Hi, couple quick questions for you. Have you ever started dating someone and immediately clicked so well that you couldn’t stop thinking about them, like, all the time? And if so, did you feel like the Earth was shattering around you when they left you on read for an hour? Or maybe you, say, sent an emergency text to your therapist when that special someone watched your Instagram story but didn’t respond to the totally clever meme you DM’d them?
We’ve all been there, and yes, a little nervous energy is all part of the fun of falling for someone new. But when those new-crush nerves feel more like a panic attack than butterflies, that could be a sign that maybe your infatuation with this person is starting to drive you to the edge of your sanity. This, friends, is what we call limerence.
Essentially, limerence is a handy term for an extreme form of romantic obsession—one that’s more intense, and potentially more destructive, than your standard crush or honeymoon phase. And while that passionate, volatile cocktail of emotions might feel like the beginning of a love story for the ages (or at least a new Taylor Swift album), limerence is *not* the fairytale romance it may seem.
In fact, according to Dr. LaNail R. Plummer, a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Onyx Therapy Group, all those fairytales (and romcoms and romance novels and whirlwind ‘Twin Flame’ celebrity relationships) are a big part of the reason it can be so hard to tell the difference between limerence and real love.
“In our society, we watch movies, read romance novels, and observe relationships that are full of drama,” says Plummer. Limerence fits neatly into this fictional ideal of over-the-top romance that makes us think we’re supposed to be head over heels OBSESSED with a new partner—“obsessed” being the keyword here. Limerence is an all-consuming obsession and so different from actual love. But what does it feel like, and how can you tell the difference between limerence and IRL love? Here’s your no-drama guide to this v dramatic experience.
So what exactly is limerence?
Who among us has not, at one time or another, semi-pathetically pined over someone we’ve had a major crush on? When you’re feeling this crushy excitement/anxiety, you’re getting a small taste of what limerence feels like.
Simply put, “Limerence is a state of involuntary infatuation and idealization that feels like love,” says Megan Green, a psychotherapist and owner of Prismatic Therapy LLC.
While it’s easy to confuse love and limerence, the latter tends to be much more intense—and even downright toxic. “Limerence, as a scientific term, is the darker side of love, controlled by intrusive thoughts about the object of our desire,” says Plummer. Those thoughts are usually marked by a fear of rejection and loneliness, and while it’s not all doom and gloom, the more positive feelings limerence can bring are usually rooted in an equally unhealthy (and ultimately unsustainable) high.
Someone experiencing limerence might feel like they’re literally living off the hope that the object of their affection feels the same way or the dopamine hit of getting a text from that person or hanging out with them. Eventually, a limerent person might come to view this relationship as the answer to all their problems, sometimes referred to as the “crystallization” phase. You can think of limerence as an addiction or all-consuming obsession, which is obvs not a super solid foundation for a new relationship.
It’s important to understand that limerence is an experience, rather than just a feeling, says Plummer. It’s difficult to get control of, and can completely distract you from reality. Your experience of limerence can also vary day-to-day, moment-to-moment, depending on how much or how little attention and affection you think you’re getting from your new crush or S.O.
“The feeling of limerence can range from euphoria to devastation,” says Green. “Your experience is dictated by the object of your affection, and what you perceive about their attraction to you in that particular moment.” In other words, it’s your classic roller coaster of emotions.
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Why have I never heard of this before?
While the term limerence may be new to you, the concept probably sounds pretty familiar (like, maybe even a little too familiar). But while people have obviously been falling in various degrees of romantic infatuation for, uh, ever, limerence only emerged as a defined psychological phenomenon a few decades ago.
The term was first introduced to the general public by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in the 1979 book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. According to Green, Tennov “describes limerence as ‘remarkably tenacious, involuntary, and resistant to external influence once it takes hold.’”
More recently, limerence has gained popularity on TikTok (which, hi, may be what brought you here). The term “limerence” currently boasts around 22 million views on the platform, while “limerence psychology” has racked up more than 8 billion.
