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 concept is an attempt at a scientific study into the nature of romantic love.
Limerence 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 the feelings are reciprocated. Unlike English, many other languages have traditional terms to denote limerence, like the German Verliebtheit, Scandinavian forelskelse or Russian влюблённость (vlyublyonnost); these expressions may roughly be translated to “fallen-in-love-ness”.
Limerent fantasy is unsatisfactory unless rooted in reality, because 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 (a kind of selective or revisionist history). 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.
Not always is it 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 and involuntary 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.
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.
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, especially if it has not been addressed openly by the object of limerence.
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, mostly due to the release of certain 'romance chemicals'. Alternative meanings of those behaviors recalled 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, especially if the limerent object 'interacted' with them in some way.
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. Body 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, or in some cases in the abdominal region. This can be interpreted as ecstasy at times of mutuality, but its presence is most noticeable during despair at times of rejection.
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. In most cases each person knows who is more limerent, but this is not always so. In most cases the limerents may believe a certain viewpoint, but the constant uncertainty means they are doubting or questioning themselves for most of the time regarding the other person. This can vary widely between different people.
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 the end of uncertainty in the limerent object, in modern times this is not necessarily the case.
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 actually to take place.
Limerence sometimes increases sexual interest in other partners when the limerent object is unreceptive or unavailable, such as when married people find sex with their spouses more pleasurable when they become limerent over someone else.
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.
"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.
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:
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.
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. Doc Love believes that in the case of mixed relationships, they are stronger and safer if the female is limerent and the male is nonlimerent (or more accurately, less limerent than the female), as the male being more limerent would make the female more prone to drop him, and believes that since most divorces and breakups are initiated by women, that female nonlimerent-male limerent bonding is a serious but unrecognized problem. His "System" may be interpreted as an attempt to coach men to keep their girlfriends in a limerent state to cut the divorce rate.
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