What’s Limerence? (Obsession + Infatuation!)

[Finally finishing my Vertigo analysis after 6 months has got me in the mood to open up about my own “Scottie Episodes.” If and when I decide if I want to talk about my experiences with bullying, this will serve as a companion piece because the two are very much interrelated. The profile picture for this essay is a Warholian print of myself because I couldn’t think of anything else.]

Opening Up About It

I’m a person who wasn’t very lucky in love during my adolescent years, but I did have a lot of strong crushes, sometimes lasting for years. In all cases, I knew in my rational brain nothing was going to happen, and after awhile I didn’t even want anything to happen with these people. But the emotional part of my brain craved their affection and their validation. I never enjoyed getting so irrationally attached to people in this manner, particularly because I knew I was both a) setting myself up for heartbreak and b) unintentionally making the other person uncomfortable by the attention if not the problem of how to let me down easily. This cycle, for me, only ended 4 years ago after a particularly brutal instance which had tied me up in knots for…longer than I’d care to say.

For the longest time, I thought I was alone in this destructive cycle. I’d still have intrusive thoughts long past the point where it seemed reasonable even to me. I tried going no contact, meeting new people, burying myself in hobbies or (years ago when I was immature and stupid) altering my consciousness to numb the pangs. Sometimes these improvised coping strategies worked for a little while but nothing was a permanent fix. Then, just last year, I first discovered the word “limerence” and it was a huge revelation for me. In case you don’t follow the link, limerence is essentially a prolonged feeling of infatuation that can last years. It’s been clinically observed to function almost exactly the same as any other addiction, where being around or even just thinking about the other person stimulates the part of the brain associated with addiction and triggers a dopamine release.

Discovering what was really bothering me, how it was different from a regular crush, clinically recognized and studied (albeit not very much) was a big help. So was finding some support groups online with people who’ve had similar experiences. One common theme I noticed in the majority of stories (at least that I saw) was a lack of love or support from anyone else except the “limerent object” (the clinical term for crush, but when it crosses into limerence). So, it’s not so much that the limerent object is the best person for you as the beholder, or that you need them specifically to be happy. It’s more that you were so beaten down, you thought yourself so low that the first person to make you feel like you had value took on an inflated sense of importance in your own mind. Once I put that into perspective, it tied my experiences together very well. Strangely, knowing I wasn’t alone helped me start to make peace with the cycle of irrational attachment I’d been trapped in for years up to that point.

I want to admit that I’ve felt this way because, similar to my experiences with bullying, I feel like it helps to talk about things like this in order to get them off your chest. Also, I consider this to be an integral part of my bullying story in general, since I almost certainly fell into being limerent as a result of my tormentors, the assaults and lack of meaningful support or compassion from others. I’d like to believe that if other people share their stories it lessens the taboo of being bullied, sexually assaulted or having unrequited feelings for someone else. I know just from my own experience, I wasn’t comfortable acknowledging my assault until I learned that one of my favorite musicians suffered a similar incident, and then once I did read that passage it all just came pouring out to one of my best friends over the phone. In a similar manner, learning about limerence and the probable causes of it has helped me have some form of closure there as well.

I find this particular experience is the hardest to talk about for several reasons. Mostly, I just want to convey what caused my feelings and why I think it happened the way it did. In my case, after years of being told I was ugly, fat, unworthy of anyone’s love and never getting the therapy to properly cope with it, I clung to someone who made me feel needed, important and cool for the first time. This was someone who I comforted, stood up for and was complimented by. I didn’t want those feelings to end, and by chasing the “high” of those first few encounters, I ended up driving myself crazy and steering the other person away. To a degree, the person who triggers the limerence is secondary to the runaway feelings of the beholder, and the deep psychological scars that caused the need for a larger than life good force in the beholder’s life.

Getting Over It

However, just saying all that makes me feel intensely disgusting and guilty, because obviously the other person is their own complete end in themselves, the protagonist of their own story in which I was merely a footnote. They don’t merely exist for my own or anyone else’s happiness; just because someone has strong feelings doesn’t make them entitled to anyone else’s time or affection. Limerence displaces the beholder as the center of gravity in their own solar system in favor of an innocent bystander who never wanted such pressure in the first place. So, it’s hard to write about limerence accurately without also gagging internally at the thought of putting that limerent object on a pedestal all over again on the page.

What I desperately want to avoid is reducing the other person to the status of my past attraction, or implying that because things didn’t work out romantically, I hold any kind of grudge or feelings of ill will towards them. On the contrary, I wish them well and realize now in hindsight it never would have worked anyway. Besides the fact I wasn’t out of the closet yet when I knew these people, the emotional attachment was far too one-sided to ever be healthy or beneficial to anyone. You can’t use someone else to feel good about yourself. Put another way, you need to love yourself before you can truly love anyone else. And it’s not fair to ask someone else to be your partner when you’re not even really whole yet.

In one of my favorite episodes of Clarissa Explains It All, she discovers the key to getting rid of a celebrity crush–meet the person you have a crush on. That way, you see their human flaws and the illusion of a perfect demigod among (wo)men is broken. I think the key to getting rid of limerence is different but ultimately achieves the same purpose. I suggest finding the value in yourself, through therapy, pursuing a hobby/lifestyle or an affirming psychedelic trip. Just do something that gives you confidence which doesn’t rely on the limerent object, where you’ll hopefully meet other people who see your value (and are cool enough to tell you that to your face.) Pull back, give the LO space and find yourself on your own terms. Break down the interactions with them and determine why they were special to you, what they made you feel and if that’s something lacking in your life. Then recognize you don’t necessarily need the LO themselves in order to feel that way; they’re not the gatekeeper to your worth. Nobody else has time to be the angel in your mind, they’re busy living in the real world–where you should be too.

Of course, speaking from experience, that’s easier said than done. Like all mental ailments, recovery is a gradual process, best taken one step at a time.

In summation, a crush, or infatuation is normal when you first meet someone new, exciting and attractive. Limerence is when those larger than life, flawless perceptions of the other person never end, which only sets the beholder up for heartbreak. But perhaps more tragically, it sets unfair and unrealistic expectations on the recipient, dehumanizing them and setting them up for a lot of pain too. Limerence is not the basis for any kind of healthy relationship; it’s a curse that makes moving on from a rejection or unrequited longing far more difficult than it should be for either party. The last thing I want to do is glorify the condition in the slightest.

In the immortal words of Frank Zappa
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