False love

Limerence is sometimes described as false love. This argument is built on the premise that limerence is largely selfish (in the literal sense of being focussed on your own feelings and needs), is frequently jealous, can involve subterfuge or misrepresentation in attempts to impress LO, and involves involuntary and exaggerated disruption of emotional stability. This is contrasted unfavourably with “true love”, which is selfless, free of jealousy, honest and nurturing and stable.

True love in this context is what I’ll call “affectional bonding”, and my argument is that this is no more “true” than limerence – it’s just a later stage of the progression of romantic love. In fact, I would go further, and say that feelings of affectional bonding cannot sincerely develop until a long period of deep intimacy between two individuals has been experienced. In this context, “true love” would be just as delusional and false as limerence in the early stages of a relationship. It may seem like sophistry, or contrariness, but I honestly mean it: if in the time scale of a typical period of limerence (a few months to maybe a few years), you are developing deep feelings of selfless unconditional love for your partner, your bonding is as distorted as any limerent’s. The criticism of limerence as false love on the basis that it isn’t as good and healthy as a form of bonding that should only develop from years of authentic intimacy and trust, is misguided at best. It’s like arguing that a flower is a false fruit, because it has different features, is not as juicy and nourishing, and cannot yield seeds to grow new plants. It’s a category error. Flowers aren’t fruit, but they can become them – or they can wither, unfertilized.

Limerence, it seems to me, is the first flowering of romantic love. It’s the drive to form a bond. It’s the compulsion to gain intimacy with someone at the exclusion of others, and try and find out whether the flower will be fruitful. Certainly, to an outsider, it seems false, in the sense that it is an overreaction (just as we can look at some over-abundant flowers and think, “Hmm. Bit vulgar!”). The LO simply isn’t as impressive in objective terms as the limerent projects. The basis of limerence is not a considered and balanced appraisal of strengths and weakness. It doesn’t assess fitness and compatibility on the same basis as affectional bonding: there hasn’t been time, and there is a lot of urgency to secure consummation. What it does do is powerfully initiate a genuine desire for pair bonding. Priority one: get mated. Whether or not the bond lasts, grows stronger, and matures into a lasting union that is fruitful in every sense of the word, is a secondary concern. So, an exuberant flowering of limerence as a prelude to affectional bonding is just as “true” as a quietly developing bond between friends that settles into domestic bliss.

Where things get complicated is in cases where the flower is obviously infertile. No hope of fruit, no chance of maturing into something lasting – just a brief burst of colour that fades and dies. This, I think, is where limerence gets its “false love” reputation. An exaggerated and irresistible desire for an unsuitable partner. Limerence directed at someone incapable of affectional bonding. Limerence as a consequence of the uncertain bond to an unreliable LO. That is when things go toxic, and the limerent feels desperate, unable to stabilise their emotions or stop the persistent urge to be with someone that is bad for them. Unfruitful limerence is certainly the nearest I have ever come to understanding addiction: that awful sense of realising that continuing to seek the LO’s company is not sensible or useful or productive or wise, but you know you are going to keep doing it anyway. That weird contradiction where you realise that you can’t stop, but you’re happy you can’t stop because that means you’ll get more of it. I don’t pretend to be an expert on addiction, but the only way to break the habit seems to be reaching the point where the high has faded to almost nothing, and the suffering has intensified to unbearable levels, and you finally find the will to stop. Unless you don’t start in the first place.

Ulitmately, limerence is a blessing/curse that many of us have as an inherent trait. So, for the limerent, to denigrate the initial phase of bonding as false love seems counterproductive. It might end up false, in the sense that it might not lead to true affectional bonding, but it might also be true in that it is a glorious prelude to a lasting healthy bond, the foundation of which is a memory of unrivaled bliss. The difficulty is in predicting which is the likelier. In the case of limerents that had deeply disordered attachments in childhood, and become limerent for similarly disordered adults, the prospects are grim. If you find yourself serially limerent for dysfunctional partners, then a period of self-examination and avoidance of LOs is highly advisable.

Is it possible to rewire our own limerence circuits to respond to new sensory-cues – to feel the glimmer for someone more suitable? Don’t know. It won’t be easy, though, given how deeply ingrained these patterns are. But what can be done is to try and overlay the glimmer in the early stages after it is sensed, with a rational map of the LO. Do they behave like a bastard? Then they are probably a bastard. Do they love-bomb early on, in an indiscriminate way? Then they are probably not sincere. Do they have opinions or habits or attitudes that are at odds with my beliefs? Then they are not suitable, even if I really want to save them from their errors through the mighty will of my undying love. These sorts of mental checks and balances can guide you away from the LOs to avoid, and towards matches that might prove more fruitful in time.



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