Talking to a friend about your new love interests, maybe you pick apart each message they send you. Sure, they might have some red flags, but you quickly overlook them as thoughts of them consume most of your day. The idea you might have found “the one” or your “true love” is far more exciting than the actual reality of who this individual might be. While this might feel like the early stages of being in love, it could be a emotional state of limerence.
Limerence vs Love: The Similarities and Differences
Limerence is defined by an intense infatuation of a romantic partner where affection may or may not be reciprocated. Psychologist Dorothy Tennov first coined the word limerence in the 1970s after conducting over 300 interviews of individuals’ experiences of romantic love.
Tennov describes her research findings in her 1979 book Love and Limerence, where she called limerence the experience of “an uncontrollable, biologically determined, inherently irrational, and instinct-like reaction” that takes hold of one’s free will and makes the object of limerence intoxicating.
Tennov noted that those who experience limerence often felt similar to the experience of being in love: “an overwhelming longing for another person’s attention and positive regard.” However, the difference between “being in love” and limerence is that those suffering from limerence developed attachments that were often emotionally dependent, unrequited, and developed for someone who was emotionally unavailable or wasn’t showing similar affection.
The driving force that creates limerence is the ambiguity the other individual is showing you, whether it’s done unconsciously or consciously. “Our brains perceive ambiguity as a threat, and they try to protect us by diminishing our ability to focus on anything other than creating certainty.”
The greater the degree of uncertainty, the more likely one is to contemplate the relationship in hopes of creating some form of security. This level of ambiguity and uncertainty is what differentiates love from limerence. When people fall in love, both parties will have feelings of infatuation and show mutual affection for one another.
When Your Relationship is in a State of Limerence
Those experiencing limerence will struggle to get through day to day tasks without intrusive thoughts about the limerence person. They may feel anxious, compulsively check their messages, and reread messages in hopes of finding any hint of reciprocation of feelings, repeatedly look at pictures of the individual, or replay interactions they had with them in their mind in hopes of gaining clarity on how that individual feels about them.
The danger of a limerence relationship is the object of limerence can become very addictive. Limerence relationships are often short-lived and are marked by the intense longing for the limerent person, along with a fear of rejection. If the object of limerence shows affection to the one in limerence, their mood will quickly elevate, flooding the brain with serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin (the body’s happy chemicals).
Conversely, if the limerence objects show perceived or actual signs of rejection, the brain will release stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine, causing a drastic decrease in one’s overall mood.
The rapid changes in one’s mood are characteristic of someone in limerence. While those falling in love experience similar increase and decrease in the same chemicals, they will not experience the immense high highs and low lows of the person in limerence. This leaves the person in limerence, feeling like they are on an emotional roller coaster with no end in sight.
Online Dating & Limerence
With the rapid secession of technology, it has drastically changed the way we interact with others and how we approach dating. Online dating has skyrocketed in recent years. Research shows that by the end of 2023, an estimated 441 million individuals will be actively using dating apps.
While online dating has solved previous dating issues, it has also created problems. Specifically, how we communicate in new relationships and how we end them. Online dating allows you to engage with numerous people at once with little information on who that individual is.
With limited information on a person, it’s easier to project romantic hopes and expectations onto them, leading to increased feelings of limerence if those are not returned, or things end without opportunity for closure. For those prone to feelings of limerence, that can be particularly challenging to navigate common modern dating problems such as ghosting.
No scientific research supports the idea that online dating increases your chances of experiencing limerence. However, studies show that 50 percent of online matches won’t return texts. Those looking for love on apps have an increased risk of rejection; therefore, understanding the concept of limerence has increased importance in the age of modern dating.
The Cycle Of Limerence
If you have ever suffered from the feeling of limerence, you are not alone; limerence occurs in about five percent of the population. The duration of limerence is unique to each individual. Tennov notes that a limerent relationship may occur only once in a person’s life, or you might have numerous limerent persons in your lifetime.
The average limerence cycle “may last a few weeks or decades, with the average episode lasting between 18 months and three years.” Limerence affects individuals of all ages, races, and sexual orientations. Because limerence is about much more than just sexually desiring someone, it’s about making that person the object of your affection.
When ending a relationship with your limerence person, it may cause immense grief, heart palpitations, lethargy, and insomnia. Like drugs, leaving a limerence relationship causes withdrawals due to the lack of happy chemicals your body was previously receiving when in the presence of your limerence persons.
The most significant step in overcoming limerence is understanding what it is and how dissimilar it is from falling in love. As previously discussed, limerence is marked by uncertainty, whereas true love is characterized by mutual respect and mutual feelings. Whether you are someone who suffers from constant limerence relationships or is experiencing limerence for the first time, there are ways to help you overcome the state of limerence.
Understanding attachment theory might give greater insight into what drives limerence relationships. Those with insecure attachment styles are more likely to experience limerence due to unresolved trauma from early childhood caregivers.
Individuals with anxious attachment are more likely to experience intense infatuation with a perceived partner, therefore, making this attachment style more susceptible to limerence. Anxious attachment is often created by over or under involvement from a caregiver, leaving those with this attachment style hypervigilant of perceived signs of abandonment.
Conversely, those with avoidant attachment styles might also find themselves in limerence relationships due to their fear of emotional intimacy. Those with an avoidant attachment may unconsciously seek romantic partners who are emotionally unavailable for fear of emotional engulfment from a partner who could share mutual feelings. Gaining insight into one’s attachment style can help you overcome previous attachment traumas and understand how to cultivate healthier relationships in the future.
Another way to aid in overcoming limerence is by blocking, deleting, and removing items that remind you of the limerence persons. Removing items, images, and messages may reduce the rumination experienced throughout the day. While this might sound extreme, overcoming limerence is much like overcoming an addiction and it’s essential to remove any objects that may be triggering.
Another way to overcome a state of limerence is by naturally replacing your body’s serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin levels. Activities such as exercising, meditating, being out in nature, and spending time with loved ones can increase the body’s levels of happy chemicals. Daily practice of healthy coping skills may reduce the depressive crash that limerence can cause.
Lastly, overcoming limerence can be isolating, confusing, and frustrating. You may have tried talking to friends with an unsympathetic ear. Therapy provides a safe space to talk about limerence and its impact on your life. Having an allotted time to verbally process one’s thoughts and feelings on limerence can reduce any shame or judgment you might be experiencing.
Understanding whether you are in love or limerence can be a hard conversation with oneself. However, the more clarity that is gained on how limerence shows up in your relationships, the better understanding you can achieve in cultivating healthy relationships with others and yourself.