Today’s case study is a good one. Serena got in touch about how to deal with a tough problem: when no contact doesn’t work. The backstory is a little complicated, so I’ll summarise the highlights.
Serena and LO first met at school, and had an illicit “forbidden love” affair that they had to keep secret (or risk expulsion). Although Serena was limerent during this phase, it faded after they both finished school and LO left for a different country.
Skip forwards a few years, and LO suddenly returns, re-establishing contact with Serena to let her know he was visiting her city.
We met up one night and had, let’s say, a one-night stand with a backstory. He was very affectionate and even somewhat romantic but told many lies. I never explicitly disclosed how I felt about him.
They kept in touch after LO left again, but then, when Serena was able and willing to travel to him, he ghosted her. She found out afterwards that LO had got engaged, then married (presumably finding this out is part of the reason she knew he had been lying during their brief time together).
Ah well, a life lesson, and an admittedly demoralising experience, but one that would normally fade into the past…
But curiously, as the years passed, and Serena settled into a happy relationship of her own, the limerence returned. It came back after a long period of no contact, and Serena responded to the unwelcome revival by deleting all social media and other channels for hearing about LO. That gave some relief, and the limerence faded again.
Which brings us to the present day.
A few months ago another bad episode began. Learning about the concept of limerence and reading your site have been game-changers. The difficulty is NC has been my default mode, and I’ve had limerence re-triggered several times while in NC (in fact worse limerence than when I actually knew him)!
I’m in a fantastic place in my relationship with my SO and have done lots of work around identifying and addressing my unmet needs and vulnerability factors etc so I just want the limerence to go away and never come back hahah.
So, that’s the dilemma. Over the years, despite being no contact with LO (except for intermittent social media exposure), the limerence keeps bubbling up again.
What’s going on?
The special potency of this LO
Serena has been limerent for three or four people in her life, so this not her sole LO – there just seems to be something especially sticky about him. I’ve previously written about the lasting impact of early love, and I suspect that this is an element of why LO has haunted her. Their first connection was clandestine, and was never resolved in the sense of a natural relationship being able to run its course. Ever since, the contact with LO has been brief, complicated, and open-ended.
Serena recognises the “unfinished business” aspect of this, but I also wonder if LO has taken on a sort of archetypal role in her subconscious – he represents the road not taken, the mysterious unknown, the embodiment of an alternative life.
The circumstances of their history – fleeting, complex connections, and long silences (but with access to information from social media) – give him a unique position in her life. He’s not just a former LO, he’s The Ghost of Romance Past.
Why No Contact isn’t working
This dynamic also probably explains why NC is not really working. After short bouts of connection, LO disappears behind a metaphorical veil, leaving nothing but memories and questions. A fair percentage of the time that Serena has known him, he has been out of sight. There’s never been a neat resolution, or a chance for resolving the uncertainty, leaving long stretches of time to ruminate on What It All Meant.
Again, Serena, being wary of limerence and its tricks now, gets the fact that closure is an illusion. It’s very rare that any limerent gets a neat resolution, and from LO’s past conduct it also seems obvious that he won’t give her a satisfactory ending. Temperamentally, he doesn’t seem to do “open and honest”.
But one of the hardest things about overcoming limerence is that the knowledge that closure is an illusion doesn’t get rid of the itch; the infuriating inability to get relief and move on. With an LO like Serena’s haunting the past, any time that life gets hard, and your subconscious casts around for comfort or escape, the old habits of limerent reverie re-engage. It’s limerence as mood repair.
What might help?
So, simple No Contact isn’t enough, because it’s the LO in her head that Serena needs to detach from, not the LO in reality. She has been seeing a psychologist, and taking action about the situation, but the path forward is not altogether clear.
I told my psychologist about my limerence and while she’d never heard of it before she had an interesting yet risky suggestion in line with the exposure therapy of anxiety treatment.
