Have you ever experienced romantic feelings for someone you barely knew that were so strong they felt overwhelming?
Many people would use the word “love” to describe that, but as it turns out, a more accurate descriptor is another L-word entirely: limerence.
Limerence is a feeling of powerful attraction and desire for someone that is more emotional than just lust—but is different from love in some important ways.
Frankie, a 30-year-old employee at a law firm in Montreal, Qc., is no stranger to the concept of limerence. Her love life is dominated by instances of developing strong feelings for someone out of seemingly nowhere.
“Once I flew from the south of France (where I was living at the time) to see a guy in Madrid that I knew through mutual friends, and we barely spoke, but I was convinced he was my soulmate,” she said. “I also once went to NYC for someone I met on Tinder and thought we were soul mates… the list goes on…”
While limerence may make a person feel madly in love, there are key differences between true love and limerence.
“Limerence is an infatuation and/or obsession that is often confused with being in love,” said Tracy Ross, a couples therapist based in New York.
“It isn’t about commitment or building a relationship. A limerent person exaggerates the positive qualities of the person they are infatuated with and minimizes or doesn’t even see the negatives”—a process known as the halo effect.
“During limerence, a person can feel as if they know the object of their obsession is their true love, the one they are ‘meant’ to be with, and they interpret any interaction as a sign that this is the case,” Ross added. “These feelings are based on fantasy and limited or minimal contact.”
“It’s not logical,” Frankie admitted. “I might not even know them that well, but I’ll create a perfect image in my head and fill in the blanks of what I know about them with my imagination.”
“To be clear, this is not a mutual feeling, and is almost always unreciprocated,” she added. “I know this because if it was reciprocated, I wouldn’t be fantasizing about them.”
Signs of limerence
According to Ross, here are some types of people who may be the object of your limerence:
- Someone you barely know
- Someone who is unavailable for a real relationship
- Someone out of your reach
- An affair partner
- Someone long distance whom you see very occasionally
- Someone you reconnect with from your past, imagining they are “the one who got away”
- A teacher/student, boss/employee situation
- A person in a position of power or fame who doesn’t know you exist
If you find yourself experiencing strong feelings for someone from the above list, there’s a pretty good chance you’re experiencing limerence.
Getting more granular, here are some ways that someone might feel about the object of their limerence, according to Ross:
- You see only their attributes and no flaws.
- You have had limited interactions.
- You interpret small moves to mean they are “the one.”
- You imagine your relationship problems will not exist if only you can be with this person.
- You are basing your feelings on information gained fleetingly and not through meaningful interaction.
- You haven’t had a negative interaction or worked through a difference or a fight.
- It feels too fragile to test the relationship by stating how you really feel about something.
- You are fantasizing about giving up your current life, marriage or other relationship, job, location, time with kids just to be with this person.
- Limerence goes from 0 to 100 very quickly—all of a sudden you are ready to leave your marriage after two interactions with this other person.
Finally, and perhaps most damningly, limerence can actually burn out when it is reciprocated.
How? Well, while it might seem like a person experiencing limerence is just someone with a big unrequited crush, the truth is that they’re elevating a few details—and a capacity to feel intense romantic feelings—into what feels like love.
Though they might say they’re “in love” with the object of their limerence, they actually barely know this person.
Since real life often fails to match up with our expectations, getting a real shot at a relationship with the person they’ve been experiencing these feelings for is quite likely to lead to a sudden breakup—if things even progress that far.
So, a crucial sign that it’s limerence and not the real thing? “Once you do have the person’s attention, you lose interest,” Ross explained. “You find out they are just a human—this is a big sign. If the attraction is all about the unattainability, it is limerence not love.”
Limerence vs. love
Limerence is often confused for love, and that’s not super surprising, in part because the processes often feel very similar and begin in almost identical ways.
However, as you may have guessed by now, there is a crucial difference between love and limerence, meaning, no, they’re not the same thing.
As Ross put it, “While love is often accompanied by a thrill and initial infatuation, it involves getting to know someone over time, a back and forth, experiencing one another in different situations, understanding one another’s faults, working through them and wanting to be with the person despite those flaws.”
“Love includes opportunities for meaningful interaction, being in a relationship and seeing how it unfolds,” she added.
In short, she noted, “Love is a connection that grows and develops beyond an initial infatuation or attraction, deepens and continues to be compelling even after the thrill has worn off.”
“Limerence,” on the other hand, “is an idealization of another person based on limited or only positive contact,” Ross explained.
How long does limerence last?
Unlike true love, which can last years to a lifetime, it’s hard to sustain limerence for very long without any encouragement or returned affection from the other party—especially when revealing your intense feelings can often lead to a distinctly negative reaction from the other person.
But each person’s experience with limerence is different, and even one person’s experience with it from person to person can vary wildly.
All told, the answer can really depend on a number of things, including your personality, what your connection to the other person is, and whether anyone else enters into your life to steal your attention away from the original person.
Is limerence actually bad?
Limerence is bad for a number of reasons according to Ross. It can be “self-destructive and self-sabotaging,” she said.
It can “hurt those close to you, and lead to poor choices or a lack of productivity;” it can even “completely backfire when you find out the person is either not interested or not the fantasy version you had imagined—and not the answer to all that isn’t right in your life.”
So despite that sense of hopefulness Frankie described—as Ross put it, “It feels good, it gets your hormones and endorphins racing, makes you feel alive”—ultimately it can lead to very negative situations.
“The danger comes when making long-term decisions that affect others based on this type of infatuation,” Ross noted.
In particular, expressing seriously romantic feelings to someone who’s not at all interested in you can be seen as scary or threatening, especially if it’s a man approaching a woman—he might be seen as someone incapable of understanding consent or boundaries, a creep or a stalker.
Is there a limerence cure?
If you can recognize limerence for what it is—powerful feelings that can and will pass—you’re well on your way to defeating it.
“It’s hard to stop the feeling and many people don’t want to,” Ross said. “It’s like a natural high when you have an interaction—real or imagined—that is positive. It’s hard to stop obsessive thoughts without real effort, and many people experiencing limerence simply don’t want to give it up.”
Unfortunately, that can make it hard for everyone involved—the person experiencing it, the object of limerence, and any loved ones affected by the ensuing behavior. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it can take a crew of well-meaning friends to help someone get over their limerent obsessions.
Ross agreed. “It’s advisable to ask a trusted person in your life to help you get your feet on the ground, try to see the situation more clearly, and make measured, thoughtful decisions as opposed to impulsive decisions,” she said.
Probably the closest thing to a bona fide limerence cure, though? “The passage of time,” Ross added. Hopefully, days, weeks and months without any reciprocation will show you that this person isn’t secretly pining for you.
Romantic love is one of the most beautiful feelings human beings experience, which can make it all the harder to grapple with something that feels like love, but isn’t.
However, limerence is a kind of emotional fool’s gold. Upon closer inspection, you realize that it’s not only not what you were looking for, it’s something with essentially no value at all.