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by Andrea M. Darcy
Head over heels for someone? Sure that your entire life will change, if only that person realises you would be perfect together? Time to learn about love vs limerence.
What is limerence?
Limerence is a term used to describe an obsessive, uncontrollable feeling of adoration for someone else, alongside a deep need for that person to notice us and like us back. But they generally don’t, and so our obsession grows.
Psychologist Dorothy Tennov, who first coined the term back in the 1970s, felt that sexual attraction was an essential part of limerence. Her take on limerence maintained a certain openness, even suggesting it could sometimes lead to a relationship or marriage.
But modern research on limerence places it as a decidedly “negative, problematic, and impairing” emotional and cognitive state. It is now not seen as needing to include sexual attraction, but can also be used to describe things like being obsessed with wanting someone to be our friend.
The three stages
Limerence can be seen as arriving in three stages. First is ‘infatuation’, where we are overtaken by our own desire for the other person. Next comes ‘crystallisation’, where we allow this infatuation to exaggerate the person’s good points in our mind, while entirely downplaying their flaws, convincing ourselves they are everything we need. Finally is ‘deterioration’, where the rose-coloured glasses fall off and we feel bitter or conned.
Symptoms of limerence
If you are in a state of limerence, you can expect to:
- see the other person as ideal and put them on a pedestal
- overlook their flaws entirely, along with any red flags about them, or explain away any faults others force you to see
- have intrusive thoughts about the other person (thoughts that come randomly that you can’t control)
- endlessly think about them to the point of distraction
- experience a euphoric high thinking about them, or if they give you the slightest attention
- make a lot of those tidbits of attention, reading into it what isn’t actually there
- almost feel a physical ‘need’ to be with them
- and if you think you have no chance or they don’t like you, crash into feelings of despair and loss
- have unrealistic expectations of the other, such as believing that they will save you from yourself and change your entire life.
The highs and lows of limerence can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, rumination, and a disrupted sense of self.
Limerence vs lust
Lust, too, can see us thinking about another person often. But with lust there is a sexual focus. Limerence means we are obsessed with all of the person, and see them as perfect.
Lust is not all consuming like limerence. We can decide to stop thinking about the other person, or easily be distracted by someone else we find equally attractive.
With limerence, on the other hand, we can’t stop thinking about the other person. And there is not any competition as in our mind this person is the ideal.
Limerence vs love addiction
There is a lot of crossover between limerence and love addiction.
The main difference here is that limerence is an intense focus on one person. Whereas when we suffer from love addiction, we can quickly move our obsession and need for attention from one person to the next.
Although romance addiction, a sibling of love addiction, is almost identical to limerence, often also involving an intense obsession with one person.
Limerence vs anxious attachment
Thinking it’s not limerence as you always get a bit panicky and needy when you like someone? Feel afraid of losing them, but then stressed when you see them?
Anxious attachment comes from our childhood. It means our main caregiver was inconsistent. We were never sure when the next round of love and care was coming, or if we’d instead be met by indifference.
Anxious attachment doesn’t involve the obsession that limerence does, and yet the two can be closely linked. This is because limerence is connected to attachment issues as a child, as well as childhood trauma.
Is it really limerence? Why it might not matter
Is it limerence? Love addiction? Anxious attachment? Or just lust?
The truth is that labels like these come in and out of style across the internet and the psychological community. And the danger to obsessing over which one is or isn’t your unique problem is that you can talk yourself out of thinking you have a problem at all, if you don’t exactly match what you are reading.
These terms are not illnesses we can see under a microscope, or even scientific concepts. Tennov herself, who again coined the term limerence, emphasised that her ‘research’ only consisted of people’s verbal reporting on themselves.
Lust, limerence, love addiction…. The thing to make clear here is they are all different words to really describe the same thing — unhealthy relating patterns.
If you are trying to justify your behaviours and emotional states in relationships? It is because there is a problem. On a certain level you are aware that you lack positive relating skills or are not making choices for your better wellbeing.
It’s time to slow down and listen to that sneaky feeling that you are going the wrong direction, regardless of what exact label you can fit it all under.
Love vs limerence – the most important difference of all?
One of the things we oddly tend not to do if we are endlessly obsessed with trying to diagnose our relationships? Is take the time to learn what love really is.
Love is not like the movies or a romance book. It is not magical, it doesn’t fall out of the sky and save you. Instead it is about feeling safe to be yourself and grow together with someone else. It requires commitment, work, and healthy conflict.
Sound an alien or boring concept you want none of? Then, yes, it’s likely you are addicted to the highs and lows of unhealthy relating and it’s time to get support, whether that is self-help, or the support of a counsellor or psychotherapist.
Time to stop letting unhealthy relating rule and ruin your life? We connect you with some of London’s top relationship therapists. Or use our sister site to find UK-wide registered therapists who can help you with dating and love.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health writer trained in person-centred counselling and coaching. She has penned hundreds of popular articles about relationships.