Limerence is not love

We are used to hearing about lovesickness. That strong feeling of connection with someone that you can’t simply stop. Being with them feels like being on a rollercoaster; some days you experience extreme happiness, while other days are fueled by anxiety and jealousy. This type of specific “love” has a name; it’s called limerence. 

Limerence was initially defined by the psychologist Dorothy Tennov in the 1970s. It represents an involuntary state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one’s feelings reciprocated.

Limerence is different from love, but it does resemble the feeling of “falling in love”. You know which one, right? The crazy feeling of being in love that we see everywhere, from movies to books.  Limerence is often mistaken for love, especially at the beginning of a relationship. Indeed, it is not easy to make a difference between the two. You feel that you have found the one, that nothing else matters besides them and your relationship. Is it true love or is it just limerence?

Limerence experiences, compared with committed relationships fueled by love, can be one-sided. It’s not mandatory for a relationship to exist to experience limerence. You can experience limerence towards any Limerent Object. It is actually very common to develop limerence for someone with whom you don’t have any kind of relationship; a colleague, a student or an acquaintance. You start to have obsessive thoughts about them, create coincidences where you can meet and have the opportunity to interact, yet you feel very nervous and anxious around them.

On one side, love is peaceful, while limerence is fueled by passion. When experiencing limerence there is this crazy drive to be with that person no matter what. Sometimes it is portrait as love at first sight, but some other times it can lead to dangerous behaviours, such as stalking.  Limerence is about falling in love. Yet, as it is so intense, usually the feeling of falling in love is rapidly followed by the experience of falling out of love. How could your feelings vanish so fast when you were so certain they were the one? 

One of the biggest differences between limerence and love is that love is based on equality, respect and commitment. Limerence is based on the feeling of love, where getting the other’s affection and attention is the end goal. Limerence is not equal and it doesn’t focus on actually building a stable relationship. Limerence feelings can be very intense, yet they will disappear after a time. Usually, limerence lasts between 3 and 36 months. So, feeling limerence towards someone (your Limerent object), as common as it is, doesn’t mean that you’ve fallen in love or, even more, that you’ve met your soulmate.  Limerence can bring people together, but it doesn’t have the power to sustain a real committed relationship.

So, if limerence it’s not love, what is it then?

As Psychologist Dorothy Tennov’s describes it in 1979, limerence is a state of mind that results from the attraction to another person and it usually includes obsessive thoughts about the Limerent Object (LO). If you experience limerence, you will experience intrusive thoughts that may disrupt your daily life and make you unable to fulfil your responsibilities. If you are not sure about what you are experiencing, here are a few guiding questions that may help you. 

  • Do I have obsessive thoughts about this person?
  • Can I properly eat, sleep or concentrate at work?
  • Do I put this person on a pedestal by making them look perfect?
  • Do I feel the need to be around my LO all the time?
  • How do I feel when they are not around me?
  • Am I letting my LO’s actions decide my mood? 
  • Do I find myself fantasizing a lot about my LO? 
  • Do I create the right “coincidences” to be able to meet my LO? 
  • Am I longing for reciprocation?
  • How do I feel when my feelings are reciprocated?
  • How do I feel thinking that my LO might reject me? 

Asking yourself these questions might be useful to assess if what you are feeling is limerence or not. As you may have already understood, the questions are based on limerence “symptoms”. Be honest with yourself and remember that limerence is normal and it doesn’t have to be harmful.  Talking to a therapist may be beneficial also for understand why, in the first place, you’ve become so easily and strongly attached to someone in an unhealthy way. Is this a pattern from previous relationships or is it something new for you?

One of the biggest differences between the two is the fact that while love is genuine, limerence craves reciprocation. We love someone regardless of any reciprocation; when we love we unconditional care for someone. While for limerence, you are happy only when your feelings are reciprocated. Also, you can deeply feel Limerence without knowing or understanding or knowing your LO. While to love someone, you must accept them as they truly are, with their flaws. There is a level of intimacy in love that can’t be compared with the superficial feeling of intimacy in the limerence experience.

Moreover, it is very common to have unequal limerent relationships, where there is a limerent-nonlimerent bonding. One of the two will develop strong limerence towards their LO (limerent Object), yet their LO will not share the same experience. Nevertheless, more common are limerent-limerent bondings, where both partners experience limerence towards each other. 

Limerence lasts usually from 3 to 36 months. In some cases, it can last a few weeks, some others it can last up to several years. Fortunately, the limerence experience can develop, in some cases, into loving, healthy and committed relationships. These relationships will not be based anymore on the excitement of their limerent experience, yet will make both partners happier by focusing on shared values, mutual support and growth. 

In conclusion, limerence might feel like love, but it is not. Love is about commitment, shared values and intimacy, while limerence is a lived infatuated state of mind, a fantasy.  Love develops over the years and it is a result of trust and deep commitment, while limerence is a short-lived and very intense experience.

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