When in the grip of limerence, all other concerns fade into the background. LO becomes the centre of your mental world. Ironically, the impact of this phenomenon can be most obvious after limerence has passed, and you are free to look back on the period of madness once normal service has been resumed in your psychological schedule. It can seem bizarre that you were so transported from your ordinary mind; embarrassing to recall how you behaved and how far from your previous moral framework you strayed while following your LO will-o’-the-wisp into the marshlands. Sometimes, it goes beyond embarrassment to deep regret. A case study in Tennov’s book illustrates this better than a thousand carefully chosen words:
“I remember the summer that Amelia turned three. She was an adorable child. Everyone commented. I was sitting on the porch. I had just received Jeremy’s farewell letter and was miserable over the rejection. For some reason I remember that Amelia tried to get up on my lap. She wanted me to read her a story. The painful part of the memory is that I turned her away and preferred to sit alone thinking of that horrible man than to care for and enjoy my little girl. How I wish I could get those days back again.”
I’ve written before about how the pattern of limerence fits nicely into a model of positive reinforcement of pleasure, based on an intermittent reward schedule. The neurophysiology of reward is well understood, and a fundamental aspect of how the brain works. You can’t get around this one. You can certainly overwrite previous positive associations with new “instructions” to break the connection between LO and pleasure, but this takes time, and you cannot remove your capacity to link rewarding stimuli with pleasure-seeking behaviour. In fact, it’s a good job you can’t, as it is the basis of most learned behaviour. You need that reward circuitry, and so the challenge for limerents is to try and either reprogram it once it has become detrimental to wellbeing, or to be wary enough to prevent the cycle establishing in the first place.
Pleasure seeking is well understood, but so is the danger of a transition occurring from pleasure to addiction and dependency. I think framing limerence as person addiction has great explanatory power. Although the mechanistic basis of addiction is still unclear, for substance abuse the transition is associated with a change from positive reinforcement to negative reinforcement (i.e. “the drugs make me feel good” changes to “without the drugs, I feel terrible”). This pattern is also very commonly experienced in limerence: we go from delighting in the LO’s intoxicating company because it makes us feel more vital and energised, to craving their company and suffering anxiety and obsessive thoughts in their absence. Basically, it gets you on the way up and the way down. Again, this is reflective of a bidirectional link between psychology and physiology that is not easily overcome.
The idea of a one true love is so deeply embedded in our cultural heritage in the West that limerence makes us feel validated and connected to generations of strangers at a profound level – one which transcends time and place. We recognise our own desperate romantic longings in the protagonists of great literature, poetry, songs (and Disney cartoons). Developing limerence makes us see in ourselves the same drives, the same untameable hunger, that has shaped the collective cultural consciousness of our societies over centuries. The sudden recognition of the ideal other, who holds the promise of happily ever after, assures us that it is all of it true, this bedrock of stories with which we have founded our social world. That we belong in it. And that we have found the person that can make our own personal story into an epic myth.
Closely linked in with such romantic notions is the idea of the “rescue fantasy”. This was originally coined as a term by Freud, and related to male patients who “repeatedly fall in love with a woman who is ‘of bad repute sexually’ and ‘to whom another man can claim right of possession’.” [link]
I’m not a religious person, but can understand some of the reasons why religions hold such power. One is the experience of numinousness. Not a commonly used term, so I’ll defer to the OED:
numinous adj. 1 indicating the presence of a divinity. 2 spiritual. 3 awe-inspiring.
I had not heard of the term “numinous” but it makes sense. With LOs #1 & #2, I had the feeling that were it not for some cruel cosmic twist of fate, we could have made the relationships work. These were stories worthy of grand opera.
I never felt any of the LOs were “soulmates.” To me, they were “kindred spirits.” There were things we shared that connected us on an almost subliminal level. To this day, I think LO #2 understood me on a level that no one else ever had or ever will. It was like that woman could look right through me. We didn’t have to talk because we just knew.
It was the way my wife didn’t make me feel that made her different from the others. She loves me for who I am, baggage and all. Not that the baggage didn’t cause problems in my marriage. You often come out of a LE with more baggage than you went in with but you rarely come out with any less. What every you took into one relationship, unless it was specifically dealt with, will follow you right into the next relationship.
