“Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken” – Albert Camus
The term limerence was coined c. 1977 by the psychologist Dorothy Tennov. Limerence is defined as an involuntary state of mind, that results from a strong sexual or intensely emotional attraction to another person, combined with an equally intense and urgent need to have the love object satiate the longing. This intense emotional attraction is often accompanied by panic and dread of “the end “ of these strong feelings. If you have ever fallen prey to the vicissitudes of unrequited affection, you know the unimaginable desire and heartache such experiences can manifest.
The problem with limerence is that it is often felt for someone who is unavailable in some way; emotionally, geographically, or intentionally. If the feelings of limerence are tied to an unavailable person, heartache will surely ensue. But why is it that we often choose to desire those people who enter our lives and are not available to return our love? I believe one reason for choosing an unavailable object of desire is because it is safer than having the same longing for someone who will eagerly return it. Limerence is an issue of desire for satiation and repair of breaks and devastation from our past; in short limerence is an issue of time. The feelings of longing from our past emerge in the present through limerence, and we are pulled toward and compelled to quell a desire that may never be realized. Relationships are born in our attempts at reparation; it is normal to play out the issues and roles of our past relationships in our current ones. It is also normal to want to repair the breaks and disappointments of our formative primary relationships (i.e. parents, caretakers, siblings, family members) in the present. The longing and desire we feel when limerence emerges in the present is often tied in part to the same desires and longings we felt growing up. It is important to recognize and acknowledge how our co-existence includes our past, the present, and who we wish to be and be with in the future.
If we can acknowledge the nuances of our current relationships and the desires that come along with them, we may not feel so torn and disheartened when we find an object of desirecannot satisfy us in the way we want. Liberation from limerence may be held within the acceptance that we want something from our partners and those we desire that they are inherently unable to provide. It gives us a space to identify and process unresolved feelings from the past, in our present. The pull toward an unavailable lover allows us to continue to make attempts at repairing and resolving our earlier disappointments and at the same time keeps us from ever succeeding to reach our desired goal. The pull also allows us to avoid those who may offer and foster an authentic relationship capable of growth and longevity. Again, it often feels safer to continue to makes attempts at repairing a relationship that has no chance of going anywhere, if only because it keeps us protected from ever being hurt again. Old patterns from past relationships are familiar and may even feel exciting during times when we are hurting the most. Limerence is an intense and powerful experience, but it is often a distraction from the vulnerability which genuine intimacy and connections require.