We’ve all been there. Limerence is nucleating, and you are getting the euphoric thrill of connection with a new person. They are rapidly becoming your LO, and you are trying to gauge the degree of reciprocation. Every word, action, smile, laugh – all of it is fodder for your attempts to read their feelings for you.
It can go two ways.
OK, four at most, but two important ways.
1) They like you too.
Now begins the dance. How much do you push? You’re a limerent, so romantic restraint is not in your nature, but the world is also full of non-limerents and so you don’t want to blow it with being too keen. In fact, given the path to limerence, overkeenness would kill that too. So, you do enough to show interest, but not so much that they are spooked by your intensity. It’s a delicate balance, and if you play it too cool, you risk them misreading you. Too much deliberation, and you might start to lose their good opinion. What to do?
2) They don’t like you like that.
No spark. Which means, no glimmer, which means no mutual limerence for you. Drat. But they want to be friends, and you do get on well…
It’s tough to handle the early stages of limerence. In both these scenarios, there is the risk that you will miss your window of opportunity, and instead end up in the Dreaded Friendzone.
What is the friendzone? It’s the term people use to describe their inability to manage their romantic lives purposefully.
OK, that sounds harsh.
But it is true.
For a limerent, the friendzone (“real” definition here) is an absurd place to be. If you have felt the glimmer for someone and then settled into a prolonged friendship with them you are basically an addict who thinks they can get away with irregularly sampling their drug of choice on someone else’s schedule without craving more. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you cannot be an authentic friend to an LO. You are too invested, and there is an asymmetry in desire that is dishonest to conceal. You know what limerence feels like, and you know that it cannot be gently cultivated over a prolonged period by cleverly demonstrating your virtue as a worthwhile friend. It doesn’t work like that.
Now, some people could rightly protest that their LO initially seemed really keen, and then, once the limerent was hooked, seemed to cool, and act a bit weird. But by now you are hooked, and they really seem to like you as a friend. I mean, they’re hugging you and telling you how sensitive you are and gratefully accepting favours. You can’t read the mixed messages!
Yeah – I think you can read those messages, actually, and they say that your friend is pretty manipulative and is stringing you along for those favours (or for shits and giggles). We could get into a discussion about narcissism, and if you were really hurting, you might start to judge large numbers of other humans with similar features to your LO (based on e.g. the anatomical configuration of their genitalia) as being temperamentally manipulative and narcissistic. But deep down, you probably know that what’s happened is you’ve become limerent for someone who is actually quite selfish and unpleasant.
How to avoid the friendzone
Given how tricky it is to find the perfect game plan to avoid relegation to the friendzone, what can be done to avoid it? Happily, it’s really simple (but not necessarily easy):
Don’t play games.
Seriously. If you have feelings for somebody, tell them. You don’t need to be all gushing and romantic. I caution against the use of mood music. Just be straightforward and honest. Your heart will be hammering like a bastard, but you know who never ends up in the friendzone? The person that, once they’ve realised they’re feeling the glimmer, just outright says something like “You know LO, you’re pretty dazzling. I’d like to be more than friends with you.”
A quick, direct route to discover if case 1 or case 2 applies. Then you can decide what to do next. And whatever it is, do it with the same purpose as everything else in your life.
Here’s a story about LO #1:
We’d been seeing each other for a month or so. We were in a restaurant when she asked, “If I don’t sleep with you, is that the end of the friendship?” The question didn’t really bother me. It kind of set the bar for where this relationship was going and that was pretty much nowhere.
I told her, “Probably.” She asked what I meant. I told her that I was looking for a physical relationship and I’d keep looking until I found one. When I did, that’s where I’d spend my time. I told her we could hang out together until one of us got a better offer.
My response offended her. She said it was the most brutally cold answer she could have gotten but she added it was also the most honest answer she could have gotten. While her original question didn’t bother me, her reaction to my response did. She could send one over the net but didn’t like it when I sent it back.
I don’t know if it was later that night or a different night. But, after I parked the car, she said, “Don’t say or do anything.” Then, she kissed me like no woman ever had and the dance began.
