Every now and again I receive an email from someone who has become an object of infatuation for someone they didn’t mean to attract. Having come across the concept of limerence they realise that they have become a limerent object.
A recent example was an anonymous person (with a lot of numbers in their gmail address) whose university friend had made an unwanted pass at them. They asked me the following question:
“Why am I so attractive to them?
Once I’d suppressed the urge to snort derisively at their self-regard, I realised that it’s entirely possible that this confusion and embarrassment was, in fact, genuine. Some people do unwittingly attract others, and may not understand what they are doing that is so captivating.
So, assuming the question is sincere – and not just the humblebrag of a narcissist – here are some of the reasons why you might accidentally have bewitched someone into developing a crush on you.
1. You have very high “dating marketplace” value
Let’s get the most flattering possibility out of the way first. You may be dazzling.
Some people are very beautiful, charismatic, accomplished, influential, confident, or witty. Or all of the above. Such people will inevitably attract a lot of attention, and frequently find themselves an object of admiration. It’s not too difficult to guess why someone could become infatuated with such a paragon of human excellence.
However, such demigods are also likely to have a sense of their own appeal. It’s rare that they would sincerely be confused about why someone has developed a crush on them. There are some outliers to be sure – I once knew a woman so intimidatingly beautiful that no-one ever approached her, and so she bizarrely didn’t seem to realise how attractive she was – but one imagines that this is a minority scenario, and there must be a more subtle reason why an infatuation has developed.
2. You are an excellent listener
Most people are self-absorbed. It’s natural, and in fact it takes an unusual degree of self-awareness to put aside the personal concerns that weigh us down, and really pay attention to other people.
If you have the skill to really listen to someone else – to properly hear them, and be interested in their lives, and be motivated to understand them as a unique individual – it is astonishing how much impact it can have.
There is a true intimacy to really listening to someone. Many people go through their lives being talked over, ignored, misunderstood or even treated with disdain or hostility. To have someone really listen to them, to care enough to want to know them, is very psychologically powerful.
If this skill comes naturally to you, it’s possible you may not be aware how potent it is as a mechanism of bonding. It is a gift, and you will learn a lot and give a lot simply by practicing it, but it does also come with the risk that the person you listen to is so affected by your ability to connect that they fall in love with you by accident.
3. You show a lot of interest
Closely related to the listening superpower, is the remarkable potency of exuberant friendliness. As with listening, the majority of our relationships are pretty superficial. Acquaintances can be cordial and positive, without being intimate or energising. When we meet someone who radiates charm, it can be mesmerising.
People who are open, smiley, laugh a lot, use touch to show affection, hold eye contact for longer than average, and are generally gregarious and enthusiastic can be intoxicating company. For people who rarely experience someone showing interest in them, it can be quite overwhelming to feel the warmth of a sunny disposition shining on them. And it can be misconstrued as romantic interest.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that many people use this technique deliberately. What is flirtation, after all, other than an attempt to gauge how open to reciprocation another person is? Going a little beyond the bounds of ordinary friendliness is a way to test whether you can provoke a flirtatious response, to find out if you could seduce them, to see how attractive you are. Some people enjoy the sense of power that comes from stimulating the glimmer in others.
If you behave like this routinely, you are likely to occasionally entrap someone who is not used to the attention. You can claim that they should know better, but flirtation is a delicate dance at the best of times, and many people never learn the skill.
4. You give out mixed signals
Another way that you can unwittingly cause infatuation is to be circumspect about your own true feelings or desires.
There can be many good reasons for not being emotionally honest with someone who shows romantic interest in you. Obvious cases are not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, fear of angering an unstable or unpredictable person, or the fear of revealing secrets about yourself that you don’t want to share. But the risk of being ambiguous about how you feel, is that you can cause a combination of hope and uncertainty in the other person.
Being able to romantically reject someone gracefully is a sophisticated skill. Letting them down gently only works if they are absolutely clear that you are not interested. Comments like: “maybe in another life,” or “I’m seeing someone at the moment and it’s complicated,” or “I really like you but now is not a good time,” are not the same as “no.”
A harsh “no” is pretty painful, though, so some softening is in order, but you need to leave the other person with no uncertainty about how you feel. “I value our friendship, but you aren’t my type, romantically,” is the kind of certainty you are aiming for.
