Have you ever caught yourself falling in love with someone you rationally know you really, really, really shouldn’t fall for, but can’t do anything to stop it?
If yes, you’ve experienced the painfully magical emotional state of limerence.
Limerence definition and meaning
Limerence is an intense emotional state in which the Limerent sufferer has uncontrollable romantic obsessions and fantasies towards a desired person (called the Limerent Object or LO) with which it wants a romantic relationship.
Understanding how it works can be useful both for the person who experiences it, called the Limerent as well as for the person who is desired, called the Limerent Object.
What is the difference between love vs limerence?
At first glance, it might seem that love and limerence the same thing. But the main differences between the two is the attitude towards the Limerent Object and loved person, as well as the intensity of the emotion.
Someone who suffers from limerence is only concerned to seduce their crush, and acquire their heart and emotional commitment. Love on the other hand is selfless, where the person in love will often put the loved one’s needs above their own, and try to meet them regardless of the cost.
In a nutshell, limerence wants to obtain something, love wants to give.
Often times, Limerents get so caught up in their internal emotional chaos, that they aren’t able to empathize with the Limerent Object. They will often forget that the LO is human too, with feelings, concerns, worries and a life of their own. In the eyes of the Limerent, the LO becomes an object to be acquired rather a person to interact with.
Another major difference between the two is in the intensity of the emotion. Because of its chemical composition, limerence is intensely stressful and draining. It invades the Limerent’s mental space and severely limits their mental clarity and ability to concentrate.
Love on the hand is a much calmer emotion. It doesn’t agitate the lover, but instead relaxes him and brings him comfort. A person in love is fully capable of separating the thought of a loved one from day to day life, and can function perfectly well.
While love and limerence are distinct emotions, the two are closely tied together in more ways than one. The prototypical relationship starts with a passionate love or limerent phase, in which one or both partners go through this initial state of irrational affection. After the relationship consolidates, it slowly transitions into a more sustainable form of love.
The causes and biology of limerence
Why do we experience such an emotion?
From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, the ability to reproduce and pass on your genes is the only measure of success. Thus, limerence exists to guide individuals towards a biologically and socially fit partner, pair bond with them, and bring about a new generation.
This is useful in many ways. Compared to an individual who does not experience limerence, the Limerent has a higher likelihood of acquiring a mate, and thus a higher chance of reproducing simply because of how tenacious one is to seduce their mate.
What causes limerence?
There is no clear cause that triggers limerence. However, a few conditions must be met in order for it to trigger: 1. a person must be emotionally “ready” 2. they meet someone who fulfills all their conscious and subconscious criteria for a partner and 3. there must not be any impossible obstacles that prevent reciprocation from the Limerent Object.
At a chemical level, the differences between limerence and love are striking. It’s widely known that oxytocin and vasopressin are the main substances responsible for creating social bonds, be they romantic relationships or friendships in general.
In their day to day effects, these two chemicals are calming, reduce stress, promote healing and encourage generous behaviors.
Limerence on the other hand has an entirely different chemical composition:
- Similar to adrenaline, it increases alertness, arousal and makes one ready to act.
- Provides pleasure and encourages us to seek positive stimuli.
- Increases sexual drive and risk taking behaviors.
From a chemical perspective, love is a gentle romantic comedy, while limerence is a full blown spy thriller that puts you in the middle of a 1 vs 100 hand to hand combat scene.
Fortunately, over time, as the relationship strengthens, the brain secretes less and less of these chemicals and instead switches over to producing oxytocin and vasopressin, a much more calming and peaceful combination.
How long does limerence last ?
Limerence has an average duration of around 2-3 years. From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, this is enough time for two people to engage in courtship, form a couple, and then give birth to a child.
Thus, the lengthy duration of limerence keeps two people together long enough for them to create and maintain a family. This is especially important in humans because we have one of nature’s longest periods of infancy and development into adulthood, which lasts well over a decade.
This duration of limerence also explains the so-called “honeymoon period” of relationships and marriages.
However, this 2-3 year period is only the average. On the short end of the scale, an episode can last a few days or, on the other extreme, it can survive for decades, or even a lifetime.
The reason for these huge variants in length is caused by the interplay of hope and uncertainty.
In the happiest case, an episode ends with the two people forming a couple, or when the Limerent finally understands that no matter what they do, the Limerent Object simply isn’t romantically interested.
In long episodes of limerence, the LO can often engage in a “hot and cold” behavior, where they never fully commit to the Limerent, but also never firmly rejects them. In effect, this keeps the Limerent trapped and unable to move on.
