I often receive requests to recommend a therapist or coach who is expert in limerence. Not knowing any, I struggle to help.
I also receive comments from folks who have talked to their existing therapist about limerence and received a sceptical (sometimes even hostile) response.
At one level, this is not too surprising. Limerence is not a widely known concept, and has not been researched to anything like the same extent as more popular theories like attachment, co-dependency or love addiction. What it does have, however, is astonishing explanatory power for many of us when it comes to our experience of romantic love.
Now, clearly, the obvious, sensible and responsible thing for any coach or therapist who wants to know more about limerence to do would be to buy my book.
But if, for some inexplicable reason they took a pass on that option, but still wanted a concise, focused and evidence-orientated guide to limerence, where would they go? Here:
I’ve recently spent some time reviewing the literature on limerence and trying to find a link between the neuroscience of person addiction and the psychology of romantic love. I’ll be honest, there’s not much to go on. We have a wealth of information on reward, arousal and addiction as a neurophysiological phenomenon, but much less on how that emerges from – and feeds back to – human romantic behaviour.
Most of the psych literature that mentions limerence typically uses it as one psychometric scale (often among many) and searches for correlations with other scales – e.g. correlation between attachment style and various measures of dysfunctional love. Direct investigation of the nature of limerence itself is basically absent.
There are some riches to be found, though, and one paper in particular was very interesting to me. In 1983, Sarah Reynolds reviewed Tennov’s work, and tried to relate it to existing theories/schools of psychotherapy. In the course of the report, she highlighted a couple of issues from a therapist’s perspective that struck me as particularly important. First, was the issue of clients with marriage difficulties:
Suppose that a married parent who has been well organized and fairly happy, suddenly, because of circumstance, begins to develop limerence for someone outside of the marriage. The intrusive nature of the thoughts, the desire to ignore the emotional bonds of family love and simply walk away with the chosen other would be a frightening agony.
I think a good portion of this community can relate to that.
Second, was another important insight that could explain why some of my correspondents have been so upset by the reaction of their therapists to discussion of the limerence experience or their limerent object:
To anyone who is emotionally uninvolved in the relationship, the limerent condition does not look like love; it looks like irrationality. Some seeming failures in therapy may be re-examined for clues of limerent conditions within the client.
It does not look like love; it looks like irrationality. Bingo. Suddenly, the therapist’s negative response makes sense – they would conclude that you need help with managing reality rather than managing limerence.
That matches Tennov’s own experience after publishing her book, where many critics flatly denied that what she was describing had anything to do with love; that it sounded more like some sort of mania or psychosis. It is irrational, but it also makes sense from the perspective of the altered mental state that defines limerence.
So, for any limerents who want to direct their therapist or coach to a concise summary of the evidence base for limerence, for any professionals that are browsing for information, or for anyone else that is merely curious, you can download the free Guide to Limerence here.
‘It does not look like love; it looks like irrationality.’
Is I think one of the universal issues, for limerents, their objects, and anyone they confide in which includes many therapists it seems.
I know that my limerence is not love, not really. I develop LEs with (mostly) available LOs. Initially it feels like love because LO is free to reciprocate and generally the early stages are wonderful because my perception of the value of their interest is so enormous that I’m overwhelmed by it. For their part I think the early stages must likewise feel pretty good because I display all this adoration. The problem becomes clearer when ‘next steps’ are discussed, because fundamentally I don’t become limerent for people I’d want to settle down with. They might be chaotic and unreliable or they might be in an (open) relationship.
In the first instance I immediately recoil at the idea of commitment because objectively I can see it’s a risky proposition. All the let downs, or insensitivities that my limerent brain minimised suddenly factor in and I guess my executive brain takes over. If on the other hand they call it a day because of their primary relationship then of course the matter ends there due to their decision.