As http://www.despair.com so eloquently put it, “Dysfunction – The only consistent feature in all your dissatisfying relationships is you.”
Thanks for that link, Scharnhorst! I’ve been cracking up for the last 10 min…
I have my favorites. LO #4 really liked the site. She and I would sometimes trade Demotivators in our emails. My wife usually finds them too cynical for her tastes.
Tom from Pensacola says
I am a criminal defense attorney (male) and after a very threatening criminal trial where I was defending a very attractive female client where we beat back serious charges we became insanely bonded- a fierce love developed. I did not know what happened to me. I loved it (and still do) but I did not know what the “F” happened to me. Now I know. Have you come across many cases similar to ours (we both suffer from this insane bonding)
I have to say, Tom, all the elements are there. This could almost be a case study!
Physical attraction, uncertainty (as I’m guessing you were focussing on the case rather than your burgeoning feelings), conflict with others (literally), barriers to consummation (I’m guessing attorney-client attractions are an ethical minefield), white knight syndrome (literal rescuing), plus a good dose of bonding through mutual adversity thrown in.
Yes, I think it’s fair to say this is almost a perfect set up for limerence…
Tom from Pensacola says
I don’t think we are ready for a case study yet. I got fired over this relationship and she is still in jail waiting on sentencing on the smaller charge. She was charged with child abuse/ neglect. The stepfather got 35 years. He was the perp. We showed the mom was not home at time of abuse and older kids lied to mom (because step dad threatened to beat mom if they told their mom- something doing frequently) about source of injuries. When mom started to make accusations against stepdad (after a while the lies became unbelievable) he put a gun in her mouth and threatened to kill her if she locked him up. Prep for trial was intense because judge not giving me time to find new witnesses from the child welfare court. Anyway on eve of trial she pled to one count of failing to call police (child neglect) . Any way, She is still in jail and I am unemployed (I got fired cause the jail video caught us hugging and holding hands). But we are still fiercely bonded. My life is upside down but centered with this beautifully insane love for a woman in jail. It’s crazy.
Tom from Pensacola says
Here is more about he case/drama. The facts as described above only were revealed after I got in the case (facts about mom not being home, kids being threatened, step dad putting gun in throat etc.) she sat in jail for 1 1/2 years represented by a loser public defender- an alcoholic allied to continue representing clients. I was also a public defender in the same office. Anyway he did not go shit for her over a year and a half. He even mixed up her name when he came to visit. The judge continued to think she was a perp of the child abuse cause her lawyer did not do shit. She was offered 15 years prison for 3 counts of child neglect or go to trial on the 30 year child abuse charges- with a loser public defender. The judge thinks she is an abuser and wants to send her to prison forever. That night she lay in bed praying that God take her life because she cannot be away from her children for so long. Soon after that prayer, the loser public defender gets a stroke in the court room and gets carried out on a stretcher. I get put on the case and immediately immerse myself in all the details of evidence. I realize that they don’t have any evidence of abuse sufficient to convict (only text message saying I just beat the crap out of the kids) and I find exhonerating evidence in the companion child welfare case. But when I go to court the judge refuses a continuance and orders me to trial without my witnesses on 30 year felonies if she won’t take the 15 (our perception-Judge will never admit to that) the judge was hell bent on getting my client. So over a 4 week period judge nearly ignores other cases and is scheduling us for Wednesday/Monday/ Wednesday /Monday ordering me to trial / reprimanding me for not working harder giving me just a few more days to safe this woman’s life. Mean while I am feverishly getting prosecutor medical records that my investigators chase down and we are feverishly taking depositions of my witnesses (that I finally find from the child welfare case). Finally prosecutor “sees the light” and offers to drop 3 counts of child abuse and / counts of child neglect if she pleads to 1 count of neglect. She is going to take that. But because I knew that the e ol judge would max her out to 5 years, I filed ethics charges against the judge with the appellate division because of the way he refused continuance in face of genuine newly discovered evidence. The appellate division ordered the judge to show cause why he should not be removed from the case. Appellate court still has not issued an opinion. If they remove the evil judge she goes home on probation. If not, she will get 5 years from the evil judge. All proceedings in lower court are “stayed” until appellate division rules. Quite a story, eh. Now you know why I am up at 3AM in the morning obsessing about the woman who has so completely consumed my life.
