On Being Limerent


Uncertainty of Reciprocation Is Required

Love is a human religion in which another person is believed in.

- Robert Seidenberg

by Dorothy Tennov

  1. The limerent reaction (referring to the state of being "in love") begins, usually at a point discernible at the time and later recalled.  Sexual attraction as such need not be experienced, although (a) the person is someone you view as a possible sexual partner, and (b) the initial "admiration" may be, or seem to be, primarily physical attraction.
  2. Once limerence begins, you find yourself thinking about the LO (the Limerent Other: the current love object) and receiving considerable pleasure in the process.  There is an initial phase in which you feel buoyant, elated, and, ironically, for this appears to be the beginning of an essentially involuntary process, free.  Free not only from the usual restraints of gravity, but emotionally unburdened.  You may be attracted to more than one potential LO.  You feel that your response is a result of LO’s fine qualities.
  3. With evidence of reciprocation from LO, you enjoy a state of extreme pleasure, even euphoria.  Your thoughts are mainly occupied with considering and reconsidering what you may find attractive in LO, replaying whatever events may have thus far transpired between you and LO, and appreciating qualities in yourself which you perceive as possibly having sparked interest in you on the part of LO.  (It is at this point in West Side Story that Maria, the contemporary Juliet, sings I Feel Pretty.)
  4. Your degree of involvement increases if obstacles are externally imposed or if you doubt LO’s feelings for you.  Only if LO were to be revealed as highly undesirable might your limerence subside.  Usually, with some degree of doubt its intensity rises further, and you reach the stage at which the reaction is virtually impossible to dislodge, either by your own act of will, or by further evidence of LO’s undesirable qualities.  This is what Stendhal called crystallisation.  The doubt and increased intensity of limerence undermine your former satisfaction with yourself.  You acquire new clothes, change your hairstyle, and are receptive to any suggestion by which you might increase your own desirability in LO’s eyes.  You are inordinately fearful of rejection.
  5. With increases in doubt interspersed with reason to hope that reciprocation may indeed occur, everything becomes intensified, especially your preoccupation with percentages.  At 100% you are mooning about, in either a joyful or a despairing state, preferring your fantasies to virtually any other activity unless it is (a) acting in ways that you believe will help you attain your limerent objective, such as beautifying yourself and, therefore increasing the probability that you will impress LO favourably during your interaction, or (b) actually being in the presence of LO.  Your motivation to attain a “relationship” (mating, or pair bond) continues to intensify so long as a "proper" mix of hope and uncertainty exist.
  6. At any point in the process, if you perceive reciprocation, your degree of involvement ceases to rise — until, of course, you become uncertain again.  The timid partners may attempt to conceal from each other the full nature of the reaction that has seized them, preventing full reciprocation in each other’s eyes and allowing the intensity to increase.

To summarise, these things are needed:

bulletA person who meets your criteria for an LO.  (The basic requisites appear to vary, and not always represent what you might consciously define as your criteria.  On the other hand, the similarity between limerents and LOs with respect to broad categories of gender, age, socioeconomic status, educational level, ethnicity, et cetera, suggests that criteria exist.)
bulletA sign of hope that the person might reciprocate.

For those who wish a cure, the most certain course is prevention.  Once you are in its grips your emotions are directed by the external situation, and the only effective action open to you is destruction of any opportunity for reciprocation to occur.

Limerence for a particular LO does cease under one of the following conditions: consummation - in which the bliss of reciprocation is gradually either blended into a lasting love or replaced by less positive feelings; starvation - in which even limerent sensitivity to signs of hope is useless against the onslaught of evidence that LO does not return the limerence; transformation - in which limerence is transferred to a new LO.

