Is Limerence Real Love?

We call it infatuation and lovesickness, but psychologists have a different term when they talk about one person's intense longing, unrequited or reciprocated, for another person: they call it limerence. 

The term was first coined by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in 1979, who said (via Mind Body Green), "Limerence is a distinct state that creates that 'feeling of being in love' — that state which Hollywood loves to portray as 'love' ... but limerence is really as far from the genuine article as a zircon is from a true diamond." 

Today the term is used by psychologists like Albert Wakin to describe a combination of obsessive longing and addiction for another person (via Huffpost). Watkin also says about five percent of the population are, quite literally, hooked on "love."

Love and limerence are the products of biochemistry

But how do we get from love to limerence?

Biochemistry, say scientists who describe falling in love as a series of chemical reactions. Harvard outlines the chemical process of falling in love like this — when we meet someone, our hypothalamus releases dopamine, the hormone that rewards us when we do something that makes us feel good like exercise; we get a hit of norepinephrine (aka noradrenalin), which tampers with our ability to eat or sleep; and we experience a drop in serotonin, a hormone which controls appetite and mood. 

While it sounds all rosy, Harvard says these hormones have a dark side, and can turn us into jealous, erratic, irrational beings.

Is there a difference between love and limerice?

Marriage and Family Therapist Linda Carroll say that if you're experiencing limerence, especially if the other person isn't quite in on it yet, chances are you'll be feeling a number of symptoms including:

  • Obsessively thinking about the object of affection or fixation (also called the "limerent")
  • Longing for the feeling to be reciprocated, and if isn't the case, dreaming about it until it becomes real in your mind
  • Feeling ecstatic around the limerent, if they don't know if you are alive
  • Anguish when the relationship ends, along with the feeling that you cannot live without the person 

HuffPost says it may be difficult to tell the difference between love and limerence when you and a significant other are starting out, but when a relationship is based on love, the relationship between two partners is one of equals. If the feeling is limerence, getting the other person's affection and attention is the end goal. That goal is also more important than building the foundation of a stable relationship like securing respect, commitment, or love. A relationship between two people that is built on limerance may not last, and if the feeling is unrequited, the intense feeling may disappear after some time, but be warned: it can return if the limerant sends mixed signals.