There are lots of obstacles along the road to recovery from limerence. Here at LwL we advocate for an internal focus for responding to unwanted limerence: it’s happening in our heads, we can’t control LO’s behaviour, and our best hope for freedom lies in living with purpose.
This sort of recovery mindset is very powerful, but sometimes life comes along and treats us with all the compassion of a playground bully.
Stan got in touch to ask about just such a moment:
I’ve been suffering with limerence for one person for 3 years now, who I was close friends with in college but has since moved far away and found a new boyfriend. That did not hurt to find out… it actually gave me a feeling of “she’s taken, stop fantasizing”
So far, so good. Purposeful response. But life was ready with a maliciously placed skipping rope to trip Stan up:
But tonight, out of nowhere, one of my best friends recounted a memory in which my LO revealed that she had feelings for him in a late night confessional message. He turned her down. This devastated me – knowing how intensely I pined for my LO’s affection, how much I tried to better myself in order to grab their attention romantically. And my friend just stumbled into her affection like it was nothing.
Yeah, that’s quite a bummer.
It brought up so many feelings of deep anxiety and sadness. Why can’t I have an experience like that? What made him better than me? Will I ever get to experience the rush of being confessed to by someone I am limerating over?
I have such an insane, irrational jealousy that I can’t contain. My feelings of limerence which had dissipated are now screaming in my chest. I can’t believe the one thing I wanted more than anything in the world to happen was simply dropped into his lap. How can I cope?
The first thing to note is that Stan’s limerence was dissipating. He’d done the work of reconciling himself to not having a relationship with LO, and was able to kind of wish her well from afar. That’s a really healthy response, so it comes as quite a surprise when all that progress is lost in a sudden moment of jealousy. So what might be going on? Why should limerence that seemed dormant suddenly erupt in response to the confession of his friend?
Big eruptions of surprising emotions are generally telling you something important about yourself that isn’t immediately accessible to your conscious mind. They are a chance to dig deep and figure out what might really be going on down there.
Someone stole your fantasy
Most limerents have well-developed fantasies about LO declaring their love – of reciprocating their limerent feelings. It’s what we want more than anything else. It’s the best thing that could happen to us (as far as our subconscious mind is concerned).
When it doesn’t happen, you pull up your bootstraps and act like an adult, and reconcile yourself to the disappointment. A private battle to face, but there’s no point railing against fate. And you sort of still have the old fantasy to daydream about as a source of rumination-comfort; thin as it is.
But then you discover that your friend stole your fantasy. They actually got the experience that you’d been dreaming of, and squandered it – and also hurt your LO by rejecting them and ruining the ending.
Now, even your last scrap of phantom comfort is tainted. Your daydream seems absurd and foolish, in contrast to their reality.
It churns up the silt
It’s hard enough getting over limerence when you don’t get rude reminders about LO and what you’ve lost, but if that hard-won peace is like a riverbed, your friend’s confession is like a motorboat roaring past and roiling up all your buried emotions. You’re forced to work through all the agonies again, but with the extra added twist of knowing for sure it was someone else that she wanted – and not someone distant or extraordinary – but your best friend.
That also means you know that she wasn’t “unattainable” in some idealised way – it wasn’t that she didn’t want a relationship at all, or was already spoken for, or just too angelic for a mortal man. She was open to romance, but chose your friend instead of you. A faraway boyfriend is kind of abstract and easy enough to come to terms with, your best mate is another matter.
You now face another painful period of waiting for the muddy waters of your subconscious to settle.
How special was your connection?
Although I don’t know the details of Stan’s limerence episode, another possible source of pain is that it undermines the memory of what you thought was a special connection. For many limerents, they feel that their bond to LO is significant, that it isn’t just an ordinary friendship, that they are connected emotionally in a more profound way. Maybe LO shared intimacies and gave enough signs that they might be interested to start the limerence spark, but then pulled back, providing the uncertainty needed to really get the fires burning.
If that feeling of special connection was part of the experience, it’s a slap in the face to realise that LO had been scouting around in your friendship group for romance and you didn’t know it.
You get to add a bit of anger and embarrassment to the emotional tumult too.
Insecurity about attraction
Why weren’t you good enough for them? A question that torments all unrequited limerents. We all ask this of ourselves whenever attraction isn’t reciprocated, but it seems to have extra potency when their romantic attention comes so close to home. In some respects, we kind of think of our friends as part of us. They are certainly part of our lives.
That adds another layer to the insecurity. They got close, they mixed with your gang, they chose the person next to you. Why? What did they have that you haven’t?
It’s a double-blow to the ego. In some strange way, the fact that they fell for someone close to you feels like they were choosing from a small pool of candidates and still didn’t pick you. It’s the same syndrome as being the last kid to be picked from a lineup to play football.
It’s one thing to be measured against all the men in the world, it’s another to be measured against your tribe of friends. And that brings us to a last possible factor…
Humans compete within their tribes for status. Not just humans – pretty much all social mammals. It’s part of our evolutionary heritage, it’s deeply wired into us, and as a driving force for behaviour, it’s often most powerful in young men.
There’s a fair amount of evidence that serotonin levels increase with status in a dominance hierarchy (although it isn’t as simple as it’s sometimes presented), meaning that where you feel you rank in competition to your peers is a significant determinant of your mood.
In practical terms: we’re often jealous of our friends’ successes. For sure, this impulse varies between people and is linked to how well you feel you are achieving your goals in other “performance hierarchies”, but having LO choose a close friend is a blow to your ego at both the level of your self-esteem and at the level of your status anxiety. Again, it taps into that sense of not just being rejected in isolation, but being ranked and rejected amongst your peer group.
What’s worse is that our rational minds know this is an unworthy impulse. We have a complex brain, built on evolutionarily ancient foundations, and modified by more and more sophisticated systems and behaviours overlaid on top. Sometimes these drives can conflict: the desire for status and the desire to support and cooperate with others. Sexual jealousy versus love for a friend. Wishing them success, but envying them it.
Add in a dose of shame and anger and you have all the makings of a melodrama.
So what can be done?
What’s the best thing that a limerent in Stan’s situation can do? Well, I’d focus on the fact that he had in fact originally handled the limerence well. He’d let go emotionally, and carried on with his life. That was the right response, the healthy response. The fact that he’s now learned secrets that alter his memory of events doesn’t detract from those positive actions. He did well, and that’s something to take pride in.
Another option is to think through the situation from another perspective. First, it could have been worse. He could have discovered the confession to his friend in the midst of his limerence episode when the pain would have been even more immediate and inescapable. Or, his friend could have hooked up with LO and he would have been even more consumed with jealousy.
Another mental trick is to look at it from his friend’s perspective. Yes it’s flattering to be the object of someone else’s affection, but if you don’t like them back, it’s actually really uncomfortable. You have to let them down, and it’s hard to know how to act around them afterwards. You don’t want to be a jerk, but you don’t want to string them on (assuming you have good character).
Ultimately, these sorts of mental reframings can help to lessen the stab of disappointment, but there is only one lasting cure. One way to deal with the hit to your ego, the complex mix of emotions churned up, the cognitive dissonance of being jealous of someone who is a close friend: you need other sources of emotional sustenance, other ways to feel pride in yourself.
You have to live with purpose. You have to focus on spending your time and energy achieving something worthwhile that you care about, building something meaningful that adds to the world. If you have a purposeful centre to life, your self-esteem, status, ego – however you want to describe it – will be linked to your commitment to that goal. That frees you from the competition and jealousy of measuring yourself against others, and allows you to authentically celebrate your friends’ successes.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still going to hurt when they get the girl, but you will at least be much better equipped to cope.