On limerence

I learned the word ‘limerence’ when I was younger, less experienced and in love for the first time. After it all ended, I was left with the mother of all hangovers and a desire to analyze the hell out of how I was feeling. So I started reading, and, sooner or later, came upon a word that I had not seen before: limerence.

Love: if ever there is a word that poets, song-writers and movie-makers overuse, it’s that one. Judging by the number of songs and movies that have been made about boy-meets-girl (and, more frequently nowadays, boy-meets-boy etc.), one would imagine that it is love, love that makes the world go ’round.

As Scrooge would say, Bah, humbug. Limerence plays at least a major supporting cast.

The word was invented by Dorothy Tennov, a psychologist who went around distributing questionnaires to people who were ‘in love’. Her research led her to discover the subspecies of love called limerence, which psychologists nowadays are trying very hard to get included into the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”. You know the term ‘madly in love’? – suffice it to say that psychologists take that quite literally.

Anyway, back to limerence – limerence is the difference between being in love and falling in love. When you are limerent for someone, you expect nothing from the other person (known amongst propoents of Attachment Theory as the LO, or limerent object) except to reciprocate your feelings. Reciprocation – as opposed to consummation – is the goal of the person experiencing limerence. It is very common, apparently, to not primarily feel the desire for sexual relations – or even stable relationship (such as marriage) – with the LO. Instead, you spend all your time day-dreaming about him/her, and many of your dreams take on the quality of ‘being at the other person’s deathbed’ or similar fantasies. Fantasy, in fact, seems to be a great component of limerence – the continuous regurgitation of selective memories to weave together implausible stories starring you and your LO.

According to Wikipedia, limerence has a number of components that distinguish it from ‘love’. Apart from fantasy (also called ‘intrusive thinking’), there is fear of rejection, hope, palpitations, dizziness, flushing and interpreting every small gesture in the light of the other person’s reciprocation of one’s feelings.

The interesting thing about limerence is its long shelf-life. Tennov, in her original paper based on her questionnaires, estimated that it takes, on an average, 3 years for a person to get over a spell of limerence. Imagine! That’s three years of yearning and day-dreaming and longing and fear of rejection. 3 years in which your mood is primarily affected by the little things someone else carelessly says and does! Whew.

One imagines how many of all the great ‘love stories’ in human history were actually limerence stories. I imagine many of the ‘love in adversity’ relationships were. Romeo and Juliet definitely. They would certainly have grown sick of each other and parted ways shortly thereafter if they had not ended up dead together.

Also interesting are the three ways by which limerence ceases: cessation is caused by consummation, starvation and transference. So either you end up in the blissful state of reciprocation of your limerence by your LO; or spend three years (or more) in a one-sided romance before finally getting over it; or fall for the next pretty face in the same hard way.

Goes to show, doesn’t it. If there’s anything crazier than love, it’s limerence.


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