One of the recurring themes of the blog is the tension that often exists between limerence and long-term love. Sometimes, when the stars align, limerence can transition into the kind of affectional bonding that leads to a stable and healthy union. More often, limerence proves to be no predictor of the viability of a relationship. Occasionally, limerence runs actively counter to the goal of forming an enduring pair bond.
We’re going to talk about that last scenario today.
The factors that contribute to the glimmer are mysterious and complex. I don’t mean this is the sense that they are somehow mystical or ineffable, I just mean our own personal history, the role models that shaped our romantic development, and the state of our lives at the moment we meet a new limerent object are all so intermingled and indefinable that they become an emotional milieu.
They are also, usually, inaccessible – in the sense that we can’t really recall the formative events in our pasts clearly. It takes work to identify your triggers reliably.
Given this complexity, it’s pretty likely that any limerent will at one time or another become besotted with someone who is not a compatible mate. Even putting aside the simple causes (they are not attracted to you, they are married, you are married), there are often internal incompatibilities that have nothing to do with uncertainty or barriers. You just aren’t right for each other.
This incompatibility is sometimes obvious to others immediately. A charming aspect of limerence is that it can alight on someone so obviously wrong, that your friends and family are baffled by your attraction. Unfortunately, that can make the LO seem ever more special and sweet.
To the outside observer, this is a simple situation to handle. Just… don’t get involved with LO. Find someone more compatible. For limerents, though, it is obviously not so simple. Just… ignore the total sensory, emotional and romantic overwhelm and move on.
So, what can you do? If the rational part of your brain knows that you are not compatible with your LO, but you crave them with every molecule of your emotional being, what practical steps can you take to resolve the situation?
1. Decide what you want
There’s not a lot of planning involved in become limerent. We tend to drift into it by the accident of bumping into someone who matches our “limerence avatar” at a time when we are psychologically vulnerable. This isn’t always true – you might be dating and actively looking for someone and then meet an LO – but we rarely pick out a candidate and try and conjure the glimmer into being.
Consequently, there is not much in the way of decision-making before the episode starts. That means you need to catch up a bit. If you are searching for a partner, you need to be clear on what you want. Monogamy? Marriage? Fun? Company? Hook ups? Be honest with yourself about your actual ambitions.
If you want a long-term partner, but talk yourself into some casual hooking-up with LO while you wait for something more serious to “come along” then you will likely suffer agonies. The more intimate you get, the deeper into limerence you will fall, with someone you cannot successfully bond with.
2. Figure out the scale of the incompatibility
The second issue to consider is how big an incompatibility you are dealing with. Putting aside the scenarios where external factors are to blame (e.g. your being married isn’t an “incompatibility”), what is the basis of your mismatched needs?
This is not as easy to identify as you’d think, especially in the throes of limerence. We can really tie ourselves into knots to accommodate the interests of our LOs. An outsider might see this as cynical and manipulative, but we can be so sincerely dazzled by them that we happily open ourselves to new experiences if they might bring us closer.
Superficial incompatibilities in tastes, location, and habits can be overcome. Indeed, one of the most gratifying and life-enhancing aspects of a good relationship is how your partner helps you grow; but there are more fundamental issues that cannot be benignly indulged.
The key problems are deep beliefs – incompatibility of moral values, life goals, and basic personality traits are not going to be overcome without self-negation or constant emotional friction.
If you love to socialise and they hate it, faking for a while won’t be enough. If they are competitive, assertive, and disagreeable, and you are compassionate, shy and generous, you will more likely cause each other continual stress than balance each other out. If you are orthodox and devout, and they are an atheist, there will be trouble ahead.
Couples can make weird matches work, but it’s much easier for couples with complementary beliefs.
3. It can’t end well
If you have identified incompatibilites, and your rational mind is sounding a distant alarm bell, then you will need to start finding strategies for diffusing the limerence energy. One helpful observation – that you could adopt as a mantra – is that it cannot end well.
There is no future scenario with an incompatible LO which is win-win. Let’s say you have follow the typical path of being carried by a euphoric wave into a limerent relationship and only starting to recognise the incompatibilities once personality clashes begin to tarnish the thrill of ecstatic union. What are your future options?
Ignore the disquieting incompatibility and stick with it? Maybe marriage, children, and then building up a reservoir of resentment and discomfort about the way they act, the way they want to raise your children, the mismatched expectations you have of each other?
Or, maybe you believe you can change them? By attrition you will make them see the superiority of your beliefs and opinions? Even if you succeed, you will basically have cancelled their life and proven that your spouse’s principles could be compromised with enough pressure. This is not a recipe for long-term harmony.
Even the best case scenario is that you drift in basically satisfactory companionship, ignoring points of conflict and never resolving your differences. Until one or other of you falls for someone more compatible.
4. Get to know your CEO
One of the peculiarities of limerence is that your rational mind is not absent, it’s just lost some of its power over your behaviour. Most limerents know that they are walking on thin ice when flirting with an incompatible LO, but they just carry out, bewitched by the beauty, and overruling their common sense.
I’ve talked before about how the “executive brain” should be intervening to help with the situation, but is frequently sidelined by the more urgent, instinctive desires of limerence. For me, it felt like I still had access to my rational self, but somehow he was kind of chilling in the background – like he’d retreated to the quiet corners of my mind to enjoy some leisure time, content to give me some latitude to act like a fool.
It’s a good policy to give this mental CEO a bit more say. It really does feel in the grip of temptation as though you are two people: one who wants to give into temptation and one that knows you shouldn’t, but also knows they are probably not going to be able to stop you.
That CEO has your best interests in mind. In fact, they are you in your most competent, responsible and wise form. Probably best to let them lead as you navigate through storms.
5. Take action quickly
Finally, and returning to last week’s theme, once you know you are not compatible, and that you don’t have a long-term future with LO, it’s best to take action quickly and decisively.
The temptation will be to instead keep trying to get emotional hits while you can, hanging on for as long as possible as the highs diminish, until they are mainly happy memories – lost pleasures that you want to believe you could get back, if you can just make things work. This is not the reality of how limerence progresses. As the euphoria fades, the incompatibilities will manifest. Conflicts, compromises and discord will inevitably develop.
It is easier to resist the temptation of early limerence for an obviously incompatible LO than it is to disentangle yourself from an intimate relationship that was doomed from the start. It hurts less too.
Once it’s clear that you are becoming limerent for someone unsuitable, it is in everyone’s best interest for you to detach gracefully, but conclusively.