The problem is that whichever barrier presents itself, which I can intellectually understand, my limerent brain refuses to agree. Which leads to some unpleasant outcomes;
If I have rejected a closer bond, then I (confusingly? Annoyingly? Disruptively?) find my limerence intensifies. I become the guy who turned down a relationship but is now calling, flirting, teasing, and tempting more than ever. LO might get hurt here because I’m rejecting on one hand but refusing to leave it alone on the other. If LO breaks it off I wallow, and get all ‘dramatic’ when I objectively knew the deal from the start. I know that this self absorption is not about love, it’s not generous, it’s a greedy compulsion. But confusingly (for everybody concerned!) Its expressed in romantic overtures matched by private unrealistic fantasy. I’ve learned to manage it semi-successfully, but privately the pain and confusion is the same at 42 as it was when I was outrageously acting it out at 22.
I’ve always been an ‘open book’ to my friends, and my close friends could name them, all of my LOs and remind me of how crazy and slightly deranged I can be during these weird ‘I ended it, but I love them, and now they don’t want me, but then we slept together again, and now I’m worried they’ll want more, but now they don’t answer my calls, and I can’t stop thinking about them, and…’ (repeats, regularly, over months/years). Being friends they (fortunately) still put up with this, but they call it out as irrational craziness, and listen with resigned, wry, humour…knowing how it will go.
But the hard thing in my experience is the confusion. It feels like love, deep, painful, romantic love that you read about in books. But when push comes to shove, it isn’t. I don’t (didn’t) know what it is.
But you are really right Dr. L. Because finding this site, and this community of people, of all genders, sexualitues, relationship styles, ages, etc. Really has helped me understand this part of me in a more meaningful way than ever before.
…which is something so many users here have said. You might be a married woman in your 60s or a 19 year old man at uni, but when I read about the puzzling, and often painful or self-defeating experiences of so many of us here, there’s something more fundamental going on isn’t there? Because we all know it, when we see it.
Warm thoughts and wishes to all the people here who are going through this. Whatever your set up. X
‘It does not look like love; it looks like irrationality.’
Well we all know it is both!
Fascinating insight into your thinking Thomas. While reading it, I wondered if we subconsciously develop relationship strategies and behaviours designed to keep our limerence alive as long as possible, in preference over a good, stable (but not unexciting) relationship. That way we can still tap into that lovely slice of euphoria whenever we want to, even when it becomes interspersed with pain and longing. Maybe what starts off as person addiction when we are young, eventually grows into limerence addiction later in life. “Normal” just isn’t enough any more.
accidental double negative….meant ‘not exciting’ or ‘unexciting’
“While reading it, I wondered if we subconsciously develop relationship strategies and behaviours designed to keep our limerence alive as long as possible, in preference over a good, stable (but not unexciting) relationship. ”
This is a really good point. I think about the last guy who tried to date me … he called, he texted, he showed up, he showed interest … and of course I was sliding in to a sexual coma. 🙂 There was no uncertainty (he seemed to handing himself over on a platter), there was no longing, there were no highs. He probably couldn’t figure out what he was doing wrong, and, truth be told, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He just didn’t know he’d gotten mixed up with a limerent. He wasn’t creating any internal conflict in me so I wasn’t interested.
Though I didn’t know it at the time I think I actually ended a couple of relationships because the uncertainty had vanished and needed to be restored. This was when I was younger. During my recent LE I officially got with LO for a WHOLE fortnight before quitting, and resumed chasing after them almost immediately. When I told this to a longstanding friend of mine she simply eye-rolled, chuckled and said… ‘of course you did. ‘
The really upsetting aspect is that it FEELS so genuine. But, interestingly if I’m ever pressed to rationally explain what I’m doing and why… well, I can’t.
So LO is amazing, why did you end it? Don’t know.
So you ended it, nothing has changed and you’re now chasing LO again. Why? Don’t know (there’s just SOMETHING, you know?)
“The really upsetting aspect is that it FEELS so genuine. But, interestingly if I’m ever pressed to rationally explain what I’m doing and why… well, I can’t.
So LO is amazing, why did you end it? Don’t know.”
@Thomas. Is it sort of like the tail wagging the dog and not the dog wagging the tail, would you say?
