Dating is fun and complicated and painful and confusing. A major source of pain and confusion is mismatched expectations. Now, having a blog about limerence, it’s sort of obvious that I’d think that limerence is one of the causes of mismatched expectations, but I actually think that the lack of awareness about limerence is the major contributory factor to a huge number of relationship problems. Once we understand limerence, we realise that the dating world will be very different for limerents and non-limerents, and foreknowledge of limerence and its ways can alter our expectations profoundly.
Most straightforwardly, it’s a good idea when dating to try and figure out at a fairly early stage of any nascent relationship, whether your target/victim is a limerent or non-limerent. Because that’s going to have a big impact on what you can expect from them, and makes it a lot easier to predict and respond to the likely behaviour you’ll observe. As for different attachment types, the drives and reactions of limerents and non-limerents will be fundamentally different, and much agony comes from mismatched assumptions about how people in love behave. It’s the tragedy of two well-meaning people with shared desire, but different expectations, misunderstanding each other.
Limerents, as we know, are going to be travelling down the obsessive love road.
Non-limerents are looking for romance and friendship and love, but not the soul-consuming total consummation that limerents crave. That’s clingy and unhealthy in their world. And let’s be honest, even we limerents know it can be a bit much.
To pick this apart, let’s analyse how different love matches would play out in the early stages of a new relationship
1) Limerent–limerent love
For limerents, this is the real deal. Two people totally into one another. Both feeling the massive surge of limerent euphoria, but enough uncertainty on both sides to keep feeding it (I’m assuming here that neither are confident enough in their own attractiveness to be sure of full reciprocation). If obstacles are in the way, the limerence can be intensified. If mutual attraction leads to consummation, these lucky devils are in for ecstatic union, and a heady and intoxicating time.
However… the downside to limerent-limerent love is that the intensity is bound to wear off. At this point, our limerent heroes are going to either settle into loving pair-bonding, or seek out a new limerent object. This is where self-awareness as a limerent really pays off. It helps avoid the cycle of destructive breakups and seeking of novelty that is the fate of the limerence-chaser.
2) Limerent–Non-limerent love
The hardest combo.
From the perspective of the non-limerent, they really like this new person in their world and want to spend lots of time with them, and fool around (as the old folks say), and enjoy the thrill of new relationship energy. But – woe – after a little while their new lover is acting a bit… erratically. Getting jealous of their friends, seeking constant validation, wanting their undivided attention. Wanting more and more and more, as though they crave total immersion and want to do nothing but spend all their time with you. Just them and you. Don’t they realise that love shouldn’t be this stifling?
From the limerent’s perspective, things are different. Oh, the euphoria of consummation. Oh, the dopamine-rush of their company. This one might just be The One. But – woe – just when things were going so well their new lover is acting a bit… erratically. Wanting to spend less time together. Wanting to see friends, and go and spend time around other people, including other potential mates. The cooling of their ardour only feeds the limerence obsession. Suddenly, the limerent starts to fear losing the centre of their romantic universe, and their limerent brain doubles-down on the obsession. Don’t they realise that love shouldn’t be this superficial?
These kinds of matches can keep insecure limerents in a perpetual state of reinforcing uncertainty. They can try and play it cool and convince themselves that they are OK with the lack of mutual limerence, but they are likely to be having the worst kind of intermittent reinforcement schedule if they persist with this kind of relationship. It’s not impossible, if the limerent is aware of their drives, able to moderate their insecurities, and make a clear-headed decision to stick with their partner because they are worth the investment. But it’s not likely to be simple or easy.
3) Non-limerent–non-limerent love
Eh. I don’t know much about this, personally. I guess it’s about finding someone that you like more than all the other someones, but also being open to having emotional relationships with other people and everyone involved being fine about it. I suppose it’s alright if you like that sort of thing.
