Angela Leong
Written & Posted by Angela LeongRegistered Clinical Counsellor, Founder of AEM

The Quest for True Love: Understanding Limerence and Its Impact on Relationships

04 May, 2022
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In the 1970's, a female psychologist by the name Dorothy Tennov, from reviewing thousands of testimonies from participants, observed a phenomena that she said was persistent across SES, age group, gender, and culture. This phenomena was distinct from “infatuation”, which connotes a consciously casual and lusty nature of a pursuit. In addition, this phenomena is also distinct from being “in love”, which can span the ranges of experiences from the initial “falling in love” to the comfortable co-dependance of a committed long-term partnership. She called this particular phenomena “limerence”. It falls in between infatuation and being “in love” with another. These states are not mutually exclusive, for instance, one can be in LIMERENCE and know that LOVE between the entities exist. However, one major hallmark of LIMERENCE is the intensity of the romantic connection, which distinguishes it from the more mellow state of love and the more sexual state of lust.

Here’s an example of LIMERENCE:

“When I met Tim, it was like I fell in love with the back of his head, I just noticed so much the way he was interacting with others, that I felt like I just had to say hello and ask where was he from and where he was going. The moment I said “Bonjour”, he turned around and smiled with so much enthusiasm that I said to myself with utmost infatuation: “he’s the one”. Obviously, I had no idea who he was. But immediately and quickly we established what our families were like, what we were like as people and the more he spoke the more I continued to like what I heard. I couldn’t break away from the intensity of the synchronicities—we had so much in common. It was as if the whole universe had conspired to bring us together at that point. We only had about an hour together before he had to be on his way for work in another town, but even in the way we parted ways, it was like we couldn’t bear to end things so soon. He said he’d be back in town in two days and initially, I thought I wasn’t going to be around, because I was headed to the airport for a return flight home, but I change my flight just so I could see him for 5 more hours before I left his country. Upon parting ways and returning home, he told me that he was going to be the guardian of my heart, I almost immediately had a panic attack and then began a long period of intrusive thoughts, intrusive dreams, disrupted sleep, ecstatic longing, fluctuating mood caused by perceived disconnection, an inability to connect with others in the exact same way, and quite honestly confusion about the need to protect the relationships and unite in some deeply profound way.”

Dr. Tennov states that in the state of LIMERENCE, what we want most desperately is the beloved to feel as strongly about us as we do about them—and that the alternative would feel like abject rejection and loneliness. A combination of aliveness and helplessness, the high of LIMERENCE makes all other alternative paths and relationships pale in comparison. It’s possible that many people experience LIMERENCE but do not have the grit and endurance to manage the intensity of the fear of rejection that is the other side of the coin. There may be a degree of magic and destiny involved in meeting an object of one’s LIMERENCE, but without carrying out the necessary steps involved in transcending fear (which often manifests as emotions and cognitions of traumatic origins), the longer term state of love may never manifest.

Why look for LIMERENCE when dating?

When your relationship is built on a foundation of an intense initial stage, it becomes a protective factor in long-term relationships. According to the Gottmans, relationship researchers based in Seattle, Washington, they found that couples who were able to reflect positively on the intial stages of the relationship found more reason to stay together.

When one is in limerence, they are hoping for total reciprocation of feelings. Dr. Tennov claims that it is the subjective experiences of uncertainty and doubt which are needed to qualify one to be in the state of LIMERENCE. It is the natural state of uncertainty and doubt demarcates the state of vulnerability one is entering in an attempt pursue their beloved. It is a litmus test that one is indeed pursuing one’s deepest emotional fulfilment, rather than settling for an emotionally safer alternative.

It's safe to say that LIMERENCE is not for the faint of heart to say the least.

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