In an earlier post, I described the second stage of limerence as “the response”. So, assuming you have felt the glimmer, the next thing your limerent brain tries to determine is the possibility of reciprocation. You become hyper-aware of the body language and emotional state of the potential LO. Each interaction is analysed for meaning. Signs of hoped-for reciprocation accelerate the drive to limerence; overt disinterest or hostility can slam on the brakes.
This “nucleation” may be the aspect of limerence in which there is most variation between individuals. At one extreme end we have delusion, where even completely neutral or even negative response can be distorted into confirmation of reciprocation at some level. For the truly pathological, think “Enduring Love” by Ian McEwan which describes de Clerambault’s syndrome. Now clearly most limerents aren’t anywhere near that delusional, but limerence makes optimists of us all. Small signs of reciprocation are used as hope anchors. Signs of disinterest or distaste can be minimised as blunders or tactical errors that can be repaired in the future by better strategy.
This is probably the most delicate stage of nucleation, and a tipping point. How much encouragement (real or imagined) an individual needs to progress to run-away limerence seems highly variable.
First, we all know people (or have been people) who become limerent for fantasy figures – celebrities being the obvious example, where reciprocation is obviously wildly implausible. I’m actually going to classify this a proto-limerence, as while it has many of the same features, the fact that it is entirely in the limerent’s head makes it categorically different from limerence where reciprocation is at least a possibility.
Next on the scale would be limerence for LOs who the limerent only briefly interacts with in daily life, but has nevertheless become fixated upon. Receptionists, co-commuters, shop staff, joggers, that sort of thing. Interaction occurs. Maybe mutual smiles of recognition. Maybe a few exchanged pleasantries or brief conversations. For some people, this can be enough to trigger progression to infatuation.
Finally, there are LOs that the limerent interacts with regularly. Here there is the opportunity to actually get to know someone at a more than superficial level, and so perhaps make more objective judgments about whether reciprocation is likely. At the far end of this category would be the people who become limerent for friends they have known for some time, but were not initially limerent for. Often, this change can be triggered by seeing the friend in a new context, or even sensing that the friend is interested in them. In other words, the reciprocation is the initiating event, even if the glimmer had not be present before (which rather spoils the nice, neat list format of my argument, but never mind).
So what determines where on this continuum an individual limerent lies? Probably a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Some people seem especially prone to nucleation. The amplification of glimmer to obsession takes very little feedback from the LO. Others are more cautious. In addition to these inherent temperaments, circumstances can affect sensitivity. Is the limerent currently in a relationship or actively seeking a partner? Age is another big issue. How many times has the limerent experienced these episodes before? Stress, emotional upset, bereavement; many extrinsic events in life can alter the threshold of one’s sensitivity to limerence.
Are there ways to decrease one’s sensitivity to nucleation? As always, self awareness is the best approach. What is going on in your life at the moment that may be causing you to seek limerent “reward”? Ask yourself, bluntly and honestly: how much feedback are you actually getting from LO? Unless you are spending a lot of time with LO and beginning to bond, you are actually falling in love with the version of LO in your head. It might help to realise that this is quite insulting to the LO.
A good strategy to edge back from the tipping point is to recognise the path that leads to the brink. Given that the limerent is falling for an LO that only really exists in their own head, that is where the path begins. After the glimmer, and a hint of reciprocation, the rumination begins. Endless re-imaginings of interactions. Rehearsal of new conversations; of clever things you will say or do to impress the LO next time you see them.
Imagining what they would say in response. Reorganising your life and habits to try and increase exposure. Most of all, devoting a lot of your mental energy to fantasising as vividly as possible about the LO. You are single-handedly making them a major part of your life and inflating the significance of this person by endless reverie. That’s what pushes you over the tipping point and down the slippery slope.
Usually, therefore, it is within the limerent’s power to stop that slide by recognising the limerence-promoting behaviour they are engaging in. That said, there is a special kind of hell reserved for those limerents who nucleate on a manipulative son-of-a-bitch LO who craves the attention, and broadcasts reciprocating signals like a mobile phone mast. More on them in a later post.