So, those are the pitfalls out there for the dating limerent. I’ve made the point before, and I’m happy to make it again: I don’t think that non-limerent love is in any way more mature or evolved than limerent love, and it’s a recipe for pain and self-denial for limerents to try and behave as though they are non-limerent. Lots of gurus and relationship coaches advocate this, but it’s a denial of the fundamental nature of limerents. Yes, the mad obsessive infatuation of limerence is objectively unbalanced, but it’s euphoric and life affirming and energising too. Maturity comes from within the individual: the ability to restrain limerence when it’s unwelcome, embrace it when it’s focussed on a worthy partner, and use it to build an incredible pair bond that will last. That’s the ideal scenario for limerents. Not to deny who they fundamentally are.
I would like to point out that non-limerents are capable of deep feelings and passions too but it may look different. After all, it’s one thing to be all giddy with love when there are few opportunities to see how someone handles stressful situations. It’s quite another to love someone fiercely when they are struggling with any number of hardships (depression, illness, death, job loss, suicidal, etc.). The love of someone who isn’t ever going to be limerent, or hasn’t experienced it in a long time, or may never but who is there because they really, truly and deeply love you even if it’s less bubbly is still a source of comfort and even heat.
Maybe it’s more like a campfire than a wildfire. There’s still heat, it can still get out of control, but it still has all the elements.
I meant to include the phrase, “be loved fiercely by someone when you’re not at your best too” (what a non-limerent can give to a limerent).
Dunnea Rae says
Seriously, there should be a dating site for Limerents only.
Sad Mouse says
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately (as the SO of a guy suffering limerence for a close friend/former co-worker) and despite Tennov’s work (which admittedly I haven’t read), I think describing this as a binary seems…reductive and potentially useful.
To me it seems more like a spectrum–some people are more susceptible, others less–with the additional variable of differing reactions to different types of people. To wit, I have experienced varying degrees of limerence in my life, more frequently as an adolescent/young adult. None of these experiences led to a healthy or satisfying relationship. My two most enduring romantic relationships both started of with less obsession/limerence, although at varying points in each, limerent feelings have waxed and waned…but they were also both healthier.
My husband experienced extreme limerence several times before he knew me, always undisclosed/untested/unconsummated. I was his first real partner, and his feelings for the real me were, at least initially, less intense and “romantic” than his earlier limerence experiences (at least at peak crystallization). I had the same experience with him–less intensity at the beginning, but a growing sense of the rightness of our partnership and growing enjoyment in each other’s company and at some point, true love that included adoration, romance, etc. And yet, given how well-suited we were for each other, as well as the lack of any real obstacle or separation, maybe that’s not such a surprise.
Since meeting him, I’ve not experienced limerence for anyone else. And neither did he until three years ago, when the glimmer set in for a single coworker/close friend (she was actually my friend first, but they developed a separate strong friendship based on shared interests and mutual support in a difficult workplace). Unfortunately, early in their friendship, I suspected and shared with him that she might have a crush on him. When I asked her about it, she maddeningly refused to rule it out–which I also of course told him (d’oh!) Due to all the requisite factors (propinquity, secrecy, barriers, uncertainty, etc.), it consumed him. And as Dr. L has described elsewhere, our marriage, which had been suffering from years of benign neglect due to childcare, work and parent stress, and all the usual midlife crap, really tanked. My formerly secure attachment to him turned anxious; he became avoidant. We acted out, got depressed, avoided each other. He began to devalue me. I reacted badly. And–most painfully–he forgot that he’d ever really fallen in love with me. The insane intensity of what he felt for his LO, the YEARNING, triggered strong romantic feelings that he never remembered having for me. After 2.5 years, during which he and LO effectively became best friends, his limerence peaked during the early phase of COVID, and he became more reckless. I confronted him and it all came spilling out. He immediately severed ties with our friend (and eventually, after some painful conversations during which I established that the feeling was not reciprocal, so did I).
NC and the ensuing process has been fraught. His therapist doesn’t really believe in limerence and has bluntly told him that he fell in love with his/our friend, and that if he doesn’t want to end our marriage (and he doesn’t), he needs to fall out of love. I think this framing is kind of problematic. Yes, he knew her better than any previous LO–but their friendship was deeply flawed in that he was concealing his true feelings and true motives, and so much of what he said and did was calculated to get her attention and seek her approval–different from the usual honesty and give-and-take of more balanced friendships. And I know it’s an academic point, but I’m loath to call it love when it was predicated on a fantasy that was never expressed out loud, to anyone, and was unreciprocated.
