Jealousy

Post stimulated by comment by Sharnhorst. Thanks Sharnhorst!

Is jealousy an inevitable part of limerence? I may be wrong, but to me limerence without the desire for exclusivity seems to be a contradiction in terms. The sense of “special connection” is so powerful and so central a feature of limerence, that the idea of your LO being with another partner brings a particularly exquisite stab of pain. This fits with the notion of limerence as a mechanism for pair bonding: the prospect of losing the bond triggers severe distress.

But as with all things human, it’s complicated. For those of us who’ve been through a few limerence cycles, the experience can be surprisingly different with different LOs. Jealousy is a product of multiple factors: anger, insecurity, control issues, sexual jealousy, fear, low self-esteem, and – sometimes – accurately recognising that your partner is a lying, inconstant son-or-daughter-of-a-bitch. How different factors intersect will likely determine your emotional response, and how severe the jealousy provoked by LO being flirty with others is. For example:

1) Where you are in the limerence cycle.

Early or late in the progression of limerence, it is likely that you could cope with ambivalence from LO with more equanimity. In the early stages, you’re probably busy idealising them, and so even their flirting with other people can be framed as evidence of their special sensitivity or need for love. Towards the end, you are probably emerging from the madness and able to be more high-minded about LO showing interest in others. But in the midst of limerence, once you have become addicted and uncertainty is heightening your craving, you are likely to suffer most. You’re emotionally captured, dependent on their company, but not yet sure that they feel the same way. You’ve had enough reciprocation to be sure there is something going on, and you hope against hope that it’s the real thing, but there’s enough anxiety to keep you on high alert for threats to the cementing of the emotional bond. At that point the thought of losing LO to another partner is awful.

2) Where they are in the limerence cycle.

In the case of mutual limerence, another complicating factor is LO’s relative progression through the cycle. If they are coming out of the euphoria stage faster than you, then they will probably start to set off your limerence radar by cooling off, and being more open to other people in the world. This is likely to set you back, and escalate your limerence jealousy. Time was (when they were limerent for you) they would have loved the fact you were jealous, as it would have been sweet, sweet confirmation of your commitment to them. But now – what a drag.

3) Where you are in life.

All of the preceding arguments are about susceptibility to jealousy. The actual, full on, green-eyed monster expression of jealousy is, like all behaviour, within our control. A major factor in how jealous you feel is going to be how purposefully you live your life. As a young man I was prone to jealousy – anger, humiliation, revenge fantasies, the usual package. I’ve mellowed. A lot of jealousy stems of course from personal insecurity; anxiety about how attractive you are and whether you can “win” the attentions of LO and make them want to stay with you. The jealousy comes from fear of losing them. Maturity makes you realise you can’t “lose” someone any more than you can own someone. It will sting like a bastard, but if they’re not as committed as you, it is very much in your interest to learn that. Rather than try and dance prettily, or contort yourself into accommodating knots, in a desperate attempt to somehow impress someone into being limerent for you, you can make a conscious decision about whether you are OK with it, or whether it’s time to move on. Ultimately, it’s way more humiliating to try and cajole someone into wanting you, than to “lose” in some imagined romantic competition.

4) The intensity of the situation in which you find out.

It’s one thing to hear from a friend of a friend that LO hooked up with someone else. It’s another to see their engagement photos on Facebook. It’s still worse to have them messing around in front of you, after you and they just had a heart-to-heart.

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I’m so glad I helped you overcome your fear of intimacy. What a pretty sunset.

What I’m saying is context matters. When it comes to discovery of LO’s romantic interest in others, ambushed and unprepared is likely to be much harsher to cope with than a rumour, three steps removed.

Pain when seeing LO is with other potential partners seems a certainty when limerent. How you respond to that pain is the determinant of whether it leads to jealousy. Self-awareness can allow acceptance of the feelings of jealousy, but suppression of the anger and negative behaviour that could be provoked. Instead, use it as a good intuitive yardstick for assessing LOs suitability as a genuine, life partner. If you are irrationally jealous, you can learn to mentally override the anger and explore your trust issues (perhaps with a therapist). But sometimes, jealousy is telling you that something is up, that LO is not as committed as you, and that you need to moderate your limerence before you suffer further pain. A good use of those sickening feelings of jealousy, is to use them to reprogram your subconscious mind and break the “LO = pleasure” connection. “LO = pain” is a useful new connection to help you overcome the addiction and move on to a more purposeful life.

 

Happily ever after

Many people blame fairytales for their relationship problems. Especially Disney. Damn Cinderellas and Princes Charming and happilys ever after. So unrealistic.

But that word, “happily”, is a slippery word. What does happy mean? Where does happy come from? Can somebody else make you happy?

Fairytales make sense to limerents, at least before we get jaded by age and experience. The whole concept of the super special someone that transforms your world, gives purpose to your life and determines your fate, aligns beautifully with the euphoric infatuation for an LO. Oh, that’s it! They’re “the one”. I finally understand.

