Who invented limerence?

If you feel you never heard of the word “limerence”, don’t worry! The concept of limerence is not very known, however it’s meaning is widely felt across individuals from all over the world.

Ask yourself, have you ever felt obsessed and crazy “in love” with someone? Have you ever felt that all you could think about during the day was that person? Or have you caught yourself constantly fantasizing about someone, even if there was no interaction or relationship between the two of you? If yes, you might have experienced limerence.  

Limerence is described as the obsessive and uncontrollable thinking of a limerent object (LO), usually a person, which can cause profound distress on someone’s mental health and well-being. Limerent feelings can become even more problematic for those who are in a committed relationship and experience it, as it can induce feelings of guilt and shame.

But how was the concept of limerence founded? Who invented it? 

The one that first described the concept was Dorothy Tennov, a professor and psychologist. She defined this concept when she published her book “Love and Limerence: The Experience of being in love” in 1979, based on the data from interviews and questionnaires with her students. She realized that many of the people who thought that they were in love, had all shared similar experiences. These experiences were different from the feelings of love. While they could be the start of a healthy bonding between two people, they could also potentially become obsessive and problematic.

After publishing her findings, many people started to approach her, all sharing the same thing: “What you describe is exactly what happened to me”. They thanked her for allowing them to know that they were not alone or having a mental illness. From that moment, Limerence started to be slowly accepted widely as a normal phenomenon that can happen to anyone, at any moment of their life. In time, understanding limerence became a compass for people on how to deal with this uncontrollable mix of emotions.

So how does someone experience limerence? Dorothy Tennov describes it at some point in her book through the following example:

“But I don’t direct this thing, this attraction, to Emily. It directs me. I try desperately to argue with it, to limit its influence, to channel it (into sex, for example), to deny it, to enjoy it and, yes, dammit, to make her respond! Even though I know that Emily and I have absolutely no chance of making a life together, the thought of her is an obsession. I am in the position of passionately wanting someone I don’t want at all and could find no use for if I had her.”

This is how limerence feels like.

Accordingly, to Tennov, limerence is a cognitive and emotional state of loving, adoration and attachment to another person. You might find yourself fantasising about them, feeling an intense and romantic desire or compulsively looking for any signs that may prove that they feel the same about you. Limerence is non-linear and not everyone experiences at the same intensity; it may actually be completely absent in some people and relationships.

It’s important to understand that limerence is not love. When you love someone, your primary focus is to see the other person happy, you want to make them feel loved. On the other side, when you are obsessed with a limerent object (LO), your main focus is to have your LO reciprocate the same emotions towards you.

Limerence may have been present at the beginning of your relationship with your partner; the strong sexual desire, the euphoria that you felt every time that you were in their presence or simply idealizing your partner. All of these might have helped you connect and, as Tennov says, the limerent bonds can evolve in stable, loving and healthy relationships.

On the other side, when limerence is experienced for someone other than the current partner, it can be a cause of disruption for the couple and family. If it’s not understood and discussed from the beginning, limerence for a third person can easily transform into an affair. The moment when the two people are open and vulnerable with each other, even the limerent experience of one of them can become a source of connection for the couple. What is important, and to remember is the fact that limerence is a state of mind and that the more you understand it, the more you can work with it and take control of your life.

If wanted, for those struggling with this, it is becoming easier to get the support needed to overcome this challenge especially from a supportive therapist who has in-depth knowledge of limerence.

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