Many people blame fairytales for their relationship problems. Especially Disney. Damn Cinderellas and Princes Charming and happilys ever after. So unrealistic.
But that word, “happily”, is a slippery word. What does happy mean? Where does happy come from? Can somebody else make you happy?
Fairytales make sense to limerents, at least before we get jaded by age and experience. The whole concept of the super special someone that transforms your world, gives purpose to your life and determines your fate, aligns beautifully with the euphoric infatuation for an LO. Oh, that’s it! They’re “the one”. I finally understand.
So that’s a good start, but as I’ve discussed before, limerence is only a start. The flower that may bear fruit. It’s the happily ever after bit that’s tricky, because (spoiler alert) limerence will end. It has to, just like flowers don’t last all season. I’m convinced that much of the disappointment around fairytales comes from the faulty association of limerence with happily ever after. “Nobody can be happy with one person forever!” Yes they can. But nobody can be limerent for one person forever. This might seem obvious, but as I said at the start “happy” is a really slippery concept.
At its simplest, happiness could be seen as the absence of pain and suffering; but that’s more just security or comfort. It could be delight, or pleasure, or thrill, or elation, but all those things are really just related to happiness; its showy-offy cousins. Most people take happiness to be a deeper and more fundamental state. A sense of contented satisfaction with life, and a background feeling of peace, fulfillment and optimism. Feeling “right” and thankful for being alive. These feelings are obviously quite far removed from limerence, with its hysterical highs and devastating lows, but many limerents (especially, perhaps first time limerents) mix them up. Limerence feels so good, so right, that it seems a form of happiness that transcends mere workaday personal fulfillment. This is epic stuff.
But we know enough about the neurophysiology of limerence to know that it is more about pleasure than happiness, and that distinction is crucial. Seeking pleasure leads to a life of escalating thrills, risky behaviour and short-term gratification of drives. Seeking happiness, by contrast, leads to long-term thinking, self-discovery, honesty, and consistent work to improve the situation of your life. FOMO is a good barometer for this: fear that you’re missing a great party or being excluded from a social clique is mostly about desire for external validators, and stems from insecurity about your own value. Getting into the party might lead to pleasure (relief?), but it wouldn’t lead to happiness.
Limerence is not a reliable starting point for finding happiness. LO may be intoxicatingly wonderful, but that’s not much of a basis for predicting whether life with them will be one of long-term happiness. To return to the question I posed at the start: can someone else make you happy? Other people can obviously bring us pleasure. LOs excel at that… but as we know, limerence is happening in our heads. We generate the sensation, however ecstatic. More profoundly, other people can certainly (by their actions) make you feel valued and safe and loved. But can someone actually make you fundamentally happy, by virtue of their behaviour and personality? Is it possible for some sainted individual to bond with an unhappy person, and through the charisma of their being, transform them into a happy person? No. Fundamentally we know this. We cannot rely on someone else for our own happiness; it has to come from within and it has to be based on your own self-esteem and self-image. Undoubtedly a good partner complements and enhances the happiness of any individual lucky enough to have their commitment, but they can’t be a wellspring of happiness that is passively dipped into.
And… we’re back to purposeful living again! If you make the conscious choice to take charge of your life, determine what you want, and how best you can help others, so many of these anxieties and complexities fall away. Taking purposeful steps every day to know yourself better, and decide on the sort of person you want to be, is the best way to underpin your life with a foundation of happiness. And you may just find that the kind of person you aspire to be is the kind of person that attracts other good people towards them. And two good people enhancing each other’s lives is by most definitions, pretty darn close to happily ever after…
Thank you so much for this post, and your entire blog.
I am a newly-wed who recently fell into limerence with another man. I started to search the internet for advice and finally found the term limerence and your blog. I now realize this is something I’ve had my entire life, and I am so happy that I am not the only one who struggles with this. Thanks to this blog, I am learning the tools I need to manage this.
Sorry to hear of your challenge (limerent while newly-wed must be a special kind of emotional stress…), but happy to hear that the blog is helping. It is possible to come out of this positively, having learned really important things about yourself. The mindset is the key, and yours sounds perfect: find the tools to manage it, and you can live with limerence, rather than be controlled by it. Good luck!
The distinction between pleasure and happiness is one that seems to pass most people by completely. I know people who direct their lives entirely according to the model that happiness is achieved through experiencing pleasure.
