Losing limerence.
April 29, 2012 9:01 AM   Subscribe

How do you get over ten years of limerence?

I have been in love / limerence with a woman for ten years. We were lovers for the first two of those and then work took us to different parts of the world. It is classic limerence but has never faded despite numerous relationships since then. We reconnected recently online and she expressed the same feelings over the same period of time. The news brought my current relationship to an abrupt end, hers continues (although they are working at it). Today ee decided to cease all further contact for the sake of her relationship efforts and my sanity. I'm devastated at the thought of never seeing, hearing from or being with her again. Cliche of cliches, life has now lost all purpose, the length of time this has gone on exacerbates my pessimism about ever moving on. I've tried to tackle my feelings through therapy, medication, applying rationality, cynicism, philosophy and alcohol. Nothing stops the deep and profound feelings I have for her and I'm at a loss after all this time at what to do. Even when I manage to erase her from my daily thoughts, I dream about her at night. How do I let this woman go, for ever, and end this pain?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
It seems to me that you are clinging to an idealized version of a relationship -- one that, rather conveniently, can't exist in the real world. Of course you other relationships don't measure up! They are in the real world, where your partners have their own needs and desires and do all sorts of things that don't arise out of your head. The gap between your imagined/remembered relationship and the experience of your other relationships is a breeding ground for dissatisfaction and suffering.

So, what to do? Stop thinking about her. No, really, you can do this. When your thoughts turn to her, don't engage with them and don't push them away (this adds energy to them and keeps them going). Let them be and, pretty quickly, your mind will generate something else. It may take a long time to do this automatically, and you may still have relapses of bad feelings, but let thoughts of her drain out of your head. It's worked for me. And, in time, the dreams will mostly stop. Your brain has other things to bedevil you with.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:19 AM on April 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

It's also worth thinking about why you hang on to this attachment. That feeling of longing and melancholy can be very comforting, especially when it blocks you from messy interactions with more accessible people. It seems weird to say it, but I think it's quite possible to get "addicted" to the feeling of emotional pain; it's like a "devil you know" situation, and, after a while, the wallowing feels good, at least in the immediate moment. I can't say whether you feel this way or not, but it might be something to consider.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:24 AM on April 29, 2012 [13 favorites]

It seems to me that you are clinging to an idealized version of a relationship -- one that, rather conveniently, can't exist in the real world.

...and never has, if you really look closely. You are in love with the potential here, but there's nothing tangible to attach it to.

If you found this feeling once with someone, you can find it again. Likewise, if she cared about you that much (however entangled she was in this other relationship) then someone else will too. Start looking at her as an interesting and beautiful part of your romantic history. As in, past tense.
posted by hermitosis at 9:41 AM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry for your pain. Keep it in perspective. Regardless, whether she's in love with you or not, she's not with YOU. It's not fair to you, her man, and anyone else who wants to be with you. Don't do it to yourself.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 9:54 AM on April 29, 2012

Stop trying to ignore these feelings or make them go away or accept the idea that something is wrong with you or that you're clinging to an idealized version of the relationship or her. You were with her for two years and she still feels similar as you do, years later. That's nothing to be ignored or pooh poohed away. It happened and it's undeniable. The truth is that your feelings will probably never go away and that's ok.

You've tried to get rid of these feelings through "therapy, medication, applying rationality, cynicism, philosophy and alcohol." It hasn't worked. It's not going to work and you can't go back to when you were with her.

Make peace with your feelings, recognize they'll always be there and move forward with your life. No, this isn't easy. Yes, you're heartbroken, the pain of her cutting off contact is fresh, but life does go on. Not because we want it to, but because the nature of life is to continue regardless of what we as individuals are thinking or feeling.

Currently you're giving too much power these feelings that won't go away. Accept them and the fact that you won't see her again, as painful as that may be, and seek solace elsewhere in healthy activites.

