Limerence has different effects on you at different points in your life. It’s one thing for a young adult experiencing the mania for the first time and free to immerse themselves in romantic adventure, but it’s an altogether different experience in your thirties, forties and later.
My wife reminded me recently about a film series that we have followed through our adult lives, with the characters’ journey mirroring our own timeline – at least in age if not in choices. It’s a trilogy of films: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight.
For those who haven’t seen them, the premise of the films is quite simple and bold. Two people walk through beautiful locations while talking. They reflect on life and love, dissect each others opinions, banter and bicker. There are no explosions or car chases. It really is a tightly focused, three-part mediation on love.
Two strangers, Celine and Jesse meet on a train and decide on impulse to spend the day together in Vienna. What follows is the slow, hesitant getting-to-know-each-other of a spontaneous connection, set against the backdrop of a beautiful, romantic city, but with the knowledge that they will probably never meet again after that day (Jesse will return to America, Celine to Paris). Adding to the romance is that the characters are played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.
The film is basically dialogue. They wander the cobbled streets and talk, they take the ferris wheel and kiss, they may or may not make love before sunrise – it’s purposefully ambiguous – and it has many elements that young limerents would recognise:
- The first impulsive decision to stay together when they feel a “glimmer” of connection
- The initially awkward conversation as they try to impress one another
- The relaxation into trust and emotional connection
- The atmosphere of romance that permeates everything
- Obvious reciprocation, but also uncertainty and barriers
- The sense of an extraordinary connection that feels like fate
Many hate the film, but I still love it. It captures the innocence of youthful infatuation, and while it’s a bit pretentious and smug in places – well, I was a bit like that at the time too.
It ends with them separating, promising that they will reunite in six months at the train station in Vienna.
Nine years later, Jesse is in Paris at a bookshop, giving a reading and signing of his recent book about two strangers who meet in Vienna and have a one-day love affair. The book ends without revealing whether the characters met again as planned, but it is fairly obvious from Jesse’s evasiveness that they did not. It is the end of a long tour and he is due to fly home to his wife and son in America that evening. Celine is in the crowd.
Jesse is under pressure for time, but they get coffee, then wander the streets of Paris, talking. Celine has obviously haunted Jesse’s life, and he confesses that he wrote the book in the hope he could find her again – she said that reading it was painful and it becomes clear that their recollections of that day and night in Vienna are different, and also that neither of them are really being honest (with themselves or each other). They are both unhappy in their relationships. Eventually, they walk back to Celine’s flat, their emotional connection deepening all the while. Jesse decides to miss his plane.
This time, the influence of limerence is different:
- An LO you just can’t forget who overshadows your romantic life
- Unhappy relationships can make you pine for romantic rescue, rather than deal with your problems more maturely
- The hope that a deep connection can be rekindled easily
- The impulsive drive to prioritise romantic euphoria over personal responsibility
- The ever-present temptation of infidelity when with an LO
I liked this film too. Not as much, because it culminates in infidelity, but it still felt honest and relatable, and had the pathos that their lives had gone wrong in part because they had let misfortune and naive romanticism ruin their planned reunion. It’s a meditation about why adult love doesn’t live up to the idealism of adolescent romance, and whether that idealism can ever be recovered.
Nine years later again, and Jesse and Celine are staying on a Greek island with their children – they now have twin girls. They drop off Jesse’s teenage son from his first marriage at the airport, and it becomes clear that Jesse has been a poor father to him and is burdened with guilt. They return to a friend’s villa, and learn that their friends have booked a hotel room for Jesse and Celine so they can have some time together away from the twins. They walk from the friend’s house to the hotel. Along the way, they reminisce about their lives, but their resentments are also bubbling under the surface.
At the hotel, they intend to make love, but instead have a furious row. All their bitterness comes out – Jesse confesses to a casual affair with an assistant on a book tour, Celine confesses that she no longer loves Jesse. It’s a raw and shocking change of pace from the walking-and-philosophising routine that powered the first two films. It ends with an ambiguous reconciliation.
The limerence lessons for the forty-something, unhappily married Celine and Jesse:
- Limerence is not relationship magic – you still have all your same issues once it wears off
- If someone is unfaithful to their first wife, they will probably be unfaithful to their second wife, even if she was a LO
- Infidelity causes lasting harm to families
- Limerence does not protect against the romance-testing realities of adult life
- You can resent someone even more if you thought they would make you happy just by being them, but you are still unhappy
I did not like this film. I admired it – it was as honest, well-acted and insightful as the other two – but it was like a cold shower of pessimism. By the end of it, I no longer liked the characters. They seemed to have let their pretensions and vanity overtake them, rather than being able to laugh at themselves and, well, care for each other.
