Is it limerence, sexual obsession, or something else?
May 23, 2016 9:34 PM   Subscribe

Even though I am generally happy, I sometimes have a hard time with a breakup from last year. I know it wasn't love. But it's messing me up. Confusion inside.

Long story short; I had a great sexual relationship, we wanted different things, he wanted out. (My previous post talks about how I dealt with that.)

I've been doing well aside from things I have no control over, like financial obligations, and I have been doing a little casual dating (fun!). But every so often now something reminds me of my ex-lover and I am set afire. It is usually a physical thing like someone with similar features or scent. It's crazymaking and I've never experienced this before: a specific, intense sexual desire for someone that I was already involved with yet wasn't a romantic partner.

Possibly necessary background: The last time we saw each other we talked literally all evening into morning, like we had to squeeze in all of the words and jokes and stories we'd never again have the opportunity to tell. The goodbye sex was half-asleep yet probably the most intimate and tender we had.

Days and weeks later things became clearer. I should have given him more intimacy instead of my sometime-aloofness. When I think about how he was and how I was, I know that I should have trusted him more. All this makes me a little sad. Not that I believe I broke him or whatever; just that it could have been even better for both of us.

I don't know if that explains what's going on with me now. If this is just lust then it would be easier to fix. Aside from intensity, it doesn't seem like limerence because I don't fantasize about a relationship other than what we had.

I don't know what to do. I want to stop feeling guilty or whatever, especially after all this time. The conventional wisdom is to find other partners or at least flirt outrageously with a vast number of people. But I am wary of being with others because I don't want to end up comparing. And ultimately I fear the real reason for my current mental space is that I so regret how I handled most of the relationship, the need to time-travel back and fix it (myself) is sublimating into passion. Not sure that even makes sense.

Given what/how this all happened, what should I do to stop having these regrets? And how can I stop desiring him--can it be done?
posted by destroying_angel to Human Relations (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
It sounds like he struck a chord from deep within your subconscious space. Maybe there's something in what he represents for you that's worth exploring more deeply.

An interesting book I read by Harville Hendrix (1988: Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples) provides an illuminating perspective on the deep psychological currents guiding lovers. He suggests that love relationships have a hidden purpose to heal childhood wounds, and that the unconscious selection process brings together two people who can either hurt each other or heal each other, depending upon their willingness to grow and change.

As I'm reflecting on a similar experience (a tenaciously rooted attachment to someone), those sentences resonated for me. If someone could have explained there was a choice there -- to gently and compassionately let our wounds breathe and further bear souls, rather than constrict and run, I/we might have done better. All I can do to ease the sting of my mistakes there is learn how to want to grow if I find myself in a similar situation again. YMMV.

As for the unrelenting desire -- find the outlet you need to sublimate it with, whether it be art, poetry, music, etc. While you're describing your feelings for this person as not love, you're also describing a high level of intimacy for someone you're labeling as beyond love for you somehow. I gently suggest you are doing a disservice to your own sense of Eros in thinking you can experience such deep levels of intimacy with another person, and yet deny feelings of love co-existed there. Good luck with it.
posted by human ecologist at 9:52 PM on May 23, 2016 [10 favorites]


Your first question: "I regret none of it"
Your question today: "I so regret how I handled most of the relationship"

This is a pretty abrupt about face. It might be worth spending some thought on why 6 months later you've completely changed your opinion of what your role in the relationship was. Is there some reason why current you is being so hard on past you? Are you sure that your current perception isn't being clouded somehow? I don't know you, but I tend to believe that the you that enjoyed the relationship for the transient fun it was and believed you had done all the right things (and was closer in memory to the situation) is probably the one remembering the correct version of the story.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:34 PM on May 23, 2016 [8 favorites]


> It is usually a physical thing like someone with similar features or scent. It's crazymaking and I've never experienced this before: a specific, intense sexual desire...

Sounds like limerance. It's basically a chemical addiction. Just because you don't want to return to the relationship, doesn't mean you aren't still wildly obsessed; your mind just reassigns the intensity to other factors [guilt, regret, should-ofs].

I've had this with a few people. Their scent drove me feral the moment I met them and it was followed by intense obsessive desire. Mostly triggered by physical reminders, like yours. Usually it was mutual, sometimes not. I think you met someone you were highly chemically compatible with, and now you're jonesin' for a hit.