How can you tell the difference between love and limerence?
It may seem pretty obvious that you’re experiencing limerence, not love, when you’re deep in the Insta-stalking, triple-texting trenches. At the moment, however, Green says that it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between love and limerence, because you’re straight-up losing touch with reality.
“In limerence, the object of your affection is ‘perfect,’” says Green. Thus, the foundation of your experience is inherently delusional because, ICYMI, perfection does not exist.
This is part of the reason limerence is often experienced in the early stages of a relationship and/or in more vague situationships. “When you don’t know someone well, it’s easy to connect with some aspects of their personality and project what you imagine to be the rest of it,” says Green.
Essentially, the less you really know someone, the easier it is to become chaotically obsessed with an idealized version of them. This means that limerence is basically antithetical to the bedrock of emotional intimacy that real love needs to thrive. In fact, some experts argue that limerence is actually, on a potentially subconscious level, a defense mechanism rooted in a fear of real intimacy—i.e., you latch onto an inherently unattainable fantasy because you know, on some level, that it can never be something real, thus sparing yourself the risk of actual romantic vulnerability.
That doesn’t mean, however, that limerence can’t wreak serious havoc on your emotional state. Because once that fantasy you’ve pinned all your hopes and dreams to inevitably starts to unravel, that’s when infatuation turns to panic. You’ve fallen for a fantasy version of someone, and now you’re desperate to keep that illusion alive, aka, the “deterioration” phase of limerence.
“The thoughts are intrusive and come at unexpected and unwelcome times,” says Plummer. “We become obsessive, sometimes expressed in the form of multiple calls and texts, overscheduling dates, and wanting to move too fast—to sex, to titles, to integration in each other’s lives.”
So if you’re catching yourself telling your friends, “It’s like we’ve known each other forever,” when you’ve actually known each other for two weeks, there’s a good chance that limerence is on the horizon. As Green notes, actual love comes from knowing someone deeply through emotional intimacy, and that’s just not the kind of thing you can establish over a few rounds of drinks or a couple weeks of flirty texting. So those wedding bells you might hear after a week or two of knowing your new “soulmate?” Yeah, they’re more like warning signals.
Can you build a real relationship on limerence?
Most of us want to believe in love at first sight, twin flames, and soulmates, because, duh, of course we do. But that Megan Fox/MGK kinda love isn’t exactly…realistic (or even healthy, for that matter). Limerence, however, can make us feel like it is. While what you’re actually experiencing is obsession, delusion, and extremely unhealthy fixation, you might feel like you’ve just found “the one.” In reality, it’s a ticking time bomb toward self-destruction.
“Limerence is not a positive experience,” says Plummer, explaining that behind all that romantic intensity, there’s usually anxiety, attachment issues, childhood trauma, or other mental health issues that convince us the extreme attraction/obsession we feel toward a new person is love. And while it may feel like a storybook romance in the moment, limerence is very much *not* a recipe for happily ever after.
“If a stable and lasting relationship were to occur as a result of limerence, it would be happenstance,” says Green. “Healthy connections are rooted in honesty, trust, and communication. Stable and lasting relationships happen when two individuals are on the same page about how they feel for each other, and what they want from their relationship.”
Spoiler alert: this doesn’t happen in limerence, because romantic obsession makes you focus solely on how the object of that obsession makes you feel and how they’re reacting to your behaviors, rather than how you can build something healthy and long-term. Instead of envisioning how you’ll grow into a future together as a couple, limerence goggles force you to look through a lens of fear, insecurity, and, yes, straight-up delusion.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with basking in a little crushy bliss, getting butterflies when you hit send on a risky text, and maybe even dabbling in some casual social media stalking. But when the lows of waiting for a text back start to outweigh the highs of your new romance, it may be time for a little detox. Because despite what literally every pop song ever recorded may have told you, love shouldn’t *actually* feel like a drug (sorry, Kesha).
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.
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