It made a solid profit, though, and the critics loved it, so I do wonder if we’ll catch up with Jesse and Celine again in 2022. What will they have learned by their fifties?
As a trilogy, I think the films offer an authentic portrayal of romance as experienced by limerents. They are brief windows that show how the different stages of life determine the impact that limerence has on ordinary people. It’s been enlightening to live alongside the characters in real time, going through some of the same experiences, but also making significantly different decisions.
Then again, if it were me, I’d have given Celine my phone number at the end of our night in Vienna…
Thanks a lot Doc, great article, as usual, which helps putting ideas back in place. I am gonna watch those films, thanks to your insight!
You’re welcome, Johnny. They are definitely worth a watch.
I have started watching the first one (even though I am usually not a massive fan of Julie Delpy 🙂 ) Definitely worth a watch, indeed!
Now if only they had a sequel, when Jesse and Celine are in the late 70’s/early 80’s……….at which time Celine has her very first experience of Limerence……after all these life phases are seen only in the rear view mirror……this age group isn’t often mentioned, but I’m living proof that it happens, even at this age……….
This was a timely post for me to read in my current journey. In particular reading your conclusions from the third movie, as the limerence/glimmer/neurotransmitters have worn off… and its two people left looking at each other without the magical cloak of attraction. We tend to view our LO’s as panaceas to our problems but they really aren’t; they are just people too, complete with their own set of problems. Actually some of them bring on a whole host of problems as more and more I subscribe to the belief that LO’s know what effect they give off, yet do it anyways.
I’ve always felt attraction is not always a fixed duration. In other words you can meet people you are attracted to.. but some of those are short duration attractions, some medium term, and some long term. Obviously in our modern society everyone is shooting for the long term attraction but this is akin to hitting a lottery in my opinion. Its rare.
Some are short term, maybe a few years then you get sick of them. Most “long term relationships” in my opinion are medium duration attractions but to make them last long term both sides have to put the work in to keep the relationship going.
I’ll end this post by mentioning that studies have shown marriages built on leaving a significant other for someone else tend to have dismally low success rates long term themselves. Like single digit success rates after I think 5-7 years.
Yeah, I think long-term relationships inevitably have to go through a transition, where the romantic haze clears and then you do have to work to keep things going. But, I also think there is a second transition where you’ve bonded so deeply that the connection becomes a different form of love – romance is an element, but not as important as the shared life.
I suspect that second transition is harder if the romance started in deceit.
Second transition is hard for many people including myself . Especially as for people like me who like many aspects of first stage.
I know other posts have detailed how little official research has been done on limerence, but that the estimated percentage of people who are limerents is low. And from what I’ve seen of the world, I think that’s true. I, of course, can’t get into other peoples’ heads and know their inner lives, but I don’t think most people struggle with intense infatuations. I think most people get a job and a spouse and a house and some kids, and they like the safety and the security in that. They would never think of blowing up their lives for someone else. If there is a infidelity, it’s out of a need for validation or curiosity but not out of limerence. I think limerence taps into a certain inner restlessness and a searching for something. I think most people are at least fairly content with what they have.
@Marcia. Whenever I read accounts of, say, famous writers, who “never married” and “lived apparently uneventful lives”, but left us some good literature, I always think those people were probably undiagnosed limerents.
Limerence probably made them too fussy to get married, or maybe their LOs didn’t want them, and rumination/obsession probably fuelled their creativity and took up a lot of their free time. Thoughts?
Marcia I think you may be viewing it through the eyes of someone who may have a tendency for chronic limerence. I am in a FB group for a company called Marriage Helper (Dr L has sited the work of the founder Dr Joe Beam) where it is marriages in crisis because one of the partner has fallen into limerence. I fell into limerence over a decade ago that resulted in an emotional affair. I had the glimmer, the inability to breathe normally around him, the constant obsession and pining, the shame of not being able to stop, and the grief when he moved away and no longer was an escape for me. Now my husband is in limerence which resulted in an emotional turned physical affair. I could literally see the limerence fog around him.
There are 5000 of us in this group, some drop when they reconcile or end their stand for the marriage, while new ones pop up. I think limerence isn’t well known, it isn’t talked about, and most cases of infidelity tends to be fueled by limerence. It is a spouse who has some brokenness or lacks purpose in their life, and the glimmer happens. They think they have found the love of their life and they can take the standing spouse on an emotional roller coaster that can last a few years.
It’s been over a decade since I was in limerence and I will never return to that. I can still feel the shame and embarrassment. I get sick to my stomach thinking about what I risked. I actively focus on my purpose in this life, so I never let the glimmer in. Even with my cheating husband, no one deserves to feel that pain. I will divorce him, and keep working on myself, so if I ever wish to have a relationship again, I know which partner to avoid. Would it be weird to ask them to complete a questionaire on limerence?
