In my therapy office, psycho-education was a big part of my job. Clients came in to discuss their feelings, and I taught what I knew about feelings. One of my clients (I’ll call her “Leslie”) felt miserable, reporting that she was in love with her supervisor at work. She saw him every day, dressed in the morning with the goal of impressing him, and imagined that he might be her soulmate. Leslie suffered through fantasies that kept her awake at nightfocusing on unrealistic and improbable scenarios in which she would discover that he loved her, too. She had trouble concentrating.

We discussed the fact that a simple crush on her boss had turned into something damaging and unhealthy. She said that she had been in love before, but the prior love had felt healthier somehow—a more positive, mutual experience. The more recent experience had a whole different set of features.

In her book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love, psychologist Dorothy Tennov describes the typical features of limerence:

*Intense romantic desire

*A compulsive, obsessive, addictive quality to the experience

*The attachment increases in the presence of barriers

*Intrusive thoughts and fantasies about the love object

*Emotional swings from bliss to despondency, depending on the most recent interaction with the Love Object

*An uptick of chemical activity in the brain, powerful rushes of dopamine

*Feels intensely pleasurable but can also make the limerent person feel physically ill

*Usually unrequited

*More emphasis on winning the attention of the love object, less on sexual consummation

*Heroic fantasies of saving the love object and creating a feeling of gratitude in that person

*Extreme attachment to the point of dependence

*Can become self-destructive and might lead to stalking or suicide

Limerence starts in a way that is similar to the first wave of a new romance, a time of discovery, hope, fear and desire. Soon it crosses a line and goes too far, becoming pathological, especially if the person loses the ability to function on a daily basis. That’s what happened to Leslie. It wasn’t just a crush—that pleasant, fleeting feeling of liking someone a lot—nor was it secure love, which is a deep and abiding attachment to someone, a feeling that develops and is sustained over time. It was limerence, which turned her feelings of attachment into something desperate and obsessive.

How can someone stop these destructive limerent feelings? One of three ways:

Elimination/Starvation.

This endpoint occurs when the feelings are not reciprocated and the limerent person loses hope. Researcher Helen Fisher says, “When you’re heartbroken, hormones change again. You get another dopamine boost. That makes you have no interest in food at the beginning and end of a passionate relationship.” But she goes on to explain that the good news is that when the love remains hopeless and unreturned, the experience of limerence will end.

Consummation/Reciprocation.

This endpoint is counterintuitive, but it works. If the love object returns your feelings and you reach that peak moment of acceptance, reciprocity, and passion, then the end is near. There is nothing more to strive for, the goal has been achieved, and at that point the relationship either begins to wind down or settles into secure attachment.

Transference/Diverting.

This endpoint occurs when a new love object enters the picture. If the limerent person is distracted by a new love object, attention can be diverted away from the former love object and toward the new one.

I’ve seen what limerence does to people. It can take a person from a moment of pure ecstasy down into the pit of despair. It creates concentration problems, weight issues, work difficulties, and disrupts healthy connections between couples. Limerence feels good at first, and then it becomes a sinister, near-constant companion.

Therapist and addiction specialist Rob Weiss tells us that many limerent individuals who are stuck in the cycle of love addiction never make it to the securely attached phase of love. Instead, they follow one ill-advised crush after another in much the same way an untreated alcoholic takes one drink after another.

Limerence doesn’t happen to everyone, but it does happen to a significant portion of the population. If you suspect that you might be limerent, read Dorothy Tennov’s book and seek the support of a counseling professional. You might not be able to prevent it from happening, but you can shorten the duration and mitigate the negative effects. By educating yourself, you can rewire the way you look at and experience love.