So that’s a good start, but as I’ve discussed before, limerence is only a start. The flower that may bear fruit. It’s the happily ever after bit that’s tricky, because (spoiler alert) limerence will end. It has to, just like flowers don’t last all season. I’m convinced that much of the disappointment around fairytales comes from the faulty association of limerence with happily ever after. “Nobody can be happy with one person forever!” Yes they can. But nobody can be limerent for one person forever. This might seem obvious, but as I said at the start “happy” is a really slippery concept.

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Watch your step, someone’s spilt some philosophy

At its simplest, happiness could be seen as the absence of pain and suffering; but that’s more just security or comfort. It could be delight, or pleasure, or thrill, or elation, but all those things are really just related to happiness; its showy-offy cousins. Most people take happiness to be a deeper and more fundamental state. A sense of contented satisfaction with life, and a background feeling of peace, fulfillment and optimism. Feeling “right” and thankful for being alive. These feelings are obviously quite far removed from limerence, with its hysterical highs and devastating lows, but many limerents (especially, perhaps first time limerents) mix them up. Limerence feels so good, so right, that it seems a form of happiness that transcends mere workaday personal fulfillment. This is epic stuff.

But we know enough about the neurophysiology of limerence to know that it is more about pleasure than happiness, and that distinction is crucial. Seeking pleasure leads to a life of escalating thrills, risky behaviour and short-term gratification of drives. Seeking happiness, by contrast, leads to long-term thinking, self-discovery, honesty, and consistent work to improve the situation of your life. FOMO is a good barometer for this: fear that you’re missing a great party or being excluded from a social clique is mostly about desire for external validators, and stems from insecurity about your own value. Getting into the party might lead to pleasure (relief?), but it wouldn’t lead to happiness.

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This is great! God, I hope they invite me to the next one…

Limerence is not a reliable starting point for finding happiness. LO may be intoxicatingly wonderful, but that’s not much of a basis for predicting whether life with them will be one of long-term happiness. To return to the question I posed at the start: can someone else make you happy? Other people can obviously bring us pleasure. LOs excel at that… but as we know, limerence is happening in our heads. We generate the sensation, however ecstatic. More profoundly, other people can certainly (by their actions) make you feel valued and safe and loved. But can someone actually make you fundamentally happy, by virtue of their behaviour and personality? Is it possible for some sainted individual to bond with an unhappy person, and through the charisma of their being, transform them into a happy person? No. Fundamentally we know this. We cannot rely on someone else for our own happiness; it has to come from within and it has to be based on your own self-esteem and self-image. Undoubtedly a good partner complements and enhances the happiness of any individual lucky enough to have their commitment, but they can’t be a wellspring of happiness that is passively dipped into.

And… we’re back to purposeful living again! If you make the conscious choice to take charge of your life, determine what you want, and how best you can help others, so many of these anxieties and complexities fall away. Taking purposeful steps every day to know yourself better, and decide on the sort of person you want to be, is the best way to underpin your life with a foundation of happiness. And you may just find that the kind of person you aspire to be is the kind of person that attracts other good people towards them. And two good people enhancing each other’s lives is by most definitions, pretty darn close to happily ever after…

 

The three phases of limerence

Here’s a good podcast about limerence from Joe Beam, a marriage counsellor in the US.

It’s quite long, but worth it because there are a few real gems. The topic of discussion is focussed on married people, mainly how and why limerence affairs happen, but it has some insights into the phenomenon of limerence generally. In particular, he discusses the path of co-limerence and identifies three stages to the typical mutual limerence dance:

1) Infatuation

This is the “getting to know you” phase, where you start to really notice the LO and start to feel they are special. Joe Beam frames this in terms of an unconscious need of the limerent to feel worthy of being loved. It’s fed by a sense of connection and emotional bonding, and the desire to spend time with the LO who makes the limerent feel safe and motivated to share emotional intimacies.

2) Crystallisation

This is the full blown limerence response – so the full complement of traits. In the case of the limerence affair, this will also include the rewriting of history about the limerent’s marriage. It can also be characterised by a striking fear of loss. While this is a feature of all limerence, the precarious and dishonest basis of an affair likely heightens the fear. Which can reinforce the limerence.

3) Deterioration

As the name suggests, this is the phase where limerence decays. After a period in phase 2, the limerent starts to lose the urge to idealise the LO’s behaviour. The “halo effect” is tarnished, and the limerent begins to properly see the flaws of the LO. Again, in the case of an affair – especially one that causes the breakdown of the marriage – this is likely to be exaggerated. This heightened devaluation is well captured by the portentous phrase “look what you cost me”.

It’s an interesting framework, and no doubt evolved from his work with married couples. I’m not sure it’s universally useful as a way of understanding limerence, but it does give a good roadmap for how an affair is likely to play out if limerence is the trigger.