Yes, it's hard and seemingly impossible. That's usually when we have to do the things we least want to do.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:11 AM on April 29, 2012 [12 favorites]

If you found this feeling once with someone, you can find it again.

Well maybe, but maybe you can't. But you can find something much better than this heady rush of forbidden star-crossed teenage love--A lasting, mature, trusting, inspiring, secure lifelong partnership with someone who shares every part of your life and makes you a better, happier person until you die. Or so I've been told.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:16 AM on April 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

This advice from scody may be helpful.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:17 AM on April 29, 2012

The sense I get from you're question is that this is A Thing in your life beyond the fundamental feelings. There's a layer of drama. There's a way this creates some meaning or structure for you. So, let go of what you think and know, because those thoughts and beliefs are what are giving form to the wax of your feelings, especially now while those feelings are newly molten. Just be with your feelings, and let them change as they will. The book When Things Fall Apart is good on all of this.
posted by salvia at 10:48 AM on April 29, 2012

*your question
posted by salvia at 10:54 AM on April 29, 2012

The hard to shake belief that she was "the one" for you implicitly supports, but also, is supported by the more fundamental idea that you are also "the one" for her. After all, there is no way she could have been, or be "the one," if you were for her, her "two," "three," "zero," etc. As oblique as this may sound: your problem is not your feelings for her, but your idea of yourself. You have to let go this idea of yourself, this idea that you were once "The one" or are still "the one" or will be "the one," this has to be let go to let her go.

She is a prop. In time, maybe some other arbitrary person will function this same way. But they'll be a prop to maintain the idea that you were once (before you lost her), or are once-to-be (after you win her back). They'll be a promise. A promise to yourself that you'll one day be complete, or one day was, and you lost that chance. They'll be evidence, an explanation as to why you are not presently whole, perfect, finished, complete.

The reasoning is easy, because you do not have her, that is, that alone is why you aren't. As if you could have been. . .

The truth is there will always be more work to do. This idea of yourself as complete, you must throw it away, give it up. There is always dissatisfaction, a little unhappiness, something left desired. You will never be complete so long as you are alive. The living are always in the process of a becoming. If your life were complete, then what would you do? Just sit there, smiling? The truth is you have never been, and you never will be. We wrestle with life, for that wrestling is life.

At times, likely times like these, this may seem to be a personal truth. That you alone struggle. Those walking down the sidewalk, with those smiles on their face, they are not like you. They are content. They do not obsess. They are normal. This terrible truth is your problem. You are alone. But this is nothing but what you thought before with a simple change of colors. If she is not your "the one," the reasoning goes, then that means you are not "the one," you are "the one that is not the one." She functions once more as proof of you being a "the one," but in this form, it is now you are "the one who obsesses," a "the one that is not the one." You think that if only you were born someone else you would have it easy. This is not the case, and the very idea of this, this is what has you holding on to her. She is a symptom of this belief.

But maybe now it really is clear that it does not involve her. You understand, so you say. Instead, you explain that it is your relationship to her, this limerence love, it alone is the problem. It is now your lethal evidence, promise, and prop. The evidence that your present misery is caused by something could have been avoided. The promise that that in some possible universe, somewhere in time, elsewhere, where it was avoided, there you are not dissatisfied, a little unhappy, desiring something more. Which works as a prop for that belief that where you live now is in the worst of all worlds. If only, the mind wishes, if only, then I would be, if only, in a circle it goes.

The mistake made in this second case is you see a universal truth as a particular one, you mistake the truth as a truth which only applies to you. The truth is nobody is even "one," let alone "the one," even you. You have to realize that. You have to let go of this idea of yourself as being complete, it won't happen, not for any of us. You have to realize you are alive, that we are all alive. And that she too is alive.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:26 AM on April 29, 2012 [9 favorites]

Even when I manage to erase her from my daily thoughts, I dream about her at night. How do I let this woman go, for ever, and end this pain?

