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.