In the mid 70s a psychologist named Dorothy Tennov invented her own word to describe intense and brainless infatuation. The word she crafted was limerence: a blind and total surrender to the tsunami of illogical passion, of involuntary, obsessive attraction, and to the madness of being swept off of your feet by what some might dreamily call Real Love.
Mrs Tennov found the concept worthy of elaboration and did a practical research on the subject that included many interviews with lovesick people that had been ardent practitioners of the type of painful “love” that hundreds of thousands of novels and movies have glorified as the pinnacle of life. Consequently Dorothy Tennov gathered her findings and conclusions in a book dedicated to the subject of love – with the good and the bad that it can cause: Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love.
Our culture has managed to glorify romance which is based on involuntary hyper excitement and insatiable longing to have your turbulent feelings reciprocated.
In our world of music, movies and talk shows, love is always described as omnipotent and outrageous.
Passion is the active ingredient of that kind of exalted love where two people desperately strive to be together – quickly achieving a sense of all-consuming connectedness that sucks them into (primarily physical) mutuality from which they are never to recover. That is what Real Love must be.
Nevertheless, a huge amount of that sharp passion and brainless desire is triggered not by getting to know someone and appreciating them for who they are, but by projections that indicate an inner need to feel uncertain and hungry in love, to wait around with a sickening feeling of zest and lustful impatience. A need to experience love turbulently and ambiguously, gradually falling into submissiveness and becoming wrapped into the presence of the other – shattered by the pain of their absence and revived by the relish of their return.
How does limerence feel like?
- Idealization of the object of desire, making them unmatchable early on in the relationship (or even prior to the establishment of a relationship)
- Inability to think about anything else but the partner
- Feeling of inferiority and inadequateness – shy and clumsy behavior; desire to agree
- Panic of an upcoming possible rejection or abandonment; irrational jealousy
- Euphoric delight when the object appears to have strong feelings, too
- Reading into the words and actions of the object, searching for signs of affection
- Finding warped joy in fights because they’re usually followed by a honeymoon phase
- Rescheduling and cancelling your own appointments in accordance with the plans of the object – so that you don’t miss a possible occasion to spend time with them
- Panting, trembling, blushing, heart palpitations when you are around the person
That dynamic of frightfully longing for someone’s touch and presence reminds us a lot of the longing of the small infant for the presence of the mother. And if some disturbance happened in that connection with the mother, chances are the script will be re-enacted by the person in order to change the end of the story – to eventually gain that life-sustaining love and keep it forever.
When we are babies the love of our mothers is really something we won’t survive without.
Yet when we become adults such intense and desperate longings create a warped idea of how real love must be marked by that inconsolable, anxious preoccupation with an idealized image – otherwise, if it is less unsettling or sweetly damaging, this love is practically a scam kind of love. Not real.
Some people who have a shaken sense of self or have been raised in an emotionally unresponsive environments, somehow become insatiable for love and affection. They idealize the idea of finding a loved one and drinking their love thirstily, smearing the boundaries of their own identity and inviting the other person to fill in the gap created by unanswered love, a broken heart, uncured self hate and so on.
The idea is that the more parts of you are lost, obscured, repressed or disowned somewhere along the way, the more desperately and impatiently you will need to intensely merge with another, to become part of them, and they to become part of you, making amends for all that it is not complete, enough, or good enough inside you. And it will all have to work like magic, instead of being achieved through conscious effort – or, God forbid! – tedious hard work. Because Real Love must always happen almost against your will, sweeping you away. It is not something you gradually grow into feeling. It is not that predictable and slow. Not that choosable.
The paradox is that no amount of passionate limerence can create or recreate what has been missing inside you or taken away from you. Limerence is not a cure. Burning passion and inconsolable crying are not the fix you need to feel alive. They are an analgesic that just volumes down the intensity of your weakened sense of a worthy self. This kind of love is like putting salt into an open wound – it quickly revives the ever present fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, the dormant self hate and alienation from self.
A possible cure for those who live and die through passionate love is not to eventually become one with another soul and distance themselves from the panicking discomfort of JUST being themselves.
I personally believe that the painful road to medicating the impoverished or non-existent sense of a worthy self is through self discovery. And self discovery is lengthy, enraging, time-consuming, painful sometimes. You can only grow through stretching and stretching hurts.
So there is no sweet fix for those that get high on limerence. For those who experience withdrawal symptoms the moment their love-supplying-system is taken away from them, either abruptly or just on a daily basis. They detest to disconnect. Because it hurts them and scares them. And it is just a vicious cycle – they need more love to fix the pain of being away from love. And then the experience of returning back to the love object comes with such a rush of relief that it just reaffirms its own vital importance.
The only way to understand why this is happening, is to ruthlessly look inside yourself and see: 1) why do feel mostly attracted to the kind of love that is uncertain, humiliating, unsettling, enraging, and 2) whether you can really let yourself be loved and taken care of instead of chasing that stomach-wrenching feeling of almost being loved and almost being taken care of.