Source: from Love and Limerence: the Experience of Being in Love by Dorothy Tennov

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Limerence Link Request
Date: Thu, 23 Feb 2006 20:52:14 -0500
From: Stephen Ellerin, Publisher <se@gramps.org>

From the Offices of The Great American Publishing Society (GRAMPS)
Where Book Lovers Meet Great Books gramps.org

In researching "Limerence," this morning, I discovered your site.  Your Limerence page does a nice job of explaining and discussing limerence.  Recently, my small ePublishing house has published an new eBook for Dorothy Tennov ... it's the follow up to her original Love and Limerence.

After looking at your site, I wonder if you would you be willing to post, on your limerence page, a link to my site - particularly the page on which I explain Dr Tennov's book: gramps.org/limerence?  The site may offer some interest to your readers.

Dr Tennov writes of this site

Dear Stephen,

I like it.  You put it as I could not have done.  I think it might be a large step toward attracting the attention of limerent sufferers - and maybe even researchers.


If a link would be possible, I - and perhaps some of your readers - would be grateful.  Thanks in advance.

Stephen Ellerin

See also:

bulletWords Turn on Some (in the section on Society and Culture) - Schopenhauer thought it was the differences between people which attracted them to each other.  New Scientist says it's the words...

Don't Call It Love, Call It Chemistry

It is wrong to think that love comes from long companionship and persevering courtship.
Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity and unless that affinity is created in a moment,
it will not be created for years or even generations.

- Khalil Gibran

by Jamie Talan

Philosophers and poets, put down your pens.  Scientists are studying the chemistry of love.  And their findings are helping unravel age-old questions about attachment, obsession, craving and attention, behaviours that take over when people are in the throes of romance.  "Kings give up their thrones for love," said Lucy Brown, a neuroscientist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx who decided to research romantic love, which she calls "a wonderful example of long-term focused attention."

Biologically, it wouldn't be advantageous to remain in the first stages of love - infatuation - too long, Brown said.  She's been working with colleagues at Stony Brook and Rutgers universities to capture this state on a brain scan.  "It's too intense," she added.  "People wouldn't be able to get anything done."

The scientists recruited 17 Stony Brook students who defined themselves as being in the earliest stages of love, those hot and heady days when people spend most of their time obsessively thinking and doing for one another.  They used an imaging technique to compare brain activity when the students gazed at their lovers and when they looked at a picture of a good friend.  They recently analysed the results but are reluctant to talk about the findings until they have been published.  However, Brown believes that they have captured that "ain't no mountain high enough" place in the brain.  Many of the circuits that are activated when people look at their soulmates are deep in the limbic, or emotional centres.

"In some ways, I was surprised how restricted [the response in the brain] is," Brown said.  "The parts of the brain that involve unconscious processes like movement are heavily involved with strong feelings of love."

So remember, the next time you fall head over heels, to whisper these sweet words: medial insula, anterior cingulate, basal ganglia.  These are the regions that were recently identified by British scientists who conducted a similar study.  They also recruited people who had been "madly in love," but for years, not months.  Brown said many of the same regions are involved, but she added that her team has found another nugget of brain tissue that is uniquely active during the earlier, infatuation stage, suggesting that the brain is shaped, and reshaped, by the experience of love.

Which makes perfect sense to Stony Brook psychology professor Arthur Aron, a co-investigator in the brain scan study with Brown and Helen Fisher, a Rutgers anthropologist who studies love and attachment.  Aron has spent decades dissecting relationships - how people choose one another, what it means to be close to another person, intense attractions, and more recently, what people do to maintain that closeness.  Aron was also just awarded a grant from the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, at Case Western University in Ohio.  Directed by bioethicist Stephen Post, the institute has received $8 million from the Templeton Foundation to fund studies of altruism and love.  The first 21 grants, totaling $1.73 million, were just handed out.

Aron's latest contribution to love may be the notion that even happily committed people get bored with each other, and relationships last when time is spent on challenging, novel activities.  That's not just more time going to the movies together, he explains, but shared, novel experiences that more closely bond people together.  After analysing events that made 60 couples happy, Aron, who conducts a lot of his research with his wife, psychologist Elaine Aron, and their colleagues instructed the couples to spend 1.5 hours a week on an activity they rated as exciting and novel.  Over 10 weeks, those who did novel activities rated their relationships much closer compared with those who spent time together in merely enjoyable activities.

