Limerence vs Love: How to Tell the Difference

Intimacy & Sex
07 Aug 2023
10 min read
Limerence vs Love: How to Differ Obsession From Pure Feeling

Do you experience profound romantic infatuation over someone you barely know? Does it feel like an obsession? Be aware that it might be limerence, not love. Your intense feelings might be destructive – the more you get involved in this relationship, the more it will harm you.

The good thing is that you can prevent it from happening if you know the true nature of your feelings. Keep reading to know the limerence vs love difference.

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What Does Word “Limerence” Mean?

“It’s an involuntary interpersonal state that involves an acute longing for emotional reciprocation, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and emotional dependence on another person.”

Dorothy Tennov, psychologist

Limerence is a romantic-like relationship in which you are dealing with intrusive thoughts over someone who doesn’t love you. Your imagination makes you believe that this person can fix your life and make it complete, but it is never true.

People who experience limerence describe it as ‘an addiction to longing’. You have obsessive thoughts over the limerent object as long as it shows indifference. Once this person shows interest in you, the limerence goes away, and you feel deeply disappointed.

Related reading: Is It Love or an Illusion? 16 Clear Signs You Love Him

7 Limerence Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

Many people mistake limerence for love, and here is why: the early stages of a limerent relationship evoke almost the same feeling as falling into romantic love. In both cases, it starts as a dopamine rush. You constantly think about your love interest – you find this person attractive and want to be together. But that is where the similarities end.

Simply put, the limerence vs love difference is about the depth of bonding.

When you are in love, you are looking for a true connection, including mutual feelings and respect. When you experience limerence, you are not genuinely interested in mutual connection. You are consumed with your fantasies rather than real connecting.

Here is a list of the 7 most common limerence symptoms. Check them out to see the difference between limerence and love.

1. Obsessive Thinking

Limerence is a state of deep obsession. You think about the limerent person all the time. Whether working out, doing dishes, chatting with a friend, or taking a shower, your mind is occupied with dreams and fantasies about this person. You cannot concentrate on other tasks and get rid of intrusive thoughts.

On top of that, you exaggerate the person’s cues. For example, if the object of your interest smiled at you politely, you may interpret this smile as a genuine love interest. Or if this person hasn’t replied to your comment on social media, you may see it as a sign of rejection.

2. Replay and Rehearsal

Limerence is associated with particular types of thoughts and fantasies that are always on repeat. If you are experiencing limerence, you are likely to replay the following scenarios in your head:

  • The events that have already happened (events that include interaction with the limerent object (LO), (e.g., the day you first met).
  • The events which involve interaction with LO in the future (e.g., you fantasize about how you will meet at the conference next month).
  • The fantasies in which LO opens up about their feelings. You think about the words you will hear and imagine the romantic venue for this event.
Anxiety is one of the key limerence vs love differences

3. Anxiety and Self-Consciousness

People who are involved in limerence relationships suffer from anxiety. They experience the following symptoms:

  • Physiological inconveniences: Heart palpitations, shortness of breath, perspiration, pain in the chest (pain gets more intense when you spot signs of possible rejection)
  • Psychological discomfort: Shyness, embarrassment, and anxiety both in the presence of LO and your fantasies.
  • Eagerness to be better than you are: Willingness to improve your physical appearance (e.g., get your body fit, get a new haircut, buy a new sexy dress).

Related reading: How To Maintain Your Individuality While In a Relationship

4. Emotional Dependency

Limerence is an emotional roller coaster. One day you feel high; the next day, you feel drained.

In limerence relationships, people experience intense longing. Their state of mind entirely depends on the actions of the object of their desire. The person feels euphoric if there are any perceived signs of reciprocation from LO. If there are any signs of rejection, the person falls into depression.

The problem is that when your emotional state is constantly changing, and you feel anxious day after day, you can’t enjoy your everyday life. The only way to fix it is to accept that you are an emotionally dependent person, seek professional help, and treat limerence as a mental health issue.

5. Idealization

Another significant difference between limerence and love is how you see another person. When you are in love, you can still see other’s flaws and decide whether to accept them.

When you are in limerence, you idealize the person. You are fully focused on the attractive things ignore the rest. You don’t see the person’s flaws, even the most obvious ones. Your brain is fogged, and you can’t think critically. You see only those things that you want to see.

6. Impaired Functioning

Probably the worst thing about limerence is that it interferes with your normal life. Obsessive thoughts dominate your reality: you fail at work and fail to maintain adequate relationships with your friends and family. Your mind is occupied with only one person – your brain stops processing other thoughts that do not relate to your limerence.

When the limerent person becomes the world to you, you start ignoring the real world around you.

Limerence can cause you lots of problems. You may miss the deadline for submitting an important report and lose your job. You may forget to buy a present for your mom’s birthday and disappoint her. Or you may even ruin your committed relationship if you have one.

If your partner notices you are fantasizing about another person, they will see it as a betrayal. And even if you hardly interact with the object of your limerence in real life and your ‘passionate love’ exists in your head only, it still will count as cheating.

