Limerence, and Are You Addicted to Love?

Limerence is defined as:

(psychology) An involuntary romantic infatuation with another person, especially combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one’s feelings reciprocated.

First coined by Dorothy Tennov (from Wiktionary)

 

As an ex-scientist I love a good definition, and the above is so concise and deliciously objective, that it absolutely delights me, but of course it can’t possibly convey what it’s like to be a limerent. Perhaps poetry can help.

 

BC eyes by Marija Smits

Eyes 1, by Marija Smits

 

Love Blurt

 

You’ve just met the most amazing/gorgeous/incredible man ever,

and believe it or not, as luck would have it, he totally likes you too.

There’s this connection between you, like electricity,

and a something about his eyes and voice and smile that makes you go weak at the knees.

And life is suddenly totally absolutely perfect; you can’t think about anything else

apart from this one man, and you just know that THIS IS IT!

This is totally it, and you’re going to be together forever.

 

And then…

 

you meet one of his friends, and he is so totally amazing/gorgeous/incredible

and there’s this real connection between you, like electricity,

a something about his eyes and voice and smile, the way he seems to really know you,

although you’ve only just met,

and you think Oh shit, I am so totally absolutely screwed,

I am in really big trouble this time…

 

MARIJA SMITS

 

James-Mcavoy-eyes-by-Marija-Smits

Eyes 2, by Marija Smits

 

I actually wrote this poem a few years ago, couldn’t find an immediate publishing home for it, and then forgot all about it. My husband (who’s not a big fan of poetry) said positive things about it (if my memory serves me right). Or maybe he said that it wasn’t like my ‘usual’ poetry – perhaps less contemporary poetry-like – and so that’s why he thought it okay!

 

02-2017-love-and-limerence-by-dorothy-tennov

 

Anyway, a while later I got hold of the excellent book Love and Limerence by Dorothy Tennov, and suddenly realized: this poem is about limerence. And of course I know what limerence is, because I am a limerent. Oh shit, I thought. But also, thank goodness! It explained so much about my life (in rather the same way that finding out that I am a highly-sensitive person did).

Love (and limerence, if you’ve heard of it and know what it is) isn’t something that many people reflect on. Okay, well, many people experience love, but thinking about it, in a dispassionate and analytical way? Nope, there’s not a lot of that going on.

Tennov’s book takes a critical look at the nature of love and this thing called limerence; within the book are many people’s experiences of limerence, and reading some of the limerents’ stories, I couldn’t help but see myself in them. Thank goodness, I wasn’t the only one, I thought. But still: Oh crap.

First, I feel it necessary to say that being a limerent DOES NOT EQUAL being unable to love someone deeply and to stay faithful to them for years, for decades or for a lifetime… (Here is an older, yet relevant, post about long-term love, becoming parents and clear communication.) But sometimes, yes, being a limerent does equal the inability to ‘love commit’ to someone on a long-term basis (I’m sure many of us know couples who have broken up after a short or long while, perhaps because of falling in love/limerence with someone else. It could be argued that serial monogamy is a symptom/outcome of limerence).

But taking personal experiences (and love) out of this, shouldn’t we be more analytical about our emotions and question the whys and whats and hows of love? Some might argue: No, it’s pointless, it has little use. Or no, it destroys the “magic”. Or that emotions can’t be analysed. But my, this limerence thing is powerful stuff, and a peek into its workings can surely only better equip us to understand ourselves and each other better? Sapere aude – dare to know!

So with this in mind, I thought it worthwhile to go through the major categories/stages of relationships (as outlined in Tennov’s book):

 

Readiness for Limerence and Longing

This is the part where a limerent person has not, quite, found the right someone to become limerent for. But oh, the idea of that person! And the longing and the loneliness… and oh how crushing each Valentine’s Day is when that other person still isn’t in our lives. Music helps. Poetry helps. Books help. The pre-teen and teenage years seem to particularly be about this stage.

 

Hope

Tennov defines the person a limerent falls in love with as the “limerent object” (she’s quite right, because often limerence is more about the limerent than the person they are in love with). My poem ‘Love Blurt’ describes transference – when the limerence one feels for one limerent object transfers to another. Transference (to my mind) is evidence that limerence is more about the limerent’s mind/imagination than the actual limerent object.

Our society may label the “the limerent object” as “the one” (a tricksy label, indeed, implying that there is only one right person for each person on earth. Really? In a world full of billions of humans, surely this can’t be right?). Still, the period of hope is when a limerent person finds the other – the limerent object – and every waking thought is given to that person. It is an obsession like no other, and it presents itself as an actual physical pain in the chest. And very often (like in my poem) the voice and eyes and smile of the limerent object communicate volumes, tomes even. And

The objective that you as a limerent pursue, as is clear in the fantasy that occupies virtually your every waking moment, is a “return of feelings”.

Love and Limerence, by Dorothy Tennov p. 57

 

Mutual Limerence

This is the stage in a relationship which is pure and utter bliss. It is the stage in which two people, who are limerent for each other have overcome the barriers to being together and finally are together, completely and wholly, in a romantic, spiritual and sexual sense. It is the part where Romeo and Juliet finally spend a night together. Utter, utter bliss.

