In the March 1996 issue of Harper's, there's a short reading on limerence, a term that stands (vaguely) for ``romantic love.'' (Why this is vague will be apparent soon.) Anyway, here's a short message from Mark Israel, the keeper of the alt.usage.english news group.

This message consists of excerpts from Dorothy Tennov's book Love and Limerence (Stein and Day, 1979).

Tennov was a professor of psychology at the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut. (She's now retired.) Circa 1977 she coined the noun ``limerence'' and the adjective ``limerent'' to describe a particular state of mind. (``Limerent'' is also a noun, meaning ``limerent person.'' The coinages are arbitrary; there is no specific etymology. The words have subsequently been used in several other books, but haven't made it into the dictionaries.)

Limerence is what is sometimes referred to as ``being in love'' with someone, as opposed to ``loving'' someone. Or sometimes it's called ``romantic love'' or ``passionate love.'' But that's not an adequate definition, because nonlimerents also use these terms to describe their own feelings.

Limerence is also sometimes called ``infatuation.'' But ``infatuation'' has implications of immaturity, and of extrapolating from insufficient information, that Tennov didn't want.

Symptoms of Limerence

``Limerence has certain basic components:


`` `Nonlimerent' refers to a person who is not limerent at the time. Both the limerent and nonlimerent states tend to be sustained. The most frequently encountered patterns were limerents who had always been in love with someone or wanting love, since early age, and non-limerents who simply could not remember being any other way.'' But ``the same person who is limerent may someday become nonlimerent ... and vice versa.

``The feelings you as nonlimerent may have about another person may include sexual attraction, friendship, and affection, without the compulsive and intrusive fantasizing or the exclusivity. You may even be jealous, but the jealousy, if it occurs, is more like the jealousy you might experience if a co-worker were selected for an advancement ....

``The nonlimerent person who is fond of, affectionate toward, and sexually attracted to you but who does not understand what you [a limerent] want therefore plays the game ingenuously and without artifice, because it is not a game at all.''

Distinction between ``limerence'' and ``love''

`` `Love', in most of its meanings, involves concern for the other person's welfare and feelings.'' Although limerents also have such concern, nonlimerent ``affection and fondness have no `objective'; they simply exist as feelings in which you are disposed toward actions to which the recipient might or might not respond. In contrast, limerence demands return.

``Your feeling for LO is inordinate relative to that person's actual value in your life (apart, of course, from the value as LO) ... which is why we distinguish love from limerence, this `love' from other loves.

``Sexual jealousy and limerent jealousy are not identical. It is not so much with whom you sleep but whether you return the feelings that matter to the limerent. But the limerent exclusivity is an alien thing to the nonlimerent mind.''

Cessation of Limerence

``Limerence for a particular LO does cease under one of the following conditions: consummation -- in which the bliss of reciprocation is either blended into a lasting love or replaced by less positive feelings; starvation -- in which even limerent sensitivity to signs of hope is useless against the onslaught of evidence that LO does not return the limerence; transformation -- in which limerence is transferred to a new LO.''

Although some limerents are ashamed of feeling limerent and want to stop, in many others ``an aspect of limerence is the desire for limerence. Only when recovery is complete do people appear capable of rejecting limerence as one of their most urgent personal goals.''

Judgement of Limerence

Since limerence is ``an involuntary reaction'', it is ``as illogical to favor (or not to favor) limerence as it is to favor (or not favor) eating, elimination, or sneezing! Limerence is not the product of human decision: It is something that happens to us.''

Limerence -- Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the most common mistake people make about limerence?

A. Spelling it with an ``a''. :-)

Q. I've read the above list of symptoms, but I still don't know whether I'm limerent or not. What should I do?

A. Forget about it for now! You just haven't had any experiences yet where the limerent/nonlimerent dichotomy is important.

Q. Why do you insist on using the word?

A. Because it's helping people.

Shortly after I joined the Net in 1986, a man in his 60s posted an article saying his SO had told him she ``loved'' him, but wasn't ``in love with'' him. He couldn't understand any distinction between loving and being in love. Several people posted their own ideas, all of which completely missed the mark. I, having read Tennov's book, posted the limerence symptomatology. The original poster responded saying, ``Yes, this turns out to be what my SO means in this case. Thanks!''

Since then, many people have e-mailed to thank me for throwing light on what was previously a puzzle to them.

