The Glimmer givers

What makes someone a potential limerent object? What special something tickles the arousal circuitry in just the right way to trigger escalating limerence?

It may be a fool’s errand to try and untangle this particular knot, but it’s fun to try.

There are some correlations between limerents and  LOs that seem too common to be coincidence. The first is sexual attraction, but this is just kicking the can down the road a bit, because it just raises the question of what causes that. The second is gender. Tennov reported complete consistency in her sample population in having a single gender focus for limerence – either heterolimerence or homolimerence – and a certain amount of frustration in individuals in their inability to become limerent for the other gender (which for social or personal reasons they felt they should prefer). I have a lasting memory of an interview with George Michael where he was talking about sexuality, and commented something along the lines of “It’s not who you can get it up for, it’s who you fall in love with.” Tennov failed to find any bisexual subjects who were limerent and therefore was unable to assess the possibility of bi-limerence, but that may have been an issue of sample size or societal mores (her research in the 1960s would presumably  have been in an environment where honest expression of such matters would have been more inhibited). The third correlation is to socioeconomic class. This one is more mutable, but there does seem a majority of limerence-matches within a social stratum than between them.

The limerents in Tennov sample were also able to clearly articulate surprisingly specific – but objectively trivial – features of the LO that first attracted them:

“I liked Betty’s hair. It was long and very dark brown with waves, the kind of hair that moved when she turned her head.”


“The first thing that attracted me… was his height. Barry was exactly the same height I was, and I loved it.”


And, with a nice touch of self-awareness:

“I fell in love with Bernard because I thought he might love me in return. I must also admit that his money and success and all the power that seemed to go with them probably also played a role.”


The commonest and most potent trigger was the LO’s eyes.


Can’t think why


So how can sense be made of all these subtle cues that tip some people into the LO category, whereas others (perhaps with equally charming eyes) don’t measure up? Although this is all a bit speculative, I think there are some key unifying ideas.

1) Gender archetypes

Childhood is formative in unexpected ways. My personal experience is that many of the women that I feel a glimmer towards fit into broad categories defined by the adult women who were present in my life as a child. Friends of the family, occasionally-seen aunts, teachers, librarians, etc. became laid down in my memory as (pre-sexual) archetypes of womanhood. I’m beginning to notice clusters of traits that I now realise are evocative of a certain notion of womanliness, which can be anchored to an important role model from my youth. This is in a non-literal sense. I don’t actually seek out versions of my aunts. I’m not weird. I am normal.

2) Genetics

Smell is a big thing. A potent intoxicant. Lots of studies have borne this out – that the scent of certain individuals is especially pleasing to other certain individuals. Theories abound as to why, and the leading one at the moment seems to be that the immunological markers that can be detected in scent are an indication of fitness in a mate; different markers imply different immunological backgrounds that would complement nicely and result in vigorous babies. There’s a touch of the evolutionary just-so story about this idea (just how good are the olfactory receptors at encoding immunological antigens, really?), but there is no doubting how glorious my wife’s sweat smells.


Reminder: I am normal


Similar arguments are often made about visual complementation, although curiously the claims here can be contradictory. Sometimes the idea is that we seek counter-traits (if you have a big nose you seek a button-nosed partner to balance out your children), sometimes that we seek those that look like ourselves or our parents. I’m not sure how important this is for limerence, beyond the need for sexual attraction; especially as limerence has the extraordinary ability to transfigure your (let’s be honest, probably pretty average looking – you know, fine, but not Stunning) LO into the epitome of true beauty. God, her button nose is so gorgeous. Especially when she smiles and it wrinkles up on the edges. *Sigh*

3) Bonding archetypes

Spend any time on relationship help forums and you will come across the term “FOO”, meaning “family of origin”. It always makes me think of Larkin’s acid poem (“They fuck you up, your mum and dad…”). The idea here is familiarity; what feels right in terms of behavioural dynamics. Do you like mutual mocking, or does it make you feel insecure? Do you compete with your partner, or do you need constant affirmation and support? Does it feel satisfying to prioritise your partner’s needs? Does sacrifice feel like an expression of love? Most of these sorts of preferences will have developed during your immersion in similar dynamics during childhood. An especially powerful scenario is one in which childhood attachment was not secure. As an adult, these individuals (and how many of us had perfectly secure attachments?) can subconsciously seek to repeat the patterns of an unhealthy bonding experience and “get it right this time”. It doesn’t end well, usually.

There is a whole body of literature on attachment styles (are you anxious, avoidant, or secure? Take an online test today!), which is probably a bit much for now, but the basic idea is that you are particularly drawn to a style you recognise from childhood. And that triggers a subconscious need to recast disordered bonding with a similar individual in your past, and make your emotional world right at last. As they say on, limerent and LO have “complementary pathologies”. There is nothing so alluring as a damaged soul you’re sure you can fix.

As with all aspects of limerence – in fact pretty much all aspects of life – self-knowledge is your best hope of making sense of this rag bag of subconscious drives. Spot the glimmer, and spot the triggers for glimmer in yourself, and the next time you meet limerence, you can laugh in her beautiful button-nosed face.

4 thoughts on “The Glimmer givers

  1. I just can’t get over the eloquence, wisdom and humor on this site. It’s providing me with reams of comfort and insight. Thank you ever so much for the hard work involved in it’s construct and maintenance and the empathy, compassion and generosity that are its foundation stones. I am sorry for the pain that is behind its genesis but am grateful for the delightful and helpful resulting fruitage.


  2. I must second the comments from jaideux. This blog has been a game changer for me since finding it 2 weeks ago. I recognized at some point via Dr. Internet that I was in limerence, but could not determine what to do about it. I still do not know exactly what I will do, but I (unfortunately/fortunately) feel that No Contact is the best long-term remedy. I hope this site has more than just a short lived positive effect on my health. Perhaps I have simply found comfort in others who have gone through similar experiences.

    I worked with my younger LO, sometimes directly, for a few years. We became close friends who shared things with each other (uh-oh), each married with family (uh-oh), and looked forward to seeing/talking to her every day. However, I was comfortable with knowing we had our own lives and things could only go so far due to the existing barriers and societal norms. Everything changed when she gave her notice at work over a year ago. I would no longer naturally see her every day, and I was devastated and emotionally overwhelmed by that. What would the future of our friendship be? That event ignited an ensuing emotional roller coaster ride that has slowed down for the moment. I know better than to think that all is well when I’m in a period of semi-emotional stability (where I am now), but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. But I know that in order to get there, some things will be painful and messy.

    I’ll try not to turn this blog into my own personal one, as I have plenty of material! I even have a few audio recordings of my feelings during various times. Talk about capturing the moment.

    Thanks again to all who have shared.


    • Welcome to the blog, Thinker!
      I hope you do get lasting benefit. Even a short term break to refocus can be transformative. If you use the window of opportunity to establish good new habits (like No contact) and think deeply about your experience, it can be enough to start the positive reinforcement that leads to limerence mastery.

      There can certainly be painful and messy moments, but the view at the far side of the tunnel is worth seeing.


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