One of the defining features of limerence – and the feature that makes it so difficult for others to understand – is the wildly exaggerated importance that we assign to our limerent objects. Why do we flip out over someone objectively unremarkable?
Part of the complex mix of emotions that cook up a batch of limerence stew is the weird, contradictory ability to know that LO is ordinary at an intellectual level, but delight in the fact that emotionally you experience them as extraordinary. It confirms the special connection that feels so exhilarating – there is some magic between you and them that transcends the everyday. It feels like a unique affinity, that ability to sense something extraordinary about an ordinary person.
But limerence is like a cup that runneth over, spilling a mess of emotional slop all over the table.
This tendency for limerence to move from stimulating adventure to emotional overwhelm suggests that at some point, for some reason, our response to LO transitions from reward to addiction. We get into a mental state that is defined by intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviour that feel like we are enslaved to unhealthy urges that are no longer serving the purpose of pushing up to try and pair-bond (a good outcome) and instead are keeping us trapped in an obsessive habit that degrades our self esteem (a bad outcome). Like the screechy feedback when you hold a microphone too close to a speaker, the feelings that limerence stirs up self-amplify, in a positive feedback loop that becomes deafening.
Interestingly, this kind of amplified response is also observed in many other animals. The classic example of the phenomenon was described by Niko Tinbergen (a Nobel prize winning ethologist) in stickleback fish. Male sticklebacks will fight for territory, and Tinbergen discovered that the males would attack a crude wooden model of another male even more aggressively than a real stickleback, if the model was painted with a prominent red underside. Tinbergen deduced that the red belly was the stimulus that provoked attack behaviour in sticklebacks, and so even woefully unconvincing models would provoke insane overreactions if the red belly was bright and striking enough. He called this phenomenon a “supernormal stimulus” – if you can identify a sensory cue that animals react to and exaggerate it, the animals will show a similarly exaggerated response.
Numerous other examples exist: birds that will neglect their own eggs to obsessively brood a gaudy porcelain superegg, butterflies that ignore females and enthusiastically try to mate with paper models, herring gull chicks that relentlessly peck red dots on wooden sticks, believing they will regurgitate food.
The conclusion is that instinctive behaviours can be pushed into overdrive if the stimulus that provokes them can be identified, isolated, and perfected.
Supernormal stimuli in humans
The implications of these discoveries for human behaviour have not been missed. Supernormal stimuli abound in our environment: junk food, pornography, advertising – these take the stimuli of sugar/fat blends, sexual display, and status anxiety, and amplify them to a pure form designed to elicit a disproportionate craving. Refined manipulation of our core drives.
Perhaps the best modern example of this is social media. You’ll find no shortage of cultural commentators arguing that the early promise of worldwide friendship networks is giving way to an addictive spiral of amplified outrage, tribalism and fear of missing out. How much of the destructive behaviour of the recent past has been driven by heedless people being superstimulated to the point of irrationality?
Hell, even some of the regulars here at living with limerence recognise from time to time that they need a break from constant rumination on the nature of limerence. Exposure to any powerful stimulus can become emotionally debilitating in excess.
Limerent objects as supernormal stimuli
And that brings us back to the point of the post. LOs would seem to be a great example of a supernormal stimulus. A supernormal romantic stimulus that drives us into a state of manic desire. The analogy is certainly appealing, but there is a bit of a problem with it: what is the stimulus? What is it about them that really sets us off? They clearly have some trait that amps up our reward circuits in a way that other mortals cannot, but it’s obviously not as simple as a red belly.
This boils down to trying to understand what causes the glimmer for you. Can you identify something that all your LOs have in common that acts as a romantic accelerant? The cue could be simple (the way they smile, or the way they smell, or the way their eyes sparkle as they hold your gaze), or it could be quite complex (the way they are able to make you feel safe, or the fact that despite being shy they have a fascinating artistic soul). If you can figure out the stimulus that causes a supernormal response for you, then you stand a chance of resisting it – or at least being aware that your deep drives are being overamplified and you probably need a break.
Limerence feels great, the limerent high is a spectacular thrill, but it’s important to recognise when you have been stimulated to the point of destructive delirium.
Don’t be the bird trying to hatch a porcelain egg.
But what if they are really something special? Not just in our eyes, but in everyone’s? It’s even harder than, I think, and isn’t helpful to deny the fact.
“But what if they are really something special? Not just in our eyes, but in everyone’s? ”
I guess it depends on what you value. I value artistic talent and success because the odds are so high for failure in that field, but none of my LOs wrote a Booker Prize-winning book or starred in a Broadway play. My point is that my LOS were not exceptional men. Average guys with average jobs trying to get by like anybody else.
My LO is extremely talented, so warm and friendly, lovely and charming. Amongst all people, not just women.
Well, a lot of people are warm, friendly and charming. This is just my opinion. Exceptional people are exceptional because there are so few of them.
I’m not saying it’s impossible, Nens, but I would be sceptical about the judgement of any limerent about their own LO 🙂
Even if someone is genuinely extraordinary as a person, they are bound to have flaws. There will be something about them that others would find off-putting – unless they are not human. Which would be off putting itself.
Anyway – the fact remains that even if you do find a perfect LO, the strength of the average limerent reaction would be disproportionate for a demigod.
“Exceptional people are exceptional because there are so few of them.”