That dance lasted almost 5 years and the line got really squiggly the last 2.
She sounds like trouble…
No wonder you succumbed!
You could almost hear Rod Serling’s voice in the background….
“On a rainy night over bouillabaisse and Merlot, Scharnhorst declined an invitation into …the Friendzone.”
When I met her at the end of 1982, I was a Naval officer in a town where my only friends were shipmates, both my parents were dead, and my closest living relative was 1000 miles away.
To me, an attractive, intelligent, charming, avoidant with a sense of humor who was willing to trade sex for friendship wasn’t a cause for concern.
She was a Gift from Heaven.
I did have an LO who seemed very interested at first and then cooled down and said he liked me as a friend. It took a lot of years and nonsense, but now we are friends (I actually talk to his girlfriend more often than him now, and am seriously overjoyed at he fact that I got to give the “If you hurt him I’ll kill you” speech and she DIDN’T, she ended up being much better for him than I would have). He had some serious ex-girlfriend nonsense which interfered in his ability to form a new relationship at the time, and, despite how much that sucked, we got through it, and hang out every time we’re in the same time zone now. Last time was about 5 years ago. I guess I note this to say that it’s not necessarily manipulation when an LO is hot at first and then cools down. Sometimes it’s just the other person’s past rising up organically in a way that makes it impossible to continue at the time.
And sometimes this is WAY WAY WAY for the best. D and I would have been terrible for each other. D and L are great for each other. No fault of D’s. He wasn’t messing with me. He had his own things going on. I was in no way the right person to help him with them. L was.
When I first met my LO in my early 20s (he was in his early 30s) it was totally random on a sidewalk with friends after a night out for a Birthday we exchanged numbers and agreed to meet for a lunch date, the days following I had extreme anxiety, when I had lunch with him i couldnt eat and heart pounding, sweaty palms.. all of it. i thought he was so amazing and handsome, sweet and smart….. totally out of my league. We continued to causally date for 3yrs seeing eachother once every two weeks or so. Hes always has been the one to reach out and communicate with me, I’ve always been to scared of rejection from him to reach out and txt first. Every Txt message i got from him I would go over and over in my head what to txt back and sometimes it would take a hour or two to return the txt because well.. I had so many thoughts and insecurities. I knew this wasnt normal or healthy and I began to realized it was unhealthy we didnt communicate our true feeling for one another and that there was never any real development in 3yrs in the “realationship”, we just didnt communicate well on a romantic level and so I did communicate that with him and he agreed. We continued on as “friends” and broke off the any physical aspect of the realationship. In my mind it was also with the hope of getting more comfortable around him and stop all the confusion and racing thoughts but still be able to have him in my life. It was a way to have him as a friend and hopefully get more comfortable as friends which i started to think hes probably best suited for in my life anyway.
Well then I moved away for 8 yrs for work he moved away for a few yrs also. I dated a few good men in that time I was away but I never stopped thinking of him, he was always in the background. Thanks to him we remained in contact while apart, he would alway txt remembering my birthday or a friendly Christmas greeting txt. Which always lead me to believe he really does care and he is a sincere friend but on the other hand has always left me a bit confused. Why and how does he remember my birthday every year?no guy friend does that for a decade.
Surely he must be seeing someone or dating? (He never talks about romantic relationships hes had)
I saw him briefly at times as friends durning my 8yrs hiatus when I would come home to vist family, i did let him know when i got a text from him when i was planning a vist so we would make plans to meet and say hello. One time on a vist home I did confess to him that I loved him in a way that I truly care for him as a friend. In my mind I thought it was important to tell the people you love how you feel and I wanted him to know how I felt, it was easier under the cloak of friendship. He responded with a I love you too. All that love talk though was friendship love not romantic love talk and i did feel relief from that but never dwelled on it really.