You might not. You might always have moments of wondering what-if, passing dreams and fantasies. But you might get to a point where you can treat the longing you feel for her as less of an identifying part of who you are now -- a Big Thing that explains anything about your present troubles -- and more of just ... a scar you have, from a thing that happened in the past, and is over.

This woman had a huge effect in your life. You trying to "erase her" from your memory is not going to work, no matter how much you self-deprecate your longing as "classic" or "cliché". But you can change from your current stance -- behaving as though this mythologized lost relationship is a talisman that can help you through present problems -- to a new stance. One where she's merely a fond memory of something past, no longer relevant to the present or future.

You have a future, but it doesn't include her, and building shrines to those memories, constantly poking your finger into the scar to see how it feels, only confuses your present, prolongs acceptance of loss. She's part of your past. The problems of the present are yours to deal with, alone or with whoever else you meet. You will carry a scar of loss into that dealing, but that is far better than an albatross of false hope.
posted by ead at 11:48 AM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard Halpern is a really helpful self-help book.

Agree wholeheartedly with ead that your goal shouldn't be to "erase" her from your memory, but to put her in the appropriate place--someone you were once in love with, with whom you had some wonderful times, but now both of you have moved on.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:53 PM on April 29, 2012

This is a stunningly wrong use of the term "limerence" as if to claim your attachment to this person was merely a hormonal reaction to someone you only recently became involved with.

I suspect the first step to dealing with this is admitting to yourself that you were really in love with this person and that for whatever reason you guys never got back together.

Here's the thing: I think you and your unconscious are hanging on to her because the instant you stop, you will have to admit that you gave up on her. You can't forget her, but you can relegate her to "that part of your life which is now over."
posted by deanc at 1:24 PM on April 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

The only thing that started me on my way to get over my long-term crush (though not as long as yours) was The Sorrows of Young Werther.
posted by rhizome at 2:10 PM on April 29, 2012

I think limerance is worth thinking about, though, not because he's in limerance at this exact moment necessarily, but because this love-as-addiction may well have been cemented by early euphoria that he's now seeking to reclaim.

Our sense of what's "real," "meaningful," "important," and "true" comes to us via a combination of chemicals, emotions, and thoughts. Those can definitely combine to give us misleading information. If those two years he spent with her had some of the most limerant moments of his life, it may well feel like this relationship is so extremely meaningful and real that reclaiming it would be one of the most important things he could ever do. That's unlikely to be true, as there are many wonderful loves he could have, but it's completely understandable that it would feel that way.

The relationship I had the hardest time getting over certainly had a high early-euphoria factor. But this euphoria, which made me feel that we were fated and meant for each other, wasn't a good indicator of objective reality. For one thing, I managed to irredeemably screw up that relationship in fairly short order. That was a source of great regret for a long time. But part of what helped was slowly no longer believing in euphoria as a good indicator. I've since had high-euphoria relationships turn awful, and low-euphoria relationships prove solid, nurturing, and full of lasting love.

OP, I went nearly as long as you feeling like that one relationship was The One that I'd screwed up and would reclaim if I could. I felt that way despite evidence that he didn't want to try, despite even evidence that it probably wouldn't work for me. Now, I don't feel that way. You're not weird for feeling this way; it's inexplicable but not uncommon. But you're also not doomed to always feel this way. You'll most likely go on to experience other moments of euphoria, and other kinds of love. But I'm sorry it sucks so very much right now.
posted by salvia at 2:35 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Let me throw out one last thing, which is kind of random, just in case it helps. I'm agnostic and a skeptic, but a handful of my acquaintances at least kinda believe in reincarnation. I've never adopted an earnest belief in karma and the durability of souls. But pondering it as a "what if" has been a helpful tool for dealing with relationships, particularly relationship conflict and pain, from a more detached view.