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Downhill, basically

There were a few other observations that struck me as particularly powerful. The first was the potency of the first moment of deceit. As he explains, there will come a point in the infatuation phase where you are spending a lot of time with LO and bonding emotionally. People will notice. Co-workers, friends, spouses – whoever – and someone will ask a question, make a comment, or tease you. And you will minimise it, or laugh it off, or flat-out lie. You may even take steps to be more discreet. Not end the emotional affair of course, not stop seeing LO, but perhaps meet for coffee at a new café, or arrive separately, or change your schedule. You know, to stop people gossiping.

That’s it.

That’s the point that you know for sure you are not “just friends”.

The second observation that struck me was the fact that mutual limerence is often mistimed. One person becomes limerent faster than the other, and then tries to drag the other out of phase 1 and into phase 2 with them. Ironically enough, he also suggests there is a tendency for “first in first out”, as the same (hasty) limerent goes into phase 3 faster too. Of course, the poor slowcoach limerent is then desperate, and tries everything they can to get their LO back into phase 2. Which accelerates the deterioration, usually.

Finally, a big kicker comes from his observation that limerence literally changes you. “You’re not the man I first met,” is not just a barb from an LO in phase 3; it’s the truth. To cope with the cognitive dissonance caused by an affair (I am a good person, but I am betraying my spouse) requires either a reconceptualisation of the limerent’s self-worth and realisation that they are not behaving like a good person (yeah, right), or a change in their value system and moral compass (everyone has affairs; true love is more important than duty; monogamy is unnatural). To maintain self-worth while totally inverting their emotional loyalties requires rewriting pretty major aspects of their identity.

Weighty stuff.

 

What to do if you are married but limerent for someone else

Following on from musings about midlife, one of the commonest problems that more mature limerents face is falling for a new LO when committed to someone else. This is hard enough to deal with in a simple monogamous relationship, but when commitment has led you to marriage and children and joint assets and lives intertwined like the Gordian knot, it can be especially challenging.

So, what should you do if you are married but limerent for someone else? The answer to this question depends a lot on the nature of your marriage, and also on your personal “limerence profile”, and what you want from life. In the manner beloved of therapists everywhere, I plan to answer this key question by asking questions.

1) Do you become limerent very readily?

If so, you probably have experience by now of multiple rides on the limerent-while-married merry-go-round. Managing this is similar to the challenge faced by high-libido folks in a world full of gorgeous people – find coping strategies to manage your urges in a way that doesn’t wreck destruction on the people around you (and yourself). If your goal is to have a stable, loving relationship with your spouse, then you need to accept that you must have a plan for how to interact with potential LOs that limits the risk of escalating attraction. Common strategies would be avoiding contact, avoiding discussion of emotionally-charged topics, and adopting a guarded, defensive mindset when interacting with that person. This is likely to make your company fairly flat (or even difficult) for LO – which is a good thing for you as they are less likely to dazzle you up. If this is an unbearable prospect, then you may have to reconsider whether you are able to lead a monogamous life. If you are not, please discuss this with your spouse before unilaterally embarking on a post-monogamy lifestyle.

If you are an infrequent limerent, and have had few LOs in your life, then there is a greater risk that the re-emergence of limerence will knock you for six emotionally. The specialness of the experience, and the specialness of LO, can seem much more dramatic by virtue of its rarity. Particular care is needed in these cases to maintain clarity of thought when making big decisions about your future.

2) Were you limerent for your spouse?

One mechanism for orientating yourself during the maelstrom of limerence is to think back to how you felt about your spouse in the Early Days. Were you limerent for them? If so, then you can reassure yourself that you picked a brilliant sparkly true-love match, and that now you have simply moved into a more mature phase of affectional bonding. There are lots of amazing people in the world. Many of them are potential LOs. If your spouse was one, then you know what the progression of love is like: dizzying limerence leading to pair bonding, but fading with time and familiarity. That pattern is likely to repeat if you start a new dizzying limerence affair with LO of the moment. So, you will be sacrificing your current marriage (kids, financial stability) for going back to square one and starting over. While older.

If, in contrast, you weren’t limerent for your spouse, then there’s no two ways about it: in terms of glamour they are going to suffer by comparison to LO. Now, depending on your individual circumstances, this may be a good thing. If you are one of those unfortunate souls that become limerent for narcissists or other personality-disordered types it is a Good Thing to bond with someone less glamorous but emotionally stable and giving. People are complicated, though, and there are a lot of strange chains of events that lead people to marry for reasons other than love or limerence. Then, the glamour of LO can make you feel that this is your chance to really experience blissful union. Perhaps the best way to determine how to proceed is to ask the big question…

3) How was your marriage before the limerence began?