A side effect of this whole experience has been (for me) the emergence of a sort of limerence for my husband of 19 years. Why? I suspect it’s because for the first time since meeting him, I’ve been sure that I wanted him but unsure that he wanted me. And that uncertainty has been driving me wild. He has responded variably…he appreciates the attention and all the sex but hasn’t honestly gotten over his LO and feels guilty about it. And he can’t always reliably locate his feelings for me. Sometimes they’re strong; other times, notsomuch. I of course react as a traumatized heartbroken spouse would, so it’s been a real roller coaster ride. (best diet ever, though!)
The hardest part, though, is the way his current LE has clouded his memories of our own courtship that happened 20+ years ago. He simply couldn’t remember having strong romantic feelings for me. And because he’s not much of a writer and this all unfolded before gmail, we don’t really have much concrete evidence of our early love–just memories, tainted by recent events. He regretted falling in love with someone else but also felt anxiety that he might not ever be able to authentically feel and demonstrate to me the kind of love that I desire. I think he worried (as did I, honestly) that if he was a limerent who’d never been limerent for me, the chance that our love would ever be enough for him was doomed.
A breakthrough came when we sat down together and looked through pictures from a trip we took together, maybe 4 years into our relationship. Suddenly so much came flooding back: the way we used to gaze at each other, the enjoyment we took in each other’s company, and how we were so absolutely and totally each other’s person. And when we nuzzled each other as we cuddled, I felt the same electric thrills that I used to (and so, apparently, did he).
So: we’ve each been limerent, to varying degrees, most excessively when the object of our desire was just out of reach. Neither was super limerent for the other when we met. I don’t think this means our marriage was doomed, and I don’t think it’s the reason our attachment degraded 15 years later (by which point even the most insane mutual limerence would have faded). And while I believe limerence is a powerful force that can result in happiness and more often possibly causes misery, I have concerns about focusing on a binary limerent/non-limerent categorization. I’ve experienced both.
Hi Sad Mouse – thank you for your post, there was some great insight there, even though of course I’d rather you hadn’t gone through what you have. I was particularly taken by you rekindling things with your SO by looking at old photos. That’s a great idea – thank you.
On the limerence being binary question, I think people tend to make a category error here. When people talk of limerents and non-limerents I think they mean being capable of experiencing limerence or not. I’ve experienced it, but I’ve also been in relationships where it wasn’t there. I was not limerent for my SO – we were well matched and available when we met, there were no obstacles to us being together, and any uncertainty was very short lived!
And that’s the key for me. You need the uncertainty and obstacles to fuel the limerence. Otherwise it’s just a crush. But limerence is very specific. When you look at the the symptoms, it seems like they are universally experienced by sufferers. It consumes you – an obsession, an addiction – and its involuntary. That is key. Most of us want it to stop. So I don’t think it’s a spectrum, its not love, it’s a different category.
Sad Mouse says
That makes sense to me: uncertainty and obstacles fuel the intensity and leave one in a state of increasingly frustrated suspended emotional animation. I remember that feeling so clearly. Fortunately I grew to realize that it was actually (for me) antithetical to true love.
I think in my SO’s specific case, comparing those feelings (frustrated yearning with no productive outlet) with actual flesh-and-blood romance/marriage/attachment is like comparing the porn that you watch while masturbating with the sex that you have with an actual human being. Of course, mutual limerence isn’t something he’s experienced. And I guess actually neither have I.
Thanks for a really thoughtful comment, Sad Mouse. I do agree that there are gradations of limerence, in the sense that not all relationships have the same romantic trajectory, and I suspect actually that part of the reason is (as we often reflect here) any given limerent episode depends more on the limerent’s mental and emotional state than on the Magic Aura of the limerent object. We could probably meet the same person at two different stages of our life and have a different romantic reaction to them.
But some people really do seem to be non-limerent, to the extent of being sceptical that it even exists as a phenomenon (rather like your husband’s therapist). Scharnhorst asked an interesting question as to whether non-limerents were actually people who hadn’t been limerent yet, but I do think it is as variable as any other aspect of human personality – some have more potential for romantic obsession and some have none.