I can be texting LO and simultaneously know it’s an awful idea. I’m sure a lot of limerents can relate to that. But again at that point you’re hooked on whatever neurochemical high… but its just not doing it any more.
The hardest thing is the inconsistency. That awful reward pattern. As in even though LO has withdrawn, history suggests he may be back. I doubt it this time but unless I block him I can’t be 100% sure that he won’t contact me. But if I block LO then in the process i need to have his contact details on my phone (i.e. in any block lists). NOT having easy access to LOs details has been my best strategy so far for not contacting him. I’m embarrassed to say if he was on my ‘block list’ for WhatsApp for example then I’d crack and unblock at some point…it’s a catch 22. Pathetic, I know.
Thomas, if I may be so bold, what do you think is at the root of your limerent tendencies?
I think for myself, I may have a commitment issue that manifests in subconsciously choosing – LO’s who although single , chances of permanent reciprocation would most unlikely, due to age differences and/and culture and a plethora of other major differences. I think perhaps my subconscious sets me up for failure, (similar to Allie’s theory) . I think the root of this could be an absentee daddy growing up and a mother with some narcissistic tendencies, an overactive rich imagination, a lot of childhood spent in solitude, a highly sensitive nature, and a preference for small doses of supercharged excitement vs. daily doses of mediocrity. (That goes for everything in my life).
I just realized that I above wrote “choose” in relation to LO’s. I somehow always felt they chose me….but no…it’s true, we choose our LO’s. That gives me something to ponder…it’s a healthier viewpoint for sure. Maybe I am slowly thinking more clearly, after all!
@Jaideux. Glad you are starting to think more clearly and I can relate to much of what you say here. E.g. the vivid imagination that can develop from a lot of solitude growing up, a somewhat sensitive nature (compared to peers maybe?), and unmet affection needs dating back to childhood.
Maybe there is a range of cultural and environmental factors that predispose certain people (who also carry the raw genetic potential) to limerence?
Sexual orientation aside, I’ve often wondered how do I usually end up with a male LO? (I’ve had crushes on women too, but they are so much less intense than my crushes on men, maybe because no uncertainty is involved and/or I don’t overanalyse relationships with females, having had two sisters who were always fairly easy to read).
Was my first male LO a substitute for one or both parents? I think I saw him (or hoped he’d be) “the brother I never had”. So it wasn’t parental love I unconsciously craved. It was affection from a same-sex sibling. Weird, no? Of course, he had two brothers in real life and didn’t require a third!
Does highlight how limerence was about my own emotional needs, though. I’m not sure how this LO managed to put up with me as long as he did!!
“Warm thoughts and wishes to all the people here who are going through this. Whatever your set up.”
Thanks for your well wishes, Thomas. I agree that limerence is irrationality (obsession) rather than love. My mistake, like yours, was initially confusing it with love and then wondering why it never worked out. When I think of one particular LO/LE from the distant past, even today, I feel sick to my stomach. I feel sick because I realise now, looking back, that it was a really unhealthy place for me to be in, even if nothing much happened (apart from mental chaos).
I realise I deal with problems by going into denial i.e. limerence is just a harmless fantasy, etc. But then a flash of reality hits me, and I see it isn’t so harmless. It’s a horribly embarrassing unwanted obsession in the eyes of most “normal people”, and the source of so many needless negative emotions for the sufferer. Why did I want excitement coupled with negative emotions? The whole situation doesn’t make sense. Am I a glutton for punishment or something? Why did I want that?
To highlight how ridiculous limerence can be: this LO was actually oblivious to me and my feelings. Makes me wonder sometimes if I have a reality problem? Am I mad? Limerent turmoil can make introspection almost impossible. But now enough time has passed – I feel overwhelmed with shame. How do I forgive myself? I actually feel like a defective human being because I’m prone to LEs, though I’m more detached than I used to be, and can imagine the LO’s (probably unimpressed) point of view. (Why does this person keep bothering me, etc?)
