Special Feature Articles
This unique series of special feature articles provide an insight into a huge variety of topics, that are real-world and relevant to both the youth and old of today. I hope you find them interesting and inspiring, as the topics featured in this section are ones that I personally find fascinating. If you have any comments or wish to add to discussion about any of my articles, please use the comment link at the bottom of the relevant article. The best comments will be published.
"Limerence: The Experience of Being 'in Love'"
A Special Feature Article
Monday, 28th April 2008, 18:33 GMT
"One of the most potent forces in human existence": the experience of being in love. During my time abroad, I’ve had chance to reflect on broader emotions that define human existence. In fact, I’ve personally experienced one that I can honestly say has completely clarified my outlook on life as a whole.
Limerence is a word that not many people will recognise, yet it is one of the most powerful emotional forces that a human can endure. Dorothy Tennov, a groundbreaking psychologist, first coined the term back in the 1970s as the phenomenon known as 'romantic love' revealed itself to her. Most people experience limerence at one or many points in their life, yet many confuse it for mere lust or love... it is far beyond the boundaries that both terms define!
My own experience of limerence began like that of any other one of Tennov’s anecdotes: it entered my life rather pleasantly. A new face, a new culture. I was simply ready to succumb to the savage, emotional brutality that was to follow. I had a new centre to base my thoughts around: I had found my limerent object (LO). Like most LOs, mine was not aware of the true nature of my motivations, but neither in fact - at first - was I!
The 'false high' of limerence is wholly involuntary
In some ways I suppose I was 'ready' for the limerent process to begin; in some ways it was the process that was most unknown and farthest from even the extreme crevices of my mind. Nevertheless, the limerent progression was instigated: that one look, that one phrase; the interpretation of events that sparks undue, uncontrollable and obsessive cerebral activity.
Limerence's Distinct Features
I can only speak from my particular bout of this emotional disturbance, but as Tennov discovered, it seems that many people experience the limerent process in exactly the same way. It begins at a point crucially discernable in time and pulsates in intensity dependant on the reciprocation of feeling or interpretation of reciprocation of feeling from the LO. Back in 2007 the grip of ecstasy, elation and buoyancy befell me. It swooped and enduringly captured me – I became limerence’s prey. I was instantly hooked. I began dancing about the inner-most regions of the mind; I flourished during the day under a false ray of sunshine that endlessly illuminated my path; and quite importantly, I yearned for the next scene with my LO.
The feeling of being free, floating on air, is reported by many a limerent. I was no exception to this rule; the beginning of the limerence progression was fantastic! I could literally smile with euphoric glee! This is the reason Tennov believes we humans let limerence fester - I know I certainly did! At first, every sentence that my LO articulated in precise fluency would be regarded as sign of reciprocation of feeling; in fact, I believe that is exactly what instigated the limerent cycle. It wasn’t that I was looking for it, more it found me as I became quickly fascinated by the new person in my life. I do not understand, nor attempt to understand, how my LO became the one; the only one. The only flickering piece of knowledge that still remains is that I saw something that I felt I desired and deliberated; the prospect of 'true love'. I truly believed my LO restrained their feelings and that an exceptionally unique bond was taking form. Ironically, it was the thought that they were the one who was pursuing me that took me in further and allowed me to surrender to limerence’s involuntary force.
The advice to limerents is to gain as much knowledge as possible, whilst trying to avoid future instances occurring
The Symptoms of Limerence
Intrusive, yet exceedingly blissful, thinking about my LO began; acute longing for vivid reciprocation of feeling painfully burrowed deeper and deeper into the mid-chest region; a dependency on LO’s actions (or at least the perceived actions in respect of the likelihood of unambiguous reciprocation); were just the start of my limerent symptoms.