If you can provisionally accept that you will see the same people over and over through lifetimes, perhaps falling into familiar roles, perhaps seeking revenge, perhaps playing a bit part for once, it implies a few things: (a) there may in fact be something Deeply Important about certain relationships, in fact all of them, (b) this Deep Importance can exist in spite of the relationship not going well, (c) in fact, the pain itself may be its importance in this lifetime; it might be your role for at least part of this life, (d) the relationship can have enduring importance even if you never see them again in this lifetime, (e) you can honor the relationship and hold it close to your heart while accepting that it didn't work, and (f) the other people in your life are likely other Important Relationships to honor and attend to.

It's not as simplistic as "oh well, see you in the next life." Detaching from the pain and accepting the present reality opens up space for curiosity. Suppose you and this person have known one another across the millenia. In abstract terms, what is your relationship to her? Suppose you had a similar relationship in a past life, perhaps with the roles flipped even, what was the nature of that? (Siblings? Lovers? Master-servant? War enemies? Parent-child? Teacher-student? Friendly rivals?) You're feeling terrible pain and abandonment now. Is this because you two have long been lovers for lifetimes, so it's intolerable to be apart? Well then, what happened? What does this mistake teach you for future use? And what space does it create for you to honor other people? Or, perhaps you haven't always been lovers; have you perhaps been repeatedly abandoned by this person, lifetime after lifetime; is this moment a place when you will gently stop that cycle? If so, how can you do that with forgiveness rather than initiating lifetimes of retribution? Or perhaps, do you now feel an obligation to loyally suffer this pain as penance for having abandoned her before? If so, how can you accept and lean into this experience rather than struggle against it, so that you more deeply and quickly learn what you need to learn?

As I say, I use this as a thought tool, picking it up and then putting it down. Asking "what has our relationship been like in past lives" is a way of asking "what is the deeper archetypal dynamic in our relationship?" Asking "how can I gracefully accept the reality of what's going on now in a way that lays the foundation for better things in the next life?" is a way of asking "what really is the current reality? given that reality, how can I honor the relationship and show compassion to both myself and the other person now and moving forward?"

Sorry for the length, and not sure if this will be useful to anyone but me, but it gives me a different vantage point and inspires me to act not from the pain or anger I'm feeling but toward a vision of the person I want to be and the relationships I want to have. And, by the way, I just realize that I'd made the assumption that you are male, OP. Sorry about that.
posted by salvia at 3:31 PM on April 29, 2012 [12 favorites]

If she has the same feelings indeed, she will not be able to 'work it out' (most likely) and will come back to you. If it's really as strong and lasting as you say, you will get together eventually. Hm, I guess I'd say that in view that (given that you're really mutually in love for 10 years), I'd concentrate on being ready to really 'get her' if/when (probably 'when') you talk to her again. You want to be in a stable, non-desperate place, and you want to be able to simply explain to her that getting together is the obvious and rational thing to do to make both your lives make sense. Everyone wants their lives to make sense, right. But it's good to prepare for that kind of mind-set by getting your emotions/affairs in order in every other way.

My philosophy here is that you accept and work with the situation since fighting it is so frustrating and has been fruitless so far. I think people spend too much time fighting love and down-playing it and rationalizing it rather than following it. Calling it 'limerence' isn't really helping, as it's distancing and not true to your feelings. Being true to your feelings is key to feeling calm and grounded and, ultimately, happy. Feel what you feel, at all times; accept it as the thing you feel and on some level good, and do constructive things with that feeling in itself. That is to say, rather than seeing it as an obstacle or problem, or a call for action (relationship or sex or meet-ups), just focus on your feelings and your reactions to them, and get that stabilized and your mind clear for the time (likely to come) that she comes back into your life. You are not doomed to panic and useless angst even with this feeling, if you process it as a good thing you will treasure rather than suffer from. It's a bit of a leap, but quite possible if you really do care for this person. Feelings are like water-- give them a vessel and room to flow, and they irrigate the dry spaces around them and allow movement, nourishment and progress to occur. Allow your feelings to motivate positive action, and integrate them into your self-identity in a positive way. 'I love her'-- that can be a part of who you are; it sounds like it already is. It doesn't have to be torturous anymore than being a fan of Shakespeare has to be torturous. Simply calling it infatuation doesn't magically make it a destructive feeling; in fact, it has the capacity to be much more inspiriting for that aspect of passion (ask any artist).

