From time to time, I receive a message from someone with a particularly thorny limerence problem, for whom the usual strategies are impractical. How’s this for a tricky one?
“Creative limerent” (CL) is limerent for a close family friend. They have been working together on a passion project that is creatively and emotionally fulfilling, but not financially essential. This partnership was defined by:
strong intellectual and creative intimacy which grew into a deep emotional intimacy when his marriage hit a crisis point
CL gave emotional support that helped LO get back on track with his marriage, but led – sadly, if predictably – to CL becoming limerent. At this point, CL tried a high risk strategy:
in a moment of despair I made the mistake of fully disclosing my feelings to LO, which were getting in the way of our work productivity. (We had been circling around the issue for a while). However, my disclosure rather than tipping the situation one way or the other, has resulted in further uncertainty, which only served to fuel my limerence.
LO responded by confirming his own romantic feelings for CL, but also to still being fully committed to his marriage and wanting to repair it.
So, disclosure backfired. He won’t be with me, yet he won’t reject me. He loves me (we say “I love you” a lot) and needs/wants to have my friendship in his life
Now, the situation is predictably fraught.
But the disclosure has damaged the friendship. Now, we seem to both be struggling with an inner conflict – remaining creative partners and friends has become increasingly painful (especially as LO tries to infuse his marriage with the new found feelings and desire for deep connection he experienced with me) and yet dissolving the partnership and the friendship carries not only a huge loss to us personally and creatively, (we have put in a lot of time and energy into this project in the last year) but would involve an explanation to our spouses that would destroy our collective friendships and further damage LO’s already unstable marriage as well as my own partially satisfying marriage.
I feel panic as I survey the bind I am in. Have I been deluding myself that we are mature enough to channel these feelings, sublimate them into our work and integrate the energy into a true, authentic friendship? I just don’t see any other way out. Blowing up everything will hurt so many people, we all have kids and our families are interconnected. I have terrible guilt as his wife is a dear friend, who I love and support. If any of this came out the betrayal she would feel would be devastating.
At the same time, remaining close to him right now is unhealthy for me. I am much more limerent than he is, but the point of my query is that there is acknowledgment of mutuality, and the adversity is there for good. He will not have an affair with me. We will not be together unless his marriage ends. I thought at first that this mutual disclosure of feelings might help us both manage the situation better, but it only seems to be making everything more fraught, weird and complicated between us.
So, what can CL do? Is there a way to crawl out of this emotional briar patch without getting too bloodied? Here are a few thoughts:
Consider disclosing to your spouse
Many people reading this story would respond by thinking “she’s already having an affair, it’s just not physical yet.” Others (probably non-limerents) would think “creative partnerships are always characterised by intimacy. As long as it doesn’t spill over into sex, it’s OK.” There’s no correct answer to the question “have we crossed a line?” because the line is drawn in a different place for different people. The people that matter in this case, of course, are you, your husband, LO and his wife. Conflict comes when these people have a different idea about where the line falls.
So, the first necessary step is to try and figure out where your husband’s line is. To judge from what you’ve written, you obviously think you’ve crossed it (“panic”, “betrayal”, “devastating”). Your husband may not. He may consider physical intimacy much more of a betrayal, and be upset but not devastated by the emotional intimacy. Gender stereotyping is always risky, but men commonly experience much more sexual jealousy than emotional jealousy. It’s a contentious point, possibly, but there are obvious evolutionary explanations for it.
Disclosure may therefore help if your goal is to discreetly withdraw from the creative partnership. If you explain to your husband that you are struggling because you think the partnership with LO is getting too emotionally compromised, he will be much more likely to support a cooling off. If you don’t disclose and try to unilaterally cool it, you will meet confusion from your husband and the rest of your intertwined families. It’s much better to have your spouse as an advocate and champion than a bewildered bystander.
It also demonstrates to your husband that he is your primary confidante, and updates him on what is going on behind the scenes in his life. At the moment, only you and LO know about your joint feelings, which means that you are thrown together as a pair with insider knowledge about your wider families’ lives. That will more likely deepen your connection to LO rather than weaken it. It’s better if you and your husband are the team that is dealing with the situation, and LO moves into the role of problem – rather than remaining as the primary person you are trying to solve the problem with.
LO is being honest – that is an opportunity for you
Although LO’s response to disclosure made things worse, it did have the virtue of being honest. That gives you a great opportunity – you can respond in kind. If your goal is to reverse the worst of the limerence, then this is a chance. A conversation with LO along the lines of “I appreciate your honesty and respect your commitment to your marriage. I am not able to continue our partnership, as it is now unhealthy for me – I can’t manage the emotional burden of a close friendship with you anymore. I need to tie up our project and focus on my own marriage”, is as honest and straightforward as his own decision. He can’t reasonably object.
He’s established a “our feelings are real but we shouldn’t act on them” principle, but then continued to want a loving, intimate relationship with you regardless. You can respond by accepting those new terms, but pointing out that such an intimate friendship is incompatible with them. Wanting his cake and eating it could be mentioned…
Do you want to have an affair?
LO has been clear about his commitment to his marriage (in words, if not actions). You seem more ambiguous. It’s fairly common for limerents to hope that LO will “make a pass” so their conflicted feelings are railroaded in a way that isn’t their fault. They were powerless to resist. But that’s not a great way to live a purposeful life, and affairs are unfailingly destructive. The best that can be hoped for is that a new stable situation emerges from the emotional wreckage, but it’s a hell of a price to pay for resolving romantic confusion. Actually, I suppose that the best you could hope for would be to get away with it, with the small cost of proving to yourself that you are the sort of person that betrays their family and friends in the most intimate way. Not exactly an inspirational idea.
The reality at the moment is that you’re in limbo. You’ve got to choose a path out. Lots of people are invested in the choices you make, because you took on those responsibilities, because you are able to handle maturity. So, you do need to think pretty deeply about the state of your partially-satisfying marriage. LO has clearly been using you as a romantic surrogate, but do you want to continue in that role? Do you want to continue to use him as your romantic surrogate? Or do you want your next project to be redirecting your romantic drive back to your husband, and trying to move your marriage back to “very satisfying”?
You know, the answer to the question above may be “yes, I want to have an affair”. If so, that speaks to much more fundamental issues that the dynamics of your relationship with this particular LO. It may be that the root of this is how you are interacting with your husband, and how he is interacting with you. Any time spent investing creative or emotional effort with another potential romantic partner is risky (see previous posts on limerence for co-workers), but the most significant issue is how you respond when the romantic feelings stir. If you had meaningful concerns about the marriage before the limerence, there may be a deeper problem. If not, then you are probably being mugged by the collective forces that push people into limerence, and your brain is in a spin. Distinguishing between those two scenarios is the basis for finding your path out of limbo, and deciding where you want it to lead you.
So, those are my thoughts on a very tricky situation. If anyone else has encountered the limerence for a close family friend trap, please chime in in the comments.
Good luck, CL. Hope you find a true path out, towards a better future.