Friends tells me not to self-flagellate, to wake up and smell the coffee, etc. Nothing really bad has happened because of my LEs. I’ve been lucky in that regard. However, I fear if I’m too “soft” on myself at any point I’ll slide right back into destructive habits. I can still get a small hit of pleasure from replaying interactions in my mind’s eye, although I no longer daydream about LOs or potential LOs all the time and don’t dream at night about LOs. Baby steps, eh?
I don’t really like myself. I don’t think I’ve admitted that out loud before. I feel I have a lot of flaws. Is self-loathing (or lack of self-acceptance) part of the problem for us limerents do you think? Is it why we put random humans on pedestals?
Hope your own journey to recovery is going well.
Another quick thought: I think I’ve always underestimated the role that loneliness has played in my limerences. I think lonely people are more susceptible to rumination, etc, and then can’t quite quit the habit even when they make lots of friends. I was a lonely teenager. Am I still holding onto old coping strategies?
Exactly…we do recognize it and it typically is with an unreliable, unstable LO who we want back more than anything, but we would never knowingly put ourselves through this agony again. It is some type of Imbalance in us triggered by I think traits from the LO, but we are definitely prone.
I have not found a doctor or therapist aware of this syndrome, and it is some kind of syndrome. It is a shame because it is uncanny how all the descriptions are similar and devastating. Probably one of the worst things any of us have gone through.
I’m not entirely sure where I learned to behave like this. I had a bit of a ‘colourful’ (read: pretty rough at times) childhood, but I guess there’d need to be lots of studies before any of us can be sure..?
I think I’ve been a bit woken up by my recent LE though. LO and I parted company but then met twice recently… (I.e. failed NC). But now LO has pulled away its dawned on me that besides the messy details (who’s flakey? Who’s obsessed? Who’s ready for commitment this week? Last week? Next week?) the fundamental reality is that pulling apart IS the sane thing to do. The dynamic between me and LO has been sporadic, messy and generally sore /unfulfilling for about a year now… and I’m the one who has been chasing it fruitlessly for a while now. Despite the mess I end up right back in limerence whenever we reconnect, which is delusional really, as if all the inconsistency, disappointment and resulting lows and irritations never happened. But they did, a lot, from both sides. Yet get us in a bar together and I’m right back to being starry eyed. Which I think has begun to confuse LO, which I think is understandable. I also wonder whether such behaviour betrays the fact that I’m not really engaged with the reality of the situation- it surely must, and that probably marks me out as being a bit… you know… a bit ‘irrational’ (by which I mean crazy :D).
Sorry for the long, slightly irrelevant story. But think it is possible that I’m avoiding real commitment and choosing to fixate on people that I can just project stuff on to because what with them being ill-suited things normally blow up before I have to seriously engage.
My most meaningful relationship lasted 8 years, with somebody I was never limerent for. It was lovely, but our needs diverged and they ended it. I wonder whether I’m still (4 years on..?) processing (or avoiding processing!) that.
Who can say?!
@Thomas..Interesting. Thank you for your response. I am actively working on setting boundaries – everywhere! If I can kindly and calmly set boundaries with all creatures great and small (and particularly myself) I think I will set myself up for success, and be ok denying myself a future LE. Oh those limerent episodes!!!!
I hate them, I love them, but at the end of the day they aren’t good for me.
I feel like finally, I can be in control. And I am proving it to myself in small ways.
I have been setting mini boundaries all over the place, at work, with friends, and with me, myself and I !
When I was a kid someone told me “people will only treat you as good as you insist upon”. (Or something like that). I am determined that I am not going to allow anyone to use me for narcissistic supply or even for a garden variety ego boost, no matter how delightful and intoxicating they are….
No more symbiotic relationships that end up with me in a quasi-psychotic state.
If I one day find myself in a committed, exclusive, mutually respectful relationship I am happy to let my naturally supportive and enthusiastic nature shower them with praise and appreciation, but until then I am setting boundaries. In other words I am setting myself up to not be a target for a future LO. And I am taking responsibility, proactively boundary setting, not passively reacting to those charming, playful, debonair souls who try to lure me in and whom I am particularly vulnerable to. They can just move along, move along….nothing to see here. Someone else can serve their needs.