"There were dramatic changes in love," said Aron.  The couples in the study had been married for 10 to 15 years.  "Spending more time doing ordinary things doesn't make relationships any better," he said.  "It could even make it worse."  "It accentuates the boredom," he added.  Aron is now expanding his studies to include love and friendship between people who belong to different social groups.  His latest funding from Post's institute will be spent working with Stephen Wright of the University of California in Santa Cruz to better understand the positive and negative effects of these relationships.

Even scientists who work with primates will attempt to put love under the microscope with this new grant money.  Frans de Waal, director of the Living Links Center at Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta, is developing a study to test an evolutionary perspective on the emotional prerequisites for love.  "There has been so little research about altruism and the benefits of love [not limited to romantic love]," Post said.

Fisher, the Rutgers anthropologist who has developed her theory that there are three stages of love - lust, passion and attachment - says that breaking down the chemistry of love has led to new ways of thinking about it.  Fisher and Einstein's Brown used to think they were studying an emotion, this thing called love.  But these days they think that it may be more like a motivation, a biological drive not unlike food, sleep and sex.  "Love is a drive - a need, a craving,"  Fisher said. "It can be a positive addiction when things are going well, and horrible things can happen when things aren't turning out.  It's certainly one of the most powerful motivation systems in the brain.  The sex drive gets you out there looking.  And the romance allows people to focus their mating energy on one person at a time."

She believes that the love drive ultimately "conserves courtship time and energy."

Jamie Talan is a staff writer for Newsday, Incorporated

Source: Newsday 11 February 2003 © Newsday Incorporated

An interview with Dr Fisher is located on the page following this one

See also:

bulletLessons for Lovers (in the section on Drugs) - for more about the specific chemicals involved in falling in love.

That Crazy Little Thing Called Love

What is love?  Dopamine, phenyl ethylamine and oxytocin...

by Andrew G Marshall

Every popular song is about it, half our books and films obsess over it, everybody wants it.  But when we come to ask what love is, we are overwhelmed by a myriad different ideas and experiences.  On the one hand, love can lift us up; on the other, it can destroy us.  The problem is further compounded because we generally also feel tremendous love for our mothers, our children, our friends - even chocolate.  Or maybe especially chocolate.

How can one little word cover so many different nuances of feeling?  More importantly, if love means different things to different people, how can we ever effectively communicate it?

Scientists have been trying to define love according to their frame of reference for a very long time.  The pioneering sexologist Havelock Ellis provided a famous but entirely incorrect mathematical formula: love = sex + friendship.  Freud dismissed romantic love as the sex urge, blocked.  Social biologists have scanned our brains and identified three chemicals - dopamine, phenyl ethylamine and oxytocin - which they claim attract us exclusively to our mates for long enough, in their opinion, to conceive and give the offspring a secure start.

All of this is mildly diverting, but of no use when someone looks into your eyes and tells you that they love you.  Dictionaries are not much help either.  They list almost two dozen definitions - including affection, fondness, caring, liking, concern, attraction, desire and infatuation.  We all instinctively agree there is a huge difference between liking and complete infatuation.  What we need is a new lexicon, something to help us negotiate and understand all the different types of love.

Psychologist Dorothy Tennov has already taken the first step towards this goal.  She interviewed 500 people from different backgrounds and age groups, both gay and straight, about falling in love, and found a startling similarity in how each respondent described their feelings.  The basic components were: intrusive thinking (you can't stop daydreaming about them); an aching in the heart; an acute sensitivity to any act or thought which can be interpreted favourably; fear of rejection and unsettling shyness in their presence; intensification through adversity (at least up to a point) and a disregard for all other concerns.  Tennov also discovered "a remarkable ability to emphasise what is truly admirable and avoid dwelling on the negative".  Love is, in other words, blind, deaf and completely oblivious to foolishness.