Get over it: time, distraction, new people, new environments, new goals.
posted by fritillary at 10:46 PM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


In your last question, you referred to the relationship as "drama-free" and mentioned that this relationship wasn't a part of your normal life, he wasn't a boyfriend. And you find yourself now ruminating on the intimacy of that parting night.

treehorn+bunny picked up your previous insistence that you "regret[ted] nothing", that sounds meaningful to me, too.

The sense I have is that you talked yourself into accepting a "friends with benefits" arrangement, and ignored a wish for intimacy. Who decided it was going to go in that direction? Did he set that boundary? (Did you maybe think you didn't deserve better? Did you think you ought to be able to "handle" it? Was it because of fear, if you now think you were aloof?)

You mention that you're not very social; were you alone for a long time before this relationship? If so, one could understand its importance.

It sounds like you wish you'd opened up and let this become the kind of romance you really want, but didn't allow yourself to think you wanted.

With some relationships, ones that are impactful for whatever reason, you review it a few times, a few ways, to understand it. Evaluations of different perspectives on the dynamic. All of them touch on a kind of truth. Counterfactuals - things could *always* have gone another way, if not for X or Y or some small event that tipped things in one direction. But, it does take a direction and becomes committed to history and fact and finality. It's like sports, the Olympics - the potential for almost any outcome is there, but things unfold in a particular way.

Sometimes it takes a while to settle on an understanding. (And that can change again, over time and through later relationships.)

Can you take from this experience the understanding that you *do* want romantic love? And that opening up will help you find and make that kind of love? With someone new.

But I am wary of being with others because I don't want to end up comparing.

You will compare a bit, but if it's special, it'll be a favourable comparison and will stand out as its own thing. If you allow yourself to be open. Talk to some people, give them a shot.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:43 PM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


It might be worth spending some thought on why 6 months later you've completely changed your opinion of what your role in the relationship was. Is there some reason why current you is being so hard on past you?

I didn't completely changed my opinion. I don't regret the experience or having known him, but do wish I had it a little differently, matched his level of intimacy and affection more.

The sense I have is that you talked yourself into accepting a "friends with benefits" arrangement, and ignored a wish for intimacy. Who decided it was going to go in that direction? Did he set that boundary? (Did you maybe think you didn't deserve better? Did you think you ought to be able to "handle" it? Was it because of fear, if you now think you were aloof?)

I was the one who set the boundary, and as we progressed I thought we were on the same page. When I wrote the previous post I was sure that I had (wanted to believe I had?) done right by myself and him, and I mentally glossed over a few things that I later in these intervening months remembered and reframed (everything is a plate of beans).

With some relationships, ones that are impactful for whatever reason, you review it a few times, a few ways, to understand it. Evaluations of different perspectives on the dynamic. All of them touch on a kind of truth.

Yeah...I think this is what's happening. I thought I understood it at the time, but maybe it's not as simple as I thought it was.
posted by destroying_angel at 6:27 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think of people like this as splinters that get really deep under your skin. Sometimes you just have to wait and it'll work its way out, leave a little wound behind, that'll scar over.

It's just time. And recognize that it is 100% totally okay to miss someone for any reason, it's 100% totally okay for people to remind you of a thing you valued that is now gone, and it's 100% totally okay to be sad about it. The thing to watch out for is if those feelings are negatively impacting your life to a significant degree.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:04 AM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


I know it wasn't love... great sexual relationship... usually a physical thing... It's crazymaking

I believe the word you are looking for is lust.

But I am wary of being with others because I don't want to end up comparing

You've found you are attracted to certain traits. There's nothing wrong with that. Once you get to know someone past what initially caught your attention, you will find that they are an individual with many facets.
posted by yohko at 11:14 AM on May 24, 2016


My recommendation is to try to accept the feelings that are coming to you and not assign too much meaning to them one way or another. Human connection is special and it's normal to miss people we were close to who have left our lives in one capacity or another. Going too deep into the coulda woulda shoulda's of romantic relationships can be an endless black hole.

Nature abhors a vacuum. It's easy to rewrite history when you have a hole to fill, but these sort of tangents are often a story we are creating to fill in the blanks. Successful relationships are ultimately the result of two people finding each other in the right time and place in their lives. In instances where the timing and personal development is a little off but the special sauce is there, often the connection will inspire the other person to grow to meet them, or vice versa. While it sounds like you had some lovely moments with your lover, he didn't manage to actually pull you out in the moment. Maybe you were blocked, but it's possible that part of unblocking yourself in the future may be having this miss. Either way, trust your instincts - they are all you have and they will lead you where you need to go.
posted by amycup at 7:07 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


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