Of course, this also depends on the personality and experience of the Limerent. Some realize quickly that there is no hope in pursuing a relationship, so their episode ends quickly. Others might be too hung up to see the obvious, and keep manipulating themselves into thinking that there’s still a chance, if only they tried harder.
After the 2-3 year timeframe, a new relationship should be secure, with both partners committed to making it work. This removes the uncertainty and doubt, which in turn makes the bond predictable and stable. Limerence slowly fades as its nourishing emotions are no longer there, and is replaced by affectional bonding.
However, it is very possible that one member of the couple never fully exits the limerent state. It’s still there, in the background, prickling and nagging them ever so gently. If the Limerent hides it well, the LO might never really know it’s there.
Some people who enjoy the high of limerence will dearly miss this period and are unable to properly transition into affectional bonding. They get restless and want to chase the same high again, even if that means breaking up a promising relationship.
Unfortunately, it’s rare for two people to be passionately in love for each other at exactly the same time.
More often than not, a Limerent finds himself in a situation where he has to woo an LO that is either indifferent or friendly at most.
Below are the most common symptoms of limerence:
- Uncontrollable fantasies about the desired person.
- Brutal mood swings.
- Imagining that anything the LO does has deeper meaning.
- Paralyzing shyness near their crush.
- Seeing the Limerent Object as perfect without flaws.
- Partial or complete inability to enjoy anything else.
- Physical sensations of pain near the chest area.
- An acute fear of rejection.
The rollercoaster of hope and uncertainty
One of the defining features of limerence are the wild mood swings. These occur because of the interplay of hope and uncertainty.
At all times, the Limerent carefully analyzes the behavior of the LO, trying to understand what are his chances, and whether a gesture is a sign of interest or not. A promising gesture, such as a phone call or initiating a conversation, can feel like a drug high of euphoria.
On the flip side, a possible rejection such as rescheduling a date, or not returning a call can turn a beautiful day into a miserable one on a dime.
A Limerent will always be on an emotional rollercoaster for as long as the intentions and feelings of the LO are ambiguous.
On top of that, the Limerent will spend a huge amount of time doing nothing except rewinding past behaviors of the LO. They interpret and reinterpret the same actions and behaviors, trying to understand if they had deeper meanings and symbolism.
For friends and family of the Limerent, this period can be annoying. As far as they are concerned, the Limerent does nothing all day but day dream and go from happy to miserable on an hour by hour or day by day basis.
Limerence and fear of rejection
For Limerents, winning over the LO will quickly become their primary purpose. All other goals and ambitions gain a secondary importance. Even if it’s a person they’ve barely spoken to, a rejection can be as painful as losing a friend, or even a family member.
Because of this, they constantly live in fear of being turned down. So they constantly tip toe around the LO, trying to make their intentions known, but not enough to be fully obvious and risk a firm rejection.
At the same time, they want to make the best possible impression. To do this, Limerents will often try to become actors in a way, trying to make every gesture of theirs perfect. Of course, most people aren’t Oscar worthy so this “act” of theirs falls flat, or even feels downright artificial and robotic, sort of like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator.
As an example of this intense fear of rejection, one woman who carried out her affair through mail would sometimes make more than a dozen drafts of her letter before sending it, all in an effort to find that perfect combination of words capable of making a good impression on her Limerent Object.
On a sadder note, if both partners are limerent, and both suffer from this intense syness, then it is very possible that they will just avoid breaking the ice altogether. A relationship of intense passionate love that won’t start because both persons are too afraid to make a move.
The reality distortion effect
During an episode, Limerents will suffer from a distinct inability to perceive the behavior of the LO clearly. They want a romantic relationship with them so much, that they manipulate themselves into seeing signs of interest where there are none.
Indeed, in extreme situations the Limerent can even twist a vague rejection into seeming like a test of sorts: “they only said no so I can try harder, but they didn’t really mean no”.
Hope is to limerence what oxygen is to a fire. Thus, a Limerent person always tries to perceive every action of the LO as a positive sign of interest, even when it’s dead obvious to anybody else that it really isn’t.
For example, if the Limerent and the LO are in the same room but at opposite corners, the Limerent will somehow perceive this as a sign of interest.
“He went to the other side of the room because his feelings are just as strong as mine, and couldn’t cope with the intensity of being near me.”
But if the LO had come right next to the Limerent, they might have a completely different interpretation.