@Marcia. Gosh, that is a great line – worthy of Mr Oscar Wilde himself. It’s a painful truth that you’ve nonetheless managed to express in a very elegant way. I hope you don’t mind if I pinch it for my own repertoire of sparkling conversation? 🙂
“worthy of Mr Oscar Wilde himself. ”
Oscar Wilde, wow. I don’t think the line rises to the level of his wit, but I’ll take the compliment. 🙂
” I hope you don’t mind if I pinch it for my own repertoire of sparkling conversation?”
As long as you give me credit. 🙂
My problem is that unless I feel glimmer I don’t feel attracted. I’m sure this is self sabotage as over the years there have been more compatible men interested in me but they never seemed exciting enough.
Caluna this has been my problem as well. And to be honest, my LO’s really did (and do) have a certain ‘star power’, I am not imagining it. I do admire those who fall for ones who seem so predictable and ordinary, I am sure it simplifies things in many ways and ups that odds of romantic happiness.
I remember that character in Gone with the wind who married Scarlett but realized to his dismay that he had captured an exotic bird (who was making him miserable) when he would have been much happier with a little sparrow (or something to that effect).
Well, Rhett wasn’t happy because Scarlett was in limerence with Ashley and it took her until the end of their marriage to realize that he (Rhett) was really the right man for her. By then, he was done.
I think you’re referring to her second husband Frank. He was a timid guy overwhelmed by her personality and drive. Plus, she wasn’t a decent person.
@Jaideux. I agree with you, that LOs can certainly be extraordinary people in a more general sense. However, I think our limerent responses can cause us to enhance and magnify that specialness even further – to the level where it’s clearly a bit ridiculous – and we forget we’re still dealing with a fellow mortal – i.e. a human being.
Scarlett certainly was an exotic bird. Yes, she crossed some moral lines in the book she shouldn’t have. But she also had way more drive and ambition and energy than most of the other characters, including the men, and in some ways she was “holding it all together” for her family. To me, she’s a heroine, albeit a flawed heroine. The best kind of heroine perhaps?
Not many men would be happy long-term with Scarlett – she had too much life in her. And she didn’t want the one guy who was her equal (Rhett), which is why he got fed up with her in the end.
What was Scarlett’s tragic flaw? Do you think her tragic flaw was her limerence for the insipid Ashley? Ashley clearly admires Scarlett a lot, and was even sexually attracted to her. (What red-blooded man wouldn’t be?) Still, his heart remained with gentle, docile Melanie. If only Scarlett could have given up Ashley and been happy with Rhett!
Funny – I actually have a lot more sympathy for Scarlett’s mistakes when I view her as a woman suffering from unrequited limerence.
“To me, she’s a heroine, albeit a flawed heroine. The best kind of heroine perhaps?”
She is selfish and narcissistic, but I think she’s a heroine, too. She’s a survivor and very shrewd.
“And she didn’t want the one guy who was her equal (Rhett), which is why he got fed up with her in the end.”
That made no sense. 🙂 Who would ever pick wishy-washy, passive Ashely over Rhett, the ultimate rogue?
I mean, if you think about it, Ashely is the quintessential narcisssitic LO. Giving Scarlett a sliver of hope that he may feel the same way but with no intention of ever following through.
Yeah, I never really admired Scarlett, other than her spunk. In the beginning of the book it said she viewed men as prey. These kind of women (and men) make my blood run cold.
It’s true that she and Frank were a terrible match, but it saddened me that Frank fell into her trap. They were both miserable for it. Scarlett had true star power, charisma and beauty, perhaps all the things Frank realized he did not himself have. If only he would have gone through with the marriage to her sister!
I think the fact that Scarlett was limerent for Ashley softens my view of her a bit, it humanizes her. My point however in mentioning her in the first place is that sometimes we just don’t see what’s best for us, we fall for (and in our cases, become limerent for) someone so ill matched to us that we miss out on happiness that is right within our grasp.
Frank is the poster child of this, and Scarlett as well.
Not only was Scarlett cold, calculating, and mercenary, she screwed over her sister in the process.
“My point however in mentioning her in the first place is that sometimes we just don’t see what’s best for us, we fall for (and in our cases, become limerent for) someone so ill matched to us that we miss out on happiness that is right within our grasp … Frank is the poster child of this, and Scarlett as well.”
“Not only was Scarlett cold, calculating, and mercenary, she screwed over her sister in the process.”
@Scharnhorst. Ah yes. I forgot that last but very important detail. Frank was the sister’s beau, wasn’t he?
Marcia you are so right about Ashley! I always was angry with him for leading her on!
He did lead her on. I had never thought of GWTW being about limerence at its core, but it really is.
Vicarious Limerent says
Both of my LOs in the past 14 months have been very different from one another (yes, I would say that my “glimmery friend” has likely crossed the threshold to become LO #2). One is a few years younger than me; the other is a fair bit older. One is never married with no children; the other is a divorced mother of grown kids. These ladies also have quite different body types and different hair colours. They listen to different types of music. They have different levels of education. One seems to be more economically successful than the other (although both ladies have what might be referred to as blue collar jobs, which is VERY different from me). One showed me nothing more than basic human decency and kindness, while the other has definitely flirted with me at times. One is a stranger and the other has become quite a good friend.