Honest appraisal time. Can you determine cause and effect? Have you become limerent for someone else because you were unhappy in your marriage, or have you become unhappy in your marriage because you have become limerent for someone else? A guiding principle in answering this question is that when you are limerent YOUR JUDGEMENT IS IMPAIRED (sorry for shouting). Seriously, your brain is currently awash with a cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters that evolved to try and compel you to bond with a mate. The demands and responsibilities of adult human life transcend this (or should). You need to compensate for the strength of your feelings with reason. Emotions have a much greater impact on decision making than most people think. You need to be as objective as you can in assessing the true emotional context of your relationship before the new centre of gravity skewed your orbit.

Were you happy? Did you and your spouse have healthy mutual respect and love? Did you support each other – and was there reciprocation of care and consideration? Now, most relationships fall short of these ideals from time to time, but the foundation of mutual respect and affection is the key. Were you a positive force in your spouse’s life, helping them to thrive and be fulfilled? Were they a positive force in your life? If you answer no to these questions, the next question is why? Was it distraction and neglect and the loss of a previous good connection or… is there a fundamental incompatibility? We all know that the mad bliss of limerence cannot last. And it would be exhausting. Most people buy into the goal of happily ever after, not intoxicatedly ever after. If that’s your goal, a clear sighted review of the past of your marriage will probably help predict the future.

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Oh, it’s very sweet, Bob, but… every year?

4) How are you currently relating to your spouse?

Limerence makes you resent the people that stand between you and your LO fix. Combined with the idealisation of LO and devaluation of boring familiar family life, this can lead to a negative feedback loop where your spouse becomes the enemy. Your spouse – and especially your children – are not the enemy. This trap is in your mind, and you need to escape it. If you are being a crap spouse, then obviously the marriage will continue to deteriorate and of course confirm the superiority of LO (who you only see at their best and most sparkly and novel). You need to re-value your spouse. Your response to question 3 can guide this, but the major point is: if you are currently treating them like a barrier to your happiness, your marriage is pretty much doomed. Get away from LO and try treating your spouse like the most important person in your life, whose happiness is a major priority for you. You know. Like they should be.

5) Would you leave your marriage if you knew for sure that LO would reject you?

If not, why not? Because you are fearful of being alone? Or because you’ll settle for spouse until the next LO who might accept you comes along? It should probably be clear that these are not good reasons for marriage. Always assume that LO will reject you. If you still mostly want to leave, that’s a pretty good indicator that things are bad with the union.

6) Are you living with purpose?

My perennial theme, and the sneaky basis for all the foregoing questions. Are you willing to let LO determine how your life and marriage proceed? Are you going to move through life responding to emotional disturbances in a reactive, fatalistic way? Or are you going to take responsibility for your decisions, and acknowledge that making a commitment sometimes means doing the right thing even when it’s not easy? Carrying on in a fog of indecision and anxiety is no way to live. You need to respect yourself and your spouse and make a decision. And probably, honestly, deep down, you know what the right decision is. The one that will lead to a future in which your self esteem and wellbeing are determined by the actions you take and what they say about you as a person. That may mean staying in your marriage, learning from your limerence experience, dissociating from LO, and understanding yourself and your spouse better. Or it may mean leaving an unhappy marriage that you have been trying to keep alive for too long and admitting to yourself that it hasn’t worked out and this isn’t a shameful failure, it’s life.

If you keep drifting along in limbo, too starstruck and addict-selfish to recommit to your spouse, or too hidebound to leave an unhealthy (but probably strangely comfortable) marriage, other people will be making the decisions about how your life unfolds. Dithering about something this fundamental is the opposite of purposeful living, and an invitation for ongoing limerence.

Phew; a long and serious post. To end, here’s my bullet point list of How To Get Through All This:

  • Decide to live your life with purpose.
  • If you can possibly go no contact with LO while you figure this out, do.
  • Honestly evaluate whether your marriage has a future, based on an honest evaluation of its past.
  • If it does, commit to it properly and fully, and prioritise your spouse’s feelings over your limerence.
  • Part of that commitment should be honest communication. If you need to disclose, do it to your spouse but not your LO.
  • Good luck and godspeed to the far side.

Finding the right match

Dating is fun and complicated and painful and confusing. A major source of pain and confusion is mismatched expectations. Now, having a blog about limerence, it’s sort of obvious that I’d think that limerence is one of the causes of mismatched expectations, but I actually think that the lack of awareness about limerence is the major contributory factor to a huge number of relationship problems. Once we understand limerence, we realise that the dating world will be very different for limerents and non-limerents, and foreknowledge of limerence and its ways can alter our expectations profoundly.

Most straightforwardly, it’s a good idea when dating to try and figure out at a fairly early stage of any nascent relationship, whether your target/victim is a limerent or non-limerent. Because that’s going to have a big impact on what you can expect from them, and makes it a lot easier to predict and respond to the likely behaviour you’ll observe. As for different attachment types, the drives and reactions of limerents and non-limerents will be fundamentally different, and much agony comes from mismatched assumptions about how people in love behave. It’s the tragedy of two well-meaning people with shared desire, but different expectations, misunderstanding each other.