I’m conscious that the geographic distance, sense of mystery and of course the uncertainty are all huge worsening factors for my limerence so there’s a chance that having more regular visibility and seeing more of his actual life as opposed to my stupid rose-tinted memories etc may help (especially given I suspect we have very different politics, values etc). But I know it may also backfire and worsen the limerence, especially if I did ask and get the answer I guess deep down I want.
I share Serena’s concerns. Exposure therapy works for anxiety treatment, because it helps desensitize an overactive aversion response to a minor fear. Anxiety is useful when faced with real threats, but negative when it’s caused by everyday concerns (like public speaking, or an irrational fear of accidents). Exposure therapy works by kind of proving to your subconscious that the threat is not serious, and training your executive brain to properly assess the fear and neutralise it more effectively. Limerence is different.
The obsessive thoughts of limerence are driven by reward, by romantic desire, by fear of loss, not fear of LO. Certainly there is often a big helping of anxiety later on, once the addictive state is established, but this is not irrational fear of LO, it’s distress caused by an unhealthy craving. Exposure does not generally help with addiction, except perhaps if it’s an addiction where overdose can make you physically sick (but that is obviously a very risky strategy).
The idea that familiarity with LO as a real person, as opposed to the idealised fantasy, might snap you out of your delusion has some merit, but it seems pretty obvious that Serena has already reached that point. She can clearly recognise LO’s flaws and shortcomings, but it hasn’t broken the spell. Indeed, most limerents are aware of their LO’s flaws even in the heights of euphoria, but they just don’t care about them. They might even like them, because it’s part of what makes them LO and LO makes the limerent feel euphoric.
Instead, the method that worked for me, and the method I explain in the Emergency Deprogramming course, is to use aversion to your advantage. You need to reprogram yourself out of the association between LO and reward, by spoiling your old fantasies, focusing on the awful memories rather than the giddy ones, and using the psychology of behavioural change to establish new habits and seek new rewards. Combine that with new coping strategies for when life serves you the next shit sandwich, and you can protect yourself against relapses, and focus on building a new, more purposeful life.
Serena’s subconscious is still fixed on LO as a larger-than-life fantasy figure from the past. To me, rewriting the story of that past fantasy seems more promising than entangling herself with the real-life LO in the present.
Well, that ends my long speculation. What does everyone else think?
I agree. I see some limerents here claim exposure to LO is a good thing or doesn’t hurt them, but it just sounds like pure rationalization. Addicts are very good at rationalizing. You hit the nail on the head that the anxiety is not about LO themselves but about a loss of something.. so that exposure therapy would actually mean being fully exposed to that loss, NOT to evading the sense of loss through contact!
Limerence over an ex and where the relationship was brief, intense, and unresolved is very hard, but no contact itself isn’t the problem, and breaking it isn’t part of the solution.
Okay, so love is, Southwest loud I said self less self less no love selfless love is very infatuated selfless love can find you a soulmate selfless love has to do with everyone in the world I love you are I said I love you are all all all always thank you
Hope I did not hurt anybody’s feelings
I think exposure therapy is a terrible idea. The therapists doesn’t understand limerence. The problem is that the barriers are still there. He’s with someone else and so is she. So more exposure would just increase the limerence.
“he represents the road not taken, the mysterious unknown, the embodiment of an alternative life.”
I think this is a very dangerous way to look at it and continues to fan the limerence fuel. It’s distorted limerent thinking. There is no road not taken. He was never an option for her. They hooked up and then he ghosted. He didn’t break up with the then-girlfriend to be with her, which he could have done. He didn’t pursue her. It’s like a job offer she never got, even though maybe she had an interview.
Rationally, I agree that you are correct. And she probably knows this in her conscious mind, but I interpreted this as more of the subconscious, limerent brain’s perception that romanticizes everything. Just as I consciously know my LO is the worst possible choice for me as a partner and I am eternally grateful for his lack of reciprocation because it is actually saving me from myself, I still (over 3 years later) ruminate over fantasies where we finally both have the courage to confess our mutual romantic feelings and fall into each other’s arms, kiss passionately and walk off into the sunset together like at the end of some horribly trite rom-com. WTF?