To distinguish between these overwhelming emotions and the more stable, domestic feelings experienced by long-term couples who are only too aware of their partner's failings, Tennov coined a new term: limerence.  The obsessive, intrusive nature of limerence would be immediately recognisable to Martin: "I met her at a salsa class, the attraction was instant and we ended up exchanging telephone numbers, even though I knew she was married ... It was impossible to get down to work until we'd had our morning talk.  I'd ache if she didn't call."  Twelve months later, when the affair had ended, Martin realised that they had little in common.  He put the attraction down to "lust", yet the affair had been mostly non-sexual.  Tennov confirms: "Sexual attraction is not enough.  Selection standards for limerence are, according to my informants, not identical to those according to which mere sexual partners are evaluated, and sex is seldom the main focus for limerence.  However, the potential for mating is felt to be there, or the state described is not limerence."

When someone is under the spell of limerence, not even being rejected dampens down the madness.  If limerence is returned, the feelings intensify and the couple end up ignoring their friends.  Sadly, these intense feelings never last.  Tennov puts the duration somewhere between six months and two years.  This is a very similar figure to that proposed by social biologist Cindy Hayman of Cornell University, who tracked the brain chemicals of 5,000 subjects in 37 different cultures, and found this phase lasted between 18 months and three years.

It is important to have a new word for these intense feelings, for two reasons.  First, it recognises the normality of borderline crazy behaviour in the first stages of love, which could easily be stigmatised as stalking, or pathologised as too much in self-help books such as Women Who Love Too Much, by Robin Norwood.  Secondly, when limerence wears off, some people fear they are falling out of love.  In reality, love has just moved on to a new phase, and many people use limerence as a springboard for a long-term relationship.  Arguably, we need this temporary madness, to convince us to set up home and intertwine our destinies with relative strangers.

While scientists have not researched precisely what it is that makes us choose one person over another, they have looked at what makes a good long-term partnership.  At this stage we pick people who are like us, or who complement us in some hidden way.  Often, we search for other people with whom we can act out the issues we were unable to resolve as children.  Our partners have to speak the same language, or there is simply no connection.  I call this kind of deep, intertwined love "loving attachment".  Unlike limerence it is based on rational "eyes open" choices about compatibility.  Unlike limerence, loving attachment dies if it is not reciprocated, especially sexually.  Unlike limerence, loving attachment can last forever.

To truly understand loving attachment, it is necessary to clarify the difference between the love for our partner and that for our children and our parents.  Popular romance feeds us the idea of unconditional love, and during the limerence something approaching this is often achieved.  However, once a couple has moved on to loving attachment, unconditional love becomes a distant memory.  Most couples end up in my office because one half feels that their love is not returned, and because of that, over time, they have detached themselves from the relationship.

In contrast, the love for our children or parents is seldom conditional.  I call this bond loving affection, because affection exists largely independently of how the recipient responds.  The confusion between loving attachment and loving affection can cause just as much misery as the confusion over limerence.

Love is a source of tremendous joy and comfort.  However, it will also be the source of untold pain, until we begin to differentiate between the three strands contained in just one four-letter word.  Maybe this new lexicon can help us understand each other better.

Source: observer.guardian.co.uk The Observer 14 December 2003

What do you call the "study of love"?

The word erotology is defined as "the 'science' of love".  This is a rarely-used word, except in anthropology, where it is found slightly more often.  This term really relates to the study of sexual activity and techniques rather than to the study of love itself.

Source: askoxford.com

Love Is A Drug, Scientists Say

Being in love is physically similar to the buzz of taking drugs and also has withdrawal symptoms, an expert on addiction has said.  Dr John Marsden says dopamine - the drug released by the brain when it is aroused - has similar effects on the body and mind as cocaine or speed.  "Attraction and lust really is like a drug.  It leaves you wanting more," the National Addiction Centre head said.  His findings will appear in a BBC programme to be broadcast next month.

