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Limerence is a state of involuntary obsession with another person. The experience of limerence is different from love or lust in that it is based on the uncertainty that the person you desire, called the “limerent object” in the literature, also desires you. Since limerence is the desire to be desired, it is a cognitive, as well as physical, and emotional experience. As the focus of limerence is whether or not the object of desire reciprocates the feelings, rather than actually falling in love with the person, it is almost always one-sided.

The experience of limerence can include obsessional thinking about the object of one’s limerent desire, an irrationally positive evaluation of that person’s attributes, and a longing for reciprocation. Limerence can make a person feel ecstatic, their mental life focused on a passionate, anxious desire. It can also result in a state of agony if and when the feelings are not reciprocated.

Limerence often lacks a discernable starting point, wrote psychologist Dorothy Tennov, who coined the term in her 1979 book, Love and Limerence. It does not require sexual attraction, although the person needs to be someone with whom you could at least imagine yourself.

At the beginning of a limerent reaction, an individual will often think about the person to whom they’re attracted, and, importantly, doing so will bring them considerable pleasure.

That pleasure is intensified to a feeling of elation or jubilation if there is a hint of reciprocity from the object of their limerence. An individual may start to re-play and analyze every interaction they’ve had with the person for signs the other person has feelings for them. If any are detected, the individual may even feel a boost in self-esteem, that such a person would have interest in them. This ecstatic and obsessed state is the core of limerence. It may end with feelings of sadness, agony, or indifference, but the state is one of acute intensity that outranks all other concerns in an individual’s life.

The Experience of Limerence

During an experience of limerence, thoughts about an individual’s limerent object may be persistent and intrusive. Physically, the individual may feel a racing heart, a flushed face, and jitters or weakness when they think of the person. Behaviorally, the individual feels

heightened anxiety and fear, lest they do or say something around the object of their desires that will be a turn-off. The individual may feel self-conscious, and hyper-aware of how they look, what they say, and how they seem, even down to the level of posture and word choice.

Uncertainty is necessary for limerence. An individual must not know how the object of their desire truly feels about them and will typically conceal their feelings for the other person as well, to the best of their ability, until they are more certain the other person reciprocates their feelings.

“It is an interpretation of events, rather than the events themselves,” wrote Tennov. “You admire, you are physically attracted, you see, or think you see the hint of possible reciprocity, and the process is set in motion.”

Is limerence pathological?

According to psychologist Dorothy Tennov, who coined the term when she wrote Love and Limerence in 1979, it isn’t. Healthy individuals can find themselves in a state of limerence they would never have expected. When they recover from the experience, their lives often go back to normal.

Others argue that limerence can be considered a psychiatric condition insofar as it interferes with the individual’s functioning in day-to-day life. There is debate about whether limerence should be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but so far it has not been.

What are the three stages of limerence?

Infatuation, crystallization, and deterioration. During infatuation, the individual begins to notice the other person and recognize their positive qualities. During crystallization, the individual experiences the obsessive, anxious, and ecstatic intensity of their feelings. Upon deterioration, the idealization of the object of the individual’s limerence begins to wear off, as do the intensity of the feelings.

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Limerence vs. Love

Limerence is not the same thing as love. An individual in a limerent state is not concerned for the well-being of the person they’re obsessed over. It is an independent state, confined to the mind of the person experiencing it. In love, the other person is an important part of an individual’s life. In limerence, the other person’s value is often way out of proportion to the person’s actual importance in the individual’s life.

The experience is also distinct from simple sexual desire. An individual in a limerent state does not necessarily want to have sex with the object of their desire. They may not want to have a relationship, settle down, or have kids. Rather, the focus of limerence is the mental obsession of whether the object of limerence feels the same way toward you. It is the fantasizing that’s exciting, more than the realization of the fantasy.

How do you know if you’re experiencing limerence or love?

Limerence is distinct from love in that the individual does not really care about the well-being of the other person. Their obsession is really about the uncertainty of the situation: Does the other person feel the same way or not? Individuals experiencing limerence may have no desire to have a long-term relationship with the object of their obsession.

Is limerence more common among men or women?

Limerence seems to be equally prevalent in men and women and across racial and socioeconomic status. 

The way limerence expresses itself may differ to some degree according to societal gender norms, but the fundamental experience seems to be quite similar.

How Limerence Ends

Limerence can end with sadness, agony, or indifference. Tennov described three typical endings to the state: consummation, starvation, and transference.

Under consummation, the person in a limerent state discovers the object of their desire also has a desire for them and engages in a physical or romantic relationship. This often causes the spell to break, and the limerent person to move on with their life.

With starvation, the limerent individual is never able to find reciprocity from the object of their desire. Once hope is gone, the feeling dissipates. This may cause the individual tremendous sadness, but it may also be a relief that it’s over.

How long does limerence last?

Limerence can last for as little as a few weeks or as long as a lifetime, but most estimates put the average duration between one and three years. In the case of transference, the individual transfers their feelings to someone new. The experience has run its course with the original person, and the process starts over again.

Who is most vulnerable to limerence?

Limerence can occur in anyone. Some of those in Tennov’s study thought love was the furthest thing from their mind when it happened. 

Nevertheless, there are some people for whom limerence is more likely. Researchers Willmot and Bentley note that there is a consistent correlation between limerence and those with anxiety, depression, and substance use.

Limerence has also been tied to trauma. Early childhood abandonment or neglect may correlate to the likelihood of experiencing limerence, and it has been associated with post-traumatic stress disorder as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder.


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