So, what caused the glimmer for me? What do these ladies have in common? For me, I think it’s simply that they both enjoy nightlife, bars and live music. They are both single ladies who are fun-loving. My wife seems to believe that people our age shouldn’t be into going out to bars. She is more of a homebody, and I think we’re moving in opposite directions in that regard. I am not a drunk, and I realize there is much more to life than partying, drinking and going to bars and live music shows (and listening to music in general). But I am starting to realize that these things are important to me and are an important part of who I am. The problems in my marriage are much much deeper than this, but one fundamental issue between my wife and I is how we feel very differently about these sorts of things. I am not ready to spend every Friday and Saturday night curled up on the couch watching Netflix. If my wife and I do ever go our separate ways (and that is what I am leaning towards at this point), I would want to spend the rest of my life with someone fun-loving who has more of the same interests I do.
My vulnerability to the glimmer in the first place was triggered by my SO being physically unavailable. In my distress of what I perceived as abandonment, the SOS signals were flowing out. I knew it and hated it, but apparently I am a human with baggage. What a shocker!
My perception changed from benign admiration to viewing LO as a stellar human being who cared about me! The concern from him was probably fueled by alarm, but in the middle of a LE, we limerents don’t want to see that.
My LO is someone who is socially popular, enjoys doing things for others, sympathetic, and compassionate, yet is also manipulative in making opportunities. I eventually started not liking the attention because I was trying to distance myself. I don’t know if it was a mutual LE, but it seemed like I touched something off with the intermittent reward that the attempted distancing causes. I wasn’t very good at it.
NC and therapy are the only way to sort out the mayhem a LE causes, and I do mean complete and utter mayhem, as it touched every part of my life. I’ve learned so much from this website about what can initiate and exaggerate an admiration of another into a behemoth downer – a downer because who really wants to hurt other people like that? Press on, friends!
For some reason the animal comparisons always make me laugh.
I have posted a lot on the private forum and I always feel like people there just don’t understand how wonderful and amazing my LO is. I always think, “if they could just see him, and observe our interactions, they would understand why I love him so much and why I can’t kill off the hope of him loving me back.” Of course, that’s probably not true, and I feel the same way about other people’s LOs. They just seem like random people and the limerent’s undying adoration for them just seems inexplicable. Yet, I can’t stop thinking that my LO really is That Special. If they could only see his eyes when he looks at me! 🥺
Vicarious Limerent says
I think for us there often **is** something really special about our LOs. Sometimes we can’t even put our fingers on exactly what it is. I tend to be a rational, logical person who believes in science, but I also believe there can be a sort of sixth sense that makes other people special for us. Perhaps it’s even down to something like pheromones?
The LO is definitely special to us.
We search our lives for someone who understands us deeply. We don’t have to explain ourselves to them. It can be a friend but most of us want an SO who fits that description.
My LO understood me quickly. Conversations were easy, introspective and hilarious. Throw in my state of mind at the time, and it’s no wonder that I fell so hard.
I think of LO when I hear Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow by FM:
“I know you don’t believe that it’s true;
I never meant any harm to you”
My LO was manipulative and I’ve never been sure whether or not he understood how much his push-pull hurt me. I want to think not…but he was an intuitive guy who could finish my sentences, so I’m confident he knew how deeply I was wounded.
“My LO understood me quickly. ”
Mine was the exact opposite. I think we had 2 revealing conversations the entire time I knew him, and I talked to him almost every day at work for at least four years. I was so attracted to him, I had trouble interacting with him. And then once he shot me down but continued to heavy flirt with me, I didn’t trust him, and, frankly, didn’t trust myself around him. The men I could be myself with I thought of as friends.
The need to play with others’ emotions is something I’ll never understand. A feeling of control? Superiority? Those people must end up alone. After my LO rejected me but said enough to keep me hooked, I felt unsure around him. I had been confident in him, myself and where we stood. But that went away. I trusted him far too long after that. Over the months that eroded. By the end of our regular communications, any time he said something I had to realize that any or all of it could be lies.
“The need to play with others’ emotions is something I’ll never understand. A feeling of control? Superiority? ”
I don’t know about your LO, but for mine it was just an endless need for validation. I don’t think he ever stopped to think about how his behavior was coming across or if it could be misinterpreted. He probably had flirtations going with a lot of women. I call those types “pingers.” They send out the signal to a lot of people to see what comes back. Any response gives them a little dopamine hit.
Vicarious Limerent says
I think it’s normal and natural to enjoy being liked by others and to think they find you attractive. I believe this is true even for married people, and I’m a firm believer in the maxim, “I’m married not dead,” despite being against cheating. But things become problematic when the LO knows the depth of the limerent’s feelings and exploits those feelings anyway for narcissistic gain.
Well, there’s flirting and then there’s FLIRTING. There’s a definite line to be crossed. And to me, it doesn’t matter if you think what you are doing isn’t going over the line. If it’s obvious the other person thinks you want more from them than flirting, you should have the decency to back off. That goes for married people and single people, with whomever they’re interacting. And to the married people who who continually lead others on … get the validation from your spouse.
Hi Dr. L,
Really interesting article, thank you! For the first time in weeks I woke in the middle of the night and felt agitated, so soothed myself by looking at photos of LO. I’ve woken up feeling guilty, so here I am on LwL. LO has now gone NC on me, which has taken the responsibility out of my hands this time but is very painful nonetheless. I’ve successfully avoided his social media for weeks… but. Well.
