Is it love, lust or limerence?

The powerful emotion that you never knew had a name.

So you’ve met someone amazing and suddenly, you find yourself constantly thinking about that one freckle on their nose or the way their head tilts back when they laugh. You roll over to see that what felt like five minutes of innocent daydreaming has turned into hours of obsessive rumination. 

If you’re finding yourself dreaming about taking a romantic holiday, moving in or even marrying someone you’ve just met – don’t fret, you’re experiencing something called ‘limerence’. If you think this feeling is an affliction only for the young, like a teenage crush: think again. Limerence can affect women (and men) of all ages just as powerfully as those in the first flush of youth.

“Limerence is a crush on steroids,” psychologist Jocelyn Brewer says. “It’s this really intense infatuation that becomes all consuming.”

No matter what age you are, Limerence can make you feel like you’re experiencing a giddy teenage crush.

The term was coined in the ‘70s by psychologist Dorothy Tennov who described it as being a state of total infatuation. Limerent behaviour can include fantasising and idealising about the object of your affections or experiencing a broad spectrum of overwhelming emotions when thinking about them.

“Limerence can be likened to the thrill of a roller coaster ride – it’s all about the rush, without concern for the destination. It’s the pursuit of the euphoria associated with falling in love, rather than the intention to forge a substantial, enduring relationship,” Alex Bert Relationship Coach, explains.

However intoxicating limerence is, experts agree that limerence is not love, nor is it even lust. The single defining factor between love and limerence is that limerence is devoid of reciprocation. Because limerence is something you experience when you first meet a person, you don’t know if those feelings of attraction are reciprocated yet.

And whilst limerence certainly can mimic what we think love feels like, Jocelyn says that the two are polar opposites. 

Limerence does not always require those intense feelings of infatuation to be reciprocated.

“Limerence is that real frenetic energy, it’s not that grounded and stable feeling we associate with more of a love energy,” she says.

But just because limerence isn’t love doesn’t mean it never will be. Limerence is merely a stage in the emotional rollercoaster that dating is. Following your short-lived infatuation comes a period of ‘crystallisation’. This is when deeper feelings start to develop that are less entrenched in fantasy or obsession. It’s also generally where you’ll know for sure whether your feelings are reciprocated.

Limerence is a totally normal way to feel when you first meet someone, in fact, thanks to the cocktail of chemicals in our brains – we don’t even really get a choice when we fall into the alluring spiral of infatuation. 

“Feelings in general are just what I call a very rapid chemical storm,” Jocelyn explains. “When we have feelings, they’re really just a microsecond boost of a chemical, then we have a very rapid thought process that goes along with that.”

limerence romeo and juliet
Some of the most famous love stories of all time can actually be seen as merely limerent behaviour.

Moreover, limerence has been normalised through the art and literature we consume everyday. The fairly mild limerent behaviours can be seen in Sex and the City where Carrie fantasises over and projects onto the aloof Mr. Big for six glorious seasons.

On the more concerning end of the spectrum, you only need to look at one of the greatest and most extreme love stories (or should I say limerence stories) of all time – Romeo and Juliet.

The two star-crossed lovers only know each other for 24 hours before they both decide to take their own lives out of fear of living without one another.

Whilst Shakespeare certainly took limerence to an extreme place, Jocelyn says that these feelings, in moderation, can actually be a fun way to break emotional monotony. 

“Sometimes feeling this way is actually just a pleasant distraction, it’s a really nice way to mix up your daily life by having that crush situation.”

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