“I still (over 3 years later) ruminate over fantasies where we finally both have the courage to confess our mutual romantic feelings and fall into each other’s arms, kiss passionately and walk off into the sunset together like at the end of some horribly trite rom-com.”
Yeah, me, to. If I could just find the right words. If there was just the right moment. But it’s just not true. At least for my situation. I knew my LO for a long time and he knew how I felt and he had AMPLE opportunity to move things forward. And he didn’t. There’s always this war going on inside between what I want to be true and what I know to be true. Focusing on the latter helped me get (mostly) over my last LE. People who want to be with you are with you. It really is that simple. I have to keep repeating that to myself in the times I occasionally still go off the deep end with rumination.
I could have written this myself. Even though I don’t want anyone else to feel the way I’m feeling, it’s kind of reassuring to hear I’m not alone. And if I’m crazy, well at least I have company 😉
As Beth said, I agree with you entirely on an intellectual level but annoyingly seem to have trouble actually getting myself to believe it! Perhaps partly because in my case there was no disclosure so I’m never sure that my LO knew how I felt. And though I know it’s true the ‘People who want to be with you are with you’ is complicated in my case too because I absolutely wanted to be with him but never pursued it for a host of reasons, so the limerent part of my brain wonders if it was the same for him. But I try to remind myself that the way he treated me (saying he was keen to catch up before I booked flights to his country then ghosting me entirely once I’d arrived) was an answer in itself and also proves he had zero respect or compassion.
Love your description of the ‘war’ inside your head — so well put and relatable!
I mean, I stand by the “people who want to be with you are with you.” I mean that in generic sense. I don’t know your particular situation. But in reading this site and the forum, I am surprised when I read the posts by how little is actually happening between the limerent and the LO. And yet how much trauma is caused. Which isn’t to dismiss the pain because it’s real. But the situation isn’t real. There’s all this angst over “Should I end this?” When there’s really nothing to end in a lot of instances. Just stop message the LO. They might not even notice. Or may toss out an email or two and then disappear.
Yes I agree, you’ll need to speak with somebody that has the same experiences you’ve had, that is so parallel
Yes I agree. Would we suggest exposure therapy to heroun addicts? Or gaming addicts etc? No we would not because it would just trigger them and make them long for it all over.
Same with limerence, its an addicting, exposure would just make things worse
Uncertainty and reverie appear to feed a dormant LE regardless of contact. Has anyone figured out how to stop daydreaming about LO? I frequently catch myself deep in reverie without realizing I’m doing it. LO seems to have a constant presence in my mind. And of course, he says and does all the right things in my fantasies.
Allie 1 says
I have given up trying to stop daydreaming as ironically, I find doing so ramps up the intensity of my LE. The only thing that has persistently worked for me is to stop trying to understand my limerence (since I already do), reduce time spent thinking about limerence and do something different and new. Something that challenges me a bit, involves meeting new people and/or enthuses me and naturally draws my mind towards it. For me this is learning to ride & show jump plus doing regular community volunteer work of the therapeutic/support variety.
I still feel the same about LO and have limerent reveries, but less often and sometimes now, the reveries even feel a bit repetitive and flat, like a movie I have watched too many times. Thus I am a bit less drawn to them.
I had a mutual infatuation experience with a guy who had girlfriend in another country, and after a month and a half with him, he moved back to that country to be with her. We ended on good, but final terms. We have never contacted each other again in 1 3/4 years. I blocked us from each other on social media. We have no friends in common.
It took me a year to get over distraction of thoughts and fantasies of him, and I couldn’t understand why those thoughts and feelings lingered so long. Just yesterday it occurred to me that I am yet further recovered. I never idealized him as a person, not even when I was enthralled/addicted/intoxicated with him while he was here. He only told me about his primary girlfriend after we had gotten sexually involved. ( I was dismayed and disapproving, and tried to end it, but came crawling back after a week.) I noticed he was cavalier about safer sex, while being a cheater, and I looked down on that about him. I noticed his tendency for selfishness. But I was addicted. I never assumed he and I would have lasted long term. Yet I felt hooked on him. I was glad he was leaving, and determined to go NC when he did. And I have. I think the sudden separation before limerence wore off was what made it so hard to get over him. But wow! The most steamy, fantastic love affair I’d had in years, so I like remembering it. I only wish that he has similar fond memories of me.
