Working 2050: Limerence Counselor

Listen to the audio here:

Octavia Robinson’s office space is small but its hard to notice. the plants and windows disguise that there’s barely room for the couch where I sit for our meeting -- black, a low back, good for laying down. she sits on a wooden stool next to me.

Octavia Robinson’s practice is based on self actualization entertainment: media, including video games, television, and music, created specifically to help people improve particular personality traits or clusters of behavior.

On some weird cultural archetype level, it feels strange to be asking her, the therapist, questions -- I did think about laying down. The fact that’s she’s sitting next to me makes it a little easier.

A note for international listeners, The Horrors refers to the massive wave of political and ecological crises across the American Union throughout the 2020s (often broadly discussed by survivors as “The Horrors”).


OCTAVIA: My name is Octavia Robinson and I am a limerence therapist.

Limerence, for those who haven’t heard the clinical term before, is often described as disordered or disruptive intense passion. My practice is based on self actualization entertainment. Romantic limerence is a specialty area of mine.

Could you tell us a little bit more about the day to day of your work? How does this course work? How do you use it? Do you watch this whole show with the couples you work with?

OCTAVIA: Oh god. No, that would be too much, even for me!

Usually what happens is that a couple, triad, or group who has been partnered for a long time will come in with the goal of working on unhealthy patterns and dynamics in their relationship.

They have the time and the energy to put in 2-3 hours a week on this, and they’ve also reached a level in their individual self reflection and healing practice where this could be a priority. So we’ll watch the trailer together, describe their goals, and then over the course of about 3 months, they commit to watching each episode and working through the personal reflection questions and the group discussion guide on their own. Then, they come back and talk about their progress.

So I ask the couples I work with to try to rewrite the ending of this love affair, and figure out how they could use this model to change their own patterns and behavior.

What a lot of people don’t necessarily realize, even with more people than ever before developing their personal resilience, is that relationships have personalities too. So, in order to build a healthy resilient relationship, you have to put the same amount of intention and reflection you put into your personal self care into your relationships with others -- I think that sentiment is generally accepted, especially when it comes to The Horrors and say, your relationship with other cooperative members, or with your family.

But another place where we see the impact of that collective trauma is on romantic relationships. And what studies show is across monogamous, polyamorous partnerships, including triads, there has been a significant rise in obsessive romantic relationship patterns in the last 10 years, almost as significant of a rise as the lack of romantic attachments happening the Pre-Horrors world.

Could you describe an obsessive relationship pattern for me? What does that look like exactly, and why is it bad?

OCTAVIA: Limerence, also sometimes called romantic obsession, especially when it comes to romantic love, isn’t innately bad, right? Like any other emotion. Romantic obsession is often connected to obsessive compulsive disorder or addiction, and comes from a lack of serotonin in the brain. What’s most important to understand about limerence is that it is based on a false idea -- an idealized version of a person that doesn’t necessarily have much basis in reality.

And this isn’t limited to 2 person couples by any means -- I work with a lot of triads who have very similar dynamics to this story, where the fixation and compulsion passes from person to person, one after the other.

What made you want to become a therapist -- especially as someone, as you mentioned, came of age during The Horrors? Have you had or struggled with limerence in your romantic life?

OCTAVIA: That’s an interesting question. Part of my interest in limerence comes from not necessarily feeling equipped to be a therapist tackling collective healing or resilence from The Horrors full on in my practice with clients.

When I started training for this work, I found myself exploring a lot of different adjacent paths to addressing the Horrors themselves.

In graduate school I wrote a resilence course, but it was all about black women and femme people part of immiigration to the Moon -- more of an oral history than a discussion course. Ah. It was… I wrote an extremely graduate student show.

But you know… then I got my own therapist [laughs]. And I had to deal with some of the things that I was holding on to in order to protect myself.

My parents died when I was 6, during the LA earthquake in 2028. My older brother, who was 15, died with them. The earthquake wasn’t the big one in 2031, but it happened after a lot of infrastructure from the Pre-Horrors was still gone. I spent a year in a facility there, and if I had been a little older I would have still been there when Amazon took over California. Who knows what would happened for me then.

But since I was only about 4 or 5, they finally were able to get in touch with my cousin, who lived in Chicago, and ended up moving with him to his cooperative a few years later.

I like to think that I have pretty healthy romantic relationships, but the idea of limerence, of obsession with the idea of a person that doesn’t exist, is something I think about a lot with my parents and my older brother.

I didn’t really know them -- my memories of them are vague, not of their full personalities.

I thought about them constantly, especially when I lived with my uncle. If I got sanitation duty two nights in a row, I’d think about how this never would have happened if my parents were there, or if my older brother was with me. Or when I lived in the facility, when they locked the doors, I would think about how...

Anyway, everyone has stories like these. They connect us.

I don’t have everything figured out, but I think that’s part of being a therapist. We’re all on the same ride. I am excited about the focus on individual mental health, specifically resilence, that we see right now, even though it comes from a lot of great pain. As a world, we have so much collective trauma from The Horrors that affects every part of how we relate to each other and ourselves.

But behind every obsession with a false idea in a relationship, every story about pain, is a chance for that connection.



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