This post is a submission to the November 2021 Carnival of Aros hosted by me, at this blog, on the theme of “Limerence.” The call for submissions can be found here. I am responding to the prompt “Thinking about the past themes on the Carnival of Aros, can you relate any of them to the concept of limerence?” In this post, I am relating the concept of limerence to the August 2021 carnival hosted by graces-of-luck on the theme “Well-being and amatonormativity.”
Content Warning: I go into detail about my feelings of internalized amatonormativity. Tbh, I feel very self conscious posting about this, but here goes. 🙈
Reflecting on my internalized amatonormativity, I think it was influenced by, among other things, the media and literature which have put love and romance on a pedestal and propagated the idea that one cannot be complete unless they have a fulfilling romantic relationship. How many movies are there about a man or a woman who has sworn off love or doesn’t have time for love, but ends up learning that at the end of the day, romantic love is the most important thing in life?
In a previous post, I’ve written about how, in my culture, the idea of people falling in love, and it working out, is viewed as a fairy tale. Despite this cultural notion, I still used to dream of this fairy tale. I dreamed of finding the deepest love and the deepest connection. I dreamed of a love that would be determined to overcome