It’s all about self respect.
Do you mind explaining what you’re doing with boundaries? Maybe a couple of examples? I can imagine it’s something I (and who knows,maybe others) might benefit from? Does it include personal organisation or time management etc? Or is it more interpersonal stuff? I often feel my own life us a bit random… it ticks along but I do think I struggle to act in a focused way. Like I see purpose… but I’m not focused on it..? Maybe leaving me vulnerable to ‘charming’ distractions…
So yeah, what boundary setting tactics have you found helpful?
Ok…here we go…examples of boundary setting.
1. A male friend bought me a very nice gift. I know it was meant out of friendship but I declined it. I have to practice saying no, and I felt a wee bit uncomfortable about receiving it anyway.
2. I refused to move my work schedule around to accommodate clients who really could keep their set appointments. They were fine with me saying no, and we still have a lovely working relationship.
3. An elderly lady in my building knocked on my door at inappropriate time and for once, I didn’t answer. I talk to her every day and we have a nice relationship, but I was relaxing after a long day and we chatted the next morning instead. All was well.
4. A former LO desperately wants to schedule a meeting for a business review of a thing we are both involved in. He can absolutely handle this without my input, and I don’t want to break NC. I told his secretary that everything was great, he can carry on as he has been, and no need to have the meeting. Hopefully she will stop leaving me messages.
5. I found the gumption to turn down work from individuals who historically have been very hard to work with. This was extremely difficult for me but I succeeded without any negative fallout thus far.
I think I could come up with more but I am going to set boundaries and stop writing! Ha!
Hope this is helpful.
These are all great examples, Jaideux. Especially like the one about difficult clients – what a relief when you let go of feeling obligated to people who don’t warrant it, and what valuable reinforcement when you realise nothing bad comes from declining their requests.
A truth that applies to some LOs out there too…
A few more examples of setting boundaries:
1. After my father’s suicide, my grandmother told me, not asked me, to get out of the Navy and move home. I didn’t want to do it so I never asked the Navy but I told my grandmother they said no. Sometimes, if you have someone or something no one can question you on, lies come in very handy.
2. Telling LO #2 “Nothing good can come of that” when she told me she wanted to meet my new girlfriend, now wife. Oddly, LO #2’s parents met my wife by accident.
3. Telling my mother-in-law we wouldn’t co-sign my sister-in-law’s law school loan. My MIL tried every trick in the book to persuade us but we held firm.
Boundaries define access. Influence is proportional to access. The more access you allow someone, the more you give them the opportunity to influence you. The most important boundary you have protects your self-respect.
Let someone run roughshod over your self-respect and they own you.
Wow, that’s all very interesting and inspiring guys. Thank you!
I like this quote: “The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who were benefitting from you having none. “
I like that Jane! Right up there with ‘Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.’
I’ve been a bit miserable rumination today, but tbh I think it’s more work stress expressing itself through LO rumination. I have heaps of stuff and I don’t really want to do any of it! 😀
I’ve had two LEs in twenty years. I realise now that there have been several more glimmers that (thankfully) didn’t get the opportunity to flourish.
Finding the name for this has been so enlightening, though I’m not sure it’s actually helped yet. I’m just messed up.
I do now wonder though, now that I’m equipped to realise this is a thing and I’m vulnerable to it, could it happen again, or would I be better able to stop it before it starts.
Given my current less than ideal state in a unreciprocated LE scenario, I think the most direct relief would be transference. But I don’t want that either, I just want the nightmare to end.
