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Limerence, as posited by psychologist Dorothy Tennov, is an involuntary cognitive and emotional state in which a person feels an intense romantic desire for another person (the limerent object). Limerence can often be what is meant when one expresses "having a crush" on someone else although limerence, unlike a crush, can last months, years or even a lifetime. It is characterized by intrusive thinking and pronounced sensitivity to external events that reflect the disposition of the limerent object towards the individual. It can be experienced as intense joy or as extreme despair, depending on whether or not the feelings are reciprocated. While the use of the word has not gained widespread acceptance, nor can it be found in most current dictionaries, limerence theory is nevertheless used in psychological studies dealing with romantic love and is frequently discussed by those interested in Tennov's work.
Tennov describes limerence as beginning with a barely perceptible feeling of increased interest in the limerent object, that, if nurtured by appropriate conditions, can grow to enormous intensity, although in most cases it subsides to a low level after some time. At this stage, states Tennov, limerence is either transformed through reciprocation or it is transferred to another person who then becomes the new limerent object. Under the best of conditions the waning of limerence through mutuality is accompanied by the growth of an emotional response more suitably described as love.
The concept of limerence first originated in Tennov's research in the mid-1960s. She interviewed over 500 people on the topic of love in the hopes of understanding and qualifying the form of "passionate love" described in French romanticist Stendhal's treatise On Love, in which the author delineates his notion of crystallization. Tennov coined the term "limerence" in 1977, publishing it in her 1979 book "Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love". The coinage is arbitrary and was not derived from any previous word; Tennov decided to use the word simply because it seemed euphonic and "fitting" to her and two of her students.
Distinction from love and other emotions
Tennov differentiates between limerence and other emotions by asserting that:
- Love involves concern for the other person's welfare and feeling, while limerence does not require it, although it can be incorporated.
- Affection and fondness exist only as a disposition towards another person, irrespective of whether those feelings are reciprocated, whereas limerence demands return.
- Sex with the object is neither essential nor sufficient to an individual experiencing limerence, unlike one experiencing sexual attraction.
- Limerence is much longer-lived than feelings such as infatuation, romantic passion, and puppy love, enduring for months or even years.
Limerence has certain basic components:
- intrusive thinking about the limerent object
- acute longing for reciprocation
- some fleeting and transient relief from unrequited limerence through vivid imagining of action by the limerent object that means reciprocation
- fear of rejection and unsettling shyness in the limerent object's presence
- intensification through adversity
- acute sensitivity to any act, thought, or condition that can be interpreted favorably, and an extraordinary ability to devise or invent "reasonable" explanations for why neutral actions are a sign of hidden passion in the limerent object
- an aching in the chest or stomach when uncertainty is strong
- buoyancy (a feeling of walking on air) when reciprocation seems evident
- a general intensity of feeling that leaves other concerns in the background
- a remarkable ability to emphasize what is truly admirable in the limerent object and to avoid dwelling on the negative or render it into another positive attribute.
Limerent object perception
- Main article: Crystallization (love)
Crystallization, from Stendhal's 1822 work On Love, is a process in which the limerent object’s attractive characteristics are emphasized and unattractive characteristics given little or no attention, or are even seen as attractive. The attributes are not pure inventions; the existing features of the limerent object merely undergo enhancement. Objectively trivial aspects of the limerent object’s appearance or behavior may be seized on and the good qualities endlessly re-visualized in the limerent consciousness. Neutral aspects of the limerent object are perceived as charming and delightful.
No matter what the limerent object does it can be interpreted favorably, at least up to a point. There is an amazing capacity to react positively to deficiencies. The limerent reaction may miss by a wide mark the truly important features or ignore serious problems in the limerent object.
During the height of limerence, thoughts of the limerent object are both persistent and intrusive. Limerence is first and foremost a condition of cognitive obsession. All events, associations, stimuli, and experiences return thoughts to the limerent object with great consistency. The constant thoughts about the limerent object define all other experiences. If a certain thought has no previous connection with the limerent object, immediately one is made.
Limerent fantasy is unsatisfactory unless rooted in reality, due to the fact that the fantasizer may want the fantasy to seem realistic and somewhat possible. Fantasies that are concerned with farfetched ideas are instantly dropped by the fantasizer. Sometimes it is retrospective; actual events are replayed from memory with great vividness. This form predominates when what is viewed as evidence of possible reciprocation can be re-experienced. Otherwise, the long fantasy is anticipatory; it begins in the everyday world and climaxes at the attainment of the limerent goal. A limerent fantasy can also involve an unusual, often tragic, event.