Limerents, as we know, are going to be travelling down the obsessive love road.

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To person-junkie town

Non-limerents are looking for romance and friendship and love, but not the soul-consuming total consummation that limerents crave. That’s clingy and unhealthy in their world. And let’s be honest, even we limerents know it can be a bit much.

To pick this apart, let’s analyse how different love matches would play out in the early stages of a new relationship

1) Limerent–limerent love

For limerents, this is the real deal. Two people totally into one another. Both feeling the massive surge of limerent euphoria, but enough uncertainty on both sides to keep feeding it (I’m assuming here that neither are confident enough in their own attractiveness to be sure of full reciprocation). If obstacles are in the way, the limerence can be intensified. If mutual attraction leads to consummation, these lucky devils are in for ecstatic union, and a heady and intoxicating time.

However… the downside to limerent-limerent love is that the intensity is bound to wear off. At this point, our limerent heroes are going to either settle into loving pair-bonding, or seek out a new limerent object. This is where self-awareness as a limerent really pays off. It helps avoid the cycle of destructive breakups and seeking of novelty that is the fate of the limerence-chaser.

2) Limerent–Non-limerent love

The hardest combo.

From the perspective of the non-limerent, they really like this new person in their world and want to spend lots of time with them, and fool around (as the old folks say), and enjoy the thrill of new relationship energy. But – woe – after a little while their new lover is acting a bit… erratically. Getting jealous of their friends, seeking constant validation, wanting their undivided attention. Wanting more and more and more, as though they crave total immersion and want to do nothing but spend all their time with you. Just them and you. Don’t they realise that love shouldn’t be this stifling?

From the limerent’s perspective, things are different. Oh, the euphoria of consummation. Oh, the dopamine-rush of their company. This one might just be The One. But – woe – just when things were going so well their new lover is acting a bit… erratically. Wanting to spend less time together. Wanting to see friends, and go and spend time around other people, including other potential mates. The cooling of their ardour only feeds the limerence obsession. Suddenly, the limerent starts to fear losing the centre of their romantic universe, and their limerent brain doubles-down on the obsession. Don’t they realise that love shouldn’t be this superficial?

These kinds of matches can keep insecure limerents in a perpetual state of reinforcing uncertainty. They can try and play it cool and convince themselves that they are OK with the lack of mutual limerence, but they are likely to be having the worst kind of intermittent reinforcement schedule if they persist with this kind of relationship. It’s not impossible, if the limerent is aware of their drives, able to moderate their insecurities, and make a clear-headed decision to stick with their partner because they are worth the investment. But it’s not likely to be simple or easy.

3) Non-limerent–non-limerent love

Eh. I don’t know much about this, personally. I guess it’s about finding someone that you like more than all the other someones, but also being open to having emotional relationships with other people and everyone involved being fine about it. I suppose it’s alright if you like that sort of thing.

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There are probably some other blogs out there for you lot

 

So, those are the pitfalls out there for the dating limerent. I’ve made the point before, and I’m happy to make it again: I don’t think that non-limerent love is in any way more mature or evolved than limerent love, and it’s a recipe for pain and self-denial for limerents to try and behave as though they are non-limerent. Lots of gurus and relationship coaches advocate this, but it’s a denial of the fundamental nature of limerents. Yes, the mad obsessive infatuation of limerence is objectively unbalanced, but it’s euphoric and life affirming and energising too. Maturity comes from within the individual: the ability to restrain limerence when it’s unwelcome, embrace it when it’s focussed on a worthy partner, and use it to build an incredible pair bond that will last. That’s the ideal scenario for limerents. Not to deny who they fundamentally are.

 

Midlife crisis for limerents

Midlife is an interesting time. It begins to dawn on you that whatever endeavours you threw yourself into in early adulthood are coming to fruition. In many careers, it becomes clear – and pretty much settled – whether or not you will reach the highest levels. By definition, most people won’t. If you have children, they are growing to independence, and you start to face an empty nest. In love, your choices will have determined whether you are partnered in a long term relationship, bruised from bad encounters, alone, or living one of the many non-conventional models of interdependence.

The things that you decided to do with your life are no longer characterised by the promise of future achievement – it is now clear whether or not that promise has been, or will ever be, fulfilled. Regardless of the choices that you made, the realisation comes that you are halfway through your life and have to decide whether you are still happy with those choices. Our bodies also confront us with evidence of our age – grey hairs, wrinkles, flaccidity, menopause.

Halfway through your life. Or halfway to your death.

For some people this can cause a panic of regret and fear.

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I’ve wasted my life! My chance for happiness is slipping away! I hate my job, but I’m trapped!

For others, it is closer to ennui – a sense of dissatisfaction and fatigue, and nostalgic loss.

It is also, perhaps unsurprisingly, the prime time for affairs.