I see lots of similarities in our LOs, Gloria. I can relate to what you said about noticing negative attributes about the LO but remaining hooked. And your comment made me reflect as to whether I idealised my LO but I think, like you, I wasn’t idealising LO as a person. Instead I was idealising the memories and the euphoric highs I had when things were good (I’d originally typed ‘the way he made me feel’ but decided to rephrase as I’m not sure that’s a helpful or accurate way of looking at it!). It sounds like you’re recovering well (or recovered?), which gives me hope!
Hi, Serena and everyone. I appreciate your comments. I had an interesting experience last week that fit in to my slow recovery via no contact. It has been over a year and a half and since I had any contact with my LO. But last weekend I was at a bar in a city away from my own, and there was a guy who bore more than a passing resemblance to my LO. He happened to know the friend I was with. I was attracted to him and really curious about him. We ended up talking with him, my friend and I. The guy is married with four kids. I wasn’t interested in him more than at first glance, and I thought about how weird it would be for me to try to date a physical clone of my LO. I came away from that night hoping that that encounter would work like a benign exposure therapy. After that, when I felt tense and nervous and initially enthralled to see that guy, maybe if I ever run into the prototype again, I will have gotten those feelings out of my system! Here’s hoping..
Limerent Emeritus says
My recommendation is to find a new therapist.
Any therapy is a process in support of a goal. What’s the goal and how will Aversion Therapy help Serena achieve it? In business, there’s something called the “Activity Centered Fallacy.
“Companies introduce these programs under the false assumption that if they carry out enough of the “right” improvement activities, actual performance improvements will inevitably materialize. At the heart of these programs, which we call “activity centered,” is a fundamentally flawed logic that confuses ends with means, processes with outcomes.” – https://hbr.org/1992/01/successful-change-programs-begin-with-results
Aversion therapy I think falls into the above and it carries potential downside risk.
How will Serena define success and how will she know when she’s achieved it?
… there’s a chance that having more regular visibility and seeing more of his actual life as opposed to my stupid rose-tinted memories etc may help (especially given I suspect we have very different politics, values etc)….
I’m quite sure there’s very many examples we could all name of completely rose tinting the most incompatible beliefs/opinions of LOs. In my own experience it’s usually accomplished by my gradually diminishing whatever parts of me are the source of potential conflict.
“ Serena recognises the “unfinished business” aspect of this, but I also wonder if LO has taken on a sort of archetypal role in her subconscious – he represents the road not taken, the mysterious unknown, the embodiment of an alternative life.”
This resonates with me. The abrupt ending to our romance before it could settle down to earth and how I will always wonder what might have happened if it took a natural course…that haunted me.
Thank you so much, Dr L! And thanks also to all the commenters. You’ve convinced me that ending NC is a bad idea, and given me lots of other things to think about too!
Rainbows into rainclouds says
Over the years I’ve had a fair number of LE’s , some lasting months and some for years. This morning I wrote a list of them all and thinking about them realised that each had ended with no possibility of ever seeing the LO again. Either they or I changed jobs, moved away or were otherwise unreachable, and there was no social media then so NC happened automatically. I didn’t have a choice. With each of them, I remember crying on and off for weeks especially in the very early days and thought the pain would never end, but it slowly did usually over about two months, by which time I’d find myself taking an interest in the world again. In every instance NC worked.
My latest one is turning out very different, the first LE I’ve had in fifteen years. LO lives and works locally so is in easy reach and I chose to go NC for my own sanity really. Also I know he began to notice I was going to his community centre too often and chatting to him because he told me he didn’t want to talk to me, besides looking irritated with me. That spoke volumes and I never went back and am now on day 112 and I thought I was making good progress with living purposefully. Life was better until yesterday a friend gave me a lift home and detoured past the centre with his car outside. Seeing it was like getting an electric shock and now it’s like going from stage 4 of NC back to stage 1.
