On Bread and Love

 

“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”

― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

 

When I first read the above I didn’t give much thought to it. Maybe because, at first glance, it appears to be a blandly general insight: for love to last, you have to put effort in. Not exactly ground-breaking. Then again, maybe I didn’t give much thought to it because I’m not one of those people who properly make bread from scratch, the aroma of a freshly baked loaf just waiting to be slathered in butter or honey or jam, permeating their house, signalling to the visitor that this person really is the bees knees, for they can make bread. You see, I cheat. In general, I buy supermarket bread, or use my trusty secondhand bread maker when I want something fresh and hot. So maybe I immediately considered myself out of the loop. Metaphorically speaking, I was the someone who cuts corners in the effort required to make a relationship work. And no one really wants to be the corner cutter. Humph.

 

 

Over time, I mulled over the insight and considered how much I do make from scratch every single day. How so many people make stuff from scratch every single day. Particularly those with lots of little mouths and growing bodies to feed. Breakfasts, lunches, dinners. (Gawd I make a lot of those! Sometimes it feels as though I’m only ever five minutes away from serving up more food.) Snacks. Desserts. Birthday cakes. But not only is there the food, there are the stories and poems, the little artworks that are seemingly magicked out of thin air, courtesy of that curious thing called imagination.

So okay, I’m not a proper bread maker (oh how I yearn for that particular talent!) but I – like so many others – do know about making stuff from scratch and about being in a long-term relationship. Last year my husband and I reached a milestone: we’d been together (21 years) for the same length of time we hadn’t been together. So from this year onwards we will have spent more of our lives together than apart. Which, if you think about it, is a little bit strange, but also a whole lot of wonderful.

Ursula Le Guin’s words about love (whether or not you want to use bread or something else as the metaphor) are absolutely true. But this insight isn’t often discussed. Probably because it’s not as exciting as the first phase of a relationship. If you’re a limerent like me then the beginning of a romance is all fireworks and shooting stars, a pounding heart and a deep, deep yearning. However, that first stage of limerence passes. It simply has to. And then, what are you left with? You’re left with the reality of two people trying to make a go of staying together, of keeping their love fresh throughout the years. And like anything that’s worth doing, it can sometimes be hard to do.

There are times when you just coast along, almost living parallel lives (this is particularly likely to occur in midlife/when children come along and pull you in different directions) and you think (to return to the bread making metaphor) that hey, you know, that’s okay, because everyone needs to cut corners in a while, and so what if you haven’t made any fresh bread recently? It’ll happen soon. When this task/event/work thing/kid’s thing/family thing is done and sorted, we’ll have more time to connect and be together. But you see, if you keep putting off the reconnecting, it makes it all that harder to reconnect. Also, while you’re busy living parallel lives there’s the possibility that you might get pulled closer to someone else. Or some other life goal that doesn’t involve your partner or family. Then the reconnecting that you always meant to do simply doesn’t happen at all.

So Le Guin’s insight is both banal and wise. After being together for 21 years my husband and I could coast along, but we both know that in the long-term that’s not a wise plan. We have to make time for each other, and for those many small – yet, ultimately, big – gestures of love: a cup of tea in the morning. A favourite packed lunch. A chat over coffee. A hug. A simple show of our belief in each other, ‘You can totally do this!’ Or an expression of genuine interest, ‘How are you? How was your day?’ accompanied by real, proper listening. Sometimes, it’s about saying ‘I’m sorry’ when you know you’ve messed up.

For us, this Valentine’s Day, there won’t be fireworks or shooting stars (or handmade bread!) but there may well be a dinner that someone else cooks for us, and best of all, there’ll be love and laughter and a renewing of our resolution to keep making our love fresh, every day.

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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?

 

Nb. Since writing this post I’ve discovered a very helpful site called Living with Limerence for people who are struggling with their limerence for whatever reason. Judging by the number of commenters there are a lot of limerents out there.

 

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Prose for Thought