I think the point about positive feedback in your post is potentially really important. I’m not sure that my LOs have a theme (when I think about it…), other than that they were in some way either obviously, or intangibly unavailable. But the thing is I remember this idea that there was something small I felt, the ‘glimmer ‘ I guess. But it was small. A little disconcerting maybe, but manageable, and of course alluring. Maybe that’s how we get trapped. I’m not bowled over my an LOs magnificence on first contact… but the more you stay close the brighter the glimmer becomes,like that feedback on between mic and speaker. Actually I love that analogy. But also, maybe…. and Scharn has touched in this there are issues with the limerents self-esteem, need to be loved etc…
Maybe we see this stimulus as an opportunity to displace other things which I’m guessing should be…
🙂 purposely addressed?
But all the while we avoid that, the screeching blinding glimmer is overwhelming… but to stretch the analogy further… deep down I think I (limerents?) always remember when it was a faint crackle… without the positive feedback loop it might easily have been overlooked. That’s the thing I think about deep down knowing our LOs are ordinary folk. I think we know it’s a short circuit that’s caught us up in a loop… but the brightness of the light when it feels good! Then it goes…
What a morning.
Great post Thomas, I can really relate to a lot of this. I love your speaker & mic analogy. When I met my LO, the glimmer, while definitely present, was so quiet it was completely overshadowed by my focus on work. It took 1.5 years for it to grow loud enough for me to hear it and, like you say, it was the positive feedback loop that fuelled its growth into an ear-splitting LE.
Sorry to hear you are still caught up in it.
I can remember first meeting LO through friends at a pub… and my opinion of their features was ‘funny looking’. Not unattractive, just… funny looking. Fast forward 6 months later and I couldn’t arouse myself other than from thinking about LO…
I’ve said this before but sexually fantasies about LOs persist for far too long after NC. I hate it… but I obviously I also like it… I hate that I like it! There! 😀
As for the positive feedback analogy, in control systems positive feedback often results in system instability unless the positive feedback is managed/mitigated. Which is kind of how limerents can respond to reciprocation. In that respect limerence fits in well with other types of system behavior. We get some positive feedback and become unstable.
Which brings us to the question: https://livingwithlimerence.com/can-limerence-be-safely-harnessed/ ?
No, it cannot.
Seeing my LO’s pic, his name in any real context is difficult enough.
He’s already in my head all the time. And oddly enough I’m kind of falling into a new relationship and I feel this huge desire to get that high again from my LO. It’s as if I’m using him to avoid getting too far into this relationship.
I will remain no contact, but I have this overwhelming urge to look at his social media or listen to his streaming show. It’s very primal and it’s definitely because I feel that he is my person. He’s not. But in my head, he is
It’s just awful isn’t it? I get comfort from knowing we’re not alone in this via LwL. I mentioned above that I looked at some pics of LO just the other night, and sometimes (like now) it can really throw me off kilter. It was the worst choice too – I checked out their profile on a dating app… posed, curated and a bit of semi nudity in there too. I’m still caught off guard ruminating on it.
The dating thing too. I’ve been pursuing new romance, and sometimes it works but I generally don’t get too far… I feel a bit ‘damaged’ and I’m not sure it’s been fair of me to date in this mind-frame..
Life is bloody complicated sometimes!
Wishing you well. X
“Seeing my LO’s pic, his name in any real context is difficult enough.”
I recently found out that a character in a certain piece of media who normally goes under an alias in reality shares the same first name as my LO. I kid you not, I felt a very real impulse to check up something -photos, social media profiles, google info, whatever- about her. Anything that made me feel connected to her. And just because I saw a name on a screen.
We certainly are like the world’s worst trained Pavlov dogs…
Yeah. My LO has a fairly standard English first name which crops up semi regularly in TV dramas. There are times just hearing it come out of my screen sets me on edge!
It’s easy to fall into that. Sometimes we’re strong and other times, we fall.
I was weak the other night and listened to his stream. He played a song that refers to me specifically (nickname) and then a sweet love song afterward. I cried, of course, and thought about him. But…whether or not he was thinking about me…does not matter. Has he checked on me in months during the pandemic? No. *That* shows caring. That made me more resolved. Hopefully I’ll remain strong.
I think we owe it to the people we are dating to be honest. But dating is about getting to know one another. If you feel that that person has begun to care about you and you cannot return that caring, you must be honest. But during the early time when you’re getting to know someone, perhaps Limerence will fade and you’ll be able to have a good relationship with the person you’re dating. We all take risks when we go out there. As long as we’re respectful and caring…that’s all we owe another person
Take care of yourself, Thomas
I agree that a limerents judgment will always be questionable, but on the flip side when the glimmer happens rarely it can only seem divine\special\magical.
I know for me the glimmer hits like a sledgehammer on first meeting. There are only a handful of times I have felt the glimmer. One was my SO, and one my current LO. I remember the first time of seeing her over 25 years ago, and on meeting for the first time last year it pretty much hit straight away. Unfortunately not knowing what was going on we developed a friendship that progressed to an EA and I slipped headlong into limerence.
Can I put my finger on the glimmer? I think strong and successful women, a perceived self assurediness but a hint of vulnerability, but mostly it’s definitely the eyes. Those pesky windows to the soul that in rare cases seem to open a more extrovert side to me and I end up trusting them completely and quickly.
The blogs on here are great and have been a lifeline over the last six months. Many thanks.
Article of the Day: https://thoughtcatalog.com/brianna-wiest/2021/01/a-soulmate-is-someone-who-helps-heal-you-not-someone-you-need-healing-from/
Maybe a little out of place in this blog but seems to fit the comments.