“He came next to me so we could have a chance to talk. They’re probably in love too!”.
The Mind Games
Reading this, you might be tempted to say “the Limerent should just ask the LO out, confess their love, and just get to the end of it. What an amateur!”.
Sounds simple, but this exposes the Limerent to a crushing and swift rejection, which they do not want to risk. Instead, they will often try to “seduce” the LO in roundabout ways, that do not betray their intentions.
One of the paradoxes of limerence is that the Limerent aches for emotional reciprocation, but once they get it, their interest levels begin to fade.
If the LO is obviously eager, then the Limerent will stop asking oneself “Does the LO want me?” and instead switch to questions such as “Do I want the LO anymore?”. Certainty pulls the Limerent out of the chase, feeling they’ve already won.
Of course, this is also true the other way around. If the LO knows just how infatuated the Limerent is, they too might lose interest and consider the Limerent overbearing.
Limerents are aware of these dynamics, so they end up playing mind games in an effort to seem the disinterested party in the courtship. They aim to use mystery and uncertainty to draw in the LO, and not seem too overeager and thus risk repelling them.
Here are just a few examples of these mind games:
- Not answering calls from the LO immediately, instead they call back a while later.
- In social gatherings, they might avoid talking to the LO at first, and engage with other people.
- Pretending to be busy, and prioritizing something else.
- Pretend not to be attracted.
Sex isn’t necesarilly the end-goal
For the Limerent, the end-game is to obtain emotional investment and reciprocation from the LO.
In other words, sex with the LO isn’t the primary motivator. That’s not to say the Limerent doesn’t desire such a thing. But the fantasies that keep the Limerent awake at night are those in which the Limerent and the LO share an intimate moment, such as cooking, walks on the beach, or cuddling away somewhere.
In fact, some Limerents might actually be repulsed by sexual fantasies because these violate their image of a pure and “unspoilt” LO.
An exception to this are cases when sex itself is viewed as an emotional reciprocation. Just as a kiss can mean “I like you”, a Limerent can perceive sex with the LO as another way of saying “I love you”.
There’s also a distinct difference between sexual and limerent fantasies. The first ones are voluntary in nature. It’s possible to control and influence a sexual fantasy, to imagine the motions and how the act unfolds.
Limerent daydreams on the other hand, are entirely involuntary. They simply wriggle their way into the head of the sufferer, and stay there for as long as they like.
What is the cure for limerence?
The only real way to end an episode of limerence is to be 100% sure that a romantic relationship with the desired person is impossible. This requires either 1. a firm, clear and irreversible rejection from the crush or 2. the Limerent loses all hope that a romantic relationship will ever become reality.
Both of those options are bitter medicines. No one likes to go through a painful and humiliating rejection, or to be strung along without any emotional reciprocation.
But both methods work because they evaporate any feelings of hope the Limerent may have that a relationship is still possible. Once this happens, the sufferer knows that any further effort won’t make a difference, and trying to pursue the relationships further is a waste of time.
Fortunately, once the point of losing hope is reached, the intensity of limerence quickly drops.
As a takeaway, if you happen to be the Limerent and want to end your ordeal as fast possible, then you should muster up the courage and make your intentions clear to the LO and see where that takes you.
At this point you’ve done your part, and now the choice is firmly on the side of the LO. As a rule, people who are genuinely interested in you will take the chance without a second guess.
If you happen to be an LO, and know for sure you don’t want to get involved with the Limerent, then the quickest and most elegant course of action is to turn them down, and make it obvious when you do. Of course, this should be done elegantly and kindly.
How do you prevent limerence?
If you’re in the early stages of limerence, the best thing to do is to simply shut yourself down to any contact with the Limerent Object. Don’t go where they might be (if possible), don’t talk to them if you can. If you must speak with them, keep it short and to the point and “professional”. This doesn’t guarantee that it will work, especially if you have to interact with them on work or social occasions, but it’s the best you can do to stop an episode before it gains in intensity.
Limerence is a tumultuous emotion, that can turn a life upside down even for the most emotionally stable people.
But knowing why it exists and how it works allows can ease the pain of the Limerent, and offer him a road map to finding a resolution, with or without the LO.
An LO also gains understanding of what the Limerent is experiencing, and how to approach the situation in an elegant and kind way, for both persons.
In the end, for many people Limerence is part of what it means to be human, and to experience life. It is neither a curse nor a blessing, but a way of living. Whether it leads to a good or bad outcome becomes controllable, at some point.