Another common mistake is to be extra friendly afterwards to try and let them know that you really do value their friendship and don’t want to reject them from your life. In actual fact, you’ll just confuse the hell out of them by saying no but then acting just like the people in scenario 3 above.
Give them some space to process the rejection and reconnect when they are ready.
5. They are attracted to guileless affection
Finally, it is worth considering the option that your innocent regard for them as a friend and person is exactly what they find attractive in a romantic partner. Your seeming obliviousness to how appealing you are, your very authenticity in not playing flirtatious games, or wanting something transactional from them, is what is so captivating.
There is not a lot you can do about this. Some people do just fall in love with their friends.
What can be done?
Assuming you don’t enjoy playing with other people’s emotions, the way to reduce the risk of someone developing a crush on you is to be aware of how you broadcast your “romantic self”.
If your default mode is to be flirtatious, try to figure out why. Is it born of insecurity about your true appeal? Is it the only way that you think people would like you? Is it how you have learned to seek attention? Like any habit, it will be hard to break but the first step is to identify what unconscious behaviour you are playing out.
Similarly, if you are a naturally open, attentive, or effusive person, consider the impact this can have on sensitive people.
You don’t need to turn into a cold-hearted and closed-off hermit, but it does pay to take the time to understand where your drives and habits are coming from. Armed with that self-awareness you can engage with the world in a more informed and mindful manner.
I’m not sure how someone would know the other person’s interest had reached the level of infatuation without them saying so. If someone makes an unwanted pass, it can be for a variety of reasons. Infatuation certainly can be one of them … but maybe it’s proximity, convenience, wanting to get some. The motivation can be a lot less sexy than infatuation, if I am interpreting the word “pass” correctly. Even if the friend had asked the email writer on a actual date, it doesn’t necessarily imply the friend is infatuated. There are levels of interest that don’t reach infatuation.
Sorry. You used the word “crush” and not “infatuation.” But they can be similar.
Allie 1 says
“if you are a naturally open, attentive, or effusive person, consider the impact this can have on sensitive people.”
Isn’t this pushing the responsibility for limerence onto likely unwitting and innocent LOs? Maybe this is not what you meant DrL but people should not hold back their openness, friendliness and attentiveness in order to make sure no-one ever fancies them. Connecting deeply with others is something that is increasingly lacking in the world and we all suffer for it. As an introvert, I love hanging out with attentive friendly people as they cut though my shyness… it feels so good to connect. We should all be compassionately mindful of course, and be clear about our boundaries, but please everyone, don’t ever try to be less friendly or less attentive!
Yes limerence is tough (though relatively rare)… but a world where everyone has built walls around themselves is far worse.
You are right about people continuing being open and happy and how that is a good thing. But he is not criticising people or placing any responsibility on people who are happy, friendly or open, he is just saying that that is a characteristic that many people find attractive. Some people are genuinely unaware that other people would be romantically attracted by friendly behaviour and so might be confused as to why they are so attractive. There is nothing wrong with being attractive. There is something wrong if you use your attractiveness to mess with people, but the key here is the intention to mess with people.
As someone who has suffered from limerence and sadly, unwittingly triggered it in others, I really appreciate this article. Having the self awareness to be aware that we might be causing “the glimmer” in others, and responsibly dialing back, or having the fortitude to provide someone a hard “no” rather than leaving them to descend into limerent misery are skills that are rooted in human kindness and empathy. Thanks for the reminders.
Allie 1 says
I absolutely agree with the unequivocal “no” being a kindness.
Personally though, I would not want someone that I have am crushing on to distance themselves from me because of that crush, however kind the intention. I have been on the receiving end of that sort of treatment and it can feel devastating! It increases uncertainty, ramps up painful rumination, and can even cause a degree of paranoia. If I need distance from my crush, I need to be the one to actively choose that, I do not want it chosen for me.
Saying that, I do want want them to fan the flames of my hope either.
