idea of where I am, how I got there, where I see myself going in the future.

    So, why am I still here?

    Because I can have a vicarious Limerent Experience. Under the guise of trying to understand things, I get to ruminate on the house. I can get almost as much out of looking back as I could when I was in the LE but without the risk or anxiety. But, it’s counterproductive. If I really want out, I need to stop looking for excuses to raise the subject.

    Maybe DrL can write something on Post Limerence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, no. That makes me an enabler!

      Interesting question about “post limerence”. I’m not sure such a thing is possible. I’ve just had an email from someone dealing with limerence in their eighties. I think accepting it as part of who we are is probably the best bet for wrestling it under control.

      And, as “ways to get some LE sparkle” go, reading about limerence on blogs is probably a fairly healthy option 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • “I think accepting it as part of who we are is probably the best bet for wrestling it under control.”

        I don’t think I agree with that. You talk about 2 tribes, Limerents and Non-limerents. But, the definition of Non-limerents is that limerence is a concept that escapes them and aren’t vulnerable. I agree that there are people that when it comes to limerence, “just don’t get it.”

        But, there’s a group you left out. It’s the group that understands and empathizes with it but for whom limerence poses little to no risk. Maybe they don’t have a vulnerability, maybe they haven’t encountered the right threat, or maybe their environment isn’t fertile for limerence to ignite. Maybe you could refer to this group as Unlimerent.

        I don’t think I’m vulnerable anymore but I’m definitely not a Non-limerent.

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      • I don’t think I’m vulnerable anymore but I’m definitely not a Non-limerent.

        Possibly quibbling on definitions, but I would say that limerence is still part of who you are, it’s just that you are a limerent who has developed skills to manage the process and keep it in check.

        Kind of like an introvert who has acclimatised to socialising, but also knows when they’ve reached their limits.

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      • Or like an alcoholic that is practicing abstinence. Alcohol/limerence will always be a danger, but we are currently not partaking. By deliberate choice.

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      • “I don’t think I’m vulnerable anymore but I’m definitely not a Non-limerent” (in my current state).

        Or maybe you are not at risk for new LOs, but still at risk for past ones because they are burned into your mind?

        I’m still here because I’m not where I need to be. The downside of visiting this site is the reminder of my LO, but that is more than offset by the benefits I’m receiving from the site.

        Liked by 1 person

      • “Or like an alcoholic that is practicing abstinence. Alcohol/limerence will always be a danger, but we are currently not partaking. By deliberate choice.”

        You need to be careful window shopping at the liquor store.

        This morning I drifted into a “I’m totally over this. Let’s go for coffee!” moment. Specifically,

        “This trap is most often encountered after a period of no contact, when the most urgent feelings of limerence have genuinely subsided. With the new clear-headedness that no contact has enabled, it’s easy to believe that you can meet as friends and enjoy uncomplicated time together. Maybe even learn more about yourself by analysing your feelings when you meet. Or validate your recovery, by demonstrating how resilient you are to their charms now.”

        I think it was triggered by the brief email exchange we had recently and the resultant social media drive-by. The bad news was how easily I drifted into it. The good news was I recognized it immediately.

        Moral: Probably best to stay away from the liquor store….

        Liked by 1 person

    • “Or maybe you are not at risk for new LOs, but still at risk for past ones because they are burned into your mind?”

      The therapist and I covered this one in detail. One of the unexpected things to come out of working with the therapist was I no longer idealized my LOs. The reality is I have no place for an LO in real life and as LO #4 showed, I only have limited head space. I can really only have one woman seriously in my head at one time.

      She asked if I’d consider re-engaging LO #2. I told her not as long as I was married. Her response was that after everything I’d told her her recommendation was that if I ever found myself back on the market was to never have anything to do with her again. I hope I’m never so desperate, so bored, or so unhappy that I’d turn to her or let her back into my life. I know what that would cost me in terms of my self-respect.

      As for LO #4, that might be a different story. In her goodbye, she said she didn’t think to “…continue to correspond would be appropriate.” She wasn’t unhappy with what I said but coming from a married man it wasn’t appropriate. If circumstances changed and it would be appropriate I might try to reopen the acquaintance. The thing is for me to be available would mean something terrible had happened in my life. I don’t know what state I’d be in should that happen. It could make me really want to engage her, it could make me forget about her entirely. If I did re-engage and she agreed to it, a whole lot of RL issues come into play, like logistics, age, etc. There are others. When she brought my wife into the conversation, she shot the elephant in the room and the only difference between a live elephant and a dead one is the dead one smells worse. She could ping me to see if the circumstances changed but I just don’t see her doing that.

      I also have a trait where I frequently look back on my life but I’ve gone back. I can’t think of a single person in my past I didn’t stay in contact that I wish I had. There are people I’m curious about what happened to them but I don’t want to re-engage them.

      So, while the risk is not precisely zero, I don’t see that happening.

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      • Thanks for the detailed reply, Scharnhorst. As I was never limerent for my wife, having LO take initially root in my head was wonderful (at the time, as it was such a new life experience) but also disconcerting. The limited head space rings true for me as well, as there wasn’t room for ANYTHING other than LO at both the height (euphoria) and depth (depression) of my limerence. LO is still very much in my head, but doesn’t have control of my world.

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  6. For the 2 Limerence experiences I had I found out that I can go no contact “easily” but cannot remove that person from my head for years. One thing that happens to me is that I have to say his name all the time, and very often out loud. I mean several times a day. Most of the time I just need to say his name, whereas other times I say full sentences like “I love you [his name], even if you don’t love me”… it sounds creepy and obsessive but at the same time I don’t search him in social networks ( that I know already his profiles), I don’t enter in contact with him… but can’t stop saying his name. Does this happen to anyone else here? I always wanted to know why I have this need.

    Do you have this or any other ritual?

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    • I have a similar need. I sometimes will sigh, then say “I love you LO, but…” followed by “it can’t work” or “I need to stay away from you”. It is definitely a release for me.

      I also get irritated (or other uneasy feelings) when I need to drive in the general vicinity of LOs neighborhood. A reminder of being physically close to her, but in reality no longer close to her.

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      • Strange isn’t it? I agree with you, when you say it’s a kind of release as also I have the impression I don’t even think before saying his name, I just open my mouth and his name (or complete sentences) went out of my mouth without me being aware what I was about to say. It’s like it comes from some repressed feelings or thoughts that somehow found their way to vocal cordes.

        Liked by 1 person

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