Limerence

One psychologist-Dorothy Tennov-made a specialty out of studying infatuation, which she called limerence. Limerence is the initial, exciting phase of love when chemistry is dominant. It can be mutual or one-way (unrequited), and sometimes it thrives on hopelessness.

What is limerence? What are components of the limerence syndrome?

Tennov lists 12 basic components of limerence involving the Limerence Object (LO) who is the person loved.

Signs of "limerence" (infatuation)

1. Intrusive thinking (can't stop thinking about LO)

2. Acute longing for reciprocation (wanting LO to love back)

3. Dependency of mood on LO's actions or interpretation of LO's actions (e.g. interpreting actions as indicating reciprocated love)

4. Inability to react limerently to more than one person at a time (e.g. being turned off to boyfriend or girlfriend while having a crush on somebody else)

5. Fleeting relief through vivid imagination (e.g. feeling momentarily better by imagining a wild scenario in which the LO becomes available)

6. Feelings of shyness and fear of rejection when around the LO

7. Intensification of limerent feelings by adversity ("impossible" love)

8. An "extraordinary ability" to interpret neutral behaviors as signs of hidden passion in the LO

9. An aching of the "heart" (central region of the chest) when uncertainty is strong

10. Buoyancy (a feeling of walking on air) when hopes are high

11. A general intensity of feeling for the LO which leaves other concerns in the background

12. A tendency to emphasize the positive and downplay the negative characteristics of the LO (Adapted from Tennov, 1979, pp. 23-24)

Not all these characteristics are found in each case of limerence. For example, some people never experience an "aching of the heart." But the syndrome as a whole is distinct and recognizable. Previous authors called similar symptoms love sickness. Tennov blames it on an overactive limbic system.

What is the only way to discourage limerence, according to Tennov?

The only way limerence can be turned off, says Tennov, is by totally removing any hope of an actual relationship. Statements by the LO like "We can still be friends" are not effective in ending limerence, because they permit hope. Only an absolutely final statement ("I don't love you" or "I love someone else") ends all hope and may also end the limerence.

What tends to happen if strong attractions are not acted upon?

Time can also be a cure for limerence. Strong attractions may occur between normal people who are already committed to a faithful, long-term relationship. If the attraction is not acted upon, it tends to mellow into a friendship which perhaps has some extra sparkle due to residual attraction, but which does not approach the strength or obsessive quality of true limerence.

What did Tennov say about homolimerence?

In collecting her interview data on limerence, Tennov encountered people who had limerence feeling only for members of the same sex. Homolimerence, as Tennov called it, is like the heterosexual variety. It may persist in the absence of an actual relationship. Tennov expresses the opinion that such limerence feelings cannot easily be redirected toward the opposite sex; she refers to gender-orientation as the most "immutable" (unchangeable) quality of limerence.


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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey