I’ve been thinking again about what limerence is.
We have a fairly well-established list of common symptoms, and so limerence is most easily defined as “having enough of those symptoms to qualify”. But there are deeper questions that aren’t really captured by that kind of categorisation. Questions such as: is limerence a psychological state that is entered, or a personality trait? Is it abnormal or extraordinary? Are certain people “limerents” or could anyone in principle have a limerent experience under the right (or wrong) set of circumstances? Should limerence be classified as a mental disorder, or is it the way that a significant number of people experience romantic love?
In the spirit of limerence, I’m going to ruminate about these issues. But, you know, out loud.
The Tennov model
The obvious starting point for refining our definition is to go back to the original creation of the term. Dorothy Tennov conceptualised limerence as a form of romantic love that many people experience (especially in the early stages), and she was prompted to name it by the “discovery” of non-limerents. She had implicitly assumed that all people experience infatuation as a feature of romantic love and was surprised to find through conversation with friends that not everyone does. Through a combination of personal interviews, her own clinical practice, and literature review, she formulated the idea of a distinct aspect of the love experience defined by a specific list of symptoms. She viewed limerents as people who had a propensity for a profound depth of infatuation that marginalised all other concerns in life, and non-limerents as people that experienced love without this overwhelming early infatuation.
Tennov has been reasonably criticised for the lack of scientific rigour with which she founded her ideas (and the opaque etymology of the word limerence), although this interview-based approach remains commonplace in the social sciences, and has obvious utility for hypothesis generation. It’s fair to say, however, that the hypothesis that humanity can be sorted into “limerents” and “non-limerents” has never been tested in any meaningful way.
The Wakin-Vo model
More recently, a more systematic definition of limerence has been proposed. Albert Wakin was a colleague of Tennov’s for a short period, and is one of the few investigators who has made a deliberate effort to advance understanding of the condition. He conceptualises limerence as a state of psychological distress, and has described it anecdotally as “a cross between addiction and OCD”. Within the paper in which he and his co-author Duyen Vo present their model, they provide this clarification of how they see limerence and love differing:
In a love relationship, one often experiences initial intense feelings and reactions, and absorption in another person that tend to moderate over time, allowing for a more stable, intimate, trusting, and committed relationship to flourish. However, in limerence, said initial feelings and reactions somehow fail to subside, becoming increasingly intense, pervasive, and disruptive, ultimately rendering difficulty in controlling one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Wakin therefore criticises Tennov for equating love and limerence. Although not stated, there seems in this view an implicit suggestion that “intense feelings and reactions, and absorption in another person” is a universal experience for people falling in love – and that it is only the intensity that varies between individuals. I may be reading too much into this, but it seems to imply that people fall on a spectrum of infatuation intensity, with limerents being at the extreme end, and defined as those that experience Wakin’s “initiating force” of an intense need for emotional reciprocation.
The progression of limerent feelings
I’m not sure these models are necessarily incompatible. Tennov classifies limerents as people who have a propensity for a particular kind of romantic love. Wakin defines limerents as people who have fallen into a state of psychological distress as a consequence of dysregulated infatuation. To try and rationalise this, I’ve organised the progression of limerence into a flow chart:
The key thing for me is that the emotional and psychological experience of limerence is the same, up until the point at which reciprocation is actively sought. If the infatuation is reciprocated, then… hallelujah. If the feelings are emphatically not reciprocated, then a period of personal agony is inevitable. In both these scenarios, however, the intense feelings of infatuation fade with time (with the speed varying notably between individuals). In contrast, if reciprocation is uncertain, then the emotional limbo of not knowing how LO feels drives the limerent into an intermittent reinforcement schedule that deepens the infatuation into full blown person addiction.
In this framework, the Tennov model is the whole diagram. Limerents are the subset of people in the world who can enter the funnel at the top. The Wakin-Vo model is the red pathway. Limerents are the subset of people who end up in the trap of emotional limbo and reinforcing psychological distress.
The existence of good limerence
For me, my first trip down the red path was the time I realised I was a limerent. It’s just that all my previous limerence experiences had followed the green or black paths – but the progression of the emotional phenomenon felt identical up until that point. As I’ve said before, my wife and I were mutually limerent and it was amazing – the most exhilarating and euphoric experience of my life. The fact that a repeat episode years later when it wasn’t welcome went wrong, is not an indication that the phenomenon itself is a mental disorder.
The Wakin-Vo model identifies the people who need psychological support, but the Tennov model suggests something intrinsic about the way that people differ in their experience of romantic love. The reason that mithering about these definitions is important in my view is that it shapes how we respond to limerents in distress. If limerence is a psychological disorder by definition then it misses the possibility that there is a common psychological substrate for good and bad (red and green) limerence. That said, the broader definition misses the possibility that some people may have a propensity to take the red path. When the drive to pair bond consistently fails to properly establish that bond, things go wrong. That failure could come from a flaky LO who is inconsistent or unreliable, but it could also come from the limerent having an attachment disorder meaning the bond never stabilises, or they never feel secure enough in the reciprocation, so uncertainty is a constant feature of their relationships regardless of LO’s behaviour.
Overall, I prefer the Tennov model, but we certainly need more evidence as to whether the limerent/non-limerent binary is meaningful. Whether limerents are suffering a mental illness, or whether it is an inherent feature of their personality, will surely colour what the appropriate response to distress should be: treat the limerence, or treat the circumstances that have steered it onto the red path.
Well, I guess that’s what I think about that. More research needed.
I love a good flowchart Dr L and yours makes a lot of sense to me. My two LEs were 20 years apart, so I’m no serial limerent, but I’ve been trying to figure out what these two women have in common that made me go crazy. Other women haven’t made me like this, including my SO, longtime ex girlfriend and a variety of office “crushes”.
The answer then is the uncertainty. Both LOs gave me enough signs of having feelings for me, but there were barriers to reciprocation. LO1 met someone else but still professed love for me on the occasional drunken evening and with LO2 it was me that was taken, so neither of us could realistically say how we felt, and so it was all hints, lingering looks and texting.
Yes, all that latent unfulfilled possibility behind an emotional dam. It’s lethal.