“.., you’ll meet a series of other loves, ones that teach you greater lessons, and show you deeper truths, and help you confront your darkest corners — and then let you go…
Your soulmate is someone who helps heal you.
Not someone you need healing from.” – https://thoughtcatalog.com/brianna-wiest/2021/01/a-soulmate-is-someone-who-helps-heal-you-not-someone-you-need-healing-from/
Song of the Day: “I’m Your Man” – Leonard Cohen (1988)
“Ah, but a man never got a woman back
Not by begging on his knees
Or I’d crawl to you baby and I’d fall at your feet
And I’d howl at your beauty like a dog in heat
And I’d claw at your heart, and I’d tear at your sheet
I’d say please (please)
I’m your man”
I never listened to Cohen before but I’m beginning to really like him.
Spotify put Love Walks In by Van Halen on my playlist and it’s a terrible song but it describes limerence perfectly.
“Contact is all it takes;
To change your life to lose your place in time.”
Limerence is a powerful, awful thing so perhaps it fits.
“But limerence is like a cup that runneth over, spilling a mess of emotional slop all over the table.”
What a great line – I like it!
“Our response to LO transitions from reward to addiction. We get into a mental state that is defined by intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviour that feel like we are enslaved…”
Yup. Limerence stops feeling good at some point and clearly stops serving its evolutionary purpose i.e. facilitating the sort of pair bond that both people could enjoy, assuming LO wants to be with limerent. It becomes counter-productive. Almost like there’s too much fuel in the machine and it malfunctions.
“He (Tinbergen) called this phenomenon a “supernormal stimulus” – if you can identify a sensory cue that animals react to and exaggerate it, the animals will show a similarly exaggerated response.”
A fascinating concept. I’m not on social media, but I know it’s incredibly trendy for people these days to talk about how they feel triggered about this, that and the other. For example, people claim to be offended by a remark that wasn’t meant to be offensive or threatened when no genuine threat exists (other than the fact their best friend dislikes their favourite band). So, maybe the “feeling triggered trend” is an example of people reacting to supernormal stimuli. (Social anxiety prompts people to overreact to real or perceived rejection, etc).
My LO definitely wasn’t special. I can see that now. He was a “star” in church circles, but was only able to be a star because he had a team of people behind him, paying his bills, supporting him, etc. Same with pop stars – they don’t wake up in the morning, looking internationally glamorous. They have make-up artists.
I liked the way he raised his eyebrows. I liked his smile – small teeth. Must have worn braces at some point. He seemed vulnerable, and yet I don’t think he even really bared his soul to me. The illusion of intimacy maybe? Was that it? He talked to me when other people didn’t. He sought me out. Maybe that counted in his favour? I felt as if I’d found the best friend I’d always wanted and lacked.
I actually met LO when I was eleven, but didn’t fall for him until I was seventeen. He praised a short story I wrote, which got an A+. I assumed, probably wrongly, that LO liked my story because he had actually read it, and thought the content was good. Truth is, he had probably just heard his English teacher (a different teacher to mine) talk about it in extravagant terms and envied my grade. I actually topped English in grade twelve, even beating out the school dux.
LO appeared to have a “soft side” for a heterosexual male. You know – maybe that’s what did my head in. Action man with a soft side. He talked about things like his dog having puppies and how he took the puppies outside to play on a blanket. The kind of sentimental goop that makes most
girls melt – I ate it up.
Apart from his SO/now wife, and me, there was a third person at our high school he was “leading on” – a lovely Asian girl. In hindsight, I think he just flirted with random people without realising that’s what he was doing. He didn’t seem to realise his behaviour was dodgy. I always felt sorry for the Asian girl – I think she liked him almost as much as I did, if not more, and he trifled with her heart.
I once ran the word “coquetry” by him to gauge his reaction. He claimed he didn’t know what the word meant and he hated people who do it. (Coquetry is flirting for the purpose of garnering attention, with no intention of follow-through).
Oh! So that’s where ‘coquettish’ comes from. I didn’t realise the word coquetry existed.
I think there’s a lot of it about. Obviously context matters. Flirting can be harmless fun… but there’s a difference between someone who flirts in a friendly way, almost as a compliment and somebody who flirts to… I don’t know… add another potential admirer to their collection out of vanity and/insecurity…
I know my LO is very prone to coquetry… amongst the many other red flags I completely ignored.
“Obviously context matters. Flirting can be harmless fun… but there’s a difference between someone who flirts in a friendly way, almost as a compliment and somebody who flirts to… I don’t know… add another potential admirer to their collection out of vanity and/insecurity…”
Have you verified your flirting intentions with people? Of course not. No one does that. I know I have “harmlessly” flirted with me, or so I thought, and then the person asked me out or proportioned me. I don’t mean to pick on you, but whose fault was this misunderstanding? This kind of thing probably happens all the time. IMO, it’s best to not flirt with people unless there is interest that is going to be followed through on. I used to think flirting was harmless but I don’t think so anymore. I have certainly taken people seriously I shouldn’t have.
“Oh! So that’s where ‘coquettish’ comes from. I didn’t realise the word coquetry existed.”
@Thomas. I think the word is of French origin and you don’t hear it much these days. I think a coquette is a mildly disparaging term for a woman who flirts insincerely, but obviously guys do it too. There isn’t really a masculine equivalent that I know of, unless you want to go with the American term “player”, which isn’t necessarily an insult. “Player” can paid tribute to a guy’s sexual prowess. The word “coquette” probably dates back to a time when the sexual double standard was stronger.