“The Caregiver repeatedly welcomes relationships that reactivate dramatic/painful sensations associated with maternal attachment difficulties, while routinely rejecting those who are actually equipped to meet his/her emotional needs. There’s little capacity to respond passionately to a healthier more rewarding dynamic, because the familiar ache of intense longing and yearning, which has come to be interpreted as “Love,” isn’t present with an available partner! One’s perception of such a relationship is that “something’s missing,” as it cannot trigger feelings that parallel the disappointing/unrequited attachment experiences he had to endure throughout infancy and childhood.” – Shari Schreiber https://sharischreiber.com/do-you-love-to-be-needed/
…there’s a lot there Sharn, but very much in the vein of some work I did in therapy some years ago now. I’m considering going back.
“To anyone who is emotionally uninvolved in the relationship, the limerent condition does not look like love; it looks like irrationality.”
I don’t know why I find that so funny! I think that is exactly true of my previous therapist–every time I tried to bring up my LO she basically just blew me off and changed the subject. I think she saw me as a fairly sane, normal person so she just didn’t believe this crush on the delivery man could be anything serious or worth talking about. She just assumed I saw the irrationality of it (which I do, rationally!) so there was no need to really talk about it. If I had pushed and pushed she might have felt a need to remind me of the reality of the situation, but obviously that alone wouldn’t have helped either. Anyway, I stopped talking to her and now I’m seeing another therapist, but I have been too afraid to even bring up LO aside from mentioning him in an initial email. So I have been talking about him on your forum instead.
Limerence Writer says
That sounds reminiscent of my therapy experience as well. When I would start talking about my LO, I often felt like the therapist was trying to curb my indulgence, nipping it in the bud, so to speak. At the time, I had not heard the term limerence, but I did notice my therapist’s strategy was to make me face reality and ween me off ruminating about LO, which made sense. But at the same time, I felt like the rumination was the only thing that made me feel good when I was otherwise miserable. My therapist asked me to focus on my mood swings (which had never been dramatic before my LE) so that I was more aware when I felt more manic (when thinking or talking to LO) or when I became depressed or desperate (when thinking about reality). I told my therapist that I was worried that something I was writing, inspired by my LO, would get back to them if I published, and the therapist told me not to worry about it. I realized the message here was any kind of relationship was over, which the story-building part of my brain willfully ignored in order to continue being creative. Over the years since I ended my therapy, I’ve realized part of the thrill of writing LO-inspired stories is keeping LO as a character in my mind but also imagining LO reacting to discovering such a story exists and identifying with the character.
Very good point. Aha, perhaps my therapist was trying to “curb my indulgence” and was actually making a purposeful decision to change the subject, instead of just thinking it was unimportant. Maybe I was underestimating her! Oh well, now that I can post on the forum I feel like I hardly need to talk about LO in therapy, although sometimes I feel compelled to anyway, probably just to get the addictive high of talking about him.
He he…I would pay good money to a therapist just to endlessly discuss my LE and LO with me. Reckon there is good money to be made there… a gap in the market… a “Love Therapist”.
‘Getting high’ off talking about LOs. The worst! But yeah… I’m being ignored by LO and just clinging onto the resolve not to try some self defeating attempt at getting his attention. I’m about to go to bed before I embarrass myself. Hope I feel saner in the morning. G-night folks.
James Afourkeeff says
This post reminded me of another aspect to the limerence problem, for me: I ALWAYS FEEL IRRELEVANT. I was bullied and teased when I was young, now it just seems like I’m always getting ignored or blown-off. Imploring others to explore things that you know will have a positive impact on their state of knowledge and well being is usually met with jaded dismissal, even in friendly transactions. So when I meet someone who is both physically attractive AND clearly responsive to me – well, of course I’m instantly attracted to that person! If a sexual component is added on top of it . . . oh . . . well . . . then I’m a smitten goner (like a hapless vehicle totally losing control on black ice). I don’t even know how you prepare for such encounters; they just fall on you, unexpectedly, like a ton of bricks – you get crushed and then you start the whole process over again.
So yeah, trying to explain to the uninitiated that limerence is a real thing can be just as difficult as trying to explain other basic truths that they haven’t yet encountered personally; it can make you feel really insignificant, for sure.
Irrelevant in general, or to LOs, or to other people you’re describing limerence to?