The previous post presented a particularly thorny limerence dilemma, and inadvertently also highlighted some of the difficulties presented when discussing emotionally incendiary topics. Like limerence, infidelity, and personal responsibility, for instance.
Unfortunately, it also failed in its explicit intent: to help the person who had contacted me, seeking support. A few days after the post went live, “Creative limerent” got in touch with me about her situation, but also apologetically admitted that she did not feel able to enter the discussion on the post for fear of being attacked by some commenters.
My general philosophy for commenting on the blog is fairly laissez-faire, but CL’s response is a message I’m not willing to ignore, so I think it’s time to spell out some ground rules, and outline my view on what is appropriate conduct.
What I am hoping to achieve with this blog
When I started out, I was mainly just expressing myself, and trying to help understand the experience I had been through, by writing my thoughts down and organising them in a way that helped me make sense of limerence. But it has grown (happily!) and my primary ambition now is to help other people make sense of the experience too. The purpose of the blog, therefore, is to help people affected by limerence – both limerents themselves and those suffering because of the behaviour of limerents in their lives. What it is not is a forum for critiquing other people’s conduct and character.
Who is welcome
Everyone. Genuinely. I absolutely believe in a pluralist approach to problem solving, and cordially dislike echo chambers. I think all voices and all perspectives add value to the discussion around limerents, and have said before that “chumps” (i.e. victims of infidelity, as per chumplady) are not only welcome, but make an especially important contribution; by spotlighting in stark relief the impact that selfish limerents have on their loved ones and friends. But.
While I dislike echo chambers, I also dislike the current social trend of equating victimhood with moral authority. I do not believe that misconduct by a limerent erases all their positive contributions to life, or that having been a victim of infidelity grants chumps the insight to dictate what is right for everyone else. I suppose my worldview on this is that most of us are stumbling through life, trying to figure out what we’re doing, and being variously favoured, victimised, and buffeted by random chance. The way through that is not to sort people into goodies and baddies, and then eulogise the goodies and dehumanise the baddies. A bit of humility is always a good idea. Caring about the wellbeing of victims is easy; caring about the redemption of transgressors is when your compassion is properly tested.
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Some people are unreachable, of course, but I’m going to assume they won’t be coming here, and certainly won’t be asking for support.
I am anti-infidelity, as I would think the vast majority of people are. I’ve joked before about being a judgy judge on this topic, but there’s nuance in every situation. The first grey area is that not everyone agrees what constitutes infidelity. For some, thoughts are betrayal enough. For others, words. And then, there’s the sliding scale of physical acts from hugs to long-term sexual affairs. For myself, I fall on the “your thoughts are your own, but once you externalise them you take the consequences” line. But I also recognise the difference of opinion, and would rather learn from someone with a different view than correct them. The second grey area is that there are degrees of betrayal. That does not mean that some betrayal is OK. It does mean that mitigating circumstances matter.
The extreme cases are easy. A player who has multiple affairs, puts their spouse’s health and finances at risk, and is unrepentant, is obviously despicable. A neglected spouse who admits their inappropriate feelings to a co-worker they have become limerent for may not have acted perfectly, but there’s room for forgiveness. However, the mass in the middle is the tricky bit. Those people who know they have broken their own moral codes and are trying to cope with the guilt, but don’t know what to do. Those people who feel like they’ve lost control of their senses, and desperately want to get their emotions back under control. Those people whose LOs are actively enabling the limerence. How far is unforgivable? How little a transgression should be confessed?
I am far from convinced that shoving all the grey area cases to one or other of the extremes is the right response.
One of the points of contention in the last comment thread was around disclosure – specifically whether (and when) the limerent should disclose to their spouse. I have a post on the topic here, but to summarise: the limerent and spouse should be working as a partnership, or the relationship is going to get into serious trouble. I would advocate disclosure at a time and in a way that maximises the chance that an honest and constructive discussion can be had. But, I also think that there is a reasonable case for the limerent trying to stabilise their own emotional problems before disclosure – or if the limerence has not progressed to disclosure to LO (or a physical affair) then not disclosing at all. I think it is probably best for the long-term health of your relationship to disclose even limerent feelings – because they are symptomatic of an unresolved romantic longing in the limerent that is best analysed and understood – but choosing your moment is also important.
To give a specific example: I heard from a cheater spouse who disclosed to his wife while they were driving home from a concert. His distraught wife leapt out of the car at a stop light and ran out into the traffic. If you know that your spouse is emotionally vulnerable, it is reasonable to take care about when (and where) you disclose. Other examples would be: while the partner is working abroad, if the LO is the partner’s boss, or partner’s employee, or partner’s friend. Yes, these are all undoubtedly unpleasantly disrespectful betrayals, but thoughtless disclosure could compound the damage rather than limiting it.
Basically, betrayal is really really shitty, so don’t do it, but if you have, try not to make it even worse. A good rule of thumb is: if you are not disclosing because you are scared of the consequences for you, then you are making the situation worse. If you are not disclosing because you foresee even worse damage from doing so, then think deeply about the best time and circumstances.
So, for those who have persisted through this study in centrism, here are my thoughts on commenting. Please be constructive, supportive, and civil. I don’t want to mod, but I will in cases where the conduct or character of contributors is being attacked. Look on it like this: if you hector people, you are not going to persuade them. If you dictate what they should do, you are robbing them of the opportunity to figure it out for themselves, and anyway, you don’t know what is best for them. The call for civil discourse seems recently to have been taken by the media as evidence of a right-wing powerplay to suppress minority voices – another one of those moments where I feel the zeitgeist is leaving me behind – but to me, civility is part of the bedrock of civilisation (it’s sort of implicit in the word). My definition of civil discourse is not “no swearing”, it’s assuming that the person you are addressing is acting in good faith, and responding accordingly, even when you vehemently disagree.
With all that out of the way, I’ll end with a belated thank you to everyone who has contributed to the discussions on the blog to date. Thank you all. It is incredibly moving and gratifying to read the messages from people who say that this blog and this community has helped them get their limerence-wracked lives back on track, and given them hope for the future.
Long may that continue…