It’s been a while since we got specific about a personal limerence dilemma, so this week I thought it would be good to tackle another case study. Elle got in touch with me (via a temporary gmail account – very cloak and dagger) about a problem she is having with her LO. Basically, he’s pushy:
Can you help game plan for how best to respond to a LO who pushes for disclosure? or ‘calls you out’ on your feelings? All of the reasons in your recent posts for living with unconfirmed feelings as the limerent still apply, but I don’t have any productive way to respond to comments like, “You love me.” and I am sure, since so many LOs are narcissists, that I am not the only person dealing with this sort of forward push from a perceptive LO.
Now, I don’t know much about the background to Elle’s situation, but I do agree there are some good general lessons to be learned from analysing this scenario from an objective viewpoint. What can we do as limerents when faced with this sort of dilemma? We may be doing our best to reverse away from the car crash we can see ahead, but what happens if the LO swerves into our lane, and chases after us honking their horn?
Well, whenever we find ourselves in the situation of feeling lost, confused about how we got into an uncomfortable and threatening situation, and panicking a little about how to get out, there are a few key steps that can be followed to re-establish control.
Step 1: Examine your own behaviour
I’d always advocate a cool-headed review of yourself as the first step in solving this sort of problem. You could be blameless, but starting with yourself is a constructive response. If you are accidentally limerent, it suggests that you were not acting purposefully or thinking clearly beforehand. Now is the perfect time to start!
In Elle’s case, LO obviously senses that she has feelings for him, and is pushing for her to admit it. So, Elle could ask herself how she has been acting around him and whether she may have been signalling romantic interest. This could be relatively active – flirting, touching, winking etc. – or it could be more passive “slippage” of clues that reveal her limerence.
If, as seems likely, Elle is in the common situation of being limerent for LO but wishing she wasn’t because she doesn’t want a relationship with him, then the other factor to be aware of is the generation of uncertainty through mixed messages. By saying one thing (I’m not interested) but behaving in a way that suggests the opposite (I’m seeking your company) you could unwittingly be fuelling limerence in LO.
However (and it’s a big however – like, Empire State Building big) it is really important that you do not run this personal review in order to blame yourself for the situation, or find excuses for LO’s conduct. The main benefit of this sort of dispassionate self-appraisal is to become more aware of your subconscious actions, and learn how and why you fell into an unplanned romantic entanglement. You are aiming for an honest assessment of how your behaviour could have contributed to the situation, so you can figure out how to improve and avoid the same mistakes in the future.
All that said, even the most purposeful and clear-sighted limerent can find themselves in Elle’s position. While it is likely you can always identify some errors of judgement, this step can confirm that you have behaved responsibly, and done your best to give a clear message that you do not want any romantic connection with LO. But he has sensed your emotional conflict, and is trying to exploit it. That brings us to step 2.
Step 2: Examine LO’s behaviour
You’ve reviewed your own conduct, now it’s time to review theirs. Pushiness is not a positive trait, generally, so view it as a red flag. If you have been indulging the limerent rush a bit, and dancing around the mutual attraction, then it’s possible that LO is just trying to get clarity, but this would normally take the form of them disclosing first and then asking whether you reciprocate. If instead they are teasing and goading and trying to get you to admit your feelings while keeping theirs hidden, they are playing a manipulative game.
In general, the dynamic between you and LO will help you figure out their intentions. Divining someone else’s motives is always speculative, so use caution, but there are some good indicators for dishonesty on their part. Have they been mostly respecting your boundaries, but then lapsing in moments when they’ve become more blurred again? Or have they been attacking them relentlessly? When you ask them to stop pushing, do they apologise and withdraw, or do they deny and contradict you and argue that you are leading them on? Do they seem to enjoy your discomfort, and laugh at your tongue-tied attempts to respond to their impertinence?