Our previously mentioned fictional friend, Scarlett O’Hara, was probably a coquette par excellence. She used her charm on the opposite sex fairly indiscriminately to advance her own interests. Weirdly enough, I don’t dislike her for it. But I agree such behaviour isn’t strictly honourable, regardless of sex.
One more thought on the glimmer – smell. I did sit down next to LO one lunchtime in grade twelve and he was sweating through his white shirt and his sweat did smell disturbingly good to me. Only met one other man in my life whose scent impressed me – this one a gay man, but not the gay man I currently crush on.
What did the two good-smelling men have in common? They both had northern European heritage. (Viking blood!) I even teased the second man about this, and he laughed. Seriously, to my nostrils, his body/beard smelled like gingerbread. I am also of Northern European heritage – Danish and English and German.
In other words, maybe some of this supernormal stimuli has its roots in nothing more remarkable than genetics? I.e. a man’s sweat customarily gives a woman information about his immune system and whether his immune system is compatible with her immune system for the purpose of making robust, disease-resistant offspring. A woman might do well to mate with a man whose smell is agreeable to her. Not to mention it makes sharing living quarters a lot easier.
I never asked LO’s SO her opinion on LO’s smell. Met LO’s SO when she and I were both 14. I was actually friends with her before she was friends with him and friends with him before she was friends with him. I was “the original friend”, see, in our weird little bisexual love triangle and I actually thought at one point I might end up with her.
I think we were all mildly in love with each other at some point in the game. Then they fell for each other and ditched me. Traitors! But did I, in some small way, bring them together? Say it ain’t so! Maybe I’m technically responsible for their marriage? I was their unpaid, accidental marriage-broker!
Having said that, I now realise that by the time heterosexual males and females are about 17, they’re flirting heavily with EACH OTHER and forming their first pair bonds. And nobody – teachers, adults, parents, etc, really wants to stand in the way of that. The post-puberty attraction between male and female is a force of nature, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s caused by limerence or if it’s caused by garden-variety lust coupled with an intense craving for social acceptance.
LO and his wife both wanted the approval of their important church friends. I think that’s why they married in such a rush. Premarital sexual activity still frowned upon in our community. Plus they had the money to do it – they both had really good degrees and could obtain jobs in industries that pay well.
A closing thought. Why do gay boys sometimes fall for straight boys when there are a lot of other gay boys they could be dating instead, at least once they escape the influence of family? What was the appeal of my own particular straight-boy LO?
I’ve thought about this subject at length and I’ve decided to blame the situation on church culture. When males are heavily involved in Christianity, they are encouraged to exhibit certain traits e.g. caring, compassion, kindness, etc. Nothing wrong with these traits at all. But these so-called religious virtues are also very sexy, and appeal heavily to potential romantic partners. I.e. what woman (or man) doesn’t want to end up with a partner who’s a sweetheart?
Basically, the line between religion and romance, morality and eroticism, sometimes gets blurred. The old “she must be good because she’s beautiful” fallacy. Seemingly virtuous partners can take on a higher value. In certain social groups, can virtue – real or feigned – serve as a supernormal stimuli?
My LO clearly ticked ALL of my boxes – looks, smell, apparently good character. No wonder it was so hard to give him up, or consider other alternatives!
A very interesting article.
Speaking as a gay guy myself I’ve never really had the straight-crush thing except in secondary school where it was born of hormones and frustration! I think when it happens it’s very obviously about forbidden fruit etc. I also know from others that there are a fair minority of straight men who ‘bend in the wind’ as a friend of mine puts it. A few years ago I was on the receiving end of a surprising crush from a lesbian I knew though; she really flipped out when I dated her male housemate!
I just console myself with unavailable gay men. There’s plenty enough of them! 😀
“Speaking as a gay guy myself I’ve never really had the straight-crush thing except in secondary school where it was born of hormones and frustration.”
@Thomas. Well, this LO/LE of mine started in high school, at a Christian college no less. I was 17 years old and so was my LO. I don’t know if it was about “forbidden fruit” for me. Straight males were pretty much the only “infatuation option” I had at that point in my life. I didn’t know any openly gay people. What drew my LO to me? That’s the real question. He wasn’t gay. Why did he waste his time on someone he had little in common with?
“What drew my LO to me? That’s the real question. He wasn’t gay. ”
Is this the guy who was holding your hand (if I remember correctly from another post)? I don’t know too many young straight guys who are comfortable holding hands with another guy. (I’m speaking about my generation; you are a bit younger than I am.) To me, (and I of course don’t know him), he had some bicuriosity. How much and whether he would have acted on it, I can’t say. But your subconscious was picking up on something, as was his. (Just my guess.)
@Marcia. I guess we’ll never know for sure. But I don’t think he had any sexual feelings for me. I never got that impression. If he did have sexual feelings for guys, I doubt he’d pick me as a promising partner anyway. Never got any bi-curious vibes. Nope. Nothing.
The hand-holding thing? Oh gosh, I don’t know what that was about. Maybe he pitied me? Maybe he saw me as a charity case, some poor kid he had to babysit? (We were the same age, but I was emotionally immature for my age and looked a lot younger. Maybe my looks inspired sympathy in more emotionally-mature peers?)
