The last post covered an analysis of whether limerence is a spectrum or a binary – in other words, can you feel “quite limerent”, or can people actually be sorted into distinct “limerent” and “non-limerent” tribes?
I appreciate this is might seem a pedantic point to get hung up on (and Lord knows I like exploring a good academic rabbit-hole), but I do think it’s important.
I think most people’s experience of limerence is that it’s an altered mental state – a distinct period in life when you feel like a different person, when your whole emotional being is hijacked by a single focus and overwhelming desire.
I’ve no doubt that people manage those feelings differently, that the intensity of the sensation varies between limerents, and that the difficulty of recovery depends on lots of factors that are highly individual and personal. But, if Tennov is right and limerence is a sort of neural algorithm that is either operational or not, then people really are either limerents or non-limerents. The sorting is as simple as “have you ever experienced that altered state of mind?”.
Simple answers are tidy, but also problematic. As soon as you start to set boundaries on this sort of issue, the exceptions begin. What if someone had a really intense crush during adolescence, but since then have had stable, loving attachments without the limerence madness? Are they a limerent or not? What if they are destined to have a big limerence episode in the future, does that mean they are a “dormant” limerent? What if someone had experienced the altered state of mind, but it had never had a negative impact on their life? Does limerence have to include the more costly, addictive aspects of the experience in order to qualify?
How altered does your state of mind need to be? Do you have to get properly deranged, or is a giddy fix of “new relationship energy” enough? We’re back to a spectrum now – is limerence defined by the intensity of the “altered state” or the impact on your life?
Part of the reason I’m currently obsessing about this is that I am working on a book about limerence and one of the key chapters is about how common limerence is, and what kinds of people experience it.
Previously, from expert estimates and indirect measures, we’ve ended up with a figure of 5% of the population being limerents, but intuitively that feels low, based on my own conversations with friends and colleagues.
Anecdotes are not data though, so I would like to try and answer the question more directly. I have a plan:
- Come up with a short description of the limerence experience
- Survey a large number of people (at random) and ask “Have you ever experienced this?”
- If possible, get some sort of breakdown on their demographics – age, sex, sexual orientation would be ideal – to see if the prevalence varies between groups
That forces a binary decision on the survey respondents, but it does also mean that the question we ask is absolutely critical. If I ask, “Have you ever experienced X, Y and Z symptoms,” and the respondent thinks “well, I have had X and Z, but Y doesn’t sound quite right” then it will be hard for them to answer. So, we need a really clear and unambiguous description that captures limerence in a concise and accurate way.
That’s today’s goal.
Here’s my best first effort:
I have sometimes felt a romantic infatuation so powerful that it overwhelmed all other concerns in my life. My emotions swung between extreme highs and lows, and my thoughts and dreams were dominated by the other person. It almost felt like I was addicted to them.
I suspect that can be improved upon. So, I have two questions for the community:
- Can you think of a better summary of the limerent experience?
- Do you have experience of any big online market research/survey platforms that can target this question to people based on the age, sex and sexual orientation demographics?
Let’s get this question answered once and for all…