I wonder if it might be useful here to differentiate between unrequited love and unconsummated love. How does the situation of limerence that is fully reciprocated and yet thwarted by circumstance—typically one or both partner’s marriage to someone else—get treated in your model? This happens a lot, I suspect. Certainly, in most of world literature’s great love stories, there exists the predicament of star-crossed love that ends not only in psychological distress, but almost always in tragedy. Most romantic comedies even are premised on some misunderstanding that keeps the would-be lovers from uniting for most of the storyline.
Is there some connection between story-telling and limerence? People love stories; story-telling is part of what makes us human. And I believe a lot of limerence is about some story we can’t stop telling ourselves (DrL actually has a great blog entry on this). It’s hard to concoct a compelling story without there being some obstacle to overcome.
How does this relate to the model here? In the black path, there’s no destination (ie, no chance of reciprocated love) and so there can be no obstacle. (Limerence never really blossoms.) In the green path, there’s no obstacle and so there’s no compelling story. (Limerence fades.) In the red path…we have a hoped-for destination, plus the obstacle (say, fear of rejection, which leads to no disclosure and hence ongoing uncertainty) and therefore a story that can go on and on in your head. (Limerence flourishes.)
Has anyone else noticed that some people are more “into” stories than others? Either they tell good stories or they truly appreciate them. And others, not so much. I’m wondering if there’s a possible connection between being really into stories and being limerent? If there is a connection, that makes me think limerence is more a personality trait than a psychological state. Of course, probably it’s a little of both. For example, I might suggest that, while all limerents traveling along these paths are exhibiting limerence as a personality trait, only those headed down the red path are exhibiting a [hopefully, temporary] psychological disorder.
My proposed fourth pathway for DrL’s model is…well.. the stuff of great literature. The red pathway is the stuff of…pop cultural psycho-thrillers. Just a thought—albeit a long, ruminative one…
“I’m wondering if there’s a possible connection between being really into stories and being limerent”
Sure, could be but as I’m a very good storyteller and voracious reader of many genres, including folktales, so I doubt it’s as neat a fit as you wish it to be.
Question for Lee as resident non-limerent friend of the blog 🙂
Have you experienced any of the symptoms of “good limerence” early in a relationship? i.e. Feelings of wild euphoria, complete infatuation with another person to the exclusion of all other concerns, being energised by their company, etc. Or has your experience been less… OTT?
Wild euphoria – no.
Complete infatuation to the exclusion of all other concerns – no (I didn’t want to get fired, get evicted, starve my pets, alienate my friends and family, etc.)
Being energized by their company – yes.
Thanks, Lee. That does align with my thinking – I’ve read a bit about “new relationship energy” which seems to have some overlap with limerence, but not the degree of “total mental capture” that limerence involves.
You’re welcome, Dr. L.
Lee said: “Complete infatuation to the exclusion of all other concerns – no (I didn’t want to get fired, get evicted, starve my pets, alienate my friends and family, etc.)”
I didn’t “want to” do any of these things either. This was a first-time euphoria for me, I didn’t know that a person could feel this way. And I didn’t know what was happening or how to deal with it.
Dr. L, I remember finding the term “new relationship energy” (NRE) prior to learning about limerence. It absolutely fit for me. At least until the crash and burn.
Thinker – my reply to Dr. L. wasn’t about others, it was about me. Nor was it a condemnation of or comment about anyone reading or replying on this site.
My point is that when I felt myself drifting a bit, I was able to use the thought of living in my car, without health insurance, to refocus my attention to my job. I was single, so I didn’t have the additional worries about dissolving a household, paying attorneys and enduring shared custody to clear the cobwebs from my mind, as so many here do. Nor did I have the security of someone else contributing to the household (time or finances) to fall back upon if I were to screw up badly enough to lose my job.
It may or may not work for others. Plus I’m non-limerent (apparently). I had my great big overwhelming crushes as an adolescent, when someone else was responsible for my room, board, insurance, etc. I haven’t had that same level of giddiness since my late teens, maybe early 20’s (college).
Limerence may or may not be like an overwhelming crush, but the analogy may work to introduce the concept to others. Almost everyone had one or more in their past so it’s common ground.
“My point is that when I felt myself drifting a bit, I was able to use the thought of living in my car, without health insurance, to refocus my attention to my job.”
For me, things felt “safe” for a few years as everything between LO and I were confined to work. Almost nothing outside of work, and no e-communication. The trigger of her leaving immediately ignited the limerence. I hope that moving forward, I am now armed with insight that will prevent me from drifting too far, knowing what it may lead to. The early relationship and closeness WAS the issue, even though things seemed “safe”.
I’d say that the “exclusion of other concerns” during euphoria for me was more like “scraping by with minimal effort” as opposed to living with focus that had previously existed.
I imagine that was very frustrating for you at times.
Fatal Attraction, may fit.
LO #4 told me that my stories had two of her favorite things, imagery and snark.
I would say that in the flowchart “unrequited limerence” would be the black path, and “unconsummated limerence” would be the red path.
It’s incomplete, of course, because I do think there is a difference between uncertainty (e.g. a LO sending mixed signals) and barriers (both parties are besotted, but not available). But, those seem different flavours of the red path.
Re. stories – yes I think some people can be as “in love” with Romance as they are “in love” with LO. Both have elements of projecting internal feelings onto other people (as props).
> because I do think there is a difference between uncertainty (e.g. a LO sending mixed signals) and barriers (both parties are besotted, but not available)
Could you elaborate on that difference (either here or in a future blog post)? I only ever experienced limerence with neither uncertainty and barriers or both.
Btw, first time comment here. Really appreciate this blog, I’ve learned so much reading your posts!
Welcome map.make87, and thanks for the comment.
Yes, I think that would make a good blog topic. Watch this space!
I went down the red path immediately to the end once my LO said she was leaving the office. In hindsight, I can see that it was due to me no longer being able to get my regular fix (in a “safe” way). How was I to make that happen going forward? There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t have done to get me out of that deep psychological distress.
You say that having barriers also leads one down the red path. We were both married with kids. When LO and I disclosed resulting in an EA, I would say that we entered the “ecstatic union” phase combined with emotional limbo. I was fine with the uncertainty for the months when all of the hormones were going full steam in my fantasy-like world. But I was in some psychological distress at the same time with everything else in my life, as those very important items had become secondary.