Such a narrow line line to walk… its tough being an LO! 🙂
Hi, I can relate to that. My LO started with unusual flattering (non sexual) attention for a woman, then many mixed messages and I often experience rejection. However she craved the attention and we are still communicating a lot on whatsapp. However as tension was building up I made the mistake of sending her an emotional email at night in which I expressed by hurt for taking our friendship for granted. After that she has distanced herself and has indicated she wants loosen the friendship. However we still have a lot of contact on whatsapp and also she is really interested in what I offer in work. The thing is this: I could not handle her self centeredness anymore. I knew I was not strong enough to walk away and so I write this very emotional email accusing her of not putting in enough effort. And the result is that I feel horrible because it feels she is rejecting me again and she is giving up on the friendship. Why could I not just limit my contact with her myself? I feel even more obsessed with her now that I am losing her as a friend (although the friendship was not good for me)…I think partly because as you say it feels SHE is deciding and not me. I feel she is in control and I am out of it. How to regain control and feel like it is my decision?
Limerent Emeritus says
The nicest “good-bye” I ever got was from the woman I made a run at before I met LO #2.
That woman should get paid for giving lessons in the right way to end an acquaintance. I think it was harder for her to say than it was for me to hear. She took me out to the swings in her parents’ back yard, took my hands, and simply said, “I think you’re looking for something more than I’m willing to offer. I’m sure you’ll find someone who’ll give you what you’re looking for. I wish you the best.” She was the only woman that I dated that I actually took onboard a nuclear submarine and she later became an ordained Zen priest. Talk about irony.
I got a letter from her about 6 months later saying she’d been thinking about things and asked if we could reopen the acquaintance. I’d met LO #2 and I never responded to her.
Limerent Emeritus says
As far as I know, I have never been any woman’s crush. No woman had made the first move since HS. But…
LO #2 said that I was “…relentlessly persistent and, at times, you can be irresistibly cute.” – So, maybe some #3. I hated being called cute and told her so. LO #2 said that there was absolutely nothing wrong with cute and that I was David Addison [Bruce Willis – “Moonlighting”] and not Remington Steele [Pierce Brosnan – “Remington Steele] She said that I would never be able to pull off Remington Steele but I was a natural David Addison.
LO #4 asked, “What do I telegraph to you?” not long after we’d started our online correspondence. So, maybe #2. She knew that I was reading her stuff and reading between the lines. What she was saying wasn’t a telegram, it was a Jumbotron. It was “Holy S–t! How can people not see this?” I thought that she’d tell me I was out of line and “Buzz off, creep.” But, she didn’t.
I just realised. People undergoing limerence ideally want to become their LO’s LO. Cause that is the ideal form of reciprocation.
Vicarious Limerent says
I’ve shared this with people on the private forum, but somehow I just want to share this freakish coincidence (and example of worlds colliding) with people on the public blog too — especially those who know my story. This post is probably a good place to share this because it is about someone who likely has a crush on me. And the identity of the person still blows my mind!
Some of you will recall my story with LO #1, where she was a stranger I met in a bar quite some time ago. My brother in-law and her really hit it off, but his interest in her was lukewarm at best. I really liked her at first on his behalf, but after he wouldn’t go for it, I realized I was developing feelings for her myself. I experienced extreme limerence for her characterized by pining away for her and feelings of hopelessness and despair. After about a year, I experienced transference to LO #2, who was quickly becoming a good friend of mine. Still, I often wondered about LO #1 and wondered if I would ever see her again. I am still very fond of her, despite no longer being limerent for her and being in no contact mode for over two years. I thought I may have caught a glimpse of her a couple of times, but I am not sure if it was even her.
To make a long story short, I found out that one of LO #1’s best friends is also a friend of a friend of mine (I recognized her picture and name from some pictures on the bar’s Facebook page where she and LO #1 were together and then saw her on some Facebook posts from my friend). LO #1’s friend is also friends with LO #2 (as far as I am aware, LO #1 and LO #2 do not know each other). I finally met LO #1’s friend back in the summer but I didn’t see her for over seven months. Well, guess who ends up flirting with me several times over the last few weeks? Yep, LO #1’s very good friend! She is married, but I gather rather unhappily so. I don’t want to say too much, but she dropped some pretty big hints to me that she might be interested (like telling me she had an affair with a guy who looks like me). She also danced quite a bit with me and touched me quite a bit. She pays a lot of attention to me on social media and tells me some very personal details about her marital and sex life. She also suggested we could attend some events one-on-one sometime.
