I’ve spent this week working on a new post on the neuroscience of how limerence fades, drawing on the literature of habituation and hedonic adaptation, but if I’m honest it’s been a bit of a slog.
Then, out of the blue, I had one of those days where coincidences (or synchronicity?) seemed to be trying to tell me something.
Like many people, I’m signed up to a lot of email newsletters (which vary in quality), but one of the good ones is from Mel Robbins. In the latest email she talked about languishing, and it really hit home.
Purposeful living is the guiding principle of this blog and the most useful mindset I’ve discovered so far for managing limerence and generally improving the quality of my life and relationships. The last couple of years have been testing, though.
The definition of languishing that Mel used is this:
You’re tired and overwhelmed by everything you have to manage in your life. You’re not getting out like you used to, and your habits are all over the place… these past years of stress, loss, change, and uncertainty have thrown your nervous system into a state of fight, flight, or freeze.
Now Mel was talking in general terms about how the last few years have affected everyone, but it hit home for me given my recent trials, and how they have disrupted a purposeful start to my year. I know there are good reasons for why I am feeling emotionally battered and less purposeful than usual, but it immediately struck me how difficult it is to escape the trap of languishing.
The problems of languishing are complex and compounding, and there are many intersections with limerence. So, I’m going to put off the neurophysiology of learned suppression of desire till next week, and spend some time pondering about languishing instead.
What is languishing?
I’d define it as a state of feeling restless and unhappy with the status quo, but stuck and unclear on how to improve things. That leads to tiredness, a lack of motivation, and the tendency to respond to the stress of overwhelm by escaping into easy pleasures (like social media). It also means a low threshold for giving up on difficult tasks, followed by anxiety about how you aren’t making progress. You could probably also add a dash of disgust about your own inaction.
I hear from a fair number of limerents in this state. They enjoyed the intoxicating thrills of a new limerent episode, but then toppled over into a debilitating post-euphoria hangover of persistent, toxic infatuation. When these folks encounter the concept of purposeful living, they grasp the logic of the idea, but struggle to muster enough energy or direction to start taking action. Instead, they languish in a fog of frazzled nerves, free-floating anxiety and suffocating inaction.
Languishing, by its nature, works against purposeful living, because just functioning seems enough of an effort. Forging a new life out of the wreckage of limerence seems an impossible ask.
Languishing makes you prone to limerence
I’ve written before about the perils of drifting through life, and how inattention about what you’re doing or where you’re going makes you vulnerable to limerence. If you are languishing, the situation is even more perilous.
Someone caught in a trap of low mood, low motivation and hopelessness will devour limerence with the urgency of a metabolism-hacking Influencer coming off a 48 hour fast.
Languishing stresses other relationships
I talked earlier about synchronicity, and while I was struggling with my writing and pondering the trap of languishing, Lost in Space left a comment on another post about his relationship with his wife:
I want her to be healthy and active with me long term and not get sick or die before me… yet her actions every day show me that she cares more about eating junk food, drinking sugary drinks and watching many hours of tv every day than she does about staying healthy and fit. Right or wrong, it does make me feel that she cares less about me as a man and as her husband, and that she takes me for granted and doesn’t feel a need to put in even moderate amounts of effort.
I love my wife very much, and I love her no matter what her body looks likes. And if I had to choose, I’d prefer to live with an obese but happy wife than a fit but unhappy wife, if those were truly my only two choices. But I do really struggle to understand why she can’t commit to basic self-care when she knows it’s important for herself, to me, and to our shared future.
It sounds like Lost in Space’s wife is languishing. When asked, she admits that she prefers fit men, and I’d bet money that if you asked her “do you wish you could be more disciplined and eat better and stay fitter?” she would say yes. Not many people make a purposeful choice to eat junk food and watch hours of TV.
No doubt there will be plenty of keyboard warriors ready to find fault with Lost in Space’s concerns, but there is a blunt reality to the fact that relationships thrive when people’s goals, values and beliefs are aligned. At minimum, they need to be compatible.
Emotional affairs often begin with oversharing about problems in a marriage.
How to stop languishing and take action
I’m taking a fairly unsympathetic approach to this issue, because I recognise the tendency to languish in myself, and know I need a cold dose of reality to snap me out of it. I currently feel inhibited about what to do with the limited time I have, and how to take action on the purposeful goals ahead of me. To be honest, my to-do list has become a wishlist. Things get added to the bottom faster than they are crossed off the top.
I haven’t yet found a good answer to this problem, and so instead I’m going to go back to Mel Robbins. She is currently running a free 3-part training program all about how to stop languishing and start taking action. As the final bit of synchronicity, it has the same name as my own quickstart guide on how to overcome limerence, Take Control. So, I’m going to take her course and see if it works.
One element of the exercise is social accountability, so if the discussion of languishing hit home for you, I’d invite you to join the course too and we’ll do it together. I’ll keep this post updated with comments as I go, and let’s see whether the Languishing Limerents of LwL can collectively get some benefit from working as a team.
There is a greater-than-zero chance that it will end with a sales pitch for a membership program, but there’s no harm in suspending my cynicism and trying!