To return to the earlier point: pushiness is usually a red flag. Pushiness is a power play. This can be quite serious. Narcissists, sociopaths, and other flavours of the personality-disordered learn quickly that having compromising information about someone gives them power over them. That is why disordered people will often try to implicate you in unethical behaviour, social transgressions, or the sharing of inflammatory secrets. It’s a way to bind you to them; to entangle you in their dramas.
An LO who pushes you to admit to feelings for them when you are married or conflicted in some other professional or personal way, will use it as a way to manipulate you. They are trying to get you to hand them a bomb that could blow your life up.
Honest people are especially vulnerable to this attack. If you are limerent for a manipulator, and do not recognise them for what they are, you can end up torn between lying about your feelings or undermining your other relationships. They have you in a lose-lose situation where your integrity is compromised by either option. The only way out is to not play their game.
Step 3: Decide what you want
Once you’ve analysed yourself, and done your best to assess their motives, the next step is to clearly decide what you want to happen next. The simple answer here is that you want them to stop pushing you, but that falls into the category of “things outside of your control”. It’s better to focus on what you can do to resist the pushing.
So, what do you want your future to look like? Will LO be in it at all? Are they someone that you cannot avoid (a co-worker, neighbour etc.) or are you able to go no contact? Do you just want a cordial acquaintanceship, or do you want to try and salvage a friendship? If so, you might want to read this and this.
Persistence in romantic pursuit can be flattering, but there is something inherently suspect about anyone who treats wearing down your defences as a fun game, and an appropriate way to behave. These are not people that you should even want as friends, no matter how charming and charismatic they are capable of being.
Ultimately, you must choose the future you want and then act decisively to try and reach it.
Step 4: Take action
It is essential that you take decisive action, as inaction will result in the status quo continuing. The last step, therefore, is to work hard to make your words and deeds consistent, and directed towards achieving your goals.
Limiting contact is going to be very important with a pushy LO. They are constantly proving that they cannot be trusted to respect your boundaries, so you need to avoid giving them further opportunities to try. See as little as them as you can. Recognise that you are not obliged to respect someone who disrespects you. You don’t have to answer their questions, you don’t have to respond to their texts. If you worry that this is rude – what would you call pestering someone with incredibly intrusive questions they don’t want to answer?
Being totally clear in your communications is another key aim. Remove any scope for ambiguity. Make it clear that you are not engaging with their goading, and that you refuse to answer any personal questions.
Admit it. You love me!
“Stop saying that. It’s offensive and I don’t like it.”
Alternatively, you could decide that lying to a disrespectful pest is an acceptable position to take in protecting yourself.
Admit it. You love me!
“No, I don’t. Leave me alone.”
You may be tempted to try and diffuse the situation with banter or humour (“In your dreams!”), but it is better to be bluntly straightforward. Manipulators live in the grey zone of plausible deniability, and will take anything less than a definite No as an opportunity to try again later.
If your best efforts to limit contact and communicate clearly do not stop them from harassing you, that tells you something very important. Those red flags above were real. LO is someone who has bad character and is a threat to your wellbeing. Go full No Contact if you possibly can, and if there is a professional dimension to the relationship consider escalating to a higher authority.
How LO responds to your decisive action will reveal how serious a problem they are, but hopefully for Elle, her LO will lay off once she asserts herself.
All other viewpoints and experiences welcomed in the comments.
Ha! Dr. L that losing control of your metaphor line made me laugh out loud!
