Love is a pretty well-known word. Practically everyone’s felt it at some point, and we all know what it is, even though we can’t put it into words. So there’s no need for us to go over what it is right now.
But limerence isn’t that well-woven into our collective conscience as love. In fact, most people don’t know what it means — or, rather, that there’s a word for it. And once they learn about it, the single most common question they have is: “Wait, is this love?”
Well, it isn’t, not really. Let’s get into what limerence is and how love differs from it.
What Is Limerence?
Let’s start off by explaining what limerence is.
We have psychologist Dorothy Tennov to thank for coining the term limerence. She introduced it in 1979, and she described it thus:
“[Limerence is] … an involuntary interpersonal state that involves an acute longing for emotional reciprocation, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and emotional dependence on another person.”
That’s a pretty neat, succinct definition of the word. It doesn’t convey exactly how it makes you feel, though, so let’s try describing it a little more personally.
Have you ever met someone that just rocks your world the moment you meet them? Whenever you see them, it’s like lightning whips outward from your chest to your fingertips. Your brain turns into scrambled eggs every time you talk to them, and you can’t stop thinking about them when they aren’t around.
But they aren’t around nearly as much as you want, no, need them to be. You don’t feel like eating, while sleeping just turns into laying in your bed wide awake all night, ruminating on how/when you’ll get to talk to them again. How amazing would it be if they felt about you at least a fraction of what you feel about them?
That right there is limerence.
Limerence Is the Result of Biochemical Processes in the Brain
The above sounded pretty artsy and emotional, but limerence is more than that. It’s actually a very explainable biochemical process that goes on in your brain.
You see, when seeing or thinking about your limerent object (i.e., the person towards whom you harbor feelings of limerence), your hypothalamus sends signals ordering the pituitary gland to release a whole bunch of chemicals. These chemicals include dopamine, phenylethylamine (a natural amphetamine), estrogen, testosterone, and norepinephrine.
It’s this batch of different compounds that create that euphoric high people feel when they first meet someone (like at the early stages of a relationship). It’s a real high, too, with many equating it to the rush you feel after doing a line of cocaine.
And like all highs, this one also has to end. Spending enough time with your desired partner gradually grants diminishing returns, as all the previous chemicals just don’t scratch that itch as much. In their place, your body starts introducing the so-called attachment hormones (vasopressin and oxytocin).
From there, passion and mania make way for commitment and attachment. It doesn’t exactly happen overnight, but it’s noticeable. The ephemeral nature of limerence often has people thinking they no longer love the person they’ve been so attracted to before.
Speaking of which…
How Long Does It Last?
Limerence burns bright, but it also burns fast. While it may feel like forever as long as you’re in that stage of intense longing for reciprocation, it fizzles out relatively quickly once you get together.
So how long does limerence last? By most accounts, limerence lasts anywhere between six months and two years into the relationship. Again, it’s not a switch. You just feel flipped in your head one day. It’s a gradual process that slowly replaces that world-warping high with a more sober perspective.
All the same, some people may be experiencing limerence withdrawal as a sudden event or events. That is, in all likelihood, because we only tend to notice the drop in infatuation when something specific happens (a fight, meeting someone else, an annoying habit you notice). That can make you reexamine your feelings and realize they’re half of what they used to be.
Signs of Limerence
So, could you be feeling limerence right now? Well, only you can tell for sure, but here are a few red flags.
Obsessively thinking about the so-called limerent
You stop eating, sleeping, or being productive. There simply isn’t any room left in your head for anything else but the object of your desire. It’s so intense that people often compare it to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Longing for reciprocation
This is probably the worst par — knowing that the person you’re into feels nowhere near as intoxicated by you. You keep longing for them to come around, but it takes your life over, so you spend your days fantasizing about this.
Feeling ecstatic around the limerent
If what you feel around a given person can be summarized by a starry-eyed teen’s favorite song about the experience of being in love, odds are you’re in a state of limerence.
Anguish when the relationship ends
Once the relationship with your limerent is over, it can feel like someone pulled the world under your feet like a rug. Usually, this feeling is followed by a strong impression that you can’t go on living without the person in question.
Love vs. Limerence
All of this sounds a lot like falling in love. It’s similar to the feeling described by so many songs and poems you’ve heard in your life. So what’s the difference between the two?
Love results in long, healthy relationships. It isn’t something that just comes out of nowhere, nor is it something that fades away in a short period of time.
But when it comes to limerence, the experience is much more intense and far shorter. For a while, it can feel like a thousand loves at once, all packing in and focused on one perfect person. However, it quickly dwindles into warm memories and wondering what drugs you were on at the time.
Love is appreciating someone for who they are and striving to make them happy. On the other hand, limerence usually twists someone into an image of what you want them to be. All you want is them and for them to only want you. And when reality sets in, a limerent relationship often has nothing left to prop it up.
As wonderful as limerence can feel, over time, it fades in comparison to true romantic love, the much healthier alternative.