Q. Isn't ``limerence'' just a euphemism for ``infatuation''?

A. No. All infatuation is limerence, but not all limerence is infatuation. If you're limerent about a spouse of ten years, I wouldn't call that ``infatuation''. (Of course, it's unlikely that you'd have been limerent about her constantly for the entire ten years -- limerence waxes and wanes.)

I would define ``infatuation'' as ``limerence that you feel for someone with whom you have insufficient personal acquaintance to evaluate rationally as a potential SO''. (Wow, I just defined one word that's in my dictionary in terms of two that aren't!)

Here's another definition: ``The literal meaning of infatuation is `to be made foolish of fatuous, to be deprived of sound judgement.' In the context of relationships, infatuation means an intense attraction to another arising from our focusing on one or two aspects of the other as if those aspects represented the whole. I see a beautiful face, for example, and assume it is the image of a beautiful soul. I see how kindly this person treats me and assume we share significant affinities. I discover we share important values in one area and expand this area to include the whole sphere of life.'' (Nathaniel Branden)

If you are limerent about someone, but

then you are not infatuated.

Q. Can ``nonlimerent'' really be used to describe a type of person?

A. You bet! One of my correspondents told me: ``Didn't you say in one response to me that you suspected I'd never experienced limerence? If so, you're quite right, and with luck I never will.'' There are lots of people like that.

Q. I am often limerent, but then, in relationships where I am the LO, I am decidedly nonlimerent. Would that make me both at the same time?

A. You can be a limerent in general (i.e. ``prone to limerence'') while being nonlimerent in the context of a particular relationship. The context usually makes clear what is meant. See Tennov's comments above on nonlimerence.

Q. Doesn't it dissipate the meaning of ``limerence'' to apply it to anything but full-blown limerence?

A. In my opinion it is more useful to have a term that describes the entire cycle. Tennov refers (quoted above) to ``when limerence is at low ebb'', so she clearly meant to include this.

Q. What is original about Tennov's contribution?

A. Certainly not her description of limerent symptoms! In the 6th Century B.C., the Greek poet Sappho described feelings of limerence in her famous ode (translated by Catullus). The first fairly complete description of the symptoms was made in the 12th century by Andreas Capellanus in De Arte Honeste Amandi.

I think Tennov's major contribution was bringing to people's attention that there are nonlimerents -- people who do not fit the limerent pattern. This vital fact lay buried under the rubble, because of the many other meanings attached to the word ``love''.

Those who popularize concepts also play their role. Columbus deserves credit for bringing America to the general attention of the Europeans, even though he wasn't the first person to set foot on it.

Q. What are the advantages of limerence (to an individual)?

A. ``None'', said I. ``Those of us who favour limerence do so because it's part of our axiomatic preference set -- we can't justify it in terms of other preferences.''

But one of my correspondents refuted me very well: ``Ecstasy, bliss, and all those other things that love-song, novel, and folklore enthuse over. The limerent state implies terrible depths of unhappiness (not-quite-hopeless-enough unrequited limerence), but also heights of joy unexperienced by the nonlimerent, when the longed-for mutuality arrives. It wouldn't exist if it didn't have ups and well as downs -- so don't write limerence off as completely without `advantages'. Remember, there's a reason all those folks say that `Love is the greatest joy in life, and the reason for living.' They're not talking about brotherly-love, and they're not talking about sex+friendship.''

This correspondent then utterly astounded me by saying, ``I am a complete nonlimerent''!

Q. What is romance?

A. For a limerent, ``romance'' is a very strong intuitive idea that defies definition. But here's a start: ``the art of conveying affection to a lover ... to love and be loved in imaginative caring ways. Romance is a mixture of many elements: it often starts with good manners, it may take off into fantasy, and then we're dazzled by the experience of a dream coming to life. Where there is no passion or intensity, there is no romance. Where there is no admiration, there is no romance. And where there is no sensitivity, there is no romance.'' (paraphrased from Michael Morgenstern and Nathaniel Branden) Disraeli called romance ``the offspring of love and fiction''!

In other words, ``romantic'' (for a limerent) means ``pertaining to the channel through which limerence can be expressed''.