Life has taught me that happiness has a lot to do with how we relate constructively to pleasure and pain, both of which are present in every life to varying degrees at different times.
“We cannot rely on someone else for our own happiness; it has to come from within and it has to be based on your own self-esteem and self-image. ”
So…..the question of the hour…do limerents have low self-esteem?
Or instead are they merely hopeless romantics, naive trusting souls without artifice and the sinister desire to manipulate for selfish ends….and therefore low hanging fruit for LO’s?
And a secondary question: are limerents typically unhappy prior to the LE? Does low-self esteem + unhappiness = limerence? Is this who we really are?
I balk at this conclusion…but am open to considering it.
I’ll start with the second question. “Unhappyness”. I think it’s complicated by possibly, perhaps even likely, not even knowing that you were unhappy until after the LE is in full blown damage mode (which stage was it, 4? 5? the one where you’re like “oh, this isn’t good anymore”). You do an honest and brutal self-evaluation, and only learn then what would have been useful information prior… something is/was missing from your life. Then you have to figure out what it is.
As for the first question, I wouldn’t say I have “low self esteem”, not exactly. I know people who do have low self esteem, and this is clearly different. I’d say it’s much closer, for me at least, to “I thrive on other people’s good opinions of me”. I generally think pretty highly of myself, but I have a need to hear other people confirm my opinion.. and what does “a need for confirmation” sound like? lol no surprise it goes hand-in-hand with limerence.
Yeah, I agree with Jackson.
I was definitely very unhappy for years, and moving locations, losing my friends (that were a good distraction from an unhappy marriage), new job with all new colleagues left me susceptible for making new friends, and unfortunately I found someone that filled the gap. Add 2 young kids which leaves me unable to go out every once in a while to meet people.
I also wouldn’t say I have low self-esteem. Like jackson said, thriving on other people’s good opinion fits it quite well.
Jackson and Sarah…I think I am in the same boat as you. I had a very rewarding work experience today in which my patient who was failing has begun to thrive and I felt I had to share this good news on our agency common communication board. As I hit send I asked myself “Why do I have to do this?” And after honest self examination I finally came to the conclusion that a) I am really happy for the patient and want to share something positive with my colleagues and B) (which might be bigger than a) I thrive on others people’s good opinion of me. Hmm.
“I thrive on other people’s good opinions of me” yup, same, add people pleaser & unhappy to the mix and you have a heady cocktail.
I’ve noticed that a lot of us have very similar mental traits (I wonder how many of you guys are also INTP, assuming you put any stock in MBTI), experiences, challenges, and sticking points.
I wonder what this implies… if anything. Is limerence something only certain personality types are prone to? Or are those personality types the ones more likely to find an internet site devoted to the topic, voraciously read the blog posts, and then feel the need to share and compare…
I wonder what percentage of the sites regular visitors are silent, watching the rest of us blab.
Jackson, your “blab” comment made me laugh!!!! As far as Myers: INFP for me.
You make some valid points!
@Jackson: very interesting question about our “similar mental traits”. Would be a great topic to explore further.
I’m usually more a silent reader of the blog. I used to think “what could I write that would be a useful contribution?, I just feel very similar to you all.” But it is extremely therapeutic to actually write. I discovered things about myself while writing!
Same here! Low self-esteem and unhappy marriage. Add midlife crisis to the mix. I’m INFP too.
Thing is, before the LE I wasn’t really conscious about my unhappy marriage. I mean, there is nothing wrong with SO, he a wonderful person and husband, we have a great life, happy children, friends… I have nothing to complain of. The LE revealed this part of me that was unfulfilled, it was hidden inside for so many years. Then of course, it could be partly my limerent brain rewriting history! But I don’t think so. I know I have everything to be happy and I’m grateful to my husband for that. It’s just this “different” part of myself that has been woken up by LO. He’s a bit similar to how I used to be in my twenties (even if he’s in his late forties and it’s actually a bit pathetic at his age…).
I am an ENFJ on the Myers test. Did the test twice in my life, 15 years apart, same result.
Highly artistic, over analytical and emotional, no surprises there ha ha ha
Dear Dr Limerence,
This whole last summer and fall were a saga of limerence for me and I believe a story which should be told, for its remarkable nature as well as on the chance doing so ma prevent someone else from living it.
Is there a way to get a manuscript to you?