How does limerence begin?

It’s clear that many people are prone to experiencing limerence. Those same people often assume that all people experience it, and it seems, on the face of it, a sensible conclusion: popular culture is saturated with representations of limerence and its effects. But the actual cause of limerence is less clear, and rarely examined. Misty eyed romantics, of course, would say it’s ineffable. Love, man; it’s a mystery.

But it’s not. Not entirely.

Tennov covers many of the commonalities between limerent’s experiences, and focuses repeatedly on the issue of how limerence is initiated, deepened and sustained, and there seems to be a regular pattern. Many other anecdotal reports substantiate this, and it’s worth investigating, so you can prepare yourself for the next time it happens. I would say there are three major stages:

1) The glimmer

Most limerents are able to become limerent for more than one LO in their life, but clearly not for everyone they meet who is a potential sexual partner. There is something about particular individuals that chimes with a given person, and often it is recognised at a subconscious level very soon after meeting a potential LO. Personally, I’m now getting better at spotting the glimmer: the immediate sense that something about this person is potent. Their appearance, their mannerisms, their scent, their laugh – some trait accesses the networks of connections in the brain that triggers limerent interest. How those connections are established and what they link to is a fascinating topic for another post, but the key issue is that some (largely subconscious) selection criteria are met and the person is filed as a potential LO. I suspect that this glimmer is the same elusive “spark” that people complain is missing from a disappointing date, but without the ability to actually articulate what it was that was missing.

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So pretty

At this point, things can go either way as to whether or not the limerence progresses.

2) The response

If the potential LO is not interested, radiates their lack of interest, or on better acquaintance turns out to be highly unsuitable in some way, the potential is never realised and the glimmer dims and dies. Interest dwindles back to baseline. If, in contrast, the limerent senses reciprocation, then… matters progress. If the LO shows overt signs of attraction (flirtation, indicators of arousal, more than average interest in the company and opinions of the limerent), then an amplification occurs. Few things increase someone’s attractiveness more than the realisation that they might fancy you too. Now, the potential LO is a nascent LO. The limerent will desire their company more often. Discomfort and nerves start to creep into interactions with them, and awareness of one’s own appearance and potential appeal becomes heightened.

At this point, things still aren’t settled. If the LO is available and interested, and both parties make clear their attraction, then a love affair can begin. This may be ecstatic, but the full heights (depths?) of limerence may not be reached. Similarly, if changed circumstances or trivial obstacles intervene (LO moves, or is less available for company, or is overkeen), interest can wane, and limerence end. To really hit the heights, limerence seems to need…

3) Uncertainty 

They want me. I know they want me. Don’t they? But they have an SO, I know they do. Why are they acting like this? I’m imagining it. In fact, didn’t they say that loads of people flirt with them, and there must be something about them that attracts the wrong sort of attention? God, how embarrassing. They were probably warning me off. By talking about flirting and how attractive they are? I’d better go over that last interaction again in obsessive detail until I’ve really settled this. In fact… oh, God, if I’d only said that then they would have probably said this and then I’d know.

The final stage for a full blown limerence reaction seems to be uncertainty. If for some reason there are obstacles to the free expression of mutual feeling, it acts as fuel. Either consummation or direct rejection can lead to the downregulation of limerent feelings, but uncertainty seems to inflame them. Again, why this should be the case is a fascinating topic, but it’s probably a volatile combination of: unattainable things being more desirable, unpredictable rewards being more salient than predictable rewards, and the confusion of mixed signals leading to over-analysis and the slippery slope into rumination.

So, those are the 3 essential ingredients for a classic, full-blown, please-make-this-torture-stop-Oh-no-hang-on-I-think-I-kind-of-need-it, limerent episode. Next, let’s pick them apart one at a time.

3 thoughts on “How does limerence begin?

  1. After putting the death knell in my ability to communicate with LO, my LO amicably agreed to go NC forever, adding the detail to that LO had no clue what sparked my confusion and the emotions that led to the end of our friendship. Setting aside the head game that LO was playing and winning with me, what does it mean that I am now extremely mad at LO? I know NC is my only chance at recovering but I wonder if anger is a normal phase or what it says about my expected recovery time.

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    • I think anger is totally normal! As you say, this feels like a head game. Your emotions have been all over the place, you took the difficult and responsible step to go no contact (and disclose?), and then LO minimises the whole thing with a shrug of cluelessness.

      No contact is the path to victory. Eventually you’ll reach the point where you wonder how this person, apparently so shallowly invested with you, managed to have such a hold over your emotions. Perhaps the anger is making you see the asymmetry of the relationship. Anger is sometimes useful, if you can direct it into making you take action and disconnect from LO for good.

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  2. Thanks. She knows I got a crush and that I regret it but she never acknowledged the things she did to blur the lines. Regardless my head is in ruins and posting here is my only outlet. I look forward to the fog lifting a year from now or sooner. The hardest part is admitting that this beautiful woman was just messing with me and I let her.

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