I tend to assume that limerents must all be romantics. Life certainly makes it easy – the Disney model of the one true love overlaps nicely with the idealisation of LOs. Oh, they are so very special. It must be something cosmic.
Now, cards on the table, I am a believer in true love, and I’m not ashamed of it. But, I think we all know it’s not cosmic; it’s actually a very human and changeable and personal thing. The path does not always run smooth, and limerence can be as much a hindrance as a help.
In the early stages of romantic love, limerence is essential for limerents. I don’t just mean that as an obvious truism – I mean it in the context that having experienced limerence, a love affair without that initial thrill will always seem second best. I’m not denigrating healthy loving bonds between caring people that didn’t get the initial butterfly stage, but that path is very different to the mad, love-overload-that-matures-into-something-stable which most limerents crave. Maybe I’m greedy, but I’m not the only one.
As with many aspects of limerence, however, when it comes to romance, Problems arise.
First and foremost – just as for the mental model of the LO – romance largely arises from the limerent’s own mind, and their fervent desire to interpret reality in a manner that justifies their intense feelings. When the limerence is reciprocated, this is brill. One of the greatest liberations in being human is our freedom to imagine the sort of world we want to live in and seek it. For many of us, that world includes another individual that we are sure is definitively and uniquely special, and who feels the same about us. Indulging romantic fantasy is healthy, when it helps us to escape and transcend the limitations of everyday life. I’m with Tolkien, in his sentiments about fairy stories – What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape? Jailers.
But, when the limerence is not reciprocated, or when it’s focused on an inappropriate LO, romantic thinking can be decidedly unbrill. First, it obviously makes the limerent vulnerable to minimising the LO’s unsuitability. “They only do that because they hurt inside. My love will soothe their inner turmoil.” Second, romantic notions are very deeply embedded in our subconscious, and feelings beat the intellect out of the starting gate every time. We almost can’t believe our own thoughts, because of the disconnect between our rapid emotional response and our more sluggish intellectual response (which comes puffing up afterwards waving its arms and gasping “hold on a minute”). This impulse also underlies the risk of relapse after a period of no-contact with LO – we retrospectively airbrush memories to fit our romantic notion of LO, not the reality.
So, how can we embrace romance when it’s healthy, be suspicious of it when it’s not, and learn to tell the difference?
A super important skill in self-awareness is learning to detach your observation skills from your emotional response. The emotional response is going to hit you first. That’s fine. Let it happen. But then, when your rationality catches up, think “how interesting, I am experiencing emotion X”. For example, you could be remembering a time when LO behaved badly, and feel your stomach turn over, and then think “how interesting, I am experiencing guilt and feelings of protectiveness when I think badly of LO.”
Emotional intuition is important and useful and keeps us safe, but needs to be cultivated like any other skill. This sort of detached analysis is a good way to assess strong emotional feelings by overlaying them with an intellectual review and deciding “yes, I am right to worry about this,” or “my emotional triggers are stopping me from seeing this clearly.” Incidentally, this should be an intensely personal experience – it’s risky to let others direct it, as manipulative people can try and persuade you that you are being hysterical. Develop this skill and you can learn to trust your emotions better and indulge them healthily.
Romance is brilliant, but it’s also seductive. Just like limerence it can add to, or subtract from, life’s joys.
Are limerents “romantics?” How about LOs?
My father was of the era of “Mad Men.” I was somewhat “classically” trained in romance by my father. I found it largely wasted in the 70s and 80s when I came of age. Few of the women I dated then seemed to understand it, let alone appreciate it. One of the things that attracted me to my wife was that even though she was born in the 60s, romance appealed to her.
This was in stark contrast to her predecessor, LO #2, to whom romance seemed lost on. Candle lit dinners, soft music, and a fire went right over her head. Although, LO #2’s libido seemed to be directly proportional to the number of stars a hotel had. From some of the things she said, I think LO #4 may have had a romantic streak in her but I never got to explore that.
Pesky random thoughts….
A lot of the discussion on this site focuses on married limerence. But there’s another kind that is not so great for your mental health or your life — unrequited and unwanted limerence, in other words, when the LO is disgusted by your affections and wishes you’d leave them alone. (Worth a future blog post, Dr. L?) Many people do not care to be “loved” or lusted after in this manner. When the limerent holds that their resistance is some kind of playing hard to get and chalks it up to “romance,” they end up doing things that lead to restraining orders. As you’ve said before, Dr. L, the stories we tell ourselves matter.