Maybe he liked me in the way people like puppy dogs and close family members? Maybe I was his “Christian good deed” for the week? He was very, very Christian. Maybe he was earning brownie points with God by being nice to me? Maybe he was “nonchalantly kind” to everybody and I was wrong to read anything into it?
He was a dreamy sort of chap who didn’t seem to know what was going on half the time, an introvert, popular but not socially-savvy or macho. I sat next to him most of the night at our school formal (prom) too – with the full knowledge and blessing of his date/future wife! That was the night he gave me the hug goodbye that changed everything. (Crystallisation of my limerent feelings?)
At that point in my life, I apparently gave off a very gentle energy and was very charming and good-looking but shy. Girls loved me, but couldn’t get close to me. Maybe LO was responding to me in the way one responds to a frightened child? He sensed my vulnerability? I went to the formal with a very pretty girl who spent the whole night gabbing with her friends. She was super-extroverted. I had a female date; I guess LO assumed I was straight.
Full disclosure: LO put me through something akin to the Christian idea of Hell, obviously. But I’ve never been able to feel anger or hatred toward him. In my mind, he’s still a “being of light”. Only now he’s a “being of light” I don’t really think about anymore. 😛
Don’t know why I can’t feel negative emotions toward him??? I blame myself completely for the LE – I failed to live up to my own moral ideals. I fell from grace. I suppose religion can mess with our heads if we take it too seriously, and confuse it with Eros.
@Marcia. Just realised something. I don’t feel anger or hatred for this LO. I feel disgust. Isn’t that weird? I don’t feel disgusted by him as a person. (I clearly never really knew him as a person). I feel disgusted by the way he treated me. Oh well, I guess that’s progress of a sort.
Definitely progress, Sammy. Disgust at LO can be useful in the short-term for reprogramming purposes – but it’s a really unhealthy way to view other people in the long-term.
Our LOs do have lots of flaws, but… so do we all. Getting to the point where you can be disgusted by the situation but not the person is a sign of moral clarity.
I don’t think people befriend others because they feel sorry for them or think of them as a charity cases. Several years ago, I was in a meetup group. There was a member who no one liked because she was negative. I didn’t mind her and we got along well and I thought everyone was exaggerating. But after I did something one-on-one with her, I realized they were right. She was really unpleasant to spend time with. I felt compassion for her because I think there may have been some personality issues going on and was pleasant with her if we were in a group, but I had no interest in a close friendship.
You did nothing wrong. You simply became limerent for someone. It’s the condition everyone on this blog finds themselves in.
“You did nothing wrong. You simply became limerent for someone. It’s the condition everyone on this blog finds themselves in.”
@Marcia. Thank you for your kind words. This particular LE of mine had a devastating effect on my self-esteem. Not that my self-esteem was particularly high to begin with…
One more boring vocabulary lesson from Sammy before I take a little break. I realise that I’ve been posting on this blog so much lately people must think I’m having some kind of mini manic episode. And it’s true – I’m getting heaps and heaps of great ideas at the moment, brain synapses firing away on all cylinders. 😛
The word I’d like to put out there is “cavalier”. LO’s behaviour toward me was cavalier. Cavalier means “showing a lack of proper concern, offhand”.
I know references to The Great Gatsby pop up on this blog from time to time. (I believe Beth was talking about the character Daisy the other day). F. Scott Fitzgerald uses the word “careless” to describe the attitudes of the rich people in the book, including Daisy.
This is how some LOs can seem to treat the people who are limerent for them – carelessly, in a cavalier manner, not showing a proper amount of concern. I felt like I was somebody’s emotional plaything, a toy to be picked up and set aside on a whim.
“I felt like I was somebody’s emotional plaything, a toy to be picked up and set aside on a whim. .. ”
I know the feeling well.
“F. Scott Fitzgerald uses the word “careless” to describe the attitudes of the rich people in the book, including Daisy.”
That is perfect. My LO very much reminds me of Daisy. All glittery, shimmery and flirtatious on the outside, but really shallow, narcissistic and insensitive bordering on cruel underneath.
On my last day at the job were I met him, I could hear his voice in the hallway outside my office. (A few days earlier, he had made reference to me coming to his office to say goodbye.) I did not get up to speak to him, and I walked out the door at the end of the day never having seen him that day or saying goodbye. I did that intentionally, partly because I realized it didn’t matter what I did (the whole situation was futile) but also partly to hurt him, as childish and silly as it sounds. Even for a moment, I hope that landed.
I’m wondering if other people have read anything about limerence and attachment styles. I have been watching some videos on youtube and the theory of the psychologist who created them is that people with insecure attachment styles — avoidant and anxious — experience limerence on higher levels than people with a secure attachment style. Not sure if it’s true but it’s an interesting idea.
If you search “Attachment” in the box, you’ll get 9 pages of hits.
Start here https://livingwithlimerence.com/limerence-and-emotional-attachment/
I felt I owed coming back to this site to share that I can for the first time say that I have conquered Limerence. Some of you will remember that I had Limerence for a co-worker who made me feel special a handful of times but because I wasn’t happy with SO i exaggerated those gestures and practically felt we were dating in my head. We were in touch every day. But it was an illusion. Now I am over it and have gone from wanting contact every day to not bothering at all now with wanting contact – in fact i hate it if she ever reaches out to me.
Im proud of this turnaround and wanted to thank Dr L and this group as it was not possible without them. Few things that helped me.