Tom from Pensacola says
BTW: I filed the ethics complaint at 3 pm on a Friday and got fired at 5 pm. For all those lawyers out there, listen to this: I filed 3 motions to disqualify the judge for taking a position adverse to my client ( essentially becoming a prosecutor) Judge denied all 3. My client (and by now my girlfriend ) is given the plea offer of plea to one count of child neglect. (max punishment is 5 years) She has no prior record so any other judge would give probation- but not this evil judge. So as we are heading into the final trial date where I know she will take the plea, I pull 2 all nighters drafting an Emergency Writ of Prohibition”. During the day, I was in the middle of a drug trafficking trial. But at night I was reading transcripts and typing the motion. I would not have filed that petition if the ordeal had not made me so insanely in love with her.
Wow, Tom. That’s several degrees more intense a bonding experience that most limerents go through – not hard to understand how this has consumed your life.
Wishing you all the best for a good resolution with this, and do take care of yourself.
Dr Limerence:are all Limerence attractions unhealthy ? Everything seems to indicate that. What if the Limerence is mutual. Also, have you come across any articles discussing a couple becoming mutually Limerent after a near survival / rescue ordeal ? Can mutually Limerent couples ever have a lasting, loving relationship ?
I’m definitely in the camp that limerence is NOT always unhealthy, but a common early stage of romantic love for many people (see post on False Love). But, therapeutic fashion seems to be pushing “limerence” towards the pathological end of the spectrum more and more, so to many people limerence is by definition an unhealthy attraction. I disagree, and think that limerence for someone inappropriate is emotionally painful and damaging and disruptive of normal life, but that doesn’t mean the phenomenon itself is unhealthy.
As for long-term love, I definitely think it’s possible, as I was limerent for my wife (and she for me) and it evolved into a stable, loving marriage.
Tom again : I know we are going to have to deal with the “come down” from the whit-knight syndrome on her part and the “rescue of damsel in distress” syndrome on myy part We discuss this often (and from her living situations you know we are purely platonic).
Tom here. Thank you for your blog and your responses. They really helped me understand this powerful attraction that ambushed me. I will be going radio silent until this entire court ordeal is over. Probably 2 months at least.
Tom – You may want to check out The Drama Triangle. Karpman came up with it & has updated/refined it through the years.
Good luck to you both. That’s a sad and scary situation.
Some of the recent blogs and posts got me thinking.
Limerence can explain behavior but it doesn’t excuse it. Being a limerent no more exonerates crappy behavior any more than having a personality disorder does. In that respect, limerence could be considered an adverse pathology.
In other blogs, DrL covers a lot of subjects and tying them together takes work, especially if you’re not already familiar with many of the concepts. Few limerents appear to be.
If you’re non-limerent or the SO of an active limerent, it would be hard to understand why something that should be obvious, isn’t, and even if it is, why is it so hard for them to do something about it?
Why is change so difficult?
The two videos show the depth of what a limerent MIGHT be dealing with. If the shoe fits, trying to fix things without a lot of work, is like “trying to capture smoke (Marion Solomon)”
The first video is pretty short but it’s really good. Pay attention at about 1:00 minute. You can see the pain in Bowlby’s eyes.
The second video (from Vimeo) is by Marion Solomon, MD. I’ve read her articles and have one of her books. Some of the more interesting stuff comes at the 15, 19, & 20ish minute marks. The 19 minute mark introduces the term “substitute gratification” which limerence appears to be a vehicle for. At the 20 minute mark, Solomon talks about a cosmic connection, the “numinous” nature of limerence DrL speaks of above. Her works are now considered somewhat “old school” in light of advances over the last few years but she’s really good. Another of her gems is that when individuals or couples enter therapy, the goal isn’t to effect real change, the goal is to become comfortable in their current pathology (e.g., a married limerent might enter therapy to remove the anxiety of the cognitive dissonance associated with betraying their partner).