The long fantasies form bridges between the limerent's ordinary life and that intensely desired ecstatic moment. The duration and complexity of a fantasy depend on the availability of time and freedom from distractions. The bliss of the imagined moment of consummation is greater when events imagined to precede it are possible. In fact they often represent grave departures from the probable.
It is not entirely pleasant, and when rejection seems likely the thoughts focus on despair, sometimes to the point of suicide. The pleasantness or unpleasantness of the state seems almost unrelated to the intensity of the reaction. Although the direction of feeling, i.e. happy versus unhappy, shifts rapidly, the intensity of intrusive thinking alters less rapidly, and alters only in response to an accumulation of experiences with the particular limerent object.
For example, fantasies may include 'rescuing' the limerent object from a situation of peril and being rewarded in some way implying reciprocation. Another example of limerent fantasy would include a limerent object proclaiming love in a climactic fashion, such as in dying moments.
Fantasies also are occasionally dreamed by the one experiencing limerence. Dreams give out strong emotion and happiness when experienced, but often end with despair when the subject awakens. Dreams can reawaken strong feelings toward the limerent object after the feelings have declined.
Fear of rejection
Along with the emphasis on positive qualities perceived in the limerent object, and preoccupation with the hope for return of feelings, there is a fear that limerence will be met by the very opposite of reciprocation: rejection. Considerable self-doubt and uncertainty is experienced and it causes pain, but also enhances desire.
Limerent fear of rejection is usually confined to shyness in the presence of the limerent object, but it can also spread to situations involving other potential limerent objects, though generally it does not affect other spheres of life.
Although it appears that limerence blossoms under some forms of adversity, extreme caution and shyness may prevent a relationship from occurring, even when both parties are interested. This results from a fear of exposing one's undesirable characteristics to the limerent object.
Limerence develops and is sustained when there is a certain balance of hope and uncertainty.
The base for limerent hope is not in objective reality but reality as it is perceived. The inclination is to sift through nuances of speech and subtleties of behavior for evidence of limerent hope. "Little things" are noticed and endlessly analyzed for meaning. The belief that the limerent object does not and will not reciprocate can only come about with great difficulty. Limerence can be carried quite far before acknowledgment of rejection is genuine.
Excessive concern over trivia may not be entirely unfounded. Body language can indicate a return of feeling. What the limerent object said and did is recalled with vividness. Alternative meanings of those behaviors are searched out. Each word and gesture is permanently available for review, especially those which can be interpreted as evidence in favor of "return of feeling." When objects, people, places or situations are encountered with the limerent object, they are vividly remembered. Each encounter is viewed, as if through a magnifying glass, to dissect and analyze what voice tones, gestures, body language, and context of conversation determine about the reciprocation of feelings and progression of the relationship.
The physiological correlations of limerence are heart palpitations, trembling, pallor, flushing, pupil dilation and general weakness. Awkwardness, stammering, shyness, and confusion predominate at the behavioral level. There is apprehension, nervousness, and anxiety due to terrible worry that any action may bring about disaster. Many of the commonly associated physiological reactions are the result of the limerent fear.
The super-sensitivity that is heightened by fear of rejection can get in the way of interpreting the limerent object’s body language and lead to inaction and wasted opportunities. Bodily signals may be emitted that confuse and interfere with attaining the limerent object.
A condition of sustained alertness, a heightening of awareness and an enormous fund of energy to deploy in pursuit of the limerent aim develop. The sensation of limerence is felt in the midpoint of the chest. This is ecstasy at times of mutuality and despair at times of rejection.
No matter how intensely reciprocation is desired it cannot simply be asked for. To ask is to risk premature self-disclosure. The interplay is delicate, with the reactions of each person inextricably bound to the behavior of the other. Progression toward ecstatic mutuality may not involve externally created difficulties but feinting and parrying, minor deceptions, and falsehoods. The uncertainty required by the limerent reaction may often be merely a matter of perception .
Despite ideals and philosophy, a process begins that bears unquestionable similarity to a game. The prize is not trifling: reciprocation produces ecstasy. Whether it will be won, whether it will be shared, and what the final outcome may be depends on the effectiveness of actions and those of the limerent object; indeed on skill. Deviations from straightforward honesty become essential limerent strategies.