When LO cooled things off, that’s when the psychological distress re-emerged at a maximum level and persisted in all aspects of my life. During the following months, I needed help. Badly. But it took a couple of months to admit that to myself. I’ve been through bad times before and made it through…why was this any different? WRONG. I felt trapped in that there was nowhere to go, no way to keep things private, no way to disclose to SO.
No Contact was another type of pain, but necessary. I’ve had regular interactions with LO for the past 3 months and feelings are fading as of late, but still exist. I am afraid to speak of any improvement, as I know I need to keep my guard up.
“[F]eelings are fading as of late, but still exist. I am afraid to speak of any improvement, as I know I need to keep my guard up.”
Similar experience for me. Mutual limerence and disclosure led to an intense EA. But not exactly the red path because we both KNEW the barriers were insurmountable. There was no Uncertainty, which makes it not quite the red path, to my mind, but…something else, not quite sure what exactly. (I guess I would still argue for non-consummated affairs as being a sub-branch of the green path—except it would be coded red in that it leads to a different kind of unresolved limerence angst. )
It’s been just over a year now since my short-lived EA began, and this season of “anniversaries” has been painful. Plus, she works with my wife and so she’s still sort of in my life. I’ve definitely needed [professional] help and I’ve gotten that. But what’s mostly helped is that I’ve stuck religiously to No Contact for the past 4 months. I think finally (finally!) the feelings are beginning to fade. I’m thrilled about that and yet… it’s a little depressing because I so miss the highs. And I feel strongly that this was my last limerent hurrah. Which I suppose I’ll feel relieved about eventually, but not there yet.
But here’s to keeping your guard up!
How about the desire to finish any story you start?
I get caught watching some crappy movie by accident because I’ve started it.
Anonymous Limerent says
Hi, thanks for this post.
My perception of limerence is probably a but more like the Wakin-Vo model; I think all people have the potential to be limerent, but some have extreme triggers that won’t be fulfilled by anyone they ever meet, thus rendering them ostensibly ‘non-limerent’. It obviously has some parallels to Tennov’s model, in saying that all people are limerents, but I am saying that everyone falls on a spectrum; not how limerent they are, but what triggers their limerence. To put it simply, that is my take on limerence.
In relation to my own situation, I would be taking the flowchart’s red path. My LO is showing signs of both reciprocation and malreciprocation (if that’s even a word), leading me to psychological thoughts. My depression is actually making my thoughts more intrusive, I’ve found: Friday was terrible for me, and I’ve since had dreams about her two nights in a row (I normally don’t have any). This is now day #263 of my LE.
As a side note, I am grateful for this site; it helps me see my situation from an objective point of view when I’m away from LO. However, since I had a bad day on Friday and the last few posts have all been on Saturdays each week, I was expecting a post yesterday but there was one today instead. It’s not a problem, but this may have had an impact on my thoughts yesterday and the fact I had a dream about her last night.
Thanks for everything though!
Sorry to hear you had a bad Friday AnonLim. Posts go up when I can manage it around the day job – so usually weekends, but not always predictable.
I’ve been down all three.
LOs #1 & #2 were the green path. LO #3 was the black path and LO #4 was the red path. The most notable difference between LOs #1-#3 and LO #4 was my availability. In the first 3 LE’s I was available. In the last LE, I wasn’t available.
This is a really helpful post . Somehow just having the flowchart makes everything clearer and more manageable, it implies there is way through and out – rather than the inchoate mess that limerence has made of my brain and emotions. The discussion is insteresting too, Lee ‘s perspective is so different from mine. I must make ‘There’s nothing going on but the rent ‘ my theme tune. At my worst I left a job, actually a career, at short notice with no job to go because of limerence. I felt so overwhelmed with anxiety, desperation and pain at the inconsistency of my LO, despite feeling that I was on cloud nine when he paid positive attention to me. Fortunately I found temping work but I don’t regret it because the NC saved my sanity. Friends think I was mad, well, yes, I was….
Oh Nina! Big hugs – I really hope you can find a way to balance it out.
Huge hugs Nina! I really do know how you feel as I’ve done the same. Hope you manage to find a permanent job (if that’s what you’re looking for) and above all, some peace and clarity.
My LO leaving the office triggered my initial bout of limerence. So when she actually left, I was so devastated and missed seeing her there every day. After mutual disclosure and an ensuing EA, at the end of the EA she made some decisions in her life that cooled things off and sent me spiraling into disastrous limerence again. Then she came back to work part-time, all the while unsure of her path but forcing me to play a part in her life. I had no idea what to do as I too “felt so overwhelmed with anxiety, desperation and pain at the inconsistency of my LO, despite feeling that I was on cloud nine when (s)he paid positive attention to me.” I got better at managing my limerence, but it was always a temporary repair. When she left the office again, there was action by her that enabled me to make the move to No Contact, which was a different sort of awful but so necessary. That was also around the time I discovered this site.
I felt so helpless having LO at the office while I was embroiled in despair. I could only try to seek out my fix, knowing I would always eventually crash hard. Leaving my job was not an option for many reasons, but at times it felt like it could eventually come to that. I totally understand how leaving a job and career can be the outcome.
I hope you keep moving forward.
Lee, Sophie and Thinker, thank you all so much. It is so wonderful to have a forum full of people who know what limerence is. Lee you go above and beyond in you understanding, Sophie, how are doing now? And Thinker, I so sympathise with your situation.
We got your six!
A little late but if I can sprinkle this conversation with my own totally baseless speculation, I’d guess that regardless of whether you can theoretically have positive limerence or not, the degree that the red-path limerence cripples someone’s life and the length of time that it affects them is related to their capacity for emotion generally. I frequently see limerence described with male pronouns and I know men also have been shown to have larger amygdalae relative to head size compared to women on average, so that may not be a coincidence. I also know that people who suffer from bipolar disorder have significantly above-average relative amygdalae sizes. Obviously this is anecdotal but my state of limerence has gone well past the average of 2-3 years, to over 12 years now with no sign of it letting up no matter what I do, and I’ve been diagnosed bipolar (may also be worth noting that the antipsychotics I sometimes take for my condition make the limerence go away).