Anyway, allow yourself to think creatively and believe in your feelings and their value. Further, next time the opportunity arises, do not leave a person you're still in love with, and make them the priority that they actually are in your choices, and this integration of feeling with action with lead to inner peace.
posted by reenka at 5:03 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Palmcorder's Recipe for Getting Over Obsessive Thoughts About Cruddy Things:

(1) Recognize that you keep having thoughts about (X), and that things would be better for all concerned if you could minimize that.

(2) When you find yourself thinking about (X), take a moment, take a breath, and tell yourself "This isn't what I want to be thinking about." Follow this with a brief visualization of stable, happy future self, once this fixation is behind you. Then, and this is key, let your brain go back to doing whatever it wants to do. DO NOT FIGHT the thoughts about X. If your brain decides to go back to hearbroken musings after you've marked the thought, just let it. You're not going to get over this in a day (or a week, or a month) and expecting yourself to do so will just make things worse.

It may be useful for you to appoint yourself a mental guardian angel while you're going through this-- an internal presence that can dismiss the unwanted thoughts for you. (My personal version of this is an image of Emo Philips, c. 1985, flapping his arms while blowing an enormous raspberry.)

(3) Make a point of bringing novelty into your life, even if it's in small ways. Big changes (a new volunteer gig, a new pet, a new hobby, etc.) are great too, but don't feel like you have to reshuffle your entire life to get through this. Ask your local bookseller for recommendations in a subject you wouldn't normally read. (Poetry, music journalism, war memoirs, etc.). Explore your city or town in tiny bites. (That park you always walk past on the way to work? Try having lunch there. Go to your local farmers market and make a point of meeting at least four dogs. Compliment the random dude you're in the elevator with on his splendid shoes, or give him light-hearted shit about the sports team on his jersey. Etc.) Make a point of THINKING ABOUT THESE THINGS after you do them. What tiny but nifty new thing did you notice or learn in that park, that market, or that elevator?

(4) For dealing with nasty dream-stuff, my best trick is to overload my mind with something else before going to bed. Audiovisual media is particularly good for this. Have a favorite TV show? Watch 3-5 episodes of it before you go to bed (more, if you have to.) Once primed, think about the story and the characters as you drift off to sleep. Then, the enjoy sweet, nonsensical Ron Swanson and/or Omar Little fanfic that your unconscious mind will churn out for you!

(5) Give yourself time, and cut yourself slack. Ten years is a long time, and you're going to be healing for a while.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 5:26 PM on April 29, 2012 [11 favorites]

the solid truth: you make sure to maintain the severed contact forever. you cry a lot, you think about it a lot, but you never speak to or encounter her again. you go through a shit ton of emotions about it, all over the map, but you make that one rule and you never break. it sucks, but it's really the only way.
posted by shmegegge at 2:43 PM on April 30, 2012

Even when I manage to erase her from my daily thoughts, I dream about her at night.

Repeated only because I can empathize, OP. I hope you'll post a follow-up sometime on what course this eventually took for you.

Along the idea of salvia's suggestion on considering the archetypal meaning of your relationship, I found reading up on Carl Jung's concept of anima/animus helpful for consciously processing my brain's stubborn feelings over someone who kept appearing in my dreams. It gave me a sort of foundation for why the odd person just sticks so hard and what they really meant or symbolized for me. YMMV.

I try to take it with a couple grains of faith: (1) that if it's really meant to be, each party will figure it out for themselves at only a pace they're ready to follow, and (2) if you keep working on being happy with you, it will happen again (that's the end point all the seasoned successful romantics on MeFi seem to say). Good luck OP.
posted by human ecologist at 8:33 PM on April 30, 2012

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