Click here to see Rose’s tips for healthy and happy relationships

10 Comments

  • Cameron
    Posted April 30, 2017 8:15 pm 3Likes

    I am probably experiencing limerence. I’ve never had it before at least not known to have it before. I’m divorced but still close to my ex-wife and my children. I have seen a counselor for a while but have not talked about this limerence situation yet. I have met a bunch of new friends and since I always seem attached to females better than males I started developing friends with people of the female persuasion. I have also developed male friends as well but being a heterosexual man I have not developed feelings for these people. I am 47 years old and the friends that I’ve met are Christian as well. One in particular and much younger female Christian woman of 21. She has helped me understand certain things about my depression, panic attacks and things of this type because she has a similar background. I never meant to fall in love with her. I honestly just wanted to be friends. Right now I think I have what sounds like limerence, but not sure since I’ve never experienced this before. She is in a relationship and she is also too young for me I know this, but the feeling persists. I have thought about it and prayed about it thought about it and cried at the pain of not being able to be with her. She has a boyfriend, a very nice man. I don’t want to lose her friendship. I’m afraid to tell her that I’m in love with her for obvious reasons, but I also don’t want to lose her as a friend. Just looking for some clarity in this situation. What do you suggest?

    • Kaitlin Vogel
      Posted May 31, 2017 11:53 am 4Likes

      Hi Cameron,

      I contacted the author of this post and she encourages you to talk confidentially with a relationship therapist. She also suggests that you read “Love and Limerence” by Dorothy Tennov and be prepared to discuss it with your therapist. Hope this helps!

    • Kelsey
      Posted June 3, 2017 6:53 am 0Likes

      Cameron, if I were you I’d test the waters. Tell her something flirty but that could be passed off as a joke and see how she reacts. If she’s blushing or flirts back, you may have a chance. If not, forget about it and hang out with her less. Whatever you do, don’t linger in the friend zone. It’ll make you miserable.

    • Penny
      Posted April 11, 2018 8:06 am 0Likes

      Cameron, it seems your post was written nearly one year ago. I’m wondering how things are going with that particular situation….

  • Jane
    Posted January 4, 2018 4:21 am 7Likes

    Cameron leave her alone! She Is dating someone her own age and may have plans to marry him and raise children. She does NOT want to date a 47 year old divorced guy. A 47 year old divorced guy with kids the same age as her.

    Don’t be that guy. The creepy middle aged guy that is chasing after women who share the age of his adult children.

    You should be in therapy for your depression anyway I think you should talk about this with your therapist. She will tell you it’s common to have these feelings but inappropriate to act on them.

    How would you feel if your 21 year old daughter brought home a 47 year old divorced man?

    #creepy

    • Janet
      Posted May 6, 2018 7:55 am 5Likes

      Dear Jane. I’m sure you mean well. But you’re really narrow minded. Actually creepy.

  • Jah777
    Posted January 11, 2018 5:29 am 3Likes

    I’m experiencing this right now. But this is with the same sex 😕

  • Penny
    Posted April 11, 2018 8:05 am 0Likes

    I am positive I’m limerant over a sexual partner. I feel like this is the first time I’ve ever been in love at the age of 47. I am divorced and have recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, OCD, and borderline personality disorder, all of which I’ve suspected for many years. Albeit slowly, I am working my way through this but it is still so painful because I think of the things I love so much about him. It is so very difficult to experience this, I want to move on because I don’t want to endure this pain anymore. If any one of you out there has experienced this situation and is in the process of getting over or has gotten over limerence, please lend any advice.

  • LoveAddict57
    Posted May 3, 2018 3:31 pm 0Likes

    I’ve been this way all my life. And it’s not intentional; we can’t choose the person we feel ‘limerant’ about… it just happens. I’m 56, and I’ve felt this way for an 24 year old. This isn’t what I’d choose! I met him, and immediately felt it. I keep my distance, even though I’m so incredibly drawn to him. I’ve felt it for men of all ages, usually ones in their 30s. But some have been my age or older. I have no idea what the ‘ingredient’ is that makes me fall head over heels. It happens to me only about twice a decade! This is the only kind of love I know. It’s sad, really. With 7 billion people in the world, why can’t we all just find our soul mate when we’re 17 and be done with it? The chances of finding true love, I read, were 1 in 562. For me, it feels like 1 in 100 trillion. I also pray a lot. I feel like God is the only one who could ever possibly understand me. 🙂

  • Rick
    Posted August 16, 2018 12:04 am 1Likes

    I re-connected with a middle-school crush, mostly texting, and meeting up occasionally.
    Within a week of re-connecting, I felt this way.. Now nearly three months in… And the feeling is strong… And she is married. I have moments when I’m not sure if this will go away, ever. I’m beginning to wish we never re-connected.

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