Fast forward- I quit my job a few yrs later and moved home 2yrs ago, he did have a small part in the decision (wanting to see him more would be great), I thought maybe a more mature me could be a real true friend now and not be so shy.. nope! Ha
He still initiates the contact every few months, and I still cant talk about how I feel completely. I always have a great time hanging out with him though it just that after I’ve been getting emotionally hungover for weeks following a friendly vist with him, It’s like nonstop thinking about what his true intentions are and the what if’s… I know I’m not being a true friend and I think that bothers me more then the fact that I’m not with him romantically. I really do care about him and not hurting him makes it extremely hard to tell him he cant contact me anymore. I really do want true friendship with him but I also know that there will always be hidden feelings.
After 13yrs I’m ready for all the confusion to stop! Just dont want to live with regrets that I feel will come with no contact.
In the 2yrs I’ve been home I have been seeing someone who knows about my friendship with LO but my LO doesnt know about my SO. It’s been hard to bring up my SO to my LO with fear of losing him.
Sometimes i wish he would just say hey I’m in a realationship and I happy and I could be happy for him and move on from all the confusion and emotional hurricanes.
I’m pretty sure I need therapy! Ha
Nice work Dr. L,
I opened this article, saw the cover image and burst out laughing on the bus!
I agree – the “friendzone” is a terrible place to be for a limerent. It’s even worse if the rejection has been ambiguous or too politely worded for the message to sink in. The limerent will continue reading into friend’s behaviour for signs of reciprocation. Possibly, the limerent will become even more zealous in searching out signs, since LO has brought up the hitherto taboo topic of romance. (Ooh. They mentioned romance! Were they thinking about romance? Were they thinking about romance with me? Yippee!) In other words, disclosure and rejection hasn’t solved anything. It’s only made the situation more confusing.
This is especially true if the limerent wasn’t fully conscious of their feelings for LO and didn’t disclose, but the LO issued some vague statement of rejection in response to fears they may have been entertaining themselves regarding the direction of the bond. I had a guy do this to me once (not my main LO) and his unique way of friendzoning me was to refer to me as “matey” in all subsequent communications. Needless to say, I didn’t get the hint. In fact, I didn’t realise he probably meant to friendzone me until I read this article – years after the event!!
Sometimes, I think a subtle rejection is worse than no rejection. Also, LOs should be aware some limerents might not want to be friends in the immediate aftermath of a rejection. Rejection can take it toll on the old ego. Limerents might need time to compose themselves and process their feelings.
I particularly enjoyed Lucy Bain’s take on the subject, which I think should be compulsory reading for all limerents: “5 Reasons to Never Befriend Someone You Love: The Golden Rule of Infatuation”.
Her first point “You’ll Act Like You’re Dating Them” is so true. We’ve all had that one platonic friend who’s a little too possessive, haven’t we? And I think this sort of behaviour often makes people cringe when they’re on the receiving end…
I laughed hard at the “matey” thing. My current LO started fist bumping at some point. I had disclosed prior to that and we had thoroughly discussed the matter with him giving me (honestly really legitimate) reasons for why he wanted to focus on himself and didn’t have capacity for romantic love in his life at the moment. Usually, I would consider many of his reasons excuses but his life circumstances are so extreme and peculiar, he definitely has to work though these before he can have a proper relationship with anyone. So everything he said seemed reasonable to me (and still does ). The problem is, he did not disclose whether he would consider dating me if circumstances were different which left my limerent brain a fricking backdoor. Anyways, after that conversation we began treating each other as acquaintances and he suddenly started fist bumping me when we met. I reluctantly went along the first couple of times but at some point I just snapped at him: “you don’t have to rub it in. just find some other way to greet me.”
I have to say I differ on the point that every LO who wants to be your friend is selfish and narcissistic. I don’t think it’s someone else’s responsibility to manage your emotions and expectations for you. Of course, there are people who will try to exploit a “limerent situation” but others genuinely like you in a non-romantic way, want to be your friend and act accordingly. If you can’t handle it, it’s your responsibility to withdraw and not theirs. I mean, I’m aware that the inability to do so is pretty much what differentiates limerents from non-limerents but it still doesn’t mean an LO who acts perfectly normal is to blame here. Those mixed signals that LOs send and limerents ruminate about often seem not so mixed and pretty clear from the outside.
Allie 1 says
Wholeheartedly agree with you about LOs wanting to be friends. Our LE is our own problem to resolve.