I was never able to forge deep attachments with anyone else after this person and I parted ways, and unfortunately that was at the outset of my adult life, so it’s taken a pronounced toll on my ability to be emotionally available as a wife and mother. I really hope this area of psychology is better researched so those in this state of mind can experience hope of relief and stability that doesn’t have to involve pharmaceuticals. Until then, your blog is great psychoeducation – if I ever meet my LO again I’ll make my best effort to power over the significant feeling of distress to get an unequivocal full rejection or acceptance. Thanks for maintaining this.
Anonymous Limerent says
Feeling a little down about the whole thing today, so I looked into limerence a but more:
Anyone else find this embarrassingly relatable?
There’s also a quiz, if you didn’t know whether you were limerent already. 🙂
Interesting reading…thanks for that!
Article says…..”For limerence to trigger in a person, a few conditions must first be met:
– The person must be emotionally “ready” to fall in love and want a relationship.
– There must not be any impossible obstacles that prevent emotional reciprocation & investment from the Limerent Object.”
….ha…an awful lot of limerents on this site would disagree with that assertion! 🙂
Flamingo 19 says
The impossible obstacles do exist I am afraid to prevent emotional reciprocation and investment from the Limerent Object! When the LO works in a caring situation. No matter how they feel they are not allowed to keep their job if they get emotionally involved with either the cared for or a family member. It has happened to me where I am besotted with the carer (not mine) these last 18 months but frustrated that he is happy in his job and does not want to lose it. Whilst we get on so well and can see and feel the chemistry it is all having to be resisted and I am more and more suffering as a result and am in a Limerent state. Why should the terms of his employment insist that he cannot fraternize or associate with me in a normal relationship even when not in work?
I enjoyed this article. I must say, I broadly agree with Tennov’s ideas, but I can imagine they would be impossible and/or unethical to prove scientifically. Also, I think it would be a little bit unhelpful to divide the world into limerents and non-limerents, or “sheep and goats”, because of the potential offence that could be taken on both sides. In particular, non-limerents might resent the implication they don’t have deep feelings and limerents might resent the implication they’re “crazy” compared to their non-limerent peers. It’s a bit of a moral minefield!
I love the flow chart and have experienced all three “paths” in my life. The black path absolutely sucks, but at least recovery is quick when rejection is clear. But it can lead to damaged friendships if both parties aren’t emotionally mature. The red path was horrific – so much guilt and shame and self-doubt! But it DID make me interested in limerence as a subject. (Why did that attachment feel so powerful? Why did it go wrong? Was I at fault or was my LO at fault, etc?) The green path is relatively benign, and has resulted in many lasting friendships.
I don’t think limerence is a pathology. I think it’s a style of mammalian bonding, but it’s only one style and not always the best style. Obviously, humans have a lot of ways of bonding. I think understanding limerence has helped to take some of the embarrassment out of the experience for me. Having said that, I don’t want to experience the red path ever again as it was too painful!!
@Sammy – I agree that it’s not inherently pathological. You can’t declare a set of behaviors pathological only when they don’t get the desired result, and say that they are healthy when they do get the desired result.
@GreenEyedMonster. “You can’t declare a set of behaviors pathological only when they don’t get the desired result, and say that they are healthy when they do get the desired result.”
I think any scientist or logical thinker would agree with you. A condition or set of traits can’t been embraced or dismissed based purely on outcome if outcomes can be wildly different for different people in different circumstances. That’s like saying only tall plants can be counted as trees.
I think what you’re driving at here is limerent people aren’t mentally unstable, though they might have gone through a really rough patch in their lives because of an LE. Is that what you’re saying? If so, I agree. Also, society-wide, help should be made available to people in emotional distress without stigmatising them with labels inferring mental illness.
I have a real beef with the way limerence is often written off as a mental illness. There is a double standard that I feel needs to be exposed, and it is simply that whether limerence is “healthy” tends to be measured by its result, rather than the behavior itself. The flow chart expresses this well.
I once heard a story of a European singer who had a devoted fan. This fan would sit in the same seat in the theater every night until the singer noticed him, and they became lovers. This story is always related in very romantic terms. When I was smitten with The Chief I used to often go out in the evening in the little resort where I lived at the time, and find a bench where I knew I could see him (and he could probably see me). Exact same behavior, but in my case, since The Chief did not reciprocate, it was “creepy.” Had The Chief (56 at the time) been dazzled to have a 28-year-old woman chasing him like he was on fire, I’m sure the story of me waiting on that bench would have been related in glittering terms.
My point is that the LO’s perception of the limerent and the perceived social status of the limerent play a huge role in how this behavior is described. An unattractive person, for example, is much more likely to be written off as an undesired stalker, and thus much more likely to follow the red trail in the flow chart. People will tolerate eccentric limerent behavior from people who are rich, attractive, or have otherwise high status. Even in my case, being half The Chief’s age could have worked in my favor. The problem with this mindset is that “mental illness” becomes very subjectively defined, and those with pre-existing social disadvantages are much more likely to end up “distressed” by their limerent experiences.
I don’t think limerence is a mental illness, as it can lead to successful relationships if the feelings are mutual (and marriage and children, etc). I think there are two problematic aspects to limerence, however, which need to be acknowledged. Perhaps other people can think of more? But these two stand out for me.
(1) The first problematic aspect to limerence is its involuntary nature. (The sufferer can’t get relief even when they want to. This is a very distressing situation to find oneself in, as other posters can attest).
(2) The second problematic aspect to limerence is it encourages limerents to “read into things”. I believe Simone de Beauvoir wrote that romantic love turns us all into paranoiacs, and maybe this aspect of limerence (overinterpreting LO’s behaviour for positive signs of reciprocal emotion) is what she is referring to. Dorothy Tennov herself acknowledged that love is the “most projective” of emotions. In short, if a limerent IS projecting romantic feelings onto someone who’s 100% not interested, that’s a huge and very embarrassing blunder.
Limerence makes it hard to separate our own feelings from the feelings of the love object. We want so badly to believe our feelings are returned sometimes we find evidence in the other person’s actions that just isn’t there.