But back to business: Long ago I had a very pushy LO who I met through friends and immediate became smitten with… and I thought it was mutual… he would send extravagant gifts and constantly call and come to visit and sang me songs on his guitar … encouraged me to fly out to his home town so I could see the bluebells in bloom and meet his mom… I felt it was going too fast but yet had not become physical… I tried to slow it down and buy some time but we still chatted every night (so exhilarating and hilarious!). One day he told me he now realized that he met someone special (Me, right?) but alas it was not me. I drank a glass (or two) of wine and called him back and told him how unkind he was to give me all those positive signals and he blithely said “you just don’t understand how to be a friend”. Well I cut him off (at the insistence of my friends) but not before I demanded he refund my plane fare for the upcoming bluebell viewing mom meeting trip. (It wasn’t the money, it was the principle). He reluctantly did and I proceeded to get over him. A few months later he weaseled his way back (this was before I had LWL insight) aggressively insisting on rekindling our contact and I thought I needed to prove I could indeed be friends to counter his earlier claim. A matter of principle! (Insert eyeroll). The flame had actually almost died and we eventually went on several trips together with friends and WOW his true personality became more and more evident and I realized I had dodged a huge charming and attractive but distasteful bullet. But… he kept checking in to reassure himself that I was still in love with him … so infuriating that he didn’t believe me when I said the flame had died. Finally I said “DON’T FLATTER YOURSELF! Those feelings were very temporary insanity”. And I proved it by drastically lowering contact.
I eventually lost all interest in being friends with him at all and when it finally hit him that he had lost all appeal for me he faded away out of my life. And I lived happily ever after. Oops, that’s how it was supposed to be! I wish I could say he was my last LO…but some of us are slow learners.
Wow Jaideux, stories like that really make me understand your opinions on LOs and their motivations. That guy is a dick. I wonder what stories he told himself to try and justify his actions.
Yeah, the pushy love bombing earlier on is another narcissist red flag. Do you think his “I’ve met someone special” was another game? Like he was trying to unsettle you and make you compete? If so, it backfired for him!
An interesting twist on the pushy LO is a pushy LO that elicits confirmation through other means, such as pulling attention away and redirecting it elsewhere to see you’re hooked. I tried to give LO the benefit of the doubt and to assume the conduct was due to feeling insecure and being unable to get direct confirmation but it was very unsettling.
Dr L, I never thought of that before! He actually shared very little info about her … I guess you never know! Since I am not a competitive person and especially will always back away from competing for a man, if that was his strategy it did indeed backfire! It’s just horrifying to me though that I was so besotted with a rather awful person. He and I had ever reducing contact over the years but I do know that he eventually went on to have a disastrously failed marriage and then remarried again … not sure of his situation now and nor do I care. Just so glad I’m not attached to him!!!!
Jaideux, I feel for you. Dr. L. this is so helpful and helps to make sense of something that has been bugging me since last year. My LO was very attentive for months then disappeared. Three weeks later a friend of his approached me and wanted to know my feelings for LO. I said I had to go to a meeting straight away so I couldn’t talk. This was unexpected and I felt put on the spot. Bearing in mind that I had tried to disclose twice before and he had ridiculed me, I felt like this was some kind of test I couldn’t pass so I didn’t follow this up. I couldn’t think of a way of making things better so actively avoided places I thought he would be. No contact is working but it is not exactly a quick fix, partly because I keep wondering if I could have made things better, done things differently but this article makes me think there was and is nothing I can do. I hate the feeling of helplessness this situation has left me with
Good call. It is weird when LOs circle back after a while – I suppose they are just trying to find out if they could hook you again. “Testing the line”, I think Scharnhorst called it once. More evidence of dysfunctional behaviour.
“More evidence of dysfunctional behaviour.”
Isn’t it interesting how many really dysfunctional people tend to be so interesting to be around?
Normal people are boring??
Haha! It’s just our addicted limerent brains that make normal people seem boring. We limerents are easily attracted by this kind of dysfunctional people despite our rational brains knowing it’s bad for us.
Nina, Dr L has a topic here somewhere that says some LO’s like to test their “pulling powers” and maybe that’s what’s going on with your LO. (Does anybody remember which article it was? It’s the one with the pinnochio picture. A fabulous post).
I think you mean this one: https://livingwithlimerence.com/2018/10/26/narcissist-los/
Interestingly, another post inspired by one of your comments Jaideux! Keep those good ideas coming 🙂
“”but what happens if the LO swerves into our lane, and chases after us honking their horn?””
That had me in stitches, love the metaphor!!
Jaideux, your LO was a classic Narc! Friends indeed, that is NOT what friends do!