Three Stages of Limerence

Limerence is the fool’s gold of love: at first, it feels like the best thing that has ever happened to you, but in the end, it leads to the greatest disappointment you have ever experienced. If you are in a limerence relationship, be aware that you will go through the following three stages.

Limerence Stage #1 – Infatuation

Infatuation is the phase when you get butterflies in your stomach. It feels like you have met the right person – you start fanaticizing about your first date and first night together. This phase doesn’t last long, but it’s associated with the most intense feelings.

Limerence Stage #2 – Crystallization

This stage is the longest one. It can last for a few weeks or even for a few years. During the crystallization stage, you start to ignore the person’s flaws and focus on the positive characteristics. This person seems perfect to you.

You know nothing about the person’s life but still believe that you have met your true love. Your thoughts are getting even more intrusive. As a result, you lose sleep, your appetite worsens, and your productivity decreases.

Related reading: How to Know If You Are a Hopeless Romantic

Limerence Stage #3 – Deterioration

Deterioration is the last limerence phase. It starts with a moment when you realize you are disappointed with someone you were obsessed with. It’s obvious that there is no deep connection between the two of you – there is no hope for a loving relationship.

This stage is the most painful one. You understand that all your fantasies will never come true. This person is not as perfect as you thought – now you see all the flaws and do not want to accept them.

4 Tips to Get Out of a Limerence Relationship?

“People whose childhood emotional needs were neglected are often drawn into “limerent” relationships — an infatuation or obsession with someone unavailable, uninterested, or unknown to you. This consuming kind of love (that gives nothing back) can devastate your happiness and leave you chronically isolated.”

Anna Runkle, life coach and writer

In contrast to true love, limerence may negatively affect your well-being and life in general. So once you realize that you are experiencing limerence, you should find a way to get rid of it. Here are 4 tips that may help.

1. Get Enough Sleep

“Inadequate sleep is part of what makes negative intrusive thoughts stick around and interfere with people’s lives.”

Jacob Nota, professor of psychology

Sleep-deprived people are more than others prone to limerence. Do you sleep less than recommended eight hours a night? You should improve your sleep quality and quantity to help your brain process thoughts adequately.

If you don’t do it, limerence will never go away. You may end your current relationship, but you will find new objects to get obsessed with in the future.

2. Take Care of Your Mental Health

As we have mentioned, limerence takes its roots from childhood. Did you have difficult relationships with your parents? Were you neglected as an infant? If so, you need to get help from a mental health professional. Therapy will help you heal from childhood trauma, so you can build a healthy relationship with someone who truly deserves you.

If you are not ready to start therapy, you can join support groups online or offline. It’s another great way to improve your mental state and overcome limerence in the long run.

Well, you may not want to go through therapy but think about how rewarding this experience will be. Once you sort yourself out, you can build healthy relationships based on trust and mutual understanding.

Related reading: Are You in Love? Here Are 10 Signs You’re Wrong

3. Talk to Your Friends about Limerence

Do you have close friends? Share your feelings and thoughts with them, even if it feels awkward. They will listen to you and tell you whether your relationship looks more like limerence or love.

Well, communication with friends will not replace therapy, but at least you will know what feeling you are dealing with.

If you are a limerent person, practice self-love

4. Practice Self-Love

Understanding your self-worth makes you less likely to experience limerence and one-sided relationship. Love yourself and accept yourself with all your flaws. Here are a couple of things you can do:

  • Put your own needs first
  • Combat negative self-talk
  • Celebrate your small wins
  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Spend less time on social media and stop comparing yourself with others
  • Keep a healthy diet to fuel your mind and body

These small day-to-day activities will make a big difference. You will become a more confident person, and it will be easier for you to get rid of limerent feelings.

Three Questions to Ask Yourself to Spot Limerence

Next time you get passionate about someone, ask yourself the following questions to spot the difference between limerence and love:

  1. What flaws does this person have, if any? If you can’t name certain traits you don’t like about this person, you are likely dealing with limerence. No one is perfect, right?
  2. How can I imagine our relationship in one month or two years? Do you have zero thoughts regarding your future together but have vivid fantasies in which this person reciprocates the feelings? If this is the case, you can label your feeling as limerence.
  3. Do I want to make this person happy? In limerence, your main goal is to impress this person and make them fall in love with you. Making them happy is not your priority. So if you answer ‘no’ to this question, this feeling is limerence, not love.

Limerence is not a feeling that you need to embrace. It’s a disease that you should cure. So if you are prone to limerence, find a mental health professional you can trust and start therapy.

Limerence vs Love: Feels Similar But Comes with Different Outcomes

Now you know what is called limerence and how to overcome it. Are you in limerence now? If so, you have two choices. You can keep experiencing limerence and fantasizing about emotionally unavailable people. Or, you can start seeking professional help to heal your trauma and get control over your strong desire.

We hope this article helped you to find answers to your questions about limerence, its causes, and its effects. Now you can better navigate your feelings and deal with intense infatuation.

Relationships Author
Geoffrey Williams
After taking a required Intro to Psychology course as an undergrad, I have never looked back. Since my doctoral program, I have specialized in adult relationship therapy. Through my studies and clinicals, I wrote several articles for professional journals and currently in the midst of writing a book.
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