I agree all sorts of factors influence social acceptance of limerence. I shudder to think how many great novels and poems would not exist if there weren’t some people out there willing to tolerate the limerence of the artists who wrote those great novels and poems. We wouldn’t have any literature! But society might tolerate certain traits in great artists they wouldn’t tolerate in lesser mortals.
@Sammy I think the biggest problematic aspect of it is the fact that limerents are unable to acknowledge the flaws of the partner or the larger situation. When I was dating my Evil Ex, I recall looking at him one day and thinking to myself, “I’m in love with you, but I don’t think I like you.” He was petty, vengeful, selfish, inconsiderate, narcissistic, and a host of other horrible things, and yet I couldn’t peel myself away from him, even when he broke promises and treated me very badly. He offered a lot of intermittent reinforcement, so it was very difficult to quit the habit of pleasing him. In situations that involve infidelity, limerence numbs people to the destruction that they cause to their relationships and families when they “follow their bliss.” These two factors combined can land people in some very sad situations. I have a limerence-prone friend who disclosed and disclosed, never believing that “no” was the real answer, and ended up with a restraining order against her. If any aspect of limerence constitutes “illness” it has to be the impairment of judgment.
@GreenEyedMonster. Yes, I can definitely see what you mean. Becoming addicted to someone who has lousy character overall – oh gosh, how can that not end badly and also be a thoroughly miserable experience?
I hope your limerence-prone friend is doing better now and feeling okay. She must have been in a very, very confused state and deeply addicted to her LO for things to spin out of control in that unfortunate fashion. I agree with you – impaired judgement is a biggie. I think it’s come up before in discussions here on the potential merits of “following one’s bliss”.
I think prevention is better than cure regarding limerence. It would be nice to have been taught about the dangers of limerence when young. I grew up in a religious environment and we WERE warned about the dangers of “fantasising” about people, but I never understood this advice, nor linked it to the onset of limerence. (Were they talking about lust or limerence?)
I thought they (the church leaders) were talking about avoiding dirty pictures or something! Hahaha! Now I can see the wisdom in the anti-fantasy stance. Though it could have been explained a heck of a lot better…
My friend eventually came to the conclusion that her LO wasn’t a nice person, but she had to be treated badly by her first. She fell into a trap that I’ve fallen into before — the idea that the LO wanted to be with her, but that she was holding back because of some kind of social restriction. There really wasn’t any uncertainty in the situation, but she was creating it in her imagination. I’m guilty of doing that at least once. For my part, I don’t tend to be delusional that LOs like me — I tend to go the other way and imagine that they hate me, even though in hindsight at least one liked me back. That doesn’t stop me from desperately craving certainty, however, and a hard “no” becomes necessary at some point to snap me out of my reverie. One strategy I’ve tried with limited success is to disclose as early as is reasonable and deal with the consequences. As long as the LO doesn’t send mixed signals after that, it usually nips it in the bud. But as Dr. L has said, that approach is best with people who are single and available.
Here’s a possible fruitful line of inquiry: what distinguishes a limerent “crush” from an ordinary “crush”? What aspects of limerence are unique to limerence and what aspects overlap? I know, for example, idealisation can be a feature of BOTH limerence and non-limerent “romantic love”. I.e. psychology textbooks suggest most people idealise their partners in the early stages of a new relationship.
A limerent crush doesn’t go away…..
Yup, exactly. 😉
The intensity keeps building and building. I guess a garden-variety crush fizzles out pretty quickly – comes with a very brief shelf-life? 😛
“A limerent crush doesn’t go away…..”
I know this is an old discussion. But I guess we could also say … limerence is a sustained state of alertness in the aim of achieving a specific goal (reciprocated desire/affection from LO) and it’s almost like that sustained state of alertness won’t go away until we achieve that goal (consummation, pair bonding).
Of course, the goal can’t always be achieved – LO may not be interested or limerent may not wish to go down limerent cat-and-mouse road for various reasons.
I’ve just realised this – it was almost as if my body/mind wouldn’t let me relax (move out of that sustained state of alertness) until I had achieved my limerent objective. Maybe this is what non-limerents fail to understand about limerence? The sustained state of alertness, the hyper-arousal of the sympathetic nervous system, just doesn’t go away of its own accord.
Maybe one solution in the future could involve virtual reality? What if scientists could trick the human brain into believing that the limerent goal has already been attained, even though it hasn’t, and this would then lead to an end to the heightened state of angst (i.e. suffering) in the limerent?
I mean, our brains supposedly don’t know the difference between reality and non-reality sometimes. If the brain could be tricked into believing it has achieved its goal, the brain would then tell the body to relax, and the emotions to settle down. The limerent could then go back to enjoying everyday life, hanging out with friends, gardening, cooking, etc, etc.
Of course, I am only proposing this fantastical futuristic solution for limerents who miss being able to relax and whose limerent objects are totally uninterested/non-reciprocating, but disclosure and rejection has failed for whatever reason to shut down the whole process of longing. 😛
Crush vs early relationship vs limerence huh….
Crush -> agree with Jaideaux! i.e. Short lived, less intense, not obsessive, no addiction
Early relationship -> clearly reciprocated, less uncertainty, not as obsessive, happy, self esteem boosted. Feels very similar to limerence to me, even when it does not stem from an LE i.e. idealisation, lots of ruminating, euphoric.
Limerence -> Uncertainty / barriers, more obsessive & addictive, mix of euphoria and misery.
I think that crushes are more likely to fizzle when not reciprocated, and go away when the person turns out to have bad character or is taken. They don’t result in paralytic shyness. They don’t feed off uncertainty.
There was a discussion of this very topic in the comments to https://livingwithlimerence.com/do-they-like-me-too/
IMO, there’s a distinct difference.
‘That failure could… come from the limerent having an attachment disorder meaning the bond never stabilises… so uncertainty is a constant feature of their relationships…’
The paraphrased passage above really grabbed my attention. Though I’ve chosen a few dodgy LOs in my time, my own behaviour is often not great. I do struggle with relationships and so even where LO is available and willing, the ecstasy of forming that bond, solidly dating etc. sadly unravels as my LE evaporates and ‘issues’ kick in… often leaving me in the weird position of being the one who backed out of the new relationship, and objectively knowing why, but feeling a prolonged period of disproportionate grief inflamed by the resumption of my (at this stage roundly unwelcome) LE.