I also agree with Vincent that the photos story is powerful. Probably healthy for all of us marrieds to look back on our shared history from time to time.
Sad Mouse says
I suspect that LO is one of those people who doesn’t experience or understand limerence, which explains why this was such a surprise to her and why she’s still unable to comprehend how earth-shattering it was for him and for us. I understand it all too well, which is why it haunts me. I remember those feelings, although I’m lucky not to have experienced them since committing to SO.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about how we gradually allowed the romance in our marriage to ebb away, and what a vacuum that left for my husband. https://www.guystuffcounseling.com/counseling-men-blog/there-is-no-romance-in-my-marriage-do-we-really-need-it looked awfully familiar to me. Shaking my head at how obviously avoidable this is.
Clueless well-meaning LO + midlife crisis – wife in emotional absentia = perfect storm.
I concur with above……a limerent can have good relationships that do not start with an LE. I certainly have before anyway. My LEs are down to uncertainty – if I am the one that chases, I have an LE. If I am chased I do not – I feel desired and appreciated which is an aphrodisiac equal to any one-sided LE.
My SO is a non-limerent – he said he only every suffered from a deep infatuation when he was a teenager and never since. As a non-limerent, he still falls in love, experiences new relationship excitement/energy and wants to spend a lot of time with a new girlfriend. He just falls in love more gradually and is less intense and obsessive about it.
I am so sorry hear of your troubles Sad Mouse. I must admit that I am fascinated by the re-emergence of limerence for your SO 19 years on. While it has so many wonderful benefits, I do find that a contented committed (monogamous) marriage can lead to relationship complacency, lack of desire, taking each other for granted and generally not treating each other quite as nicely as we treat people with whom we have a less familiar and secure relationship. I would love to be limerent for my SO again and while I certainly wouldn’t wish to be in your shoes, I sometimes wonder that if I felt a little jealousy, it might add a spark back into my relationship with SO.
Its an interesting topic Allie and something I’ve noticed with my SO. We were both pretty complacent / distracted in the run up to my LE, after what was then c.9 years of marriage and 2 kids, and that was certainly an ingredient in the cocktail of things that caused it, I’m sure. My LO was half my SO’s age, very attractive but also flaunted it, as younger women do. My SO took an instant dislike to her as a result, but I don’t think she worried that LO would be interested in me. As time wore on though, and she noticed how much time I spent with LO, and in particular she’d see the texts come in late at night or when we were on holiday, she started to feel threatened. Maybe its not inconceivable that this 20 year old is interested in my 40 year old husband?
It all came to a head eventually, SO said “its me or her” and of course I chose SO. Since then we’ve both put much more into the marriage. Me because I’m trying to make up for those couple of years where I went missing and her I think because she actually thinks that she nearly lost me and doesn’t want that to happen again. Now I’m sure there are better ways to put a bit of spark back into a marriage, but that certainly did it. Its not ideal as Sad Mouse put it – what was once a secure attachment is now more anxious – but hopefully in time that will go back to how it was, just without taking each other for granted and having learned from this near miss.
Sad Mouse says
” My LEs are down to uncertainty – if I am the one that chases, I have an LE. If I am chased I do not – I feel desired and appreciated which is an aphrodisiac equal to any one-sided LE.”
Yes, I think I could have written this. As a young adolescent, I’d have ridiculous crushes that just simmered for lack of actualization. Desiring romance in my life and having none come my way, I’d fixate on some proximate guy to moon about and then just wallow in it, safely. The guys usually found out somehow and were never interested. This oddly wouldn’t deter me–I’d just tell myself that I needed to be patient. I was sure that when I grew up and became beautiful, it would all work out. (Spoiler alert: nope.)