I don’t understand why I feel like this. Maybe the realisation that he’s still around happily getting on with his life while mine has been in bits. Or if I hadn’t been stupid enough to fall into limerence, we’d have still had a decent platonic friendship which I valued before LE struck. Maybe I’m grieving the loss of what it would’ve/could’ve still been if I wasn’t a limerent. It crossed my mind to go in the centre as if nothing had happened but it did happen and I can’t undo it and it won’t change his opinion of me, so maybe would be a bad move.
It concerns me that I’ll never get over this LO if I’m going to collapse in a heap just by going past his workplace let alone if I actually bumped into him! I’m wondering if this means NC won’t work in this situation. What a mess. This has never been an issue with past LO’s. This one’s too close for comfort i think.
Has anyone else experienced this?
I am full of comments tonight. One more thing: all these months out, while I am mostly back to thinking of other things besides my LO, one short loop tape plays from time to time. I wonder what I meant to me. I assume he didn’t think of me anymore after we parted, how cold of him! How unfair that he moved on while I was stuck! Ah, but then I remember NC that I have strictly adhered to and I feel relief knowing that it has been a great strength. He doesn’t know how I feel, any more than I know about him. He might assume I am heartless. So there. Maybe he has thought of me, and maybe he hasn’t, but he could think the same about me. I love that he doesn’t know how much I’ve struggled. At least I have my privacy while I limp forward…
*What I meant to him, but interesting slip! I am my own source of strength and I am all that I really need!
Hi guys, I have just just through a break up and i I kind of just sharing wondering if anyone has had an experience like mine. I can’t even decide if it’s relationship obsessive compulsive disorder or limerance…or both. I am going to be honest about my situation, and i don’t mind you being honesnt back even if it is hard to read. 2 and a half years ago I met someone on tinder. We started off as friends although it was obvious that she had strong feelings for me to the point of an obsession (INo looking back feel like she first may have been in a limerant stage.)
I really liked her wanted to spend most of if not all of my time with her but I didn’t find her attractive to think that i wanted a relationship back, never the less after a few months we started being intimate and this continued up until very recently. Whilst we were different people we had a great connection and a very strong emotional bond formed and remained up until this point there was however there was always a block that prevented from commiting to her and when it tried to i ended up stepping back feeling it was wrong. She found someone else a year and a half ago and after a lot of pushing and pulling she finally managed to break free from out relationship . I am distraught not able e sleep, feel completely empty. I can only think of her and idealised everything that it was and beat myself up for her stepping away and can only blame myself . I feel like I am now in a limerent episode is it possible it transfered.
Hi Lewis, something similar to your situation. How are you doing now?
I identify with this post alot. Ive been limerent for over 20 years and throughout that time i’ve also tried ‘spoiling the memories’ method, which didn’t work.
At some point I realised that “obsessively getting over someone” on a neurological level just means fueling the brain to form more and more diverse neurons in relation to the lo. Throughout 20 years of attempts I can safely say that all factions of my mind, both neuro and psycho, are infested with lo-associations. I’m kind of getting to the point where I am accepting that I will probably always feel in love with a fantasyprojection somewhat related to a guy I used to know. That the lo I am truly lo with is the fantasy character I created out of him. And that this fantasy stuff brings me both joy and hell and when it’s hell all I have to do is refocus on other things in the real world. And accept that this has become part of my neuro / cognitive markup, in the same way that I love reading science. I’ll just have to be mindful that I don’t let it disrupt my daily life too much for too long. I get bouts of intense limerence once and sometimes twice a year. In those moments I try to make sure I keep my real life close and work through the waves of limerent thought, knowing that it’ll strengthen the neurons even more. But it’s not as bad as when you go into the waves filled with resistence. Its easier to float on the waves than to swim up against it.