What is limerence?

The Roman poet Propertius described it as having his head crushed by a foot (Elegia 1.1); more recently, Taylor Swift sang of wanting and “needing everything that we should be” (Teardrops on My Guitar). Obsessive love is something that we all know about, but what is it really, and can we actually do anything about it?

Obsessive love, or ‘limerence’, to use its official psychological term, is an involuntary state of deep infatuation with another person, a crush so intense that yearning for your object of desire (limerent object, or LO for short) can compromise your day-to-day functioning. For limerents, attention from their LO can make or break their day, and consequently, rejection is far more crushing than it would be for non-limerents. A good example from recent pop culture is the mess that is Cassie and Nate’s relationship in Euphoria Season 2: the former is so obsessed with getting the latter’s attention that she starts waking up at 4am to do a 3 hour beauty routine before school. 

Limerence is not itself unhealthy, but can be harmful for both limerent and LO: the stress of emotional dysregulation for the limerent can be exhausting, notwithstanding the stupid or unsafe things they might find themselves doing for their LO’s validation. As for the object of desire, they can find themselves having to deal with harassment from a desperate or even vengeful limerent. Limerence can affect anyone, but mostly occurs in the 16-25 demographic. Lots of people tend to have mildly limerent romantic experiences during this time, but it is not uncommon to meet someone who has never been remotely limerent for anyone. Limerence tends to be more common in neurodivergent people. 

Limerence generally has three outcomes: 

  1. Obsessive happiness when the crush is reciprocated. You feel intensely euphoric, like everything in the world has gone right, although the ensuing relationship often burns out when you realise that your LO is not perfect, but flawed. 
  2. Despair when the crush isn’t reciprocated. You feel intensely sad and your self-confidence takes a massive hit, especially if you’ve done something embarrassing in your attempts to get your LO’s attention. 
  3. Desensitisation. For whatever reason, you’ve decided not to pursue your LO’s affection. Over the course of several weeks or months you slowly get over it, and the idealised picture of your LO slowly fades away.

What to do if you’re limerent:

If you have been limerent, or currently are, don’t worry and don’t stress (take a deep breath!). You should never feel shame for how you feel, but do recognise that unchecked limerence can be harmful for you and the other people around you. While you could genuinely love your LO, always remember that the state of limerence is not love, it’s an obsession founded on a skewed perspective of someone else. Ultimately, you’re not in love with them, but merely the idea of them. 

In the moment, it’s worth remembering these things: 

  1. Your LO’s approval isn’t everything! They don’t complete you: no one is ever completed by anyone else.
  2. LOs are people too. Again, what you see is only a small picture of who they truly are. Chances are they’re not the most amazing person in the world: that hot tute partner doesn’t floss, the stylish girl you see in the library is a poor listener who doesn’t pick up after herself – they’re not the second coming of Ryan Gosling. 
  3. Maximising your happiness and life as a single person is the best way to actually meet someone worth your time: a happy, fulfilled person attracts other happy, fulfilled people. If you’re unhappy and looking for someone to fill that void, you’re more likely to attract someone who doesn’t have your best intentions at heart. Be a self-respecting King/Queen!
  4. Don’t be hard on yourself for being limerent! You can’t stop yourself from feeling things, no matter how hard you try. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion, and you’ll find that limerence becomes a lot easier to manage. 

In terms of the bigger picture, if you find yourself recurrently limerent, it’s worth talking to a mental health professional and doing some self-work, as limerence is often a sign of unresolved trauma or mental health issues. As previously mentioned, limerence can be a sign of neurodivergence: if you find yourself also identifying with the symptoms associated with conditions like ADHD/OCD (to list a few), it would be worth your time to see someone about it in addition to seeking support for limerence. 

Don’t jump to conclusions though. One mild limerent experience doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to see a psychiatrist. On a final note, limerence can be tough to deal with, but it’s not the end of the world, and it is entirely manageable. Stay safe out there!