Remember the first time you fell in love, maybe at school?
Those feelings in which you felt that the world revolves around that one special person. You couldn’t see anything wrong in them and every time you were around them you could feel your heart beating, your palms sweating and an inexplicable feeling of anxiety and shyness. You wanted their attention, you wanted them to know that you exist, that you are there. At times constantly thinking of ways to be around them, even if that was to be “accidentally” in the same class or activity with them. Questioning and constantly asking yourself what they may think about you and if they like you too? Maybe you even started to pick up new hobbies and activities just because those would bring you closer to them.
This is how popular culture usually defines love. We can see it everywhere, from movies, books and even personal stories shared on Social Media. Pop culture perpetuates a wrong definition of romantic love and it starts at a young age. There is no surprise that, once we grow up, we can easily become addicted to love and confuse “true” love with limerence. This is hard especially at the beginning of a romantic relationship, when it is difficult to make the difference between love and limerence. You feel the butterflies, you want to be with that person all the time; they are the centre of your world. However, love is blind and due to this you fail to see their flaws or unconsciously make excuses for them.
There are some crucial differences between love and limerence.
Firstly, love is selfless; you genuinely love someone regardless of if there is reciprocity; love is unconditional care. You want to see the other person happy, even though you are not the source of their happiness.
On the other side, when you feel limerence, your main objective is to gain the interest of your Limerent Object (LO), which can cause you an unhealthy and obsessive state of mind. As described by the psychologist Dorothy Tennon in her book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in love, when you are obsessed with someone you become overwhelmed by a fear of rejection and your moods can be easily influenced by your LO actions and behaviours.
Limerence usually lasts longer than infatuation, but tends to last less than love. It can last between a few weeks and several decades, with an average of 18 months to 3 years. At the beginning of the relationship, limerence can truly feel like real love, but then it gradually disappears. You might know about it as the intense “falling in love” experience, followed by the sudden and sometimes inexplicable “falling out of love”. While love and limerence have common traits, such as strong attraction towards the other person, love isn’t intrusive. You don’t obsess over your partner. Love is calmer than limerence.
Compared with love, limerence is focused on a single person. Therefore, if you experience limerence you are not looking to create a deeper and meaningful relationship, but rather looking for the adrenaline and the strong feelings provided by the obsession you have. Limerence is like an addiction, those who experience it might already struggle with relationships and are constantly looking for the intensity and euphoria of romantic love. When love becomes an addiction, the limerent behaviours can be dangerous.
However, Limerence is not the same for everyone. Some people might experience limerence which in times turns in to a healthy relationship, while others might fall into a pattern of obsessive relationships. Some never experience limerence at all.
Maybe you ask yourself: do I have limerence or do I love my partner?
Understanding yourself is the first step for managing your emotions and current situation.
Here are some common signs to understand if what you are experiencing is limerence or not:
· You have intrusive and uncontrollable thoughts about them (the Limerent Object);
· You want love in return and are afraid of rejection;
· You can hardly find any flaws in the person and glorify their few positive traits;
· You think you can’t live without them and your aim to have them love you back;
· You feel extreme shyness and nervousness around the other person, even trembling or heart palpitations;
· You feel euphoric in response to real or perceived signs of reciprocation;
· You fantasize about the LO and everything around you remind you of them. You even think of a common future, even if there is no relationship between the two of you;
· You remember in detail every encounter and you analyse every word and gesture they have to find meaning in it. You even arrange your schedule or create “coincidences” to possibly meet the other person.
If you are currently experiencing limerence and you feel it is affecting your relationship, here are small actions you can take now to understand better your emotions and manage them:
1. Accept limerence for what it is, an obsession and not real love;
2. Ask yourself what draws you to the Limerent Object;
3. Be honest with yourself and your partner;
4. Don’t feed the limerence, set clear boundaries with the limerent object and let it go.
In conclusion, it is difficult to differentiate between love and limerence, especially at the beginning of a relationship. It is even harder to manage when you are already in a primary relationship. Feeling limerent towards someone can make you question the quality of your current relationship. Nevertheless, remember that if you are experiencing limerence rather than love, your focus will be on having the other persons’ validation and attention rather than truly connecting. Love is more solid and linear than limerence. Even though they might start similarly, love is based on loving one another and wanting the other person to be happy, rather than making sure that the feelings are reciprocated. In the limerent dynamic, it is always about you, the other person and the obstacles or anxiety about the other person.
Having a limerent experience is hard, especially as it is not socially understood yet. The symptoms of love addictions are rather romanticized by our popular culture, even though words such as “hopeless romantic”. However, the more you learn to identify limerence and its symptoms, the easier it will be to make the difference between love and limerence.
You can always seek professional advice and support to help you navigate through your feelings and emotions. Even though limerence is not love, it is a valid experience that anyone can go through and the more you feel comfortable with it, the easier it will be to not let it influence your life.