What is Limerence?

"To experience full blown romantic love is perhaps the most exhilarating, ecstatic and euphoric experience we could possibly have. It is so captivating, so powerful and so enticing that we are simply compelled headlong into the most delightful, delirious and disturbing emotions imaginable 

The wounds of romantic love are as intense as its blissfulness. It can be truly an experience of agony and ecstasy, and invariably is! To have experienced this "divine madness" is an almost intolerable privilege.

 To have never known its intensity may leave us with a quieter life, but romantic love when tasted changes our perceptions for ever."

In 1979 Dorothy Tennov researched the whole area of 'romantic love' in response to the profound effects it was having on so many of her students. She published her findings in a book called 'Love and limerence"'.

The dictionary lists some two dozen meanings of the word "love". Ancient Greek has five distinct words for love all expressing key qualities of particular types of love. But in English we have just one word: "love". How do we then distinguish between romantic love and affection, liking , fondness, caring, concern, infatuation, attraction, or desire. What exactly is the difference between loving and liking someone?

To deal with these nuances of love, Tennov came up with her own word "limerence" to describe the state of "being in love". She suggests that "limerence is not in any way pre-eminent among the types of human attractions or interactions, but when limerence is in full force, it eclipses all other relationships". I use the phrase 'romantic love' to describe Tennov's limerence.

This is how one person described their first feelings of "romantic love".

' I think I noticed Sue and felt physically attracted the minute I entered the room that evening. When I saw her dance, I was also impressed with her extraordinary talent. At that point I was ripe, and when she gave me that look, I was succumbed totally. We danced together several times and I was in seventh heaven. At the time, I was thinking, I'm in love with Sue. I was just thoroughly enjoying the situation. I was also noticing everything about here. And everything was beautiful, especially the fact that she seemed to be having the same experience.'

Sound familiar ? The arousing, awakening, heightened and intensely exhilarating feelings of limerence or romantic love are so captivating that they soon become addictive and our need to re-experience them again and again can drives us into all sorts of obsessive behaviours, and compulsions.

But whatever happens, however it is defined, it is intensely real, very personal, powerful, gripping, and life and love explosive!! Just look at the following headings below to see how others have defined this "romantic love", this divine madness", this "limerence".

The 'coup de foudre' (thunderbolt) of romantic love can make us deliriously happy as the intensity of passionate emotion overwhelms us. The "seventh heaven" state describes well the almost trance-like qualities of romantic love. Dorothy Tennov after extensive research listed what she saw as a number of key attributes of "limerence".

Of course romantic love because of its intensity and all consuming needs and demands, is a difficult and at times, dangerous path to follow. Those who have walked the path know full well its power, passion and persuasion, as well as its pitfalls .

A Clinical Description of key aspects of Limerence:

Limerence is a term coined by psychologist Dorothy Tennov to describe an intense and involuntary emotional state often characterized by romantic attraction, obsession, and preoccupation with another person. It's often colloquially referred to as having a "crush" or being "infatuated." While limerence shares some characteristics with love, it tends to be more intense, shorter-lived, and focused on the idealized image of the other person rather than on a genuine understanding of their traits and flaws.

From a psychological perspective, limerence involves a complex interplay of various cognitive, emotional, and behavioral factors:

  1. Idealization: People experiencing limerence tend to idealize the person they are infatuated with. They focus on the positive qualities and attributes of the object of their affection, often overlooking or downplaying any negative aspects. This idealization creates a distorted perception of the person and sets the stage for an intense emotional response.

  2. Intrusive Thoughts: Individuals in a limerent state often experience intrusive and persistent thoughts about the person they're infatuated with. These thoughts can range from daydreaming about romantic scenarios to imagining future interactions. The constant mental preoccupation can make it difficult to concentrate on other tasks and responsibilities.

  3. Emotional Roller Coaster: Limerence involves intense emotional highs and lows. A person in this state might feel euphoria and elation when they perceive reciprocation or positive attention from the object of their affection. Conversely, they might experience deep despair, anxiety, or jealousy if they perceive any sign of rejection or indifference.

  4. Fear of Rejection: Limerence is often accompanied by a strong fear of rejection. The person's self-esteem becomes closely tied to the approval of the limerent object, making the fear of being rejected or abandoned particularly distressing.

  5. Uncontrollable Feelings: People experiencing limerence often feel a lack of control over their emotions. The intense attraction and longing can be overwhelming, leading to a sense of helplessness in the face of these powerful feelings.

  6. Dependency: Limerence can foster a sense of emotional dependency on the object of affection. The person might seek constant validation, reassurance, and proximity to the limerent object to alleviate their anxiety and uncertainty.

  7. Selective Attention: Individuals in a limerent state tend to focus intensely on any cues or signals that might suggest the affection is reciprocated. This selective attention can lead to misinterpretation of neutral or ambiguous behaviours as evidence of mutual interest.

  8. Physical Symptoms: Limerence can also manifest in physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, and other signs of heightened arousal when thinking about or being near the limerent object.

  9. Fantasy and Escapism: Limerence often involves elaborate fantasies about the limerent object, creating a temporary escape from the realities of daily life. These fantasies provide emotional gratification and a sense of fulfillment that might be lacking in other areas.

It's important to note that while limerence shares similarities with obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction in terms of the compulsive thinking and behaviour patterns, it is not classified as a mental disorder in itself. However, if limerence becomes all-consuming, interferes with daily functioning, or leads to unhealthy behaviours, seeking support from mental health professionals might be beneficial.