Many people report that a peculiarity of midlife is a sudden eruption of libidinous energy and romantic interest in others. It’s been described as a second adolescence. Whether this is mainly a psychological response to the emotions of midlife, or also a hormonal surge due to physiological changes at midlife, is unclear. But the consequences are a powerful sense of a “last chance” for a fling, or open relationship, or to reinvent yourself with a new partner. This can be complicated by the realisation that your appeal has changed (for better or worse) with age: physical maturity, the confidence of experience, financial and emotional stability; all of these can affect the perception of your attractiveness to others. Of course, another common cliche is the desire for a younger partner, in an attempt to hang on to youth or get a second chance at making a relationship work. Equally, spending time in the company of other attractive midlifers going through the same suite of sensations can prove… combustible.

All of these factors come to a head and present a particular vulnerability for limerents. It may be a long time since a midlifer felt the pull of limerence, and if it has been an infrequent part of their life, it may be an unfamiliar challenge and upend their emotional stability. I’ve speculated before that limerence is a mechanism for establishing pair bonding, but as it typically only lasts for a few years at most, serial monogamy would seem to be the natural outcome. A sudden urgent sense that this is the last chance to find a new mate, coupled to resurgent limerence, is a powerful force.

Ultimately, all this turmoil may drive our midlife limerent into a tailspin, but what can be done?

Well, they could spend hours studying Jungian analytical psychology, take up a new hobby (maybe even a blog…), or just weather it as best as they are able with the coping skills they’ve developed through adulthood. Alternatively, they could embark on that affair, and start the second half of their lives by jeopardising everything they’ve achieved in the first half. It might work out. But it will probably come as no surprise to regular readers that I would instead advocate reflection and self-awareness. As the heart of this is self-honesty, and here are some blunt questions that could help:

1) Was I happy in my relationship before this started?

2) Do I honestly think that starting a new relationship will solve my emotional problems?

3) Am I facing the future or running away from it?

4) Do I want to let limerence determine my fate?

 

Usually with these bloggy ramblings I try to adopt a broad point of view about the nature of limerence, but this topic is a personal one for me, and so it’s hard to be objective. The first stage of my adult life is over. I am no longer a young man. I have a family, who are growing fast and will not need me so urgently in the coming years. I’m facing the second half of life, and determined to attack it with purpose. To take the opportunity to live well, and decide for myself how I want to measure success in the afternoon of my life. Luckily for me, I have a supportive wife that I love very much – and we’ve spent many enjoyable afternoons together already.

Here’s to a purposeful future.

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Cheers M’dears

 

I’m totally over this. Let’s go for coffee!

Hee hee. Limerence and its wily ways. I recently came across this quote from Irvin Yalom (an eminent therapist) about overcoming infatuation:

Nor is the dissolution a steady process. Setbacks occur— and nothing is more likely to bring about a setback than another encounter with the beloved. Patients offer many rationalizations for such new contact: they insist that they are over it now and that a cordial talk, a coffee, or lunch with the former beloved will help to clarify things, help them to understand what went wrong, help them establish a lasting adult friendship, or even permit them to say good-bye like a mature person. None of these things is likely to come to pass. Generally the individuals recovery is set back, much as a slip sets back a recovering alcoholic.

I’m guessing most limerents recognise this impulse. The gentle self-delusion that it’s now fine to spend time with their LO, because they’ve worked through their issues and are now all empowered and wise and emotionally stable. Of course, it’s really driven by the desire to get a little hit of their drug of choice, rationalised by a high-minded desire to get closure.

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Ahhh. Two of my favourite stimulants at once.

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.

Gotta agree with Irvin “None of these things is likely to come to pass.”

So is that it? No possible hope for full recovery and a neutral friendship with LO? I’ve opined on this before, but in the spirit of not being totally defeatist, there may be some cases where it’s possible.

1) The limerence was fully discharged 

You can plausibly meet again as friends on the far side of limerence. The simplest case here is if a sexual relationship took place, and because of that consummation you worked through the limerence and it’s now gone. Less complete, but possible, is that you disclosed and received an unequivocal “no”. Again, that could smother the fuel of limerence by removing uncertainty. One could debate the wisdom of seeking friendship from someone you desire but who does not reciprocate, but it is plausible that limerence has been snuffed out beyond recovery.

2) You truly feel indifferent

In the let’s-meet-for-coffee scenario above, someone who still has a glimmer of limerence will feel a quiet thrill of excited anticipation. That, of course, means you’re not over LO half as much as you would like to believe. If, in contrast, you can ask yourself the question “how would I feel if I didn’t see them again?” and honestly answer “OK”, then you may actually be OK. In fact, a good test would be to decide “I have lots of projects on at the moment, and meeting old-LO isn’t a priority” and then see how your dormant limerent brain feels about that. It’ll let you know if it’s cross about losing its fix.