Until spotting this idea in this post I didn’t think it had been mentioned. But yes, being a limerent who sucks at relationships…
I’ve been through LE in the past and I thought it was obssesive-compulsive disorder, my previous LE was back in January-June 2018, now I’m again in a LE since september, I found the term and immediately I realized that was my case, I thought that knowing what is my condition I could control it, but hell no, it’s attacking me very hard leading me into desperation, since my LO is one of my closest friends, I’m currently into therapy but I want to know some advices from people that have been through this situation.
You could disclose your feelings. I’m not sure what the situation is with your friend. Are you single? Is the friend? Could the feelings be mutual?
Or you could go No Contact. That has been the best course of action for me in slowly getting over the LE. No in-person contact, no email, no texts, no phone calls, no checking on him on social media, no asking about him through mutual acquaintances. If you consider limerence like an addiction, you can’t get over the addiction if you keep drinking. At least I couldn’t.
I’m thinking about telling her my feelings to her, but I don’t think it’s mutual, she’s very nice nice to me and we always have a great time when we are hanging out with friends, from a previous LE with other person I can confirm (from my side) that we can keep in contact without being obsessed with the idea of a relationship with the LO, what keeps me in this situation is the hope of being with her, once this hope is gone I feel better, I believe I just need to kill that hope talking to her (even if she doesn’t see herself with me).
Wish me luck 😀
I do wish you luck! 🙂
“..from a previous LE with other person I can confirm (from my side) that we can keep in contact without being obsessed with the idea of a relationship with the LO …”
That is good you were able to do that. I never managed that. I always felt like it was personal failure and very pointed rejection if the person didn’t want to be with me. Or, worse yet, only wanted part-time, gobbledygook. I think being wanted part-time is worse than not being wanted at all. I was able to be on friendly terms with one LO months after the sting of him saying no. Many months had passed and I was over it. (I think my LEs were shorter when I was younger because there seemed to be a revolving door of other possibilities. 🙂 But he and I weren’t hanging out as friends.
Limerent Emeritus says
Disclosure can be used in an attempt to kill an LE but it’s not guaranteed and can backfire on you.
Have you read:
I went the disclosure route and it worked… eventually. It took awhile to play out and things got a whole lot worse before they got better. In the end, I panicked with LO #4 and hurt her feelings and/or pissed her off and she threw the flag.
Tomorrow, it will be 6 years since we said goodbye.
“Or, worse yet, only wanted part-time, gobbledygook. I think being wanted part-time is worse than not being wanted at all.”
Hm, yes. Agree with you here. Because of the intensity of limerent feelings, no limerent wants to be seen as “only an option” by LO. We want to be seen as a “priority” by LO, because LO is of course a “priority” to/for us, and not merely an option, or “one of many possible loves”. 😉
“Hm, yes. Agree with you here. Because of the intensity of limerent feelings, no limerent wants to be seen as “only an option” by LO. We want to be seen as a “priority” by LO, because LO is of course a “priority” to/for us, and not merely an option, or “one of many possible loves”. 😉”
I have mixed feelings about a limerent ending up with another limerent. I mean, mutual limerence is the ultimate dream. Anything less feels like you’ve been cheated. But only a limerent knows the limitations of another limerent. If things actually last past the LE, one or both of you is going to end up becoming limerent for someone else, and who wants to be with someone who’s ruminating over someone else for years on end (and possibly not even telling you about it so you don’t even know)?
“I have mixed feelings about a limerent ending up with another limerent. I mean, mutual limerence is the ultimate dream. Anything less feels like you’ve been cheated. But only a limerent knows the limitations of another limerent.”
Hm. Now there’s an interesting view. And there’s nothing I like better than interesting views. 😛
In some ways, it might be better for the limerent to end up with a non-limerent partner, because the non-limerent partner won’t be disillusioned on such an epic scale. That is to say, the gap between what the non-limerent feels early on in the interaction and what the non-limerent feels later on in the interaction won’t be so vast. The “high” they have to come off of is less steep, making for a much smoother landing.
Maybe limerence and realism aren’t such great bedfellows? The non-limerent would likely be the more realistic spouse is a limerent-non-limerent pair-bond and could be a steadying influence, provided they truly love and respect their partner. 😛
“If things actually last past the LE, one or both of you is going to end up becoming limerent for someone else, and who wants to be with someone who’s ruminating over someone else for years on end (and possibly not even telling you about it so you don’t even know)?”
Yes, it would be painful to realise one’s partner has become limerent for someone else, and is really struggling with intrusive thoughts – intrusive thought they may not wish to confide in anyone. It would feel like a betrayal, and all the more so if he/she once shared those feelings of ecstasy with you, and you thought that was something special just between the two of you, the very essence of your bond.
On the other hand, having had intrusive thoughts myself, and knowing about the involuntary nature of obsession, would probably inspire empathy in me for my lovesick spouse, even if I was no longer the lucky sole recipient of said lovesickness.
In an odd way, I don’t think I’d be offended. I’d probably respond with an almost scientific detachment: “Where are you today, honey, on the limerent see-saw? Blink once for ecstasy and blink twice for despair. Despair? Oh dear. Let me just give you some space to ruminate… Maybe you can ruminate your way out of your less-than-sunny mood while taking out the garbage for me?” 😉
When I was 17, I had an extremely rose-coloured view of marriage, because I wrongly assumed all marriages occur between two people who are mutually limerent for each other, and just drowning in bliss. I also assumed that the ecstasy lasts forever, so they would be no question of one or both parties falling in love with someone else.
