Love or Limerence? | Pushing the Wave

Love or Limerence?

Opinion, 2 February 2024
by L.A. Davenport
Always Out Of Reach_When A Crush Becomes Limerence
Always out of reach: when a crush tips over into limerence.
I was fascinated to come across a concept this week, the name of which may not be familiar but the idea behind it certainly is: limerence, or when a crush stops being simply a passing infatuation and tips into a place that is far more toxic.

Writing in the New York Times, Amanda McCracken describes it as a state of “overwhelming and unexpected longing for emotional reciprocation from another human, known as the limerent object (LO).” They can be “a friend, colleague, or stranger met in passing”, or it can be “someone with whom you’ve had a brief romantic encounter that feels unresolved.”

This person is “often perceived as perfect but unavailable,” and the longing for them can “last years and become addictive,” in which the original “spark of interest turns into obsessive rumination, sustained by a pernicious cocktail of hope and doubt.”

Worse, limerents find themselves “deeply fearful of rejection,” and “allow their self-esteem to rest in the hands of an LO, who may not even know they exist.”

McCracken adds that Dorothy Tennov, who was a professor of psychology at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut for twenty years, first coined the term in her 1979 book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love, and explains that “what differentiates limerence from a crush or love is the intensity, an emotional roller coaster that fluctuates from euphoria to despair.”

“Any sign of rejection can make somebody hit a low, and any sign of interest can make somebody hit a high,” Giulia Poerio, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Sussex, was quoted as saying, resulting in an endless mind game of “she loves me, she loves me not.”

How well I know this this state! How deeply I fell into it! It dogged me for years and years, souring my life and my relationships with others, while I tormented over someone who was utterly unattainable.
I met J— almost at the beginning of my time at university. She was studying the same topic as me, so I saw her regularly at lectures and in and around the faculty. She wasn’t at the same college as me, but medical student social life was sufficiently rich and varied that we crossed paths on a regular basis.

We were instantly drawn to each other. Aside from her striking yet delicate beauty, she was intelligent, sensitive, artistic and funny, and came across as extremely at ease with herself and wise well beyond her years.

I am not sure what she might have seen in me that would come anywhere close to her breathtaking aura, but it was apparently enough to ensure that we became instant friends, and then quickly confidantes.

We were so close that it was almost if I had gained a sister, but we were also attracted to each other physically. We attempted to bring that latent desire into the real world, as it were, and I think we were both shocked by the strength of our yearning.

Then, in an encounter that will remain seared into my mind with utmost clarity until my dying days, she told me that now wasn’t the right time for us, that we had something that needed time to develop, and we should wait.

I understood immediately.

I had already been forced to confront my immaturity when I arrived at university and knew I needed to experience more of life before I could engage in a relationship. Consequently her words rang as true as the bell above the college chapel. (It was only later that I perceived that what she had said to me could be interpreted in many different ways, but by then the damage had been done and it was too late.)

Over months and then years, J—, who remained a close friend, evolved in my mind from a wonderful yet unattainable woman into a destructive figment of my imagination, who through no fault of her own dominated my mind and prevented me from being able to engage and connect with people in the real world.

I watched her stumble from one unfortunate relationship to another, each time excusing it away and minimising my jealousy by telling myself it was not yet our time but that soon we would be ready to fulfill our destiny and be together.

No matter that I was also with people during that period. It never crossed my mind to think about how that might have appeared to J—, as it was abundantly clear to me: they didn’t count. They couldn’t count, not with my perfect woman perpetually in the foreground of my mind.

For 15 sorry years I tortured myself about her. For 15 long years she was my north, my south, my east and west, although she would have had only the vaguest sense of that.

Even after she got married to an excellent man I knew she loved and who loved her in return, I couldn’t let go. (I spent a tragic day at her wedding. The ground opened up before me and fell into a hole that precipitated all sorts of poor decision-making, which has reverberations across my life even today.)

I don’t know when exactly I finally accepted the truth: that, if she truly wanted to be with me, we would already be together. But when that realisation dawned on me, I grieved for her and our fictional relationship as if someone close to me had died.

Only years later, in therapy, did I understand that J—, as she had been built up in my mind, had been a safe place for my emotions, somewhere I could store my feelings without having to undergo the anguish of testing them out in the real world. That realisation, more than any other, showed me the folly of what I had done to myself, for so long.

But then again, and with the benefit of many more years of self-reflection, I learned and gained a lot from my infatuation.

It is said that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, and if I was to find someone who could serve as repository for my ardour, I can think of no one better than J—. Fortunately I can now also say with a clear heart and genuine warmth that I wish her and her family well.
Following on from my thoughts on Killers of the Flower Moon, history of a more fantastic kind was the subject of a film I saw this week: The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan, which is apparently the first French adaptation of the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas (pére) for 60 years, believe it or not.

Before I continue, I would like to say that I know there is another film in the series currently in cinemas, this time focusing on Milady, but I haven’t seen it yet and will doubtless wait for the Blu-Ray, time not being on my side at the moment.

Compared with many of the other film versions of The Three Musketeers I have seen over the years (I am something of a fan of the story), this one is very stylish, and brilliantly paced. Across the board, the acting is very well judged, and the scenes are executed with a deftness of touch that allows the meaning behind the action to be immediately apparent.

Above all, I found myself instantly swept along by the drama and keen to see more.

It all seemed so genuine and true to the spirit of the original story that, once the credits rolled, I fished out my venerable old copy of The Three Musketeers to reread it after what must be an interval of nigh-on thirty years, maybe longer, since the first time I eagerly took it up.

What surprised me in doing so is how different the plot of the movie is from the book, even though each of the scenes ‘feel right’. That, I suppose, is the genius of the writers: that they could capture the mood and meaning of the original while creating storyline that much better serves the medium of film.

Even better, the two coexist happily as two separate creations, and I do not wish that one was more like the other.
As well as garnering more favourable reviews for More Life as a Dog, my second volume of memoirs about my life with Kevin my back and tan dachshund, this week has seen the final edits of two books that I will release over the coming months, and work begin on their covers.

I have also been hard at work on a play, to which I am putting the finishing touches, and am planning a short story collection, and a non-fiction anthology of essays, that I hope to finish at some point this year, all being well.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Love or Limerence? | Pushing the Wave