Limerent reverie – daydreaming and fantasising about consummation with your limerent object – is a habit that almost all limerents indulge in. It is a private pleasure, a secret source of reward, a way to soothe the agony of limerent uncertainty with the carefully staged rehearsal of a dream. No one else is directly affected – no one else could know your inner thoughts – and so it seems like a harmless, risk-free way to enjoy some giddy highs. Or at least a brief respite from the pain of yearning.
Reverie is natural, pleasurable, and doesn’t involve anyone else. Surely it’s safe?
Like any other habit or behaviour linked to something as important as love, reverie isn’t risk free. The risks aren’t immediately obvious, and shouldn’t be exaggerated, but they are real, and are borne by you.
Let’s analyse the worst.
Before we begin
A important starting point in this risk analysis is a clear assertion that you should not feel ashamed about your own thoughts. I don’t subscribe to the idea of Thoughtcrime. It is awful to try and control other people’s thoughts and limit their dreams. Only tyrants would want to do that.
“Think for yourself and let others enjoy the privilege of doing so too.Voltaire
Furthermore, we can’t always control our thoughts. They often arrive unbidden, and we just have to react. If we start to feel that some thoughts are sinful in themselves, we can become consumed by shame over something outside of our control. As the old adage goes “Don’t think of a pink elephant,” is an excellent way to conjure the image in our mind’s eye.
Telling someone not to daydream is, at best, counterproductive. Stigmatising happy fantasies without an alternative source of comfort is a bad plan. Our private fantasies are ours alone, we all have them, and we all benefit from the freedom to think what we will – to have liberty in our own minds.
With all those caveats out of the way, we still have to confront the fact that limerent reverie feels harmless but comes with risks. As with so much in life, finding a balance between the good and bad aspects of reverie is the trick. Wisdom lies in moderation, and getting the balance right means understanding the risks.
1. It reinforces the limerence
When reverie is used as a primary source of pleasure, it keeps LO central in our minds. I mean, obviously LO continuously muscles their way into our thoughts regardless, but when we actively indulge in affirming daydreams about perfectly tailored fantasy reciprocation, we really reinforce the obsession.
The symptoms of limerence are primarily a consequence of hyperactivity in the reward and arousal circuits in the brain, triggered by a tight psychological association between LO and romantic reward. If we reinforce that association with imagined consummation, we’re basically revving an engine that was already overheating.
It may feel like an entirely positive experience to bathe in the warm glow of an intoxicating daydream, but you are also, unwittingly, strengthening the subconscious link between your LO and emotional reward. You are ingraining a habit of seeking gratification, relief, pleasure, comfort by connecting to LO – even if it is an imaginary connection.
If you think about LO whenever you are away from them, you reinforce the neural pathways that maintain and strengthen limerence. You are literally training yourself into a dependency on them.
2. It distorts your judgement
While it is true that no one else is directly harmed by our daydreams, it is also true that our thoughts do have a direct effect on us. They shape our perceptions, focus our attention, prioritise our goals, cultivate desires, and direct us to action.
Thought is the seed of actionRalph Waldo Emerson
We may believe that daydreams are innocent, and that we would never act on them, but the defining feature of unconscious habits are that we aren’t aware that they are forming. If you feed your subconscious a diet of fantasies, it can distort your thought patterns and perception of reality. That, in turn, redirects your worldview and may even push you into action you never intended.
Much of our behaviour is driven by habit. We frequently act on impulses that are driven by subconscious desires, and it takes a conscious act of will to intervene and override our programmed behaviour. We might not intend to take action, but our intentions are secondary to the initiating triggers that prompt habitual behaviour. For a dark example of this phenomenon, read some of the accounts on recovery forums for men who became addicted to pornography. Many cite the alarming, intrusive, sexualised urges that seize them whenever they see ordinary women on the street as the point at which they recognised they had a big problem. The images they had saturated their subconscious with imposed themselves on innocent passers-by. Overuse of pornography had made it difficult for these men to interact with women in their normal lives.
Idle limerent fantasies will hopefully not be as psychologically corrosive as that example, but they dwell in the same subconscious fog. Many a reverie-addled limerent has found themselves blurting out an inappropriate comment, getting a little too intimate with their LO, or lying to their partner, before they even realise their impulsive behaviour has carried them over a line.
Our thoughts shape us in ways we aren’t aware of. They cannot be kept separate from our conscious, outward lives.
3. It destabilises your mood
Many limerents, especially those trapped in limbo, know that they cannot form a romantic bond with their LO. For whatever reason, barriers and uncertainty make it impossible to have a healthy, open relationship with them. Under these conditions, it’s natural to feel that fantasies about “what could be” are just a safety valve, a neutral outlet for romantic disappointment, a consolation for unlucky happenstance. We think that we can compartmentalise our daydream scenarios into an alternative reality, where we had made different choices in life, or could escape into a bubble universe, or could somehow run into a wildly improbable twist of fate and be with them.
Unfortunately, our subconscious minds are not sophisticated enough to grasp the distinction between comforting fantasy and desirable reality. If you know you cannot actually form a romantic bond to LO, but indulge in the fantasy, you are basically training your subconscious to believe in a lie. You are anchoring your emotional regulation to a falsehood. That creates cognitive dissonance.
Such a tangled mental knot always causes discomfort. We try to find ways to resolve the dissonance of believing incompatible things, and that can start a snowball effect where we start to doubt old certainties. If we are feeding a desire that cannot be satisfied, we feel distress, and – in a bitter irony – seek comfort in the form of limerent fantasies. Using reverie for mood repair, when reverie is what’s driving the cognitive dissonance, is a vicious cycle.
Living in a fractured state of mentally pursuing one path while physically following another is detrimental to your wellbeing.
4. It erodes resilience
Many limerents would describe their habit of fantasising about LO as a “guilty secret”. It feels like a vice, and they have a moral intuition that overindulging such pleasures is risky. Their instinct is that giving in to hedonistic desires is a bit… sordid. In contrast, self-restraint feels admirable, as it demonstrates the ability to regulate your emotions. Resisting temptation is a virtue.
This ethical perspective on the risks of reverie is most relevant for limerents who are already committed to a long-term relationship. There are, of course, many formal ethical precepts that address the dangers of even imagined infidelity.
Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s wife.Exodus 20:17
Biblical scholars (of which I am not one) argue about the meaning of covet in this context – whether envy or lust is the principal issue – but the point is the same. If you harbour envious, lustful, resentful, or covetous thoughts, they will slowly degrade your emotional stability and moral integrity.
Even for those who have no spiritual dimension to their ethics, there is a simple and undeniable reality about resisting unwelcome desires – it’s easier to stop early on. It’s far less of a trial to avoid temptation when you first notice it, than to break a habit of indulgence after it’s become established. Better to not jump in the metaphorical river in the first place, than to swim back upstream once you have been carried away in its warm waters.
Your resilience to limerence will be greatest at the moment of first glimmer. Every subsequent time that you reinforce the habit, indulge in reverie, and move deeper into person addiction, decreases your chance of resisting.
Daydreams are good. Emotional regulation through imagining a better future is positive. But, immersing yourself in limerent daydreams when you know there is no hope of a good outcome is risky. You’re playing with fire.
While the worst impacts will likely fall on you, and your psychological and emotional health, it’s also true that other people you care about could be affected, indirectly. If your daydreaming habit means you fall deeper into limerence, lose judgement, and become more moody, impulsive, and irritable, it’s bound to influence those around you.
The ripple effects of what you hoped were harmless, private fantasies might not be immediately obvious, but they could grow into waves.