“There are 5000 of us in this group, ”
But you are looking at it through the lens of a group for limerents. I used to post on a dating coach’s blog. There was discussion about flirting and having crushes while in a relationship. And then I would chime in about limerence, not knowing at the time what it was and thinking everyone experienced intense crushes like I did that parked themselves in their psyche for far too long. And I was told, usually by the male posters, that I was ridiculous (the implication was that I had watched too many rom-coms), that of course they would find other women attractive in a long-term relationship, that minor crushes were nothing. We were talking two different languages, and I couldn’t make them understand I WASN’T talking about garden-variety crushes. I was on this site of and on for several years. Many different posters floated in and out and this topic of crushes/flirting came up repeatedly. I don’t think there was one limerent on that site. I also think they thought I was a little bit drama and over the top. I’m not saying limerence doesn’t cause affairs. It does. But so does boredom, the need for validation, the inability to say no if someone else shows interest.
“Would it be weird to ask them to complete a questionnaire on limerence?”
I’ve often wondered that. How can you filter for limerence while dating? Or at least for people who’ve experienced repeated LEs throughout their lives? Of course, then I’d be filtering myself out (:)). I’m just hoping now with a little more knowledge of limerence, I don’t become limerent again.
And in terms of your husband, once the fog clears, is it possible he’ll want to stay? Didn’t Joe Beam remarry his wife?
“I suspect that second transition is harder if the romance started in deceit.”
“It made a solid profit, though, and the critics loved it, so I do wonder if we’ll catch up with Jesse and Celine again in 2022. What will they have learned by their fifties?”
If they ever do make that move, I have $5 that this is the song they play at the end.
Song of the Day: “Same Auld Lang Syne” – Dan Fogelberg (1980)
I enjoyed this article as I have all of the others on the blog.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this site. It has clarified so much for me. I definitely feel as if a heavy burden has been lifted from my shoulders. My outlook is much more positive.
Thank you so much.
I love, love, love these movies!
The third is the only one I watched just once, so maybe I misremember it. I really liked it bc my interpretation of that finale was “this is what long-term love is all about: not easy, maybe smth different, but it’s worthwhile when you know what to expect”. I once saw a psychotherapist saying that you don’t have a 30-year-marriage, you have different marriages with the same person along 30 years. This is what I get from this last one.
Ooo…I really must watch these! It is great to see a romantic movie based more on reality in not having the usual assumed “happily ever after” finale. Shame they are not free on Sky or Netflix currently, so have just ordered on Amazon.
Here’s a link to an overview of the trilogy:
DrL has added links to the complete archives. There are links under Blog at the top and a link at the bottom of each page!
But, if you can’t wait, https://livingwithlimerence.com/blog-archive/
LwL at your fingertips!
Thanks for the heads up! Combing through it right now to see if there’s something that I missed.
Thanks Scharnhorst – yes, new archive page added at last. I never expected it to be so difficult to implement! Finally found a plugin that played nicely.
Next post/previous post also a good idea, Allie, but I fear that may need tinkering with the theme…
I think people will love this.
The original version of LwL had the Previous/Next feature on each blog. I was surprised that it had disappeared in the upgrade.
Is there a toggle for it or is it a major pain to implement?
I can’t find a simple toggle, sadly. I suspect the feature would need to be built into the theme, and so I would have to add code to implement it.
I’ll keep investigating, as I agree it would add value.
Ditto… very useful, thank you!
Now my next ask is to add a way of linking from one blog post to the subsequent or previous one directly.
I’m not sure if this has been discussed previously, but does limerence run in families? My grandmother always had a strange obsession with a younger man and after my grandfather’s death, she wrote about it in a very long “manuscript”interpreting details of his life, and questioning whether he may have been descended from royalty (he was not). Looking at it now, limerence makes perfect sense.
I wonder the same. At age 92, my grandmother fell into a LE with a neighboring gentleman in her residence. That was after more than 30 years of showing no interest in romantic companionship throughout her widowhood. It persisted until she died at 94, and remained a constant source of great pain and embarrassment. She was a proud and guarded woman so it was particularly unique and distressing to see her so upended.
My mother was decimated by her unwanted divorce from my father, has never dated another man since, and remains in limerence with him after nearly 30 years. The obsession has severely limited her quality of life and has had a profoundly negative impact on her children.
