Are You Falling in Love… Or Is It Just Limerence? Here’s How To Tell
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Being obsessed with your love interest is an incredibly pervasive trope in pop culture. From Carrie Bradshaw constantly name-dropping Mr. Big to the point of needing therapy in the early seasons of Sex and the City, to Barry Keoghan slurping up the remnants of Jacob Elordi’s bathwater in Saltburn, Western media continually paints being all-consumed with desire or need for your crush as the pinnacle of romance.

In reality though, this type of obsession can be difficult to deal with. Referred to as “limerence,” it’s more intense than your typical crush—and is a little bit different than what “true” love is.

What is limerence?

Psychologist Dorothy Tennov, PhD, first came up with the term limerence in the 1970s after conducting more than 300 interviews to gather data on how people experienced romantic love.

During her interviews, Dr. Tennov apparently found that there was a particular shared experience among some people who were in love—where people were overwhelmingly desirous for that person’s attention and affection (typically for someone who did not share that same regard). She detailed her findings in a book titled Love and Limerence, published in 1979.

“Limerence is almost a heightened crush, like a crush on steroids.” —Margaret Lorenz, LCSW

“Limerence is a condition in which a person experiences an overwhelming desire to be close to, receive attention from, and reciprocate positive feelings with another person, often called a ‘limerent object,’” says Brandy Wyant, MPH, MSW, LCSW, a clinical social worker who’s studied limerence.

Limerence often leads to obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that interfere with your functioning, says Wyant. “For example, the sufferer might stare at photos of the limerent object for extended periods of time, frequently mention the limerent object in conversation, and repeatedly mentally review interactions with the limerent object to look for signs as to how they feel towards the person experiencing limerence.”

What are the signs of limerence?

In Love and Limerence, Dr. Tennov listed 12 “basic components” of limerence based on common, recurring themes from her interviews. They include:

  • Intrusive thoughts about the limerent object (LO)
  • Extreme longing for the LO to reciprocate your feelings
  • Your mood becoming dependent on the actions (or perceived actions) of the LO
  • Fear of rejection by the LO, which might cause shyness in their presence
  • An aching “heart” (i.e., chest) during times of uncertainty
  • Being hyper-fixated on any signs that could hint the LO feels the same way about you (including a willingness to invent signs that aren’t there)
  • Intense feelings that distract you from other aspects of your life
  • A feeling of “walking on air” when it seems like the LO may reciprocate your feelings
  • A tendency to emphasize the LO’s positive traits while ignoring negative ones

While you may pick up on similarities between limerence and typical crushes, keep in mind that the former is much more intense.

“Limerence is almost a heightened crush, like a crush on steroids,” says sex and relationship therapist Margaret Lorenz, LCSW. “A crush will fade kind of quickly—you can continue with your regular life without having it impede on your every day.” Meanwhile, she says, limerence is more obsessive, and can significantly impact your daily life: “You are thinking about the other person, daydreaming about them all the time, waiting for their texts to come through, wanting to contact them, imagining what a life with them would be like if this connection moves forward.”

What’s the difference between limerence vs. love?

Limerence has similarities with love or infatuation, which can make things confusing. “You can think of limerence like passionate love, or total absorption in the other person,” says Marisa T. Cohen, PhD, LMFT, a therapist and relationship researcher at dating app Hily. And it’s possible to fall in love with someone and become infatuated with them, even if you don’t know them that well yet.

An important differentiation between the two is uncertainty. Limerence arises specifically when you don’t have reassurance that the LO reciprocates your desire. That might be because they’re not forthcoming, are emotionally unavailable (cough, Mr. Big), or because there’s something that otherwise prevents them from being able to reciprocate.

“The key to distinguishing limerence from other forms of infatuation or obsessive attachment is the unavailability of the limerent object,” says Wyant. “There are barriers that would prevent an intimate relationship from forming in real life, such as incompatible sexual orientation or gender identity, age difference, the limerent object already being in a committed romantic partnership, or the limerent object being a celebrity.”

How common is limerence?

We don’t really have a clear answer to how common it is to experience limerence. “This is an area where we really need research,” says Wyant. “Prevalence estimates can be hard to collect, because we do not currently have clinical criteria for limerence outlined in the DSM-V.” (The DSM-V is the diagnostic manual that mental health professionals use to understand and diagnose mental health conditions like depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and more.) “If we had limerence listed in the DSM, clinicians and researchers could define limerence that rises to a clinically significant level and may require treatment.”

“There aren’t estimates as to how common limerence is that I know of,” agrees Lorenz. However, based on the responses she’s received from TikToks she’s posted about the topic, she thinks it could be quite common. “I have so many people reach out to me of all different ages, men and women,” she says. “…So I think it’s a little bit more widespread than I ever realized when I first learned about it.”

People with anxious or avoidant attachment styles may be more likely than those with a secure attachment style to develop limerence, Lorenz says. With someone with an anxious attachment style (meaning that they constantly are unsure about whether their partner loves them, have trouble being vulnerable, and aren’t sure how to interpret behavior), “you’d naturally think that they could fall into limerence because they so want to connect with people,” she says. But she says that those with an avoidant attachment style (meaning they struggle to trust people and shy away from emotional intimacy) “love that heightened ‘Will we get together?’ limerent phase, but once it gets real, they feel uncomfortable and they run away.”

Tips for dealing with limerence

The best approach to dealing with limerence will depend on your relationship to the LO. If you’re in a situation where you know the person and it would be appropriate to let them know you have feelings for them, that may help you move past it, says Lorenz. They may reciprocate your feelings or give you a definitive “no,” and either outcome can cause limerence to fade, she says. “It’s when it’s kind of hot and cold that it’s harder,” she says.

At the same time, if you’re limerent toward someone you just started dating, it can help to remain open to dating other people and leaning into other areas of your life, says Lorenz. “If you’re starting to feel that limerence where maybe you’re blowing off your friends or you’re thinking about them all the time and you’re planning eight dates ahead, but they’re kind of moving forward at a typical pace, then I encourage people to still talk to other people, go out with your friends.”

In some cases, limerence can last years, and can require the help of a mental health professional to move past, says Lorenz. She sometimes takes clients through a cord-cutting meditation, she says, which typically involves visualizing a cord connecting you to the person you’re fixated on, and then imagining cutting it. “You do that for a couple of months with the idea that you are ending the energy that’s going back and forth between the two of you,” she says.

However, sometimes limerence can become so intense that DIY solutions don’t, well, cut it. “A lot of people fight back and don’t really want to let it go completely. It is a dopamine rush that can get almost addictive,” says Lorenz. If that’s the case for you, it’s time to enlist professional support in the form of a therapist, counselor, or other qualified person.

While having a crush can feel exciting, desire can veer into an unhealthy obsession. When limerence arises, it can put you through intense highs and lows that distract you from other areas of your life, but you can take steps to release yourself from the attachment.

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