"Being attracted to someone sparks the same incredible feelings no matter who you are.  Love really does know no boundaries," he said.  According to Dr Marsden - a chartered psychologist - the brain which processes emotions becomes "fired up" when talking to someone it finds attractive.  The heart pounds three times faster than normal and causes blood to be diverted to the cheeks and sexual organs, which causes the feeling of butterflies in the stomach, he says.  However, as with cocaine and speed, the "hit" is only temporary, though it can last between 3 and 7 years, he added.

Dr Marsden's research for the BBC's Body Hits series suggests people look for similar features to themselves in a partner as they are searching for characteristics in their mother and father, who have already successfully raised a child.  "It might look like we are all after the perfect partner to wine and dine but underneath, our animal instincts are seeking out an ideal mate to share our genes with.  We tend to go for the smell of somebody who has a very different immune system and that stops you fancying your family.  Our biology drives us to find a perfect compromise between sameness and difference and we strike that balance all the time when it comes to choosing faces and smells," he said.

The research also suggests sex is booby-trapped to make partners bond.  "Your body has evolved over millions of years with one aim - to go forth and multiply, so while having kids may not be on the agenda just yet your body has a few tricks up its sleeve to drag you in that direction," he said.  According to the research the more two people have sex together, the more likely they are to bond.  "We all know you can have sex without falling in love but if you have enough sex with the same person there's a good chance you will hit the body's booby-trap which is there to tip you head over heels into love," said Dr Marsden.  "So your body goes all out to make you bond with your partner and that makes love highly addictive and the withdrawal sucks."

Source: news.bbc.co.uk  28 November 2003 © BBC

The Seven Stories of Love

by Mark Henderson

From a review of the book The Seven Stories of Love and How to Choose Your Happy Ending by Marcia Millman

Every romantic film, however innovative it may seem, is really a variation on one of these seven themes:

  1. The most common category of love story is First Love, normally an affair that separates a character from his or her parents, such as in Titanic and Dirty Dancing.  These are about someone who leads you into a different world.  It needn't be a lifelong relationship, and often the object of love is a parental substitute: he or she would die for you, but you can still have sex.  A sub-genre is the story of the widow/widower who finally separates from the memory of a dead spouse, ready for love again, as in Ghost.
  2. Mentor and Protégé:  As well as Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, this includes films such as Educating Rita and The Graduate.  It is normally, but not necessarily, an older, controlling man and a younger woman.  But the younger person also has a motive: the recognition and nurture of a more powerful patron.  This sort of story usually ends in conflict, but it need not if the teacher is ready to accept the pupil as an equal in the end.
  3. Obsessive Love is often a scenario that applies to those who meet someone they idealise (the Fatal Attraction story); they go too far and become so demanding that they eventually ensure they will be rejected.  The result is often violent.  Wuthering Heights is a variation on the same theme.
  4. Downstairs Woman and Upstairs Man, a theme that includes Pretty Woman, Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Eyre. and which can end in either an uplifting or tragic fashion.  It is the story of someone who pursues a partner who is hard to win over for fear of what society would think of them, or falls in love with a partner who ought to be out of reach.  It is often about proving that a man who appears cold can actually be quite tender.
  5. Sacrifice: a person gives up the love of his/her life, as in The End of the Affair, Brief Encounter, Casablanca and The Bridges of Madison County.  It's theme is a person who has always led a cautious life but becomes embroiled in a passionate affair.  He or she is then caught between wanting to be with their partner or wrecking the life of someone else - or even their own life.
  6. Rescue: one lover seeks to nurse the other back to physical or emotional health.  The genre includes Beauty and the Beast, Dark Victory, Mona Lisa and Shadowlands.  It can be about choosing a partner who is utterly dependent, who will love, but who will soon be gone.
  7. The Courage of Love: the theme of some of the most successful love stories of all time, such as Sleepless in Seattle, Onegin and An Affair to Remember.  It is the story of willingness to take a risk for love.  It is about the person who finally learns to make a commitment, to have faith that things will work out.