Tennov describes in detail each symptom that usually accompanies limerence (and in my case, certainly did). There is an inability to be limerent in respect of more than one person; there may be ephemeral relief from unrequited limerence through imagination of an action founded in reality that represents overt reciprocation; fear of rejection is paramount to securing uncertainty and revealing of limerent feeling towards LO; intensification of limerent passion through adversity; excruciating sensitivity to any act, thought, condition or event that could be interpreted favourably, as well as the remarkable ability to concoct explanations for why LO does not reveal hidden passion; general intensity of feeling; and the inconceivable capacity to accentuate admirable features of LO, as well as put a positive spin on the negative.
Is Sexual Attraction Really Involved?
The only feature of Tennov’s research which, in my experience I have to question, is that of sexual attraction. She felt it inherent to the limerent process: I disagree. Despite her admittance that sexual attraction is not enough to satisfy the needs that limerent passion demands, she stipulates that sexual attraction must be present for LO to become LO. This, in my experience, was untrue. At no time during the progression of 'my limerence' did I once feel any sexual attraction toward LO; the passion was wholly spiritual; a level of which I had not felt before, have not felt since, and don’t particularly know whether I desire to feel it again. Having thought about this, I think that the lack of sexual attraction was one of the reasons why my limerence did not wane more quickly; I was completely spellbound in this heavenly and entirely spiritual feeling - perhaps the truest definition of soulmate.
Certain conditions are needed for limerence to fully develop
There are certain conditions that Tennov observed however (ones that I fully agree with) that perpetuate the progression of limerence through to its maximum intensity. She identified uncertainty (in reciprocation of feeling) as being a key factor to limerence’s survival. This can also be the case where there is an external factor that places a barrier before disclosure of feeling, societal or parental constraint for example. For me, uncertainty was crucial. Uncertainty about LO’s feelings effected continual thinking about possible scenarios for overt reciprocation. In turn, hope returned when my psyche found a plausible scenario (i.e. one rooted in reality). This mélange of hope and uncertainty intensified limerent-induced thoughts so much that every waking second (and possibly every sleeping one) orbited around my LO.
A typical day would involve waking up with LO instantly available as a sharply-focused image in the forefront of my mind; taking a shower with LO’s face sewn onto the fabric of my wash mitten and looking into the mirror whilst brushing the teeth with LO’s possible whereabouts and present actions flashing past behind me. I would then dress and leave my room with a gigantic grin smeared across my face as one plausible moment of overt reciprocation was invented; I would sit in lectures day-dreaming about the next possible meeting with LO, how I would behave, what I would say, how I could successfully conceal this involuntary infatuation that was enveloping every moment of my life, and most importantly how I could reinforce hope and gain some certainty regarding the status of LO’s reciprocal feeling. The day would then wind up by lying awake for hours on end trying to formulate ever more outrageous and outlandish scenarios in which LO could finally reveal their true feeling. Even when I did succeed in sleeping (usually at ridiculous hours of the morning), I would wake the following day having dreamt about LO in an equally outlandish scenario that included the 'moment of consummation'. The moment of consummation here being the ultimate goal that limerence strives for; emotional commitment on the part of LO equal to the level that I (the limerent) was feeling.
Involuntary, intrusive thought is just one of the symptoms
The climax of limerent fantasy in my case was that, which Tennov describes as oft-observed and oft-reported; an 'unusual, often tragic, event'. My particular scenario, which although not tragic, was as Tennov described: rooted in reality. A vivid, colourful and loud dream transported me forwards in time about one week from the then present... to a party that would be taking place and a possible scenario that could, quite possibly, lead to the ultimate goal of limerent fantasy...
...The blaring disco lights were blinding as I slowly navigated the winding, steel staircase down towards the basement where the party was already in full swing. My LO stood animatedly expressing their thoughts to a third party, briefly acknowledging my entrance before turning their back and continuing the triviality that is small talk. I began crucially observing LO, nitpicking at each word, phrase, facial expression and scrutinising body language, trying to identify possible reasons for being snubbed. When LO was left alone on the dance floor by the third party, the room slowly fell silent. The superfluous crowd melted away into the darkness as LO turned slowly to face me. This was my chance; this was, the beginning of the end. It was now or never... "I love you".