– As she was co-worker and a friend I couldn’t go cold turkey but i did gradual slowdown. I had personal limits…….
– Only allow 5 responses if she initiated responds.
– dont initiate contact or send any jokes on social media
– no 121 meetings except once a month if she initiates
– At work i purposely sat on the same side of the table to her so she was not in my line of sight
– covid helped….but also didnt as i was really worried about her as she lives on her own….. but fought through as i kept reminding my self that she has friends
– having a new hobby to learn a music instrument
– turning to my faith to give me strength that I am bigger than limerence
– LO also backed off contacting me socially, which hurt. But remembering that her not trying to pull me in, is for my own good and helping my recovery.
– throwing myself at my work more and stepping up.
– when we have had interaction initiated by her, i paid more attention to what was being said and it was always about her… i could see that now. For example, few weeks ago we had a chat about work and then 30 minutes of her telling me about her holidays and not once asking me what i got upto….so I can see that behaviour now where as before I was besotted to notice that.
Overall it was tough from Oct 2018 to about Dec 2020. 2019 was really tough but i felt recovery started 6 months ago. I no longer wake up thinking of her – thats the indication that the loop mechanism has broken.
Thank you all – I know each one of us will get there – in the meantime take the learning for next time… a LO is like honey sitting on sharp blade….dont get tempted by the honey in the future….its too risky as each of us now know from our experiences.
What are you taking?
We can form the Living With Limerence Orchestra! Maybe we can talk Lowendj into coming out of retirement.
Can you carry a tune and how do you look in an evening gown?
I’m still lurking. ( Maybe you shoulda typed my name 2 more times! ) 😁
Scharny, I can in fact carry a tune, and I have several evening gowns in the closet, anxious to be of use.
Now, we need someone to do the cover art for “Love Songs for Limerents.”
I can see this conversation with my wife…
“You’re doing what? With whom? Who are these people? Seriously, have they heard you play? Limerence? I thought you were done with all this kind of stuff when your Personality Disorder fad passed. As I recall, your last foray into online acquaintances did go so well.” [eye roll]
And, my CO on the sub gave me a “B” in Imagination. They let that guy cruise around the ocean in charge of nuclear weapons…
We would all like to be where you are. In that sweet, sweet limerence after life. I’m in my second year of limerence and thanks to this site, I no longer think I am crazy, at least about love.
Best of luck.
Kevin I love that ‘honey sitting on sharp blade’ line.
So very happy for you that you made through the tunnel of doom and have come out on the other side!!!
Thanks Jaideux. Hope each one of us gets there soon. It can’t beat us. We are much bigger than the lim beast.
Thanks for checking in Kevin, and congrats on how far you’ve come! Great news.
Good metaphor. First lick or two are nice, but then… ouch.
Congrats, Kevin, and thanks for sharing all those valuable tipps!
It’s an amazing feeling when you finally feel your normal, non-obsessed self again!
“For example, few weeks ago we had a chat about work and then 30 minutes of her telling me about her holidays and not once asking me what i got up to”
Sounds like conversations I have with my family! 🙂 That 30 minutes wasn’t a conversation but her delivering a monologue 🙂
So true. Well put
James Afourkeeff says
Excellent article! The connection linking limerence and addiction and the hypertribalism that is tearing our societies apart, is extremely fascinating.
But I have have a question:
You have asked us to identify what “supernormal stimuli” might be the specific trigger for our limerence — so . . .
I think most of us would report that there is a common thread (a commonality) that characterizes each new LE and LO, independent of, or in addition to, superficial qualities such as looks, or even the attention they give us. I have not been officially diagnosed, but it is strongly suspected by everyone I know, including doctors and psychologists, that I am mildly autistic. I now think that every one of my dozen + LEs have been for LOs who were also mildly autistic. I say this, because they have all been “different” in the same way. One LO from about 15 years ago, an LO I actually had a little bit of a chance to talk to, told me once that her father had Asperger’s and her son was suspected of being autistic. My last LO had a son that she said had violent temper tantrums; I found out indirectly that he is also very likely autistic, which was no surprise to me at all. In fact, other people who worked with my last LO thought she probably had ADHD, or something else going on with her. Autism is partly genetic. For me, it is as if meeting these particular individuals are like rare encounters with “members of my own species”, so to speak.
So, my question is this: Could this be the reason why I was so desperately attracted to these individuals . . . and why they couldn’t have cared less?
Could be, James. You seem attuned to the presence of autism traits in others, and that suggests it has salience for you. Perfectly possible that when you pick up on that vibe from a possible LO it starts the glimmer.
As to whether it explains their lack of interest… that’s harder to answer. It would depend on what they are most attracted to, of course.
@James. Autistic people, such as Aspies, can have a distinctive look. They can be quite attractive actually – high forehead, wide-set eyes, highly symmetrical facial features, lots of sex appeal. Male autists can have faces as children that look angelic and turn handsome in adulthood. Female autists can have almost childlike features, very feminine. Some people even think Marilyn Monroe was on the spectrum, and clearly she was very attractive indeed: a sex symbol. Autistic people can also look significantly younger than their actual age.
Aspies of both sexes might have a hard time understanding when someone is interested in them romantically. They struggle to connect with people in their lives. They might misunderstand subtle emotional signals/body language. They might give off mixed signals. None of this odd and frustrating behaviour is malicious in intent, but part and parcel of the developmental disorder.