3) They are a guilty pleasure

Not sure if this one is healthy, but I guess it is possible to treat an LO like social drinking – an occasional indulgence that can be managed for the pleasure it brings. I suppose an unwitting LO could be safe, but it’s a relatively high risk strategy from your own perspective if you are in a long-term relationship. Plus, it’s kind of icky.

As Granny Weatherwax says “Sin… is when you treat people like things”.

 

Overall, you’ve got to ask yourself how important it is that you can be friends with an old LO. What are you proving to yourself? How much would they add to your life, really? Are you surrendering your purposefulness to them? Are you trying to cling to the old comfort of the person addiction that once meant so much?

It’s hard to believe you can’t find the benefits of friendship elsewhere…

Why are some people so addictive?

Some people have all the luck. You know the ones, always seem to have someone on their arm. Sometimes several someones at once (probably not literally). Although they appear outwardly normal, there’s something magnetic about them that draws people in. The sort of people that have Intrigues.

One might call it charisma. Whatever It is, they seem to have it. The X factor.

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Maybe it’s the pipe?

Why?

As ever, we’ll look at this from the perspective of limerence, so our definition of the X factor is going to be “able to provoke limerence in many people.” Can we figure out, from what we know about limerence, why some people may be especially addictive?

Probably not, but here’s a few unsubstantiated theories that seem truthy!

1) They play the numbers game

Some people love to flirt. They sparkle at everyone. This could be innocent, but could also be due to narcissitic tendencies. Either way, a consequence of this is that they basically trawl for limerents. Anyone vulnerable to their charms gets captured by their flirtation carpet-bombing and duped into thinking that reciprocation has occurred. Possibly not even duped. Within this framework there’s plenty of scope for the broad-spectrum LO to be equally indiscriminate sexually, further snaring the limerent into nucleation.

So, these folks appear to have amazing powers of charisma, but are actually playing a high volume/ low conversation rate game. Anyone who has fallen for one of these players knows the heartache of being limerent for a narrow-margins romance speculator. Exclusivity is a hopeless dream.

2) They are human slot machines

I’ve written before about the power of intermittent rewards. We’re hardwired for this. Gambling companies understand it beautifully and optimise their slot machines to time payouts and losses just right to keep us hooked. The uncertainty of intermittent reward is a major part of limerence. Do they like me? Sometimes it’s wonderful and they are loving and flirty and seem to be enraptured with me. Other times they are aloof. Cold even. They can make me feel elated and devastated. What do they want?

In popular vernacular, this is the “treat ’em mean keep ’em keen” strategy, and it works a treat with unsuspecting limerents. For those that want to arm themselves against it: the most effective hook for gamblers is to give a big win in the early stages of interest, and then to progressively increase the time to the next payout (and decrease its size), but keeping a semi-random element to it to prevent a pattern being recognised. With limerence, this would be a period of love-bombing at the start of an affair, followed by progressive decreases in the time and attention given once the limerent is hooked, but with occasional, unpredictable, grand gestures to keep you off balance.

I’m not saying this is all some awful plan and the world is full of limerence predators – often it is just subconscious learned behaviour on the LO’s part too. But that’s not much consolation if it’s your heart they’re breaking.

3) They are archetypes

We all have certain personal triggers that determine who we become limerent for and how frequently. These may well be determined in childhood or adolescence and so non-trivial to uncover in adulthood. However, it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to assume that many of us will have triggers in common; that we will respond to common cues. Some people may exhibit these cues in abundance. There may be a class of “limerence archetypes” that are psychologically attractive to many people because they represent a behavioural or physical type that is evocative of the Ideal Mate.

Us limerent moths circle these blessed/cursed souls relentlessly, drawn inexorably towards their archetypal flame.

4) They are just inherently gorgeous and good.

Finally, there may be some people who are LO’s because of their overwhelming goodness. It would be nice to think so. I wish you all the luck in the world in finding one!

Sometimes love takes work

I’m not a fan of this aphorism. It’s true, in the sense that all human endeavours are sometimes hard work and that love is not some magical exception that just perfectly coasts along for years if you are sufficiently star-kissed or pure of heart. But it can also be a excuse for tolerating a truly unhealthy relationship.

We all know people who should just leave their partners. Whose relationships seem to be built on tears and stubbornness. What I’ve found particularly disheartening, though, is learning that friends are in this type of relationship after I’ve shared a “love sometimes takes work” story. Say I’ve been complaining about how my wife and I haven’t seen much of each other recently – haven’t really been present for each other – and lamented that sometimes you have to work hard to make sure that complacency doesn’t lead to neglect. They may nod and say, “relationships take work. For example, my wife phoned me from her spa hotel at the weekend and screamed at me for forgetting to charge her mobile for her before she left, so she had to buy a new iPhone 7, but the account was overdrawn from the spa bill, so the payment was rejected and she was humiliated, and so had to use the credit card instead. And when was I going to start earning proper money because her spa-friend’s husband is a CEO?”

