Limerence: When fantasy and obsession overtake love
Are you easily infatuated? Have you ever found yourself developing very strong and all-consuming romantic feelings for another person which seem almost obsessive in nature? If you can answer ‘yes’ you might be experiencing limerence, a term coined by the American psychologist Dr Dorothy Tennov in the 1970s.
Most of us have experienced the addictive nature of falling in love: the excitement, longing and hope that comes with being in the grip of yearning. Romantic love in the early stages is itself a form of addiction: brain scans show that the same reward centres of the brain are affected when we are in love that are also activated in behavioural addictions such as gambling. However, what happens when the yearning becomes all-consuming, takes on a life of its own and doesn’t ease with time?
Limerence describes the phenomenon of falling madly and uncontrollably in love with another person in a potentially obsessive and unhealthy way. A self-confessed limerent herself, Tennov discovered that there are two types of people when it comes to falling in love: limerents and remilents. Limerents fall in love with high degrees and passion and little control, while remilents are less emotionally involved and engaged. Limerents experience an intense longing for another person’s attention and positive regard. Their feelings are usually not reciprocated which further intensifies the longing.
Limerence is more than having a crush, it is a mental state of obsession, feverish yearning and avoidance of reality and it interferes with your daily life. As a limerent you find yourself scanning intently for any signs that the object of your limerence (referred to as Limerence Object or LO) might be interested in you after all. You might overinterpret past and present encounters, seeing them through a romantic lens that confirms your fantasy of the limerent object’s desire for you.
Signs that you are a limerent include the following:
- intrusive thinking where you can’t stop thinking about the LO
- a rollercoaster of emotional experiences ranging from euphoria to despair
- engaging in rituals such as looking at photos of LO or repeatedly reading messages
- struggling to concentrate on much else than the LO
- an idealisation of your LO; they are perfect in your eyes
- a constant preoccupation with the LO
- a constant fear of rejection by the LO
- a tendency to link all objects, places, experiences or situations back to your LO
- an inability to consider anybody else as a potential love interest
- a tendency to spend excessive amounts of time and money to look good enough for the LO
While the experience of limerence can give you much joy when there is a high in your encounter with the LO, it is also likely to be followed by the inevitable low where you worry about being acknowledged and seen by the LO. This anxiety may cause further problems that can lead to depression, issues with self-esteem or lack of sleep.
Limerence is less about love and more about infatuation; it feeds off desire and fantasy. As a limerent you will spend a lot of time fantasising about your object of desire: what they might do, how they will respond to you confessing their undying love for you or how wonderful it will feel to be together. Unlike love where you experience a feeling of attachment, wanting to commit to another person and deep concern for the wellbeing of another person, limerence is ultimately driven by your own needs and anxieties rather than a real engagement with another person.
Most likely, limerence is a sign of an insecure attachment. Often the fantasised relationship that gets conjured up relates to a deeply held desire to be finally loved and wanted, to attain what could not be previously attained. In some ways, the fantasy of the other might be more satisfying than the actual experience and potential disappointment that might come with being in a ‘real’ relationship. If you think of yourself as ultimately not being loveable, you might feel safer with the imagined relationship where all your needs are met.
Limerence shares many characteristics with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style. Due to inconsistent caregiving in childhood, a person with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style is initially never quite certain that they are being loved or indeed loveable. There is a strong fear of being rejected or abandoned and much effort to make sure that the love object is pleased. Limerence within the context of attachment styles is therefore not caused by the particular desirability of the limerent object but by unmet needs during childhood that manifest in this kind of obsessive, unhealthy preoccupation with an unattainable object. It is a symptom rather than a cause.