It’s kind of awful growing up/growing older – one sees all of one’s most cherished illusions and delightfully naive daydreams shattered by cold, hard reality. But pretty much every cultural depiction I saw as a teen of love and marriage reinforced my naive views. Or at least they didn’t outright contradict my naive views. Marriage, to me, was synonymous with romantic love, and vice versa. 😉
Time has a sobering effect on the emotions. Someone who get married, for example, for the first time at the age of 38 is going to bring totally different personal and cultural assumptions to the table about romantic love than someone who marries at, say, 20 or 22 or 25. Early marriage might be a good thing for society because fertile young people can make mistakes before they realise they’re making mistakes. Over-optimism is not a bad thing from an evolutionary standpoints. Over-optimism perpetuates the species very efficiently. 😉
If you’re like me, and err on the side of caution, (cough, cough, suspected avoidant here), you simply end up single forever, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But it is not necessarily a good thing, either, and certainly not good for everyone. The first time limerence happens between two singles – I’m betting the singles assume that it will last forever. There is no real awareness as of yet of limerence’s impermanent nature. What a bitter pill lays in store for our lovers!
My female classmates in high school once asked a (female) teacher how long should one date before marrying. This teacher, who was probably in her early twenties, thought two years a suitable period. I suppose a two-year courtship period is as reasonable as any. Maybe a pair of fellow limerents should wait four years before tying the knot, though, just to be on the safe side, in terms of establishing true compatibility apart from unsettled brain chemicals? 😛
“In an odd way, I don’t think I’d be offended. I’d probably respond with an almost scientific detachment: “Where are you today, honey, on the limerent see-saw? ”
I could not imagine doing that. I have to be frank: If I found out that I had been servicing someone sexually for months or, God forbid, years (because not all sexual acts actually do much for women 🙂 and he was limerent for someone else the whole time …. I can’t even imagine a more disgusting feeling.
“When I was 17, I had an extremely rose-coloured view of marriage, because I wrongly assumed all marriages occur between two people who are mutually limerent for each other, and just drowning in bliss.”
I thought that, too. I just thought maybe I was unlucky, that everyone else had their mutual limerent experience and I was missing out. Boy, was I wrong. 🙂
” I suppose a two-year courtship period is as reasonable as any.”
Does limerence really last for two years? The sounds really long. When are you starting the clock? It would think after uncertainty and barriers are removed .. maybe you’ve got a few months.
“I can’t even imagine a more disgusting feeling.”
Well, Tennov reported instances of female limerents who ended up weeping after being physically intimate with a male partner, and realising he didn’t reciprocate the limerent feelings…
I don’t want to make any comments not suitable for a general audience. However, your insights are very interesting. Now might be a great time to revisit emotional differences between the sexes? You’ve convinced me men and women are different, after all! I think I was wrong in suggesting elsewhere that there are no great psychological differences between men and women, and desire is the only thing people need to worry about. I stand corrected. 😛
One of my great blind spots in life, as a man who is attracted to men, and who has limited my personal life to men, is I don’t really understand the strength of women’s emotions on certain subjects. I don’t understand how DEEPLY women feel about certain things…
Perhaps I’m completely blind to the erotic dance that takes place between men and women, and certainly blind to that erotic dance from the point of view of the woman? Certain assumptions I’ve made about life must be inaccurate because I’m unlikely to be a beneficiary of female emotional insights (apart from what I can pick up in books. Thank you, Germaine Greer). In some ways, I’m actually at a disadvantage compared to men who have wives/girlfriends, assuming said men actually listen to their wives/girlfriends. 😉
I think men, straight and gay, find it easier to compartmentalise things than women do. I think gay men, because they don’t have that softening feminine influence, may carry this stereotypical male trait to an extreme. Maybe even an unhealthy extreme.
I’m going to tread lightly out of respect for Dr. L and blog readers. Let’s just say the picture you paint of sexuality … it is just miles away from my own life and experiences, but in a few words you’ve given me a tiny little glimpse of how straight people actually think. And I feel tremendous respect for the way you guys and girls think. That is to say, I understand sex is a subject that should perhaps be approached with greater reverence. Some things really are sacred. A world in which nothing is held sacred is not worth living in. 😛
More on masculine emotions. I’m emotional, for sure, but I have an on/off switch where emotions are concerned, and my ability to detach from my emotions at the drop of a hat must be aggravating to the opposite sex. Perhaps it’s even annoying to other men? Still, I guess such a skill would be valuable in a crisis. It’s not that I don’t have strong emotions; it’s that I find it quite easy to contain them. Maybe that’s another way of saying I find it easy to ignore my emotions, and deny their importance until it’s too late? 🤔
My younger sister was sobbing in the pool the other day, for instance, and I was with her. She was upset about memories of being bullied by her obnoxious male supervisor at work. She apologised for crying. I gave her a little hug (she signalled that she was receptive to some physical affection) and said I don’t care if she cries as long as she’s okay. Also, I noted that the pool is saltwater anyway, so she’s not going to affect the PH levels. Typical insensitive male comment. But she knows me and she found it funny, even though she continued to cry. (Typical female response, no? Women continue to cry even when they’re feeling better!) 😉
I felt awkward being in the presence of someone who was emotional. But I also felt really happy that my sister felt comfortable enough to show her emotions around me. 👍
Fun fact about tears: apparently one reason women might cry easier than men do, apart from cultural conditioning, is women have shallower tear ducts that fill up quicker. Apparently, men have deeper tear ducts, so something has to be a big deal to get them to overflow. A man might be upset about something, or sad, but that won’t be immediately evident from his facial expressions.
In understanding women, I actually rely heavily on the feminine side of my own personality. However, my femininity is different from the femininity of actual women, and that’s where I get in trouble. I arrogantly assume I understand something (femininity) I only partially or imperfectly understand. My intuition functions at suboptimal levels. I’m not cross-checking my insights often enough with actual women to ensure the accuracy of my insights. 😉
“I thought that, too. I just thought maybe I was unlucky, that everyone else had their mutual limerent experience and I was missing out. Boy, was I wrong. 🙂”
I certainly felt enormous envy towards schoolfriends who married young. I assumed they were incredibly happy, and I was blind to any problems or struggles or disappointments in their lives/ relationships. I thought I was missing out on some big party. 😛
I’ve assumed at times that the women in my life were being really mean. Now I understand they weren’t being mean. Well, the majority of them weren’t being mean. They were just being emotional in a way I wasn’t ready yet to understand. 😉
I didn’t realise some straight men were getting along better with women than me, not because of the sex thing, but because certain straight men were doing a better job than me of consistently tuning into female emotions. A small percentage of men naturally get women’s emotions. But it might just be a maturity thing, as well…
“Does limerence really last for two years? The sounds really long. When are you starting the clock? It would think after uncertainty and barriers are removed .. maybe you’ve got a few months.”