Fears lead to proceeding with a caution that will hopefully protect from disaster. Reason to hope combined with reason to doubt keeps passion at fever pitch and too-ready limerent availability cools. Open declaration of true feelings may stop the process. Limerent uncertainty as well as projection can be viewed as the consequence of the limerent inclination to hide feelings .
Because one of the invariant characteristics of limerence is extreme emotional dependency on the limerent object’s behavior, the actual course of limerence must depend on the actions and reactions of both people. Uncertainty increases limerence; increased limerence dictates altered action which serves to increase or decrease limerence in the other according to the interpretation given. The interplay is delicate if the relationship hovers near mutuality; a subtle imbalance, constantly shifting, appears to maintain it. Each person knows who is more limerent .
Awareness of physical attraction plays a key role in the development of limerence, but is not enough to satisfy the limerent desire, and is seldom the main focus. A person, in order to become the limerent object, must be a potential sex partner.
Limerence can be intensified after a sexual relationship has begun, and with more intense limerence there is greater desire for sexual contact. However, while sexual surrender once indicated for the most part the end of uncertainty in the limerent object, in modern times this is much less frequent.
Sexual fantasies are distinct from limerent ones. Limerent fantasy is rooted in reality and is intrusive rather than voluntary. Sexual fantasies are under more or less voluntary control and may also involve strangers, imaginary individuals, and situations that could not take place. People can become aroused by the thought of sexual partners, acts, and situations that are not truly desired, whereas every detail of the limerent fantasy is passionately desired to actually take place.
Limerence sometimes increases sexual interest in other partners when the limerent object is unreceptive or unavailable, such as married people finding sex with their spouses more pleasurable when they become limerent over someone else.
The limerent anxieties and shyness may interfere with sexual functioning. The continual concern to appear at the very best is not always compatible with the immodest behaviors and poses that arise in sexual situations.
The limerent reaction is a composite reaction; that is, it actually describes a unique series of reactions. These reactions occur only where misperceptions meet adversity in the context of a romance. Perhaps because of this unique specificity, limerent reactions can be uniquely quantified and predicted according to the schema described below.
"Adversity" may be a miscue, in that the adversity may be superficial or deep, internal or external, so that an individual may generate deep adversity where none exists. Also "romance," as it were, need not be present in any genuine way for a limerent reaction to proceed. In the worst-case scenario, then, an invented relationship undergoes imagined adversity, initiating a limerent reaction that accelerates in a vacuum. In any case, the limerent reaction describes what amounts to inappropriate perseverance. Limerence does not seem to develop in normal, happy relationships. Something, somehow, has to go wrong.
The course of limerence is a rise to a more intrusive thinking pattern. This is invariably an expectant and often joyous period with the initial focusing on the limerent object’s admirable qualities: crystallization. Then, under appropriate conditions of hope and uncertainty, the limerence intensifies further. At peak crystallization almost all waking thoughts revolve around the limerent object. Subsequently the "reaction" may peak for days or weeks, or it may begin to undergo a final decline, or it may drop and then rise again one or more times before the decline that almost always follows sooner or later. This reactionary process actuates according to the following six steps:
- The limerent reaction begins at a point discernible at the time and later recalled. Sexual attraction need not be experienced, although (a) the person is a potential sexual partner, and (b) the initial "admiration" may be, or seem to be, primarily physical attraction.
- Once limerence begins, thinking about the limerent object increases and considerable pleasure is received from the process. There is an initial phase in which buoyancy, elation, and freedom are felt, which is ironic for this appears to be the beginning of an essentially involuntary process. The reaction is believed to be because of the limerent object's fine qualities.
- With evidence of reciprocation from the limerent object a state of extreme pleasure, even euphoria, is enjoyed. Thoughts are mainly occupied with considering and reconsidering what is attractive in the limerent object, replaying whatever events may have thus far transpired with the limerent object, and appreciating personal qualities which are perceived as possibly having sparked interest in the limerent object.
- Involvement increases if obstacles are externally imposed or if the limerent object’s feelings are doubted. Only if the limerent object were to be revealed as highly undesirable might limerence subside. Usually with some degree of doubt its intensity rises further, and the stage is reached at which the reaction is virtually impossible to dislodge. This is called crystallization. The doubt and increased intensity of limerence undermine former self-satisfaction. There is inordinate fear of rejection.
