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Love, Lust, and Limerence | What is Limerence and Why You Should Know About It

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Chances are, you've experienced limerence and didn't even know it. Have you ever been madly in love and convinced you found the one only for things to fizzle out and fall apart?

Where did things go wrong? Was I completely deluded about the situation?

Well, as it turns out, many of us often mistake strong feelings for another person for love.

We think we’re in a loving relationship, when, in fact, we’re in a relationship based on limerence.

Limerance is a concept that can help you make sense of past and present relationships. While it helps in retrospect, it can also help you can form healthy romantic partnerships in the future.

What is Limerence?

Psychologist Dorothy Tennov’s book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love (1979) details what limerence is and why it shouldn’t be confused with love. Tennov states that limerence involves:

  • Obsessive thinking about a person. You can’t eat, sleep, or concentrate at work
  • An irrational positive evaluation of a person’s attributes (i.e. putting him or her on a pedestal or making him or her out to be absolutely perfect)
  • Emotional dependency. You feel you need to be around your partner all the time. It hurts when he or she isn’t by your side.
  • Longing for reciprocation. Euphoria or despair occurs depending on whether your intense feelings are reciprocated 

Limerence is not the same as lust, as it is not solely sexual in nature. Limerence is sometimes conflated with infatuation (or a ‘crush’), but it is quite different. When we use the term infatuation or crush, it usually refers to a one-sided relationship. Superficial traits, sexual attraction, or a lack of familiarity with the other person are often the basis of a crush.

There are some similarities between limerence and a crush. For example, Tennov points out that limerence “may dissolve soon after its initiation, as in an early teenage buzz-centered crush." She goes on to explain, however, that limerence can go on much longer.

It can also feel more intense.

The French writer Stendhal, in his 1832 treatise On Love, noted that a new love infatuation could change. Such a change resulted in one focusing on a partner's positive traits while ignoring their negative ones.

When this happens, Tennov argued, the partner becomes a limerent object. The partner becomes someone you adore, obsess about, and crave.

Limerence is an addictive form of romantic attraction. When experiencing limerence, you become desperate for the ‘high’ of reciprocation. You fantasize about being with the person. Thoughts of the limerent object are intrusive and involuntary. Limerence also tends to include an intense fear of rejection.

Limerence is normal and not always harmful. But, Tennov does highlight that limerence can become pathological if it disrupts your normal day-to-day life. This can happen when your feelings aren’t reciprocated, which can amp up the intrusive, obsessive thinking. This can make it difficult to get on with work, fulfill your responsibilities, or maintain a healthy social and family life.

This is when talking to a psychotherapist may be necessary.

It’s important to understand why you’ve become so strongly attached to someone in this unhealthy way. This might be a pattern you’ve noticed in your romantic relationships. If it is a pattern, you have a great opportunity for growth in meeting with a therapist.

The Difference Between Limerence and Love

There are crucial differences between limerence and love. For example, when you love someone, you love them regardless of whether there is reciprocation. Unconditionally caring for someone is a hallmark of love. In contrast, when you form a limerent bond with someone, you only feel fulfilled if they reciprocate your feelings.

Also, when you love someone, you love them despite their flaws, which you have an honest perception of. You don’t delude yourself about your partner’s traits.

Duration is Key

Another difference between limerence, infatuation, and love is duration. Limerence lasts longer than infatuation but tends to be more short-lived than love. In her book Anatomy of Love, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher states that limerence can last for up to two years.

You can experience limerence yet still not deeply understand another person. Love, on the other hand, is characterized by commitment and a deep level of intimacy.

Limerence often feels like real love at the beginning of a relationship, only to fizzle out or disappear. Limerence is an intense, ‘falling in love’ feeling (which many people get addicted to) followed by a bewildering, disheartening ‘falling out of love’ experience.

You were certain this person was the one. It can be very painful when your hopes and fantasies are crushed in this way.

While being in love is, no doubt, a powerful state of mind and attraction, it doesn’t have the same intrusive quality as limerence. You love your partner, yet you do not drive yourself crazy when they are away at work, out with friends, or on holiday.

Love is calmer and less dramatic than limerence.

Love vs Lust

Lust also comes up frequently in conversations about love and limerence. 

The distinguishing characteristic of lust is that it refers specifically to sexual desire. You may feel intense, sometimes intrusive, feelings about someone that are sexual in nature. It's possible for feelings of lust and limerence to coexist, which can be confusing and overwhelming. 

That said, limerence isn't always a sexual feeling. Unlike lust, limerence often has you craving the other person's attention, affection, and desire more than you crave having sex with them.

Can Healthy Relationships be Limerent?

You shouldn’t necessarily avoid relationships based on limerence at all costs. Nor should you jump ship if you think you’re in such a relationship. After all, Tennov argues that most relationships are defined by a limerent-nonlimerent bonding, which involves unequal reciprocation. Many relationships are also mutually reciprocal – these are called limerent-limerent bondings.

Limerence is an unstable state, so a relationship based on it isn’t as likely to sustain itself over time compared to a partnership based on love. Still, Tennov says that limerent bonds can grow into loving relationships, with mixed limerent relationships usually lasting longer than mutual ones (these fizzle out as quickly as they begin).

Over time, limerence can subside and lead to stable, gratifying, and healthy relationships. It seems that common indicators of a loving relationship are shared values, mutual support, and growth. Love may not be as exciting as limerence, but it leads to happier relationships in the long term.

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