That’s a really great question. Once reciprocation has occurred, how long does limerence last? Do we count the glimmer and uncertainty as part of the limerent episode? Should there still be two years of uncertainly after commitment? Does seem a bit weird. Like you’ve got a husband and wife who don’t really trust each other, and are still playing silly mind-games. Hardly the foundation for a strong marriage one would think. 🤔
I think what this teacher meant was the two years is long enough to get to know somebody well enough to choose to marry them.
“Well, Tennov reported instances of female limerents who ended up weeping after being physically intimate with a male partner, and realising he didn’t reciprocate the limerent feelings…”
I wasn’t talking about that scenario. I have been well aware that I have felt stronger for my LOs than they have for me. I remember one who was an FWB, and he would ramble on about some other woman he’d previously been in love with. Always after we had sex. Those were beautiful moments. 🙂 I was talking about two limerents who get together, you get married (or at least enter a long-term partnership)… ten years down the road, the limerence is now over. And then you find out he’s been limerent for someone else for two of those years. TWO years that you’ve been putting on your little outfits and trying to keep things interesting and doing things physically to him that don’t do anything for you … and he’s been completely checked on and focused on someone else. You know that scene in the movie “Silkwood” that Meryl Streep, after working in a nuclear plant, gets contaminated and has to be scoured down by people in hazmat suits to get decontaminated? That’s what I’d feel like I needed to do.
“I think I was wrong in suggesting elsewhere that there are no great psychological differences between men and women …”
You think? 🙂 Of course, I’m talking about how I would feel. This is not a treatise on how all women feel. Maybe ten years in, I would be kind of bored with the sex and ok if he was getting the oven heated up elsewhere but finishing the baking at home? Less work for me 🙂 Idk
“I think men, straight and gay, find it easier to compartmentalise things than women do.”
That’s an interesting, if somewhat disturbing, point of view.
” I think gay men, because they don’t have that softening feminine influence, may carry this stereotypical male trait to an extreme. ”
My gay male friend in my 20s gave me insight into how guys think. There’s this idea that gay men think like women. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Of course, I am basing that on one person. But in terms of sex, he thought like a guy. Some of those insights were maybe things I could have been happy not ever knowing. 🙂
“More on masculine emotions. I’m emotional, for sure, but I have an on/off switch where emotions are concerned, and my ability to detach from my emotions at the drop of a hat must be aggravating to the opposite sex.”
Is this true of men in general or true of you? I think I can detach in a way that can seem cold to the other person if I’m done with someone. I don’t get emotional over everything and there are many things that other people get emotional over that don’t move me at all. But if something does move me, I feel it pretty deeply.
“My younger sister was sobbing in the pool the other day, for instance, and I was with her. … Also, I noted that the pool is saltwater anyway, so she’s not going to affect the PH levels. ”
I mean, I guess if she knows you and knows your humor. But if I didn’t know you super well, I’d either think that comment was to try to lighten the mood or shut me down because you were uncomfortable with my display of emotion. I don’t know about your sister, but I don’t dump heavy emotion on just anyone. I have had some family members and friends who I stopped showing emotion in front of because they were not capable of really showing up.
“I certainly felt enormous envy towards schoolfriends who married young. I assumed they were incredibly happy, and I was blind to any problems or struggles or disappointments in their lives/ relationships. I thought I was missing out on some big party.”
Yes. And not even getting married young. Just married or seriously coupled up in general. I thought everyone had been mutually limerent. And then you find out a lot of people are together for very practical or circumstantial reasons.
“I’ve assumed at times that the women in my life were being really mean. Now I understand they weren’t being mean. Well, the majority of them weren’t being mean. They were just being emotional in a way I wasn’t ready yet to understand. 😉”
I’m not sure what you mean by that.
“A small percentage of men naturally get women’s emotions.”
Do they? 🙂 I’m begin sarcastic.
“I think what this teacher meant was the two years is long enough to get to know somebody well enough to choose to marry them.”
I think it takes a good two years to really know someone. And if you are limerent, do you start the clock after the limerence ends? Because you can’t really see them for who they are (or show who you are) until the limerence is over.
This all sounds correct.
I think the mental illness side of the debate gets more focus because people don’t care about limerence when everything is going well. They only care when they are suffering from unrequited love. Other forms of mental illness can also cause unrequited love to be more painful and last longer.
That suffering can also be billed to insurance if it is described as a mental illness.
Limerent Emeritus says
But, it won’t get treated under “Limerence.”
Limerence is not listed in any of the DSMs (some of the older DSMs have appendices for proposed disorders that were never formally adopted).
This article says “Treatment approaches for this case were adapted from those used for anxiety disorders such as OCD.
However, limerence is in many ways distinct from OCD. While most with OCD have little ability to tolerate uncertainty, for BW, uncertainty was a driving force of the limerence…
Additionally, a standard diagnosis of limerence does not yet exist, as it does not appear in the DSM-V. Finally, assessments of both the behavioral and cognitive symptoms of limerence were self-reported by BW and therefore subject to reporting bias and possible placebo effect.” – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8641115/#:~:text=Additionally%2C%20a%20standard%20diagnosis%20of,bias%20and%20possible%20placebo%20effect.
That implies therapists are quite possibly treating the wrong disorder. Personally, I’m a fan of Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559325/), especially as described by Martin Kantor; and Self-Defeating Personality Disorder (aka Masochistic Personality Disorder). (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freud-fluoxetine/201903/masochistic-personality-disorder-time-include-in-dsm). LO #2 could have fallen under either of those.
One therapist told me that insurance companies prefer the most specific diagnosis the therapist is willing to provide. None of the therapists I talked to knew anything about AvPD and SDPD. Another told me that they’re reluctant to code someone as a Borderline, Narcissist, or Anti-social even when they think they are. Cluster Bs can get mean and diagnostic codes can follow someone a long time if they’ve been reported to an insurance company.