Easy answer: because deep down you don’t want to.
I like the idea of defining limerence as “person addiction”, and one of the reasons that definition seems so apt is because addicts are driven by a central dissonance: I know this thing is bad for me, but I crave it so strongly that I want to carry on regardless. Or, perhaps more subtly, I want to quit, but I hope I fail so I can have more. It almost feels like some part of you is smiling at your deluded self in your efforts to Do The Right Thing, when they know deep down that you are doomed to fail.
There were times in my last limerence episode where I could see with certainty that all roads ahead with LO on them led to bad outcomes, but despite that clarity, a deep part of me hoped that LO would throw herself at me. I wasn’t totally sure I could resist a full frontal assault, so part of me wanted her to attack.
Overcoming this “two minds” problem is one of the hardest challenges in limerence mastery. The internal conflict between your rational self and your irrational self is also a big part of the emotional pain and self-disgust that toxic limerence brings. How to resolve this conflict is not always clear, and certainly never easy. It’s slippery stuff, so I’m going to try and think my way through it by the use of an extended (possibly tortured) metaphor.
The deep down you is not You
An important first step is to recognise that the strength of the deep-down feelings is not an indication of their importance. Deep-down you is a simple creature, and driven by straightforward urges.
There is no sophistication about its primal drives. No foresight. No concern for consequences. Deep-down you is basically a toddler with poor impulse control.
When coupled to the power and deviousness of an adult, this can be quite a destructive force. Fortunately, most of us learn to act as a responsible parent to the deep-down child within us, enforce boundaries, and keeping a watchful eye on what it’s getting up to.
But the desire to sometimes give in to those selfish demands can be seductive. Indulging the deep-down child can feel really good. Guilty good. It can feel as if you are satisfying a fundamental part of yourself, because in a way you are, but it’s important to recognise that, while it is fundamental, it is also very primitive. It’s not the part of yourself that should be in control of your life. There’s a reason that we don’t let children drive: it’s mad dangerous.
You are the you that knows best
Like all children, the deep down part of yourself needs care. It doesn’t understand why all its whims shouldn’t be catered to. It doesn’t like to hear “No”. It needs constraints to stay safe, but it also needs love. Despite the potential for destruction, toddlers are adorable and lovable in their guilelessness. You do not want to be in conflict with your deep-down self; you want it to be able to indulge itself within the healthy constraints that will allow it (and you) to thrive. The child should be nurtured and kept emotionally and physically safe, but the responsible parent is the part of you that must be in charge.
From this perspective, the responsible parent is You at your most essential level. It’s also the definition of what makes us human. The ability to override our base urges, the ability to look into the future and make sacrifices now that lead to a better life, the ability to delay gratification for better outcomes. I don’t think it’s too hyperbolic to say that this uniquely-human trait was vital for the emergence of civilisation.
All the best things in life come from the purposeful part of ourselves that knows what’s best and tries to do it. The people we admire the most are those who are guided by integrity, because we know that living like that is better than fighting to get whatever you can in a desperate attempt to sate the deep down urges of our basic selves.
The point at which my metaphor breaks down and things get dark
Here’s the hard part: the You that is in charge must be nurtured just as assiduously as the deep down child, or you can succumb to cynicism and resentment. Sometimes you can feel like peevishly letting the child grab the wheel for a while, to swerve all over the road, mowing down innocent bystanders.
Corralling the fundamental but primitive part of yourself is an ongoing effort, and reaching a healthy balance between restraining and indulging it requires self-awareness and patience. It also requires discipline and conscientiousness. Sometimes we can’t manage it.
Because – and this is where we leave the metaphor behind – sex is a central part of limerence too, and this makes it significantly different from other drives. Without wanting to get too grim, there are evolutionary reasons why a drive to reproduce can be stronger than the drive to self-protect. From a gene-centric perspective, once we’ve made children (and propagated our genes) it doesn’t matter if our lives are rich and healthy and full of self-actualisation. Those things matter a lot to us, but mathematically, they have a trivial impact on the success of our genes in replicating themselves. Limerence pushes with the force of millennia of evolutionary history, not “just” our own short lives.
The urgency of sexual desire coupled to pair-bonding, with a dash of compulsive addiction, may be about the most challenging deep-down behaviour that our wiser selves ever have to discipline. It feels less like a spoilt child wanting cake, and more like a predatory satyr that wants to dominate, or like willing prey that wants to utterly surrender and be possessed. And here’s another difficult bit: as well as embracing the deep-down child, you also have to embrace the dark and animalistic part of yourself too. But without letting it take over.
We are legion
At this point, sceptical readers may be forgiven for thinking I’ve gone off the deep end with this “multiple selves” stuff, so I’ll try to bring it back to something more practical. For your rational mind to stand a chance of overruling the compulsive limerent urge to pair-bond, you really have to understand and accept all the deep drives acting in opposition to your own best interests. They are part of you, part of your personal history, and part of your ancestral history.
But you have a unique advantage: a You that can see further, think harder, and has a firm grip on the steering wheel. You can accept your limerent feelings, experience them, and decide, ultimately, not to act on them. Even when you really want to, deep down. Even when the devil in you whispers “go on!” Even when you are tired and stressed and resentful of the expectation that you always have to be responsible. Even then, your wiser self can prevail. In the face of long odds, the human will to be better can win the day.
Civilisation depends on it.
Phew! Made it to the end.
Next week, cat videos.