As Dr. L says, “Put all of these factors together, and that there is some significant psychological heft.” DrL says that he’s not a professional in this arena but Bowlby and Solomon are. They corroborate what you read here.
Again, limerence doesn’t excuse the behavior but understanding what someone may be dealing with might help both limerents and suffering LOs make more informed decisions.
Here is the Bowlby video I meant to link:
“Again, limerence doesn’t excuse the behavior but understanding what someone may be dealing with might help both limerents and suffering LOs make more informed decisions.”
Do you mean LO’s, SO’s or both?
Sorry, I meant SOs.
Hi. So I only recently came across the term limerence and wondered if it described my situation. Starting around 4 years ago I befriended a girl from a youth group I attended. We bonded as friends and enjoyed eachothers company. I also began teaching her to play guitar. We would chat to each other regularly as best friends would and she would confide in me. We would also watch go out together and watch movies etc. We shared many close moments that can be seen as just close friendship however a few months in I found myself becoming quite fond of her. It so happened that she asked me out for coffee one day and couldnt make it. I found she was in hospital and I went to visit her. I comforted her, held her hand and kissed her on her cheek (she leaned in closer so I could kiss her), told her she will be okay. The next morning she sent heart and kiss emoticons via text and I was pretty sure she felt the same. I also found out from a cousin that this friend of mine had asked her,”how do you know if you like boy?” And mentioned me coming to visit her. I had wanted to wait until after her exams to tell her how I felt but it became a bit difficult as I am normally open with my feelings and so I told her over text. She ignored my message. I found it strange and was scared that I may have ruined our friendship. She told me a few days later that now is not the greatest time and she was not expecting me to tell her anything like that. (She also suffers from depression and anxiety)… fast forward a weeks and she asked me out for coffee, she tells me that she likes me but shes not sure if always will as she is still finding herself. I said okay lets take it slow and continue to be friends and see where it goes. She came back a month later after ignoring me for a while (exams) saying that she doesn’t feel anything more for me than friendship and she tried to like me but couldn’t…I was a little perplexed and tried accept it but something inside me was confused. The next day I tried to talk to her about it asking her if we could give it a chance and we hadnt really even gone on a date or anything. She became angry and we eventually stopped speaking to me. This sort of thing has continued for the last few years. An on and off friendship that is very close and intimate, in the sense that we connect emotionally and mentally however she denies any romantic attraction. She has also revealed that she has always thought she would end up with another female. This was difficult to accept but something that is beyond a person’s control and I would genuinely want to see her happy with someone she is attracted to. What confused me even more was a situation earlier on new years eve 2017. She spent the day at my place and we played guitar, playstation, enjoyed eachothers company as usual, around midnight we went down to the beach with my immediate family (who she is very close to). She and I stood in the waves together holding hands. Later she told me that she’s happy and I told her im happy that she is happy (sounds super cheesy). She stayed at my place up until 3 or 4 am the next day, we were about to leave to drop her off at home, she requested that no one else come along because she needed to speak to me. She asked me to drive so I did, going back to the beach, where she explained that she always thought she would end up with a girl but was now thinking she may be attracted to guys as well. She came across a Buddhist quote that read “the one you’re meant for is the one you feel at peace with”, I completed the quote with her telling her I feel the same. I had told her I love her last year and that I have known it since the day at the hospital (she had been unable to reciprocate saying she could not feel attraction for a male and blocked me). She told me she was still confused, and so I told her to take some time to think about it and no matter what happens I will always be her friend. She came back a week later saying she did research, spoke to a few people and decided everything she wants can be achieved through friendship and that we are best as friends. I initially accepted what she said but felt incredibly hard done by and had to ask, how could know without giving it a try? She said that she required clarity and that was what she was going to seek from a relationship and now that she has it we dont need to try. At this point I was feeling like an experiment to her, which hurt because I regarded her as one of my closest friends. It ended in a fight and me telling her that she was selfish and should have thought about it more before telling me something like that, she in turn told me I was playing a victim and turning her into a villain. We stopped speaking again until May this year. Her mother reached out to me to mention she had left campus and was extremely depressed and that she could use a friend. I am the kind of person that always tries to help people and I did try to reach out to her (in my mind telling myself I will never entertain any romantic thoughts with her again). We rebuilt the friendship, I found out she is bipolar and I told myself that is probably the reason she acted as she did on new years eve. We became very close again, spending time at eachothers place, confiding in each other and spending plenty of alone time together. I was incredibly weary of feeling any romantic feelings and though they came knocking on the door I never acted on any. There were plenty of times that blurred the lines between friendship and romance for me such as roadtrips to the beach, standing in the waves holding hands, play fights at home, me holding her, comforting her, wiping away tears in bed when she had run away from her home and I had picked her up. I had started seeing a therapist about working through my feelings so that I could make better decisions, and to find the root of my attachment as I am very attached to her and care for her deeply. I have also experienced depression recently and she was a source of comfort.