Oh my goodness, Before Sunrise was all the rage. I had no idea there were follow ups. They sound very much too much like real life :D. Sort of like how I felt after watching that (unrelated) movie starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio being a dysfunctional mid-life couple in ‘Revolutionary Road’, and I said thank goodness Jack floated into the depths of the ocean in ‘Titanic’ (touted as the most romantic movie of its time) otherwise he and Rose would have gone on to marry and end up in ‘Revolutionary Road’.
But I had something else to add to all this since this post is about limerence at different ages: after learning from this page, and going to read Tennov, I realized that I have had three limerence episodes in my life and the first one was in kindergarten!!! That was also my very first memory, ever. I guess at that point the limerence made life burst forth in my mind. And although I had the usual crushes and relationships growing up, I can tell through the limerence lens that none of those were limerence till my “first love” at age 18 to LO2. After a protracted 9 months of uncertainty, that relationship actually became real and then lasted all of one year, and then I needed to physically leave the country to tear myself away from my LO2. I might add that LO2 inhabited my mind intensely for longer than that, and I dreamt of him every night for years, which I really did not want to as I had embarked on a real, and rather healthy relationship with someone else (a non-limerent relationship) who eventually became my SO. I remember waking up from my dreams so upset and angry – WHY was I still dreaming about LO? Why? Knowing what I know now about limerence would have helped very much with the guilt. The intensity eventually abated, and I maybe dreamed of LO over the years once in a while – nothing serious, so I lived with it. Then very recently (and this was 25 years after I knew LO2!) LO2 and I actually touched base via social media. This was interesting, because I was of course curious, BUT I pretty much realized right away how fortunate I was that I did not end up with LO2. And after that, any trace of limerence for LO2 ceased. It was like reality doused the fantasy portion that sustained the very last dregs of limerence. I was very pleased with the whole situation, to be honest. BUT, and I think this is related, very soon AFTER that, I met LO3. And I think … its like LO2, in leaving a part of my psyche, left a void that like a vacuum sought to be filled. And I was vulnerable to a potential LO (there were other factors, but I think the void left was one) at that point. And you would not believe how inappropriate LO3 is as an object of love. Even if I were not still with SO (yes, the same one mentioned before) and had off spring, we are at totally different stages of life, and I would objectively have doubts about anyone in that situation maintaining a relationship. I am needing to fight tooth and nail to not jeopardize my primary relationships due to this crazy development. I consider it the biggest crisis of my marriage.
So, there you have it. Limerence as a child; limerence as a teenager/young adult; and now limerence as a mid-life adult. I am guessing all that is left for me is to get limerence in my old age.
I have had an interesting limerence journey. After finding this site and reflecting back on life and love I believe I have had two previous LEs prior to my current.
First LE started when I was 15 and lasted through my HS years. It was for a girl that was really the first girl to like me and we dated briefly but somehow I slipped more into the friend zone with her and for 3 years I obsessively pined away trying to gain her undivided affection day after day. She would claim she loved me, but valued our friendship too much to be my girlfriend, so she would then go off and date jerky guys for short periods. She broke my heart for 3 years. After I went off to college out of state and was no longer around her my LE faded quick. But the really interesting part, after college I reconnected with her and we went out on a few dates, actually had sex, and I ended it soon after. The LE never resurfaced and she was not a person I wanted to consider as a long term partner for various reasons one of them being, I had LO#2 at the time.
LO2 was my long term college girlfriend of 3 years. I was in love with this girl, and thought we were heading towards marriage after college. But, she was a year older and went out of state to grad school and after 8 months of long distance dating she ended it. That sent me into LE for the next 8 years or so, even after I met my SO and got married. The first 3 years the LE was intense before I met my SO, as my LO and I stayed in contact, but after I met my SO and went NC with LO the LE was more mild and more of a regret of what might have been with a girl I considered my true love. Eventually the LE faded and now I have no romantic desires or thoughts of her.
That was 20 years ago and LE3 just hit me about 8 months back like a ton of bricks. My new LO is my employee who is 14 years younger and seems to have some level of attraction/affection for me, I can tell by her in person interactions with me and her demeanor and body language. I started to enjoy her attention, and this girl who before seemed uninteresting all of a sudden became the most beautiful and interesting person in the world to me and I wanted nothing more than be with her. The LE crystallized because of the extreme barrier of us both being married and because she is my employee. I flirted around the edges of a EA with her but she seems uninterested in pursuing a relationship with me outside the office. This LE has been intense and difficult and I am now in the process of LC with her and just managing my daily emotions. It has been going OK. I am hoping with practicing LC, in time my LE will fade. I have all reestablished a nice romantic connection with my wife of 22 years through this and have refocused my purpose in her.
It is very heartening to hear how many people respond to LEs by refocussing on SOs, even as they grapple with the difficult feelings over LO. Kudos to you, Speedwagon, and good luck.