Both waking and sleeping thought is taken over by limerent fantasy
LO was silent. A dud facial expression physically whacked my heart with tremendous force. I turned and ran up the winding staircase once more. As I reached half-way, I felt a shiver trickle down from the top of my spine. My LO was following. I turned and looked down, our eyes directly fixated toward each other. "I love you too". A hug that lasted an eternity followed. Limerent fantasy had run its course and the moment of consummation had come. The feeling of blissful union was more transcendent than any words can possibly describe.
Acute Intensity of Feeling
Limerent ‘false high’ is unlike anything I’d ever experienced... even if (in my case) it was within a dream. I woke up the next morning genuinely believing that this scenario would play-out in reality. One week later and I was back in the deep dark valley of limerent depression; reality was much harsher and far less 'ideal' than the dream.
I was too fearful of rejection, exactly as Tennov foretold. In reality, my LO left before I could – or ever would have – disclosed any feeling. Hope and uncertainty were prolonged. Hope, uncertainty and adversity in turn prolong limerence. It was a vicious, nasty and savage circle of emotional elation followed by dreary, depressive, inexplicable moods that were wholly dependent on LO’s actions, or the perception of them at least. Literally anything my LO said or did could be (and can still be) recalled with precision to be analysed again and again for any sign of reciprocation.
Glutton for Punishment
The Wish for Limerence to End vs. Reluctance to Let Go
The intensity of feeling ebbs and flows and can sometimes be barely sensed. In my experience, the above-mentioned dream drew maximum intensity back into play, as a possible (plausible) scenario for reciprocation was invented. The depressing half of limerence is the half that tries to bring the psyche back to normality (if that exists anymore), whilst the other half of limerence – the one that drives elation and blissful, intrusive thinking – perpetuates the limerent progression and refuses to allow you to return to complete control over consciousness – the state of non-limerence.
Literature is full of references to limerence - Image © 2003 http://etc.usf.edu/clipart
Tennov came up with little advice for those who are experiencing limerence; apart from 'running like hell' the next time a 'flicker of feeling' appears. It is an anomaly in human evolution that remains today just as it ever did; ancient literary works are full of limerent references. In fact, due to the intensity of limerence and the fear of self-disclosure, many a limerent (including myself) scribe their experiences in remarkable detail, to help come to terms with the uncontrollable emotion of it all. Additionally, limerents tend to write in the 3rd person, thus further protecting themselves from disclosure of feeling.
The Importance of Limerence
A Call for Further Research
Limerence is a hugely fascinating and extremely important part of human existence. In order that we can both cope when feeling limerent as well as having the ability to recognise when we become an LO to another, it is important that we know about the research of Tennov. Limerence can break up marriages, ruin lives and destroy friendships. By simply recognising that it is a natural state of mind and is usually time-limited, perhaps we can all lead our lives more pleasantly; not only when experiencing limerence, but also when we become an LO ourselves.
The average 'bout' of limerence lasts between 18 months and three years - Image © 2008 psxextreme.com
Tennov estimates that, on average, the duration of limerence is between 18 months and 3 years. She expands this estimate by saying that the longer durations are usually observed in those who experience maximum limerent intensity. Although I feel my limerence has waned dramatically and is no longer perceptible, I have been changed by the experience; I have meandered through regions of my mind that I didn’t know existed and had many a true-light shed on my emotional consciousness. My limerence did not reach the average 18 month mark, yet I am still fearful of its savage return, especially within this post-18 month period; a slip of the tongue by my LO or a conceptual dream that fabricates a plausible scenario for LO’s reciprocation of feeling could easily spark intrusive thought once again.
Tennov’s book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love is just a preliminary report on an academically neglected subject, its purpose is to open a field for investigation. I say, let’s promote this investigation... Limerence is colossal.
Dorothy Tennov, Love and Limerence (New York, Stein and Day 1979)
Ed: I hope you enjoyed this extra-special featured article. I've written it in the hope of sparking further debate about a much neglected topic. I would relish any comments you may have, especially from those who feel enlightened by discovering this 'new' topic. I will post the best comments here.
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