Thanks for sharing your story. My immediate impression is that it certainly contains all the elements that classically cause limerence – you are romantically attached to LO, have become very emotionally intimate with her and had some reciprocation, but there are bucket loads of uncertainty from her flip-flopping behaviour. All of this (coupled with some strong hints of “white knight syndrome” on your part) adds up to perfect conditions for limerence.
All that said, I would also say that your LO does sound as though she has been as honest with you as she can. From your words she sounds to be very confused about what she wants from a relationship and is clearly craving the comfort and emotional support that you provide, but she cannot seem to integrate that into a romantic framework in her mind. Unfortunately, it may just be that simple – she does not have the same connection in her mind as you: that emotional intimacy is a good foundation for romance. She also sounds, from your description, like a non-limerent.
Using buddist teachings as a way of talking herself into a romantic relationship suggests someone who is not able to develop romantic bonds naturally. The fact that she is also confused about her sexual orientation and how that relates to intimacy is also suggestive of problems with healthy bonding. You might be able to help her work through that confusion, but even if you succeed, it seems likely that she still won’t feel romantically attracted to you at the end. And even if she does decide to “give it a go”, you may find yourself doomed to a life of asymmetric affection and constant anxiety about her true feelings.
Overall, I would suggest that you need to start caring for yourself more. You have held your life in abeyance for a long time in the hope that your LO can figure this out, and sacrificed your own emotional stability and future. Maybe it is time to focus on what kind of life you want to have? Imagine what kind of future you could have if LO was not in it. Start from that premise: LO will never want me romantically. OK. Now what? What life do I pursue now? I have given her a lot, she has given me some back, but now it is time to find a new direction and forge a new life.
I talk a lot on the blog about “purposeful living”, meaning focusing on the things that are within your control, the kind of person you want to be, and the kind of life you want to live. That has been the best strategy I’ve ever found for making sense of my life and the experiences I’ve had and turning the limerent experience into something that can be used to understand myself better. It’s hard to see how it could do harm. If your life was more purposeful, what would it be like?
Good luck, and best wishes.
Hi Dr Limerence
She has been as honest as she can be and I cannot fault her. It has been confusing for me but I suppose that it is mostly my fault for continuing to have hope. As much as I try to tell myself I will be there for her just as a friend there is always some tiny bit of hope that my feelings will be returned. It sickens me because I would have loved to care for her more selflessly. After enough time I have realized that it is not up to me to “save” her. And that continuing to try to be her friend affects us both negatively (although it starts outside quite nicely). A recent event has caused us to stop talking and I have not had the strength to continue the friendship. I miss her dearly but it is probably better this way.
Caring for myself more – is not something I think that comes to me naturally. I have been delving into this issue with a therapist and I have uncovered various childhood wounds that seem to help me understand my behavior and the reason I am so attached to my friend. I am currently in the process of letting go. It is incredibly painful but less painful than the intende rollercoaster ride that was being friends.
I find it somehow disheartening that I cannot be just her friend. It feels like there is something inherently selfish embedded deep within me and I had previously been aware of it. I have tried so hard to overcome it but I just can’t.
Also, she is newly diagnosed with bipolar and SHE NEEDS to learn how to manage it, solo, before starting an intimate relationship. Boundaries are healthy things.
Go read Dr. Karpman’s “drama triangle” work. You both sound a bit stuck. It certainly won’t do any harm to be aware of the dynamics.