It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s not a diagnosis.
By Stephanie Lazzara
Written on Feb 01, 2024
Photo: Becca Tapert | Unsplash, teetuey | Canva
I always fell in love hard, so I was used to big feelings. But when limerence hit me, I knew something was different. I could barely find any information when I started my quest to figure out what was happening. Search results kept referencing “obsessive love” — but that has a disturbing vibe that doesn’t fit how I felt, and it gives the feeling of a diagnosis.
I knew I wasn’t ill. I was upside-down in love with the wrong person at the wrong time who may or may not have felt the same way — or maybe he couldn’t feel the same.
The dictionary says limerence is:
“The state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one’s feelings but not primarily for a sexual relationship.”
After some in-depth research, I discovered many myths about what limerence is and why we feel it, myths that lead people to feel unnecessary shame.
Six myths about limerence and why it’s nothing to be ashamed of:
1. It’s not a crush or infatuation
There aren’t enough words for love in the English language! This is why psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the word limerence to describe the state of being in love. Limerence is much different than a crush or infatuation in its intensity, tenaciousness, intrusive thinking, duration, and all-consuming feelings (emotional and physical).
2. Limerence doesn’t happen to everyone
Why do some people experience limerence and others don’t? While this is still a significant area of social and scientific research, I’ve found three critical underlying factors can often lead a person to be more prone to limerence: having an anxious/insecure attachment style, going through a big life transition or loss, or being an HSP (highly-sensitive person).
Timing also matters. You may not experience limerence until you meet a particular person who triggers your unique and deeply held love map, which may remind you of someone you loved but lost, or who you could never quite get the attention and love you needed from, such as a caregiver or parent.
3. Love with shame attached
You might judge yourself harshly for how you feel and can’t control. The person you love may not know the extent of your feelings, so facing possible rejection by disclosing your emotions feels like too much to risk. You may be in a position where you’re not available to fall in love with someone else like you’re already in a relationship, and this creates a chasm between your loyalty to your relationship and what you feel for someone else. You’re probably less inclined to seek help or talk to others about it.
The fear of judgment, being misunderstood, or being told, “Get over it,” is real. In this way, your experience remains intimately yours and gathers more and more energy as a secret. It can start to eat away at your life and mental health unless you seek some support.
4. Lack of certainty strengthens limerence
Dorothy Tennov found limerence is a particular state of being in love that often gains momentum and crystallizes from a lack of certainty and mixed signals from the love interest. A signifier of its limerence compared to other states of love is you don’t feel comfortable disclosing how you feel, and you feel extremely sensitive to the risk of rejection.
Limerence is a state of being in love and also of not knowing. The feelings mixed with high ambiguity, uncertainty, and insecurity can fuel longing and desire. It can prolong the feelings of desire, attraction, hope, despair, and confusion. Not seeking clarification if the feelings are reciprocated can also lead to limerence lasting longer than many other states of love. Sometimes, the fastest cure for limerence is killing the limerent hope by simply addressing the feelings.
5. Limerence is not the same as lust or physical attraction
While lust and physical attraction can be a part of limerence, the main difference between lusting or being infatuated with someone and limerence is limerence has a primary goal of uncontrollable, overwhelming desire to gain the confirmation of reciprocated feelings of love, attraction, and care from your love interest. It can feel like everything hinges on their reciprocation of your feelings.
Your self-esteem, confidence, and mood can skyrocket or plummet based on signals (or lack thereof) from your love interest. There is an intense, overwhelming desire for reciprocated, mutual feelings of admiration, attraction, interest, love, and care that don’t usually accompany physical attractions.
6. Limerence isn’t companionate love, but it’s still love
Limerence can take hold when you don’t know a person very well. It can be a fantasy projection of who you think the person is. You fill in the blanks of what they are. Often, we fall limerent with someone we know well, and their character and qualities are why we have fallen limerent in the first place. It could be a coworker, a friend, or someone you see daily where the feelings suddenly and quite unexpectedly turn into limerence.
Limerence is not companionate or affectionate bonding love. Yet, it doesn’t mean the feelings you have aren’t real. Categorizing limerence as a state of fantasy or projection minimizes the feelings of the person experiencing limerence and can cause even more distress and feelings of shame. Even if your love interest does not reciprocate, it’s uncertain, or the relationship can’t be consummated, your feelings are still valid.
In most cases, relief from the negative aspects of limerence requires thoughtful examination and curiosity about who you are, your life before the limerence, where you are now, what you desire, and what you’ve held dear to you as your ‘ultimate dream of mutual love.’
I’m many years from my most dramatic limerence experience, so I can write about it from the other side and tell you It is much easier than when I was in the thick of limerence. There’s a light at the end of the limerence tunnel!
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Stephanie Lazzara is an NYC-based ICF-certified holistic life, health, and relationship coach. She helps her clients build healthier habits for better relationships.
This article was originally published at stephlazzara.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.