Source: The Dominion Tuesday 8 May 2001

See also:

bulletSafe in Your Mouth (next page in this section) - What does love mean?  Just ask a kid...

Throwaway Marriages not a Good Foundation for Children

Unhappy families ... Rod Stewart with Rachel Hunter and their children Renee and Liam

by Dr Thomas Stuttaford

Rod Stewart has called for wedding vows to he renewed every year, like a dog licence.  But is this any way to approach marriage?

Ornithologists have always assumed that while sparrows were the acknowledged Casanovas and Messalinas of the bird world, some other types mated for life.  It turns out, however, that this is not so.  Recent dna testing has shown that these apparently dutiful and faithful pairs, nesting happily together, were just better at concealing their basic instincts than sparrows.

Former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell probably has no intention of emulating the sparrow, for she has a reputation for being rather choosy about her private life, but she certainly doesn't see marriage as being till death do us part.  She said last week: "I think I'm going to get married at least twice.  It's inevitable, really".

To Halliwell, it seems that marriage is like an overcoat - however good the quality, however faithful the service provided, it will inevitably wear out.

If reports are to be believed, Rod Stewart's life has been much more sexually adventurous than Halliwell's.  He has had three families by three women.  As a result of his experience he has suggested that the marriage vows should be binding for only a year at a time, and thereafter renewed if the couple agree.

There is an ancient Chinese proverb which says that a wife without children is like a mistress, and a mistress with children like a wife.  Most of us would object to the lack of humanity that this axiom betrays.  A similar, yet kinder, message is conveyed by Christians who believe the procreation of children is considered of fundamental importance.

If the Church and the Chinese philosophies prevail and there are children, it is their future that becomes all important.  The need to maintain the family overrides any other considerations.

Thanks to their genetic background, many children grow up to be happy and stable people despite the inconstancies of their parents.  But there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that even if nurture isn't as important as nature, it is still very important indeed.  Statistics show that if children are to be given the best chance in life, their parents should stay together.  There seems to be a primeval desire in children to want the traditional background provided by two parents living together in a stable and preferably happy home.  Evidence suggests that as much as children hate quarrelling parents, in most cases, they would opt for a continuation of the family rather than a split.

Halliwell and Stewart are advocating the standard Hollywood marriage ethos.  Unfortunately the power of the cinema, and later the television, has resulted in the beliefs of a narrow section of society permeating every country.  We accept the Hollywood mores about marriage and sex.  According to these, it is perfectly socially responsible for a couple to divorce when they "fall out of love" and to marry again, regardless of the distress and misery this causes their children.

The Hollywood view has also spread some extreme puritanism over sexual misdemeanours.  I frequently meet patients who tell me that they are divorcing their spouses because of infidelity.  This, in their opinion, signifies that their partner no longer loves them, that the relationship is not worth maintaining, that divorce is the only option and that it is too bad about the children.

Life was sometimes much better when marriage was more tolerant, for even if a blind eye isn't essential in every marriage, some blurring of vision is.  The Edwardians, exemplified by Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, demonstrated extreme levels of tolerance.

Earlier, even Byron had written that marriage in time is sharpened from its high celestial flavour down to a very homely household savour.  Most people find this very satisfactory.  Today's couples must learn that, even in a consumer society, a throwaway marriage is not a good foundation for society and the next generation. - The Times

Source: The Dominion Friday 4 May 2001

See also:

bulletToo Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay (the page preceding this one) - particularly the second article, "Search for a Soulmate, or Love the One You're With?"

Source: Funny Times May 2001

For articles on affair motivators, changing relationships, do-it-yourself psychotherapy, lies, insincerity, social graces, cosmetic surgery, roots of culture, self-deception, love, and reunions of lost relatives click the "Up" button below to take you to the Index page for this Relationships section.

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