- With an increase in doubt coupled with reason to hope that reciprocation may indeed occur everything becomes intensified, especially intrusive thinking. Either in a joyful or a despairing state, fantasies are preferred to virtually any other activity unless it is (a) acting in a way that seems to help obtain the limerent object, or (b) actually being in the presence of the limerent object. The motivation to attain a "relationship" (mating, or pair bonding) continues to intensify so long as a proper mix of hope and uncertainty exist.
- At any point in the process, if reciprocation is perceived, the degree of involvement ceases to rise, until uncertainty returns. Usually what might be an obvious sign of interest to a neutral observer is not so obvious. Games in which the timid partners attempt to conceal from each other the full nature of the reaction that has seized them, the inevitable differences between their lifestyles, or "lover’s spats" prevent full reciprocation in each other’s eyes and allow the intensity to continue to increase.
Tennov estimates, based on both questionnaire and interview data, that the average limerent reaction duration, from the moment of initiation until a feeling of neutrality is reached, is approximately three years. The extremes may be as brief as a few weeks or several years. When limerence is brief, maximum intensity may not have been attained. Limerence generally lasts between 18 months and three years, but further studies on unrequited limerence have suggested longer durations. 
- Main article: Human bonding
Once the limerent reaction has initiated, one of three varieties of bonds may form, defined over a set duration of time, in relation to the experience or non-experience of limerence. The constitution of these bonds may vary over the course of the relationship, in ways that may either increase or decrease the intensity of the limerence. The basis and interesting characteristic of this delineation made by Tennov, is that based on her research and interviews with people, all human bonded relationships can be divided into three varieties being defined by the amount of limerence or non-limerence each partner contributes to the relationship:
- Affectional bond: define relationships in which neither partner is limerent.
- Limerent-Nonlimerent bond: define relationships in which one partner is limerent.
- Limerent-Limerent bond: define relationships in which both partners are limerent.
Affectional bonding characterize those affectionate sexual relationships where neither partner is limerent; couples tend to be in love, but do not report continuous and unwanted intrusive thinking, feeling intense need for exclusivity, or define their goals in terms of reciprocity. These types of bonded couples tend to emphasize compatibility of interests, mutual preferences in leisure activities, ability to work together, and in some cases a degree of relative contentment. The bulk of relationships, however, according to Tennov, are those between a limerent person and a nonlimerent other, i.e. limerent-nonlimerent bonding. These bonds are characterized by unequal reciprocation. Lastly, those relationship bonds in which there exists mutual reciprocation are defined as limerent-limerent bondings.
Tennov argues since limerence itself is an "unstable state" that mutually limerent bonds would be expected to be short-lived; mixed relationships probably last longer than limerent-limerent relationships; and affectional bondings tend to be characterized as "old marrieds" whose interactions are typically both stable and mutually gratifying. Since Tennov, however, only interviewed one member of the bonded pair during her research, these predictions remain tentative.
- Tennov, D. Love and Limerence: the Experience of Being in Love. New York: Scarborough House, 1999..
- Tennov, Love and Limerence p 130-140
- Tennov, D. Love and Limerence: the Experience of Being in Love. New York: Scarborough House, 1999.
- Tennov, D. A Scientist Looks at Romantic Love and Calls It "Limerence": The Collected Works of Dorothy Tennov.
- Biological Attraction
- Propinquity effect
- Romantic love
- Love sickness
- Unrequited love
- New relationship energy
- Sappho, "The Ode to Anactoria."
- Andreas Capellanus, "De Arte Honeste Amandi."
- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
- Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
Emotional states (list)
Affection · Ambivalence · Anger · Angst · Annoyance · Anticipation · Anxiety · Apathy · Awe · Boredom · Calmness · Compassion · Confusion · Contempt · Contentment · Curiosity · Depression · Desire · Disappointment · Disgust · Doubt · Ecstasy · Embarrassment · Empathy · Emptiness · Enthusiasm · Envy · Epiphany · Euphoria · Fanaticism · Fear · Frustration · Gratification · Gratitude · Grief · Guilt · Happiness · Hatred · Homesickness · Hope · Hostility · Humiliation · Hysteria · Inspiration · Interest · Jealousy · Kindness · Limerence · Loneliness · Love · Lust · Melancholia · Nostalgia · Panic · Patience · Pity · Pride · Rage · Regret · Remorse · Repentance · Resentment · Righteous indignation · Sadness · Saudade · Schadenfreude · Sehnsucht · Self-pity · Shame · Shyness · Suffering · Surprise · Suspicion · Sympathy · Wonder · Worry
See also: Meta-emotion
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