Once I’d actually started dating, limerence happened quite predictably when I was rejected by someone who had previously shown interest. This time the yearning was sharper/more articulate, because I had an actual connection to mourn, and a set of memories to fuel me. I’d listen to sad songs, read old notes, haunt places where we’d been happy together. One particularly toxic scenario was a boyfriend in college who was limerent for me, chased me with extravagant romantic gestures (e.g. sitting outside my window smoking cigarettes all night) until he tore me away from my high school boyfriend, then (like the dog that caught the car) quickly realized that I was a real person who wanted real connection and became avoidant/distant/etc. Cue my limerence, characterized by dramatic gestures, stalking, and other embarrassing memories. But then I hooked up with a friend, and as soon as he understood that I wasn’t pining for him and might have moved on, his feelings for me came roaring back. We never achieved equilibrium, although eventually we became mostly indifferent to each other. This took up at least 75% of undergrad (one hell of an education when I think back, but also not the greatest for academic achievement).
So, where does that leave us old marrieds who are more or less committed to a conventional monogamous ideal? My life was starved of romance and I want it back, but not this way. I’ve no desire ride the limerence seesaw with my husband, even if it were possible for me to somehow provoke jealousy and uncertainty in him. It seems to clear to me that those of us in long-term relationships who expect romance to just descend on us, who view it as more of a natural phenomenon than something we initiate and control, are going to screw this up unless we adopt a new MO.
Maybe Dr L could write about that? How can we channel some of the more positive/appealing aspects of limerence whilst in long-term relationships? Are there safe and healthy ways to inject romance into our marriages without inducing uncertainty? Can we limerence-proof our relationships, or at least minimize risk?
@Sad Mouse – “limerence happened quite predictably when I was rejected by someone who had previously shown interest.”
Is this principle applicable to women in general – you can turn down a guy and then suddenly pine for him when he loses interest in you? It would explain a lot in my life.
@Matt – I was actually talking about this today with a divorced friend of mine who was bemoaning his inability to play hard to get with women. All the dating advice books he reads tell you to do just that.
When I thought back, this is exactly what happened with LO (and even with this new girl). I go silent for a while, they come back seeing how I am. I go on holiday with my wife and family, they find reasons to contact me when I’m away. The classic was my wedding anniversary a few years back. We had a big staff party that night, but obviously I couldn’t go. I talked about how I was making dinner for my wife, wine, chocolates etc with colleagues and LO in earshot. That night she kept texting me about what was happening at the party, knowing full well I was having a romantic dinner with my wife…. Jealousy works.
I’ve been limerent for two exes that I ended it with. In fact, I think that is totally predictable from a limerence perspective- I think I was actually chasing the limerent high. Once dating progressed to commitment the limerence began to fade, and I ended things. On both occasions the break ups were hard, they were angry, confused, but also (in retrospect) expressing interest. Nonetheless on both occasions I ended it… then very soon afterwards became obsessed with getting them back.
Sadly I think I tend towards a dismissive avoidant style in relationships, which can alternate with episodes of limerence.
So one minute I’m coldly explaining why it just isn’t working and the next I’m intensely contacting, bargaining, pleading, and of course in private ruminating and agonising about this precious lost love I threw away so heartlessly.
Of course, after being coldly broken up with the exes in these cases were in no mood to humour me and my ‘love’, and those two LEs were terribly drawn out, painful and yes to most people completely irrational. But they were certainly supercharged by the rejection.
@Matt – not for me. Rejection is almost like a fire extinguisher for my LEs or feelings for ex’s, regardless of the level of connection we had. I will mourn them and then either move on, or spend time having lots of fun with friends. I guess my LEs are more about future potential than good times past.
And if I sense someone is playing me, I instinctively don’t trust them and that is a huge turn off.
I find that fascinating. It’s completely the opposite with me. Play cleverly or be a rejecting ex and I’m sunk.
Thankfully my behaviour is much improved through painful trial and error.
Thomas & Allie, I’m the same way. Once I get rejected, I’m done and it’s on to the next.
Years ago I asked this girl out. She turned me down. We were still friends, and two years later she asked me, “Matt, why have you never asked me out again?” I told her, rather incredulously, “Because you told me no!!” She responded, “But that was two years ago!” “Well, you told me no!!”
I do not understand the female species.
I read all these comments from you all about your relationships with your LOs, and I realize I never, ever had my interest reciprocated by an LO. But it’s probably for the better.
It’s supposed that only us, the limerents, know what limerence is right?