Despite my own marriage being on the rocks and having told my wife many times that I want a divorce, I am not going to cheat on her physically while I am still with her (there are many financial, logistical, emotional and family reasons why separation isn’t in the cards for the time being). I especially wouldn’t want to cheat on my wife with a married woman and potentially destroy two families, but I do find LO #1’s friend very attractive and fun. I would be up for something with this lady, but only if both of our marriages ended. I ended up telling her I knew LO #1 (after she started flirting with me), but I did NOT tell her how I felt about LO #1.
More than anything, this all seems so weird and like such a bizarre coincidence. If I believed in fate (which I don’t) I would think this was all some preordained destiny that was mapped out for me in advance. Who ever would have thought such a thing would happen? My mind is completely blown!
Limerent Emeritus says
My buddy attended a community college for 2 years. He was dating a girl and went through a messy breakup. They didn’t keep in contact and lost track of each other.
He transferred to a 4 yr college and started dating a girl. Guess who the roommate of the girl he was dating turned out to be? Yep…
Who says the universe has no sense of humor?
Vicarious Limerent says
It’s a small world for sure! That is an incredible coincidence you mention.
The funny thing with this lady is I knew who she was probably for a year-and-a-half before I even met her. The first time I met her, she and her other friend seemed to name drop LO #1’s name pointedly, but I don’t know if that was my imagination or if they knew my story (they both swore they had met me before but they hadn’t). At first, my curiosity was really just about the possibility of LO #1 coming back into my life (and I do still think about that sometimes), but this lady now gives me glimmery feelings herself, aside from LO #1 (although I don’t think she will become LO #3).
It was all so strange because I didn’t have much of a social life for years, and I hooked up with this current crowd of friends at least partially to get over LO #1. I never thought I would meet someone like LO #2 and experience transference to her, and then possibly come full circle back to have LO #1 come back into my life. But to have this experience with one of LO #1’s best friends just seems so strange, and to get to a situation where she is now friends with both LO #1 and LO #2 also seems very weird.
My LO experience is something like this.
I found my LO, who would become my girlfriend, then friend, and finally LE, and 15 years later LE again, drop dead gorgeous the very first second I saw her. She fancied me too apparently but the dance would take a year or serendipitous occurrences to result in our 2 year dating process. Reality is I did fall in love with her and according to her, she with me.
When we broke up, I would move away and visit my home city. Her boyfriend (and my sort of friend) had also moved away. I came in for 3 days and was sitting in a restaurant some 5km from her house. I don’t know what happened but something kept telling me she’s going to walk in. Lo and behold! She walks in with him (who also had no business being in the city),triggering off all crazy feelings again. That has been our last face to face but her success today and my marital troubles are triggering another LE.
3 years since that day, I had complete NC with her aside of wishing her once more on her birthday.
One afternoon, something told me she had broken up and I remember asking myself why I am thinking about her. Her boyfriend would later visit me at home as we had common friends and were living in the same city. I found it strange but would later discover she had broken up with him around the time I thought of her!
Vicarious Limerent says
@Limerick, I am a fairly rational, logical person. I don’t believe in things like fate or extrasensory perception, but it does seem so strange sometimes how we can have these weird premonitions, doesn’t it? Maybe we do have a sort of “sixth sense” we can’t really identify?
I am rational to a fault as well. My therapist says I use rationality as a defense mechanism. My answer to “What religion you belong to” is “Human” because religion is man-made as per me.
I don’t know what it is. Its surreal.
There are so many instances where I knew beforehand what was going to happen.
I remember that my first job, my first internship, my second job, my third job and my current are all those that I knew the second I heard of them would be places I would be working.
The internship was an experience I will never forget. The company would come to give a talk in our college and I would think I am going to work here. After having a pretty crappy day, I get a call from the firm and I sail through the interview, even arguing with the interviewer. I remember thinking about that feeling about the company talk as I waited for my turn to interview!
Coming back, I still remember feeling that I would date my ex one particular afternoon we spoke. We would go out much later.