They then wryly reflect on their emotionally abusive partner with a smile and a sigh, and say again, “I guess love takes work”.

Well, yeah, but it shouldn’t be a bloody labour of Hercules.

Anything worthwhile takes work, but it should be work focussed on doing necessary but time-consuming tasks that move you towards your goals, not massive sacrifices in order to make life tolerable. Improving your communication skills to express your needs and understand your partner is a good thing; trying your best to not cry or rage when your partner has humiliated you in front of their friends again is not.

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And don’t get me started on that “love and hate are two sides of the same coin” bullshit.

I think limerents are especially vulnerable to this tendency. First, there’s the idealisation of LO, and second, there’s the romantic view that “if I love them hard enough, this will get better”. The splendour and power of limerence tends to amplify the significance of love in a limerent’s mind. Something as potent as this must be life changing, they think – indeed it already has changed the limerent’s life. Everything changed when they found and bonded to LO – their whole world was upended, so naturally enough they think that if only the same reaction can be provoked in LO then all their selfishness and pettiness will be washed away.

Instead, of course, the LO behaves just as they always did, and the limerent keeps rationalising.

So, that’s why I have a problem with the “love takes work” cliché. At one level it’s a sober reminder that nothing good comes easy and that you should take nothing for granted. At another level, it’s a fig leaf for unreasonable behaviour.

In summary, purposeful work = good. Desperate slog = bad.

The seduction of Romance

I tend to assume that limerents must all be romantics. Life certainly makes it easy – the Disney model of the one true love overlaps nicely with the idealisation of LOs. Oh, they are so very special. It must be something cosmic.

Now, cards on the table, I am a believer in true love, and I’m not ashamed of it. But, I think we all know it’s not cosmic; it’s actually a very human and changeable and personal thing. The path does not always run smooth, and limerence can be as much a hindrance as a help.

In the early stages of romantic love, limerence is essential for limerents. I don’t just mean that as an obvious truism – I mean it in the context that having experienced limerence, a love affair without that initial thrill will always seem second best. I’m not denigrating healthy loving bonds between caring people that didn’t get the initial butterfly stage, but that path is very different to the mad, love-overload-that-matures-into-something-stable which most limerents crave. Maybe I’m greedy, but I’m not the only one.

As with many aspects of limerence, however, when it comes to romance, Problems arise.

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I knew it

First and foremost – just as for the mental model of the LO – romance largely arises from the limerent’s own mind, and their fervent desire to interpret reality in a manner that justifies their intense feelings. When the limerence is reciprocated, this is brill. One of the greatest liberations in being human is our freedom to imagine the sort of world we want to live in and seek it. For many of us, that world includes another individual that we are sure is definitively and uniquely special, and who feels the same about us. Indulging romantic fantasy is healthy, when it helps us to escape and transcend the limitations of everyday life. I’m with Tolkien, in his sentiments about fairy stories –  What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape? Jailers. 

But, when the limerence is not reciprocated, or when it’s focused on an inappropriate LO, romantic thinking can be decidedly unbrill. First, it obviously makes the limerent vulnerable to minimising the LO’s unsuitability. “They only do that because they hurt inside. My love will soothe their inner turmoil.” Second, romantic notions are very deeply embedded in our subconscious, and feelings beat the intellect out of the starting gate every time. We almost can’t believe our own thoughts, because of the disconnect between our rapid emotional response and our more sluggish intellectual response (which comes puffing up afterwards waving its arms and gasping “hold on a minute”). This impulse also underlies the risk of relapse after a period of no-contact with LO – we retrospectively airbrush memories to fit our romantic notion of LO, not the reality.

So, how can we embrace romance when it’s healthy, be suspicious of it when it’s not, and learn to tell the difference?

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*Sigh* it’s self-awareness isn’t it?       Why yes!

A super important skill in self-awareness is learning to detach your observation skills from your emotional response. The emotional response is going to hit you first. That’s fine. Let it happen. But then, when your rationality catches up, think “how interesting, I am experiencing emotion X”. For example, you could be remembering a time when LO behaved badly, and feel your stomach turn over, and then think “how interesting, I am experiencing guilt and feelings of protectiveness when I think badly of LO.”

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I…will…analyse…romance…

Emotional intuition is important and useful and keeps us safe, but needs to be cultivated like any other skill. This sort of detached analysis is a good way to assess strong emotional feelings by overlaying them with an intellectual review and deciding “yes, I am right to worry about this,” or “my emotional triggers are stopping me from seeing this clearly.” Incidentally, this should be an intensely personal experience – it’s risky to let others direct it, as manipulative people can try and persuade you that you are being hysterical. Develop this skill and you can learn to trust your emotions better and indulge them healthily.

Romance is brilliant, but it’s also seductive. Just like limerence it can add to, or subtract from, life’s joys.