Nina, you were strong not answering your LO’s friend. What’s with the attention bombing LOs then disappearing act? Mine did the same, I too thought it was a potential test so I ignored it. I pretended I didn’t notice and just treated my LO as if I was oblivious that he was gone for 4 weeks.
The unexplained absences are another red flag! God, it’s so obvious when you write it all down and see the same patterns of behaviour. Shame our limerence-addled brains do everything they can to idealise them away.
“Ooh, look at all those red flags flying. It must be some sort of pageant! Whee, what fun!”
Red flags you are supposed to run right towards, right? Like a bull towards a matador’s cape. (Poor bulls). Or, oh, is it like lifeguard warning flags – strong undertow, you might get swept out to sea?
Written down, everything seems so clear. While standing there swooning, not so much.
It darn near killed me Dr L, pretending I didn’t notice his absence, of course I f**** noticed. Eight months of seeing SO almost every day and then “poof”, gone for 4 weeks straight…….actually 3 weeks and 4 days but who’s counting “eyeroll”.
Then he casually swaggered back into my life, super friendly and smiley like nothing’s changed but with just enough hint of coolness and distance to jumpstart my uncertainty again. And off my Limerent brain went, like a sugar induced ferret running in a mouse wheel, it’s making dizzy!
SO will never know how hard it was to sit at the table and make general conversation without throttling the little bugger, he even had the cheek to mention in passing “oh I’ve been away a few weeks. Instead of verifying with “I know” I replied with “oh really, I hadn’t noticed”.
I am not a big fan of passive/aggressive mind games!
Has anyone seen the Saturday Night Live skit that’s an advert for the perfume “Red Flag”? It’s just so hilarious.
Offhand, I wonder what percentage of pushy LOs are not mentally unhinged narcissists, but a fellow limerent experiencing an unwanted and undisclosed LEs for us in return.
I’ve tried to picture what my flailing attempts at, and occasional failures at, LC might look like to an LO who was themselves experiencing an LE for me in return (Note that I do not think that this is the case with my current LE/LO. At least, I don’t think it’s the most likely situation). In the context of non-disclosure, I’m thinking the intermittent attention, then disappearance, then sudden reappearance, etc… would cause some serious uncertainty in a mutual LE situation.
Would that we could actually talk about such things like rational adults, but “oh, hey, I’ve got a completely inappropriate obsession with you that I’m struggling to control” is going to be a social nightmare for a long time I think. I think it’s fairly common (I mean, look how many musicians write hit “love” songs about what is clearly limerent thinking when you start to dissect their lyrics), but very taboo.
Jackson I think there are cases of mutual limerence but more often than not LOs have a different craving at their core. They want to have power over us and are addicted to the unhealthy worshipful feeling we have for them. They don’t feel that way about us… there is a huge power imbalance.
@Jaideux and @Jackson, I think pushiness to disclose feelings is a personality trait of a toxic person, not of an LO. For example, it’s very common for young people to develop LE for a teacher. Any decent teacher would never exploit that by pushing their student to disclose their feelings, they would be kind but maintain their professional boundaries and let the student deal with it on their own.
I have some LE for a man who I think might have made me his LO, I think this because of the somewhat frantic, clueless behaviour in someone who usually has his act together. It’s made me feel much more respectful and empathic for his feelings, I don’t want to exploit that.
I’ve thought a lot about what I’ve done to create that uncertainty in him. In my opinion, it’s because I’m very careful about who I let into my life. I need to know about the person’s emotional maturity, values, etc, before I get involved and risk becoming bonded to someone who turns out to be a very incompatible. Whereas, I suspect that in his relationship operating manual, you sleep with someone first and then figure out if you like them (which, considering he’s single, is generally no). I guess he may want me to chase after him, but as a female have big problems with that. I really feel stymied. I hope through 6 months NC, the ‘situation’ can become more clear, but I have no idea what will happen, and that feeds my LE.
Clip of the Day: “The Blues Brothers” (1980)
I debated where to put this one.
Moral of the story, there are some LOs you just can’t trust.