The ESP thing is not something I believe in, but have had way too many coincidences
“Being able to romantically reject someone gracefully is a sophisticated skill. Letting them down gently only works if they are absolutely clear that you are not interested … Another common mistake is to be extra friendly afterwards to try and let them know that you really do value their friendship and don’t want to reject them from your life. In actual fact, you’ll just confuse the hell out of them by saying no but then acting just like the people in scenario 3 above.”
Hm, I dunno about this one. In theory, it should be super-easy to tell someone you like them in a strictly platonic sense but harbour no romantic feelings for them, and a relationship is out of the question while an ongoing friendship is most welcome…
How about a rejection that runs along the lines of: “I have no romantic feelings for you whatsoever, and I never will. However, I like you as a friend. I really value you as a friend. I want you to remain in my life as a friend, despite this .. erm … misunderstanding that has arisen between us. And if you need to take an extended break before resuming our strictly platonic friendship, that’s okay.” 🤔
The problem is the limerent is often suffering very deeply at this point in the interaction, and really wants to see hard evidence that LO is suffering too. (Proof of a secret passion which in reality never existed for one party). The limerent likely also resents LO at this point, because LO is not providing the desired level of affection/attention to limerent. The limerent feels so hurt the limerent is probably unwilling to listen to reason. The LO, on the other hand, is baffled and blindsided by the implosion of what they assumed to be a pretty solid, completely straightforward, mutually satisfying friendship. 😲
A young lady had a crush on me once. Actually, I think she developed limerence for me. To this day, I have no idea why she liked me. But I have my theories. Basically, she was an extrovert with an extremely flamboyant personality (an ENFJ/ENFP I think) and I think people always dismissed her as “silly” and “superficial”. She had a conversation with me one day and, unlike most people, I took her ideas seriously and listened to what she had to say. I was a good-looking lad and I treated her as an intellectual equal. I think she fell for me because I validated some aspect of her rather complex nature she wanted seen.
She tried very hard to lure me in with her physical appearance after that, and she was a very beautiful girl. Yes, I did notice her lovely clothes, hair, make-up, etc. I just had no idea she was putting on a show for my benefit. I thought she just liked dressing up for the sheer fun of dressing up. 😜
She dropped subtle hints too that she wanted to spend time with me one-on-one e.g. she asked me whether I had my driver’s license yet. (I think she wanted me to invite her on a long romantic drive to the beach or mountains or whatever). Unfortunately, I missed any hints she was dropping and just responded in a factual manner to any questions. Her approach was basically just too darn subtle.
On the other hand, she was the opposite of subtle when talking about me with other people. Apparently, our entire school knew that she was into me. Even her own parents knew she was into me, and her mother treated me like a potential son-in-law. But the girl never explicitly told me that she liked me, or wanted to go on a date with me, so I assumed that she was just an abnormally friendly person! 😆
I have never been the kind of person to indulge in gossip, or listen to gossip, so I was never really aware of what people were saying about me and this girl behind my back. Sometimes, however, teachers or other students would make sly/knowing remarks and these sly/knowing remarks would always confuse me.
Actually, in hindsight, I feel a tiny bit uneasy about the girl’s behaviour e.g. talking about me behind my back, because I feel like she was “marking her territory”, and warning other females not to come too close to me. And I had no problems with other females coming too close to me! I saw myself as a free agent. However, I don’t believe the girl was ill-intentioned in anything she did. I believe the girl sincerely believed that I liked her as much as she liked me, and the whole situation was just a mildly embarrassing misunderstanding on both sides. 🙄
Apparently, there are some people who hate or dislike their limerent admirers. I don’t feel any animus towards this girl-now-woman whatsoever. I just feel that maybe she got overexcited, “jumped the gun” a little bit, and maybe she should have sat down and had a few more heart-to-hearts with me about what was or wasn’t going on between us. (Answer: absolutely nothing at all, from my side of the fence!) But, like I say, I harbour no ill will toward the young lady whatsoever. Since I wasn’t emotionally invested in her to begin with, how could I possibly be hurt or offended by her infatuation? 😉
So if you’re a straight girl and you’ve ever fallen for a gay boy, please don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s highly unlikely there’s any bad blood! I’m just flattered that she thought I was worth getting dressed up for! Honestly, I become so much more popular among my straight male peers when she started liking me! Oh, and all her female friends started inviting me to their birthday parties, too! 👍😎😁