Some nonlimerents proceed on the assumption that

(This is not a definition of nonlimerence. Do not use this statement for diagnostic purposes! And for you Christian etc. types, ``sex'' above need not mean ``fornication''; we're talking about whatever expression of sexual attraction you may happen to use.) Occasionally, nonlimerents make this equation explicitly, as the great nonlimerent pioneer sex psychologist Havelock Ellis did: ``love may be regarded, roughly speaking, as a synthesis of lust and friendship.'' But more often you'll see the assumption made implicitly, in dialogues like the following:

Yes, I know that some of you nonlimerents out there are more enlightened than that, but I'm afraid you're a minority. :-(

Q. Is mutual limerence destructive?

A. My opinion (and Tennov's opinion; but there are those who vehemently disagree with us) is that limerence is not inherently destructive. What is destructive is getting married when limerence is the only thing that's drawing you together. If you do that, then as soon as the bloom of the romance is off, you'll wonder why the hell you got married.

Q. How do I recover from unrequited limerence?

A. Slowly. :-(

Recall the three ways that Tennov says limerence can end:

  1. Consummation (The LO becomes limerent about the sufferer.) That seems to be ruled out if you're asking this question.
  2. Starvation (The limerence dies because there's no subconscious hope left of reciprocation. Subconscious hope can linger a long time after all conscious hope is gone.)
  3. Transformation (The sufferer becomes limerent about someone else.)

When you are limerent about someone, your perception is that she, of all the people in the world, is uniquely well suited to be your SO. Now, what qualities do you perceive as making her so well suited? You should make a list of those qualities. You should write the list down! Then you should examine it critically.

  1. There are probably some qualities you're attributing to her that she doesn't even have! If she scans your list, she may be able to pick out a couple of these.
  2. There will be other qualities that she does have, but whose importance to you you overestimate. (Anything along the lines of ``I want you because you're bound up in such-and-such a way with the history of my life'' can confidently be assigned to this class.) What will help you most to identify these is: interacting with other MOTAS. By that, I do not mean looking for an SO! It's precisely the MOTAS whom you do not regard as SO material who will give you the surprises you need. ``Only a blonde will do'' may seem like a sure bet, until you meet a brunette who charms you. There will probably be other reasons why the brunette is not a suitable SO, but so what? She's still helped you to refine your list.
  3. There will be some qualities that you've left off the list altogether whose importance you will later come to realise. Of these, the most shining example is that the person has to want you. It doesn't diminish your limerence now to know that your LO doesn't want you, but boy, will it matter when you establish your next SOship!
  4. For the qualities that remain, you need merely convince yourself that the number of MOTAS who possess those qualities is greater than one, and then commence searching for some of them.

Trying to maintain a close friendship under the conditions of unrequited limerence is not a good idea; it slows down the healing process.

Q. Isn't there a better way to combat limerence -- by improving your self-esteem?

A. Improving your self-esteem is definitely a good idea, whether you're limerent or not.

Q. Are there any books I should read?

A. Amazing how often I get asked this question! I haven't a clue what books you ``should'' read. If you tell me more specifically what sort of information you're looking for, I might be able to tell you where to find it.

Q. What are some of the books that mention limerence?

A. Here's a short list:

Tennov, Dorothy Love and Limerence: the Experience of Being in Love New York: Stein and Day, 1979. ISBN 0-8128-6134-5.

Money, John Love and Love Sickness: the Science of Sex, Gender Difference, and Pair-Bonding Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-8018-2137-X.

Liebowitz, Michael The Chemistry of Love Boston: Little, Brown, 1983; New York: Berkley Books, 1984. ISBN 0-425-06989-3.

Perper, Timothy Sex Signals: the Biology of Being in Love Philadelphia: ISI [Institute for Scientific Information] Press, 1985. ISBN 0-89495-050-9.

Money, John Lovemaps: Clinical Concepts of Sexual/Erotic Health and Pathology, Paraphilia, and Gender Transposition in Childhood, Adolescence, and Maturity New York: Irvington, 1986. ISBN 0-8290-1589-2.

Weinrich, James Sexual Landscapes: Why We Are What We Are: Why We Love Whom We Love New York: Charles Sribner's Sons, 1987. ISBN 0-684-18705-1.

Sternberg, Robert, and Barnes, Michael, ed. The Psychology of Love New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-04589-1.

Q. And if I want even more information? (I'm a masochist.)

A. You can check ``Tennov'' in the Social Sciences Citation Index; she is quite frequently cited. There is a periodical called Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (founded 1984), where many of the articles are devoted to limerence. For accounts of a more popular nature, see entries for ``Love (emotion)'' in The New York Times Index.