But does it last? Like forever and forever? A lifetime? Hell, no! As blissful as the prolonging of this stage would be, one has to be realistic: it would be exhausting to perpetually be in limerence with someone. It fades. It simply has to. But it can transform into:

 

Affectional Bonding

Often this is felt by couples who have passed through the mutual limerence stage and discovered beyond the superficial limerence a deep respect, liking and love for each other. It is a very real and deep meeting of human souls; for to know someone, to really know someone and to see them “spiritually naked” – as it were – to see their pain, their vulnerability, their fears, their desires, and for them to see you spiritually naked too, has got to be one of the most worthwhile and connecting things we humans can do. And many in our society still look at those who have been happily married for decades and decades and decades with wonder and delight and respect.

 

zentangle-heart-by-marija-smits

Zentangle Heart by Marija Smits

 

Non-limerence

Perhaps some of you who are reading this may think I am speaking another language. All this stuff about chest pain and longing and intrusive, obsessive thinking and fantasizing and emotional dependence is utterly… bizarre. So of course I have to point out that there are some who don’t experience limerence. Tennov actually had a “theoretical breakthrough” in her research on romantic love when she had a long and involved discussion with a non-limerent. The idea of the absence of all the stuff that limerents feel led her to understand just what limerence is.

And of course, can you imagine all the awful misunderstandings, muddles, tragedies even when a limerent falls in love with a non-limerent…?

 

***

 

I have a complicated relationship with limerence (!), and I am still thinking and learning and writing about limerence and its consequences. To me, it is a fascinating psychological topic. And if, like me, you are curious/intrigued by love and limerence I can definitely recommend Tennov’s book. In the meantime I hope I have given a good-enough description of what limerence is. It is up to you, though, to sapere aude (dare to know) the answers to these questions: Are you a limerent? and: Are you addicted to love?

 

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Prose for Thought

 

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10 comments on “Limerence, and Are You Addicted to Love?

  1. I think I spent my teenage years in limerence too! What an excellent word – one I haven’t come across before. I love your poem and I really like the fact that you have investigated the different meanings behind it all too. Thank you so much for linking to Prose for Thought x

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    • Marija Smits says:

      I’m sure that many of us spent our teenage years permanently in limerence! And thanks for your kind words about my poem and post. It’s been fun linking up with Prose for Thought. I know that linkys are a lot of hard work so thank you very much for making it happen. M x

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  2. I haven’t felt that intense kind of feeling for a long time. Oh dear that sounds awful, of course I adore my husband, but such strong feelings were the domain of my pre long-term relationship self. The word ‘crush’ really doesn’t cut it, now that I know there is a much better word!

    I hope you are well and thanks again for such a thought provoking post! : ) xx

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    • Marija Smits says:

      I agree, the word ‘crush’ really doesn’t cut it, and I’m very glad too that there is a much better word (and explanation) for what goes on inside some people’s heads (and hearts). And yes, I hear you about the long-term relationship self and the pre long-term relationship self. They can be very different!

      Anyway, I’m glad you found the post useful. All the best. And bring on spring! xx

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  3. maddy@writingbubble says:

    I think I spent most of my teenage years in a perpetual stage of limerence! It was exhausting! I met my husband at the age of 17 and felt that way about him too. Thankfully it transformed over time into some wonderful ‘affectional bonding’. I suspect we have a bit of an obsession with limerence in society – it’s there in all the short-lived marriages and affairs and it’s plastered all over the magazines. It’s terribly exciting after all, and real love in a lasting relationship can be hard work. I’d take good old affectional bonding over limerence though – is much more rewarding over all, and means you can live a proper life rather than just obsessing about someone. Interesting post! xxx

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Exhausting is definitely the right word. And yes, I agree that our society has an obsession with limerence – and I think that in part limerence is responsible for marketing agencies campaigns etc. – knowing how us limerents will happily spend money on *hopefully* gaining the attention of our “limerent object”. But I absolutely agree with you – affectional bonding is wonderful stuff (though, yes, it can be hard work). And not having crazy limerence to deal with definitely frees up one’s energy and time to work on creative projects. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. xxx

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  4. Fascinating. I never realised there were people who *didn’t* feel like this when they fell in love – I thought that’s just what the early, crazy stage of love felt like for everyone.

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Yep, apparently there are plenty of non-limerents out there. (I can think of a few friends who are non-limerent.) And it definitely helps to explain the dynamic of some people’s relationships. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

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  5. This is fascinating. I’ve been familiar with the symptoms of limerence (usually dismissed as crushes) since I was about 13 – and it’s never gone away. One one occasion – and this was before I got arthritis – I literally lost the ability to walk after meeting someone for the first time. I slumped to the ground and couldn’t get up for about five minutes. The actual heart pains, the wild breathing – it’s serious stuff. And it’s lovely to have a proper word for it at last! I’m not asure whether to feel sorry for or envy those who don’t have this.

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    • Marija Smits says:

      So glad you found my post of interest. And it’s true, labelling limerence as merely a ‘crush’ really doesn’t do it justice. The physical and mental reactions to the limerent object are just so intense… and intrusive. And yes, I’m like you, I don’t really know whether to be envious or not of non-limerents, but it’s definitely worth thinking about the pros and cons of limerence. I’m sure Shakespeare had to be a limerent; otherwise how else would he have been able to write – and with such insight – great works such as Romeo and Juliet? Anyway, lots to think about! And thanks for commenting. It helps me to know that there are others who can relate.

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