I came across Dr L’s book Living with Limerence while researching for a post on Love Addiction. Interestingly enough, I was lovestruck by its subtitles: A guide for the smitten (that’s me!) and The neuroscience of infatuation and how to manage it (that’s for me!). Reading it furthered my crush : this book is intelligent, funny and very useful.
If you know obsessive love well, if you wonder what came upon you to believe that some of your exes were so special, if your feelings and your common sense go their separate ways when you fall in love, my advice is to read this book.
If you are currently putting a loving long term relationship at risk because of a crush you cannot resist, or if you suffer from the dreaded unrequited love, then reading this book is a must. Really.
What is Limerence ?
The word limerence has been coined by Dorothy Tennov, in her 1979 book Love and Limerence. She noticed that some of us experience a weird combination of symptoms in early stages of romantic relationships:
- frequent intrusive thoughts about the object of our affection,
- an exaggerated dependency of our moods on their action,
- a fleeting relief from maybe unrequited feelings through vivid fantasies about reciprocation,
- and an amazing intensity of feelings when they are around (among other things).
I would add: the inability to let go even if it is obvious that it won’t work, and a profound neglect of our real life while we are obsessing.
In other words, it looks a hell of a lot like love addiction.
Living with Limerence
If you read this definition and think: « well, that’s falling in love, you don’t need a fancy word for it », then you are in good company. But please also note that for some of us, the reaction is instead «Well, this sounds weird and unhealthy; is this a mental health condition ?». The latter category of people do form long term relationships and are able to love deeply. They just never experience limerence, or obsessive love, or infatuation, however you want to call it. And they don’t miss it.
One of the things I like about this book is that limerence is viewed as a normal experience (albeit not universal). Dr L even describes positive consequences, like heightening creativity (where would Arts be without limerence, really?) improving ourselves (where would our weight be without Limerence, really?), or what allows us to initiate a long term loving relationship….sometimes.
But he also points out that it can become a real problem, if one or both sides of the relationship are not free to act on these feelings, in the case of unrequited love, or if, heaven forbid, the other party is a narcissist.
Then, Limerence is a cause of trouble. Lots and lots of trouble.
The main issue is that limerence does prevent us to see The One clearly. We may miss crucial information like the fact that this person’s personality or values are not compatible with ours, that The One actually does not care about us at all, or that he, or she, suffers from a very serious personality disorder. The information is often available, but limerence makes us temporarily blind.
This explain why once we are out of it, we really, really wonder what the f#&@! happened to us to see this person as extraordinary. All we can perceive now is a bald midlifer or an insecure teenager or a fragile beauty queen or some other version of, you know, a normal person.
Worse still: if he or she has treated us badly during our limerent time, all we can see now is an immature, self centered, or downright insane person. I’ve been there a few times.
3 key takeaways from Living with Limerence
1. This is all in our head
I remember this incredible energy and hopefulness at the beginning of a limerent episode. I also remember this profound feeling of « rightness » about my feelings. Surely, if they were so strong, this had to be real love. It did not matter if – whatever the problem was -, it was surely still the real thing, with a profound, almost cosmic, significance. And surely, the object of my infatuation did feel something also. How could it be otherwise ?
This perspective shifted naturally with experience. I’m able to look back now and see the many times I was convinced I just met my soulmate. And how silly I feel, looking at these ordinary people I took for semi gods for a while. That’s embarrassing.
Dr L, being a neuroscientist, adds a nice scientific touch to this conclusion : the emotional storm that we are going through at these times is the result of neurochemicals involved in our mental processes. Nothing more. Nothing cosmic. And it says nothing about what the other person feels. We are deeply shaken, but It’s all in our head.
Case in point, from his website : the worst case of limerence I have ever seen. This poor woman actually left her family after one encounter at a seminar. She lived this evening as an earthquake, connecting with her soulmate, an obvious reunion with the man she was meant to live with. The guy, meanwhile, was probably looking for some extra marital action, or just having fun flirting. Like Dr L, I did not read the book. I’m pretty sure the rest of the story is not pretty though.
2. Limerence is not love
Dr L. calls persons we are infatuated with Limerent Objects, or LO. To call a person an object is disturbing, but it’s on purpose; the argument is that we do not really see them as persons.
In truth, we don’t know these people. We don’t see them. Who we are infatuated with is more how we need them to be. We basically make up someone in our heads. When limerence fades, and we compare this fabrication with the real person, the gap is sometimes funny, sometimes horrifiying.
Even if the gap is not so wide, there is still a mighty problem: deep down we believe we need this person because she or he can right all wrongs, solve our problems, and make us whole. We are addicted to them because we want to use them, in short. They are a sort of fantasized magic pill.
Now, can we really call this love ?
3. Don’t despair, the condition is manageable
I’m normally pretty intent on listening to our emotions and feelings, as a part of our recovery. But it comes with caveats, and this is a good example: we all have to listen to our emotions and feelings, as they are telling us something. However, it does not mean that we are to believe them, or take them as face value.
As an example, during my most severe limerent episode, I unknowingly became infatuated with a narcissist. It was a long time ago, but I still remember vividly the decision I took to follow my feelings, and the profound sense of rightness I felt about it.
The truth is, I needed this encounter to understand narcissism and the role it played in my childhood’s history. Still, whenever I think about this relationship now, all I experience is a form of nausea; so much for the soulmate certainty I had for months. It felt so real, and it was so wrong.
Being aware of what limerence is (a firework in our brain), what it can be (a reenactment so that we can integrate part of our history) and what it isn’t (fate, or an indication on reciprocation, or long term compatibility), is a good start.
Then, Dr L. advocates deprogramming, like the good neuroscientist he is. Here is a summary: when you arrive at the stage when you know limerence is bad for you, you need to :
- Go no contact
- Continue you daydreaming with your LO, but rewrite it to make sure it is full of humiliation, pain and rejection
- Focus on what you don’t like, or what you find not attractive, in your “limerent object”. Instead of marvelling at his toned and thin body, focus on his droopy eyes and receding hairline. Instead of seeing her as full of charisma and leardership, focus on how insensitive she can be. And don’t say they have no weak spot: you know it’s not true, my dear.
All of this should extinguish the reward you get each time you see them or indulge in a comforting daydream of a great life together. It is, really, about weaning yourself from your drug of choice, and managing the withdrawal phase.
Edit : this book is good at describing Limerence, and at giving behavioral strategies to stop it when it is unwanted. On the other hand, it’s a bit light on the explanation side. If you do want to explore causes of Limerence, I suggest you read this other book: You are the one you have been waiting for, from Richard Schwartz. Take care.