You’re so infatuated with someone that you can’t think of anything else but them. You may think it’s love, but it could be limerance. An estimated 5% of the population has experienced it—here’s what you need to know about it and how to tell if you have it too.
Limerence is essentially lovesickness.
Limerence is defined as an intense romantic attraction with a compulsive need for those feelings to be reciprocated. It’s a complicated emotion and very different than the love and lust it’s closely related to.
The term was first coined almost 40 years ago.
Dr. Dorothy Tennov first used the term limerence in her 1979 book titled Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. She interviewed 500 people who claimed to be in love and found that many participants were actually describing something totally different. She then defined limerence as a unique, obsessive, and all-consuming feeling that’s hard to move on from.
It’s more than a crush or an infatuation.
People in limerence often experience dramatic, emotional highs and lows; in other words, euphoria as a result of interactions with the limerence object (LO) and despair when rejection occurs. It’s a compulsive desire to be with that person regardless of obstacles or circumstances. Crushes and infatuations are more short-lived and less intense, while limerence can last much longer and is way more extreme.
Limerence has nothing to do with sex.
It’s not the same thing as lust because sex isn’t a requirement. In fact, it’s often not part of limerence at all. Instead, it’s more about getting attention from the object of one’s affection rather than fulfilling a sexual desire.
Unlike love, limerence has no long-term potential.
Love is based on a reciprocal need to make the other person happy. It’s about enjoying spending time with someone and sharing in each other’s lives and interests. A person in limerence only wants to gain the affection of their object, regardless of how that person actually feels.
Limerence can be very unhealthy.
It can cause depression if the LO doesn’t return the same feelings, for starters. Plus, because of the obsessive nature of limerence, it can act like a mental illness. Some people can even become suicidal if they aren’t able to be with the other person. Lovesick people can even resort to stalking to get close to the LO.
It mimics drug addiction.
According to Dr. David Sack, limerence is a chemical response and involves brain changes that result in an overwhelming need to go after the object of a person’s obsessions in much the same way drug addicts pursue their next fix. It’s essentially a combination of this addiction and an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Recognizing and distinguishing limerence is easier than you think.
Signs include thinking about the person constantly and uncontrollably, extreme nervousness and physical reactions such as heart palpitations, shaking, and lack of appetite. Those experiencing limerence might also develop anxiety, insomnia, and severe depression, the latter of which could lead to suicidal thoughts.
Your likelihood of being in limerence depends on your attachment models in childhood.
For instance, if you experienced insecure, anxious relationships as a child, you’ll most likely choose this type of relationship as an adult because that’s your perception of what relationships should be like. In this case, you’re more likely to fall into limerence. However, if you had healthy relationship examples as a child, you’ll probably have healthy, loving adult relationships in which limerence never comes into play.
Limerence sometimes evolves into love, fades with time, or transfers.
If feelings are mutual, limerence has the potential to turn into real, normal love. Other times, limerence will eventually go away and chemicals in the brain will normalize. Alternatively, limerence can be transferred to a new person.
Lovesickness can last for years.
If a person’s limerence goes unrequited, the feelings will usually go away in time. However, if the LO shows some return of those feelings or gives mixed signals, it may take longer to get over, just like a drug addict relapsing. According to Dr. Tennov, limerence lasts 18 months to three years on average but in extreme cases, it can go on for decades. That’s a long time to feel tormented.
There are ways to treat the condition.
Certain anxiety medications may improve some people’s limerence. Mental health counseling can also facilitate recovery. Additionally, it helps to reduce stress level, put separation between the person and the LO, and to reduce stalking on social media and other obsessive behaviors. Interestingly, there are also many support groups online on sites like Reddit and on limerence.net, for example.
There’s still some debate over whether or not limerence is truly real.
Dr. Tennov’s research was based on interviews, so it wasn’t exactly scientific. However, lots of people identify with limerence, so Tennov has to be onto something. Because of its symptoms and effects, limerence is believed by some experts to be simply a form of anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. To me though, it’s not worth attempting to scientifically describe human emotions—people’s feelings aren’t so easily categorized.
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