The classic scenario, the only one I've known, is to fall madly in love at the start and eventually settle into a pleasant commitment or suffer a devastating breakup. A comfortable marriage—been there—is swell. Attachment is a relief, a safe haven. For most people, the ultimate reward. But I'd rather not contemplate attachment or detachment when the stage I'm in is, as Tennov puts it, "the greatest joy, the height of euphoria, walking on air." In my twenties I was always looking ahead, insisting that relationships move forward to be satisfying. My goal then was to progress to marriage. Now, in my late thirties, I try to live in the present. My current goal: Milk the glorious status quo. Six to 12 months of it left. Is there no way to stretch this out? Get more than the allotted couple of years?
"You know, limerence can be unending," Tennov says. "I've interviewed subjects who've nursed a fixation on their limerence objects—LOs—for decades." What's the trick? "Their feelings were unrequited," she reports. "Their LOs gave them mixed signals, like ignoring them for months and then calling. Hope, confusion, and uncertainty kept it going. The phenomenon is defined, in part, by feeling a loss of control. The limerent person can't stop thinking about the LO: What did he mean by that? How can I interpret his tone of voice? How is he responding to me? A prolonged fixation on someone who doesn't love you back is considered, by some psychologists, a pathology called erotomania."
But that's not me. "If the LO is responsive," Tennov says, "like your boyfriend, he doesn't send mixed signals, you don't experience uncertainty, the love is mutual, and limerence declines. Unless you want to start pretending you don't have feelings for him, or playing hard to get, the end will come." Discouraging news.
And then some hope: "Barriers and hurdles in the relationship lengthen infatuation," Fisher says. "For example, suppose one of you is married. Or one lives in a different city. The struggle is romantic. You say your boyfriend travels a lot for work? That's good. The pain of his leaving and the happiness of his return can prolong the stage." That could buy me another six months.
I explored other adversity options. I've always been skilled at picking fights. "A fight can intensify the feeling, making you work harder to put things right," Fisher says. But beware: Part of infatuation is the joy of discovery. As you learn about the object of your affection, the insights propel you to the next stage. If you love her more for who she really is, enter attachment. Conversely, if she turns out to be a raving, provoking lunatic, detachment would be the wise choice. Effect: Subtract six months of infatuation either way. All pain, no gain.
Other factors that subtract from bliss time: chronic irritation, dissimilar interests and goals, sexual dysfunction, antipathy for each other's friends and family, fear of loss of personal freedom and identity, surfacing of past relationship disappointments, inability to argue productively. That's the shortlist (and no wonder the prospect of moving beyond rapture is daunting—there are so many bubble-puncturing issues). The factor at the top of this list, Fisher says, is "boredom, lack of novelty. You have to continually have adventures, do new things together. They don't have to be grand or expensive. If you can keep introducing fresh experiences into the relationship, you can lengthen the duration of romantic love or, even better, have a burst of that old feeling within the attachment stage."
Next: How to keep things fresh
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