The previous post covered the benefits of disclosing your feelings to your LO, and when it may be a worthwhile thing to do. Disclosure is never a simple choice, of course, and can lead to more uncertainty if LO responds in an unpredictable way. Ironically, when not to disclose is usually more clear-cut.
By far the simplest indicator of when not to disclose is: when you really want to but know you shouldn’t.
Now I may be a hopeless optimist about this, but I think most people have a good moral sense and know when they shouldn’t do something because it’s Wrong. I’m not a Pollyanna – I know that most people are also often lazy and selfish and thoughtless, but I don’t think they want to be those things. If you asked them they wouldn’t say “Yeah, I don’t much care about being decent, I like being feckless and weak willed.” It’s just that they can’t always muster the moral fibre to do the right thing. So, people are often not good, but they basically want to be.
Given that shaky philosophical foundation, let’s look at some scenarios where a struggling limerent may need some help bolstering their resolve to hold their feelings in till they can master them.
1) Either one of you is committed to someone else.
The obvious case. Yes, your feelings are strong and you are bursting to share them, but think about the impact on other people. While they remain in your head, those thoughts and fantasies are yours alone. Once they are spoken and out in the world, you have taken a positive action that compromises other relationships. There may be circumstances that we can dream up where that might be an ethically defensible act, but most of the time it is a selfish need for validation by LO at the expense of your integrity. Your decision to share intimate emotional secrets with LO is an act that makes them complicit in the deceit of either their SO, your SO, or both. If there are kids involved, then the repercussions really ripple out. Families have generational feuds over this stuff.
All that moralising is predictable enough, but really, deeply thinking about the consequences of intimate betrayal is a good way to help strengthen your nerve. LO now knows something fundamentally important about you that your SO doesn’t. How happy would you be with that asymmetry if you discovered it about yourself? Another important note is that the attempt to forge a closer bond to LO can backfire, and backfire badly. They tell their SO, or your SO. They tell their friends. You have no control over the information once it is out in the world, nor should you expect it. You have imposed yourself into other lives; consequences follow that decision.
2) You have authority over LO
The next obvious case is that in some manner, professional or otherwise, you have authority over LO, or there is a power imbalance that means you are disclosing to someone who is either dependent on you or subordinate to you. I’ve mithered before about workplace limerence, and it’s complicated stuff (power imbalances can vary or flip or have little real bearing on professional life), but it may be a situation where the precautionary principle is well applied. If someone works for you and you disclose to them, you put them in a very difficult position – regardless of how they feel about you. Admittedly, reciprocated limerence is a problem that you can probably manage to solve, but what happens once the limerence fades, as it always does? And you never know whether it will be reciprocated before you take the chance.
If it isn’t reciprocated, how is an employee supposed to navigate the nested difficulties of letting you know they are not interested romantically, but want your good opinion professionally, and need to work closely with you but not give you false hope, and are thinking about the reference they will get if they want to leave, etc. etc.?
Of course, if disclosure goes badly, the backfiring at work is a whole other level of fallout. They accuse you of harassment. They tell HR. They ask to be transferred. You have to explain yourself to your boss. Everyone else who works for you loses respect for you. Repercussions pile high.
Another level of complication is educational scenarios – teacher/student or tutor/tutee. If your LO is younger than 18 (or the agreed threshold for adulthood in your country) then suck it up and shut your mouth. No good will come of it – that should be obvious. For older students, the same principles apply as for the workplace, but more so. You have a position that grants you status as a source of wisdom and support. Abuse that at your peril. It’s hard to see any circumstance under which disclosing to a student is a good idea. Keep your feelings in. They will leave in a matter of a few years, so if you are truly enraptured, wait till then.
3) You think LO doesn’t reciprocate, but need to keep working with them
In another scenario, LO is a coworker, but not an obvious boss or subordinate, what then? Assuming your workplace doesn’t have specific policies about relationships you are free in principle to approach them. Here again, I would caution against disclosure unless you are very confident that LO reciprocates – and the false confidence of limerence doesn’t count. And you certainly shouldn’t disclose your limerence. You will have to work with LO in the future, and it will be a lot easier if you are discreet in determining whether they are interested. A compliment and a request for a date would be fine, disclosure that you spend all day obsessively thinking about them is going to make everyday life very uncomfortable for you both if LO is not interested.
4) You have disclosed previously
You disclosed before and LO um-ed and ah-ed and said “can’t we still be friends?” or “I have strong feelings for you too, but it’s complicated for me at the moment,” or other such non-committal flannel. There’s no point disclosing again. In fact, why are you still hanging around them? Run away! Save yourself!
Why not disclosing is hard
Given how easy it is to list the reasons why you shouldn’t disclose, it does rather beg the question why is it so hard not to? Surely any limerent with half a brain could see it’s madness under these circumstances? Certainly, any SO will see with crystal clarity how straightforward the decision is. Shut up, get away from LO, and focus on the primary relationship that you’re jeopardising!
I’ve spent paragraphs listing all the reasons why a limerent should restrain themselves, but limerence, though, eh? It’s not associated with clear thinking. It’s tough to think clearly when all your cognitive power is occupied with trying to come up with rationalisations for why you should be getting your next fix. The desire to disclose can be overpowering. You want them to know how wonderful you think they are. You think they might know, and might feel the same about you, but how can you be sure? High on dopamine and overconfidence, you want to share the giddy feelings of connection with them, to get closer by shared intimacy. And what could be more intimate that a confession of deep feelings? The boring real world fades away in the moment of connection. Surely it’s safe to disclose here in this mind-bubble that the two of you are sharing?
Yeah, it’s not. All the responsibilities you have taken on still count, even if you are high. The cold, hard truth about limerence is that it happens in your head, and is largely independent of external reality. A good mantra to repeat to yourself when you are tempted to disclose is “I have no idea how LO will react”. Because you don’t. You’re handing someone a life-grenade because you think that they are amazingly special and will appreciate the gift you are giving them. Some LOs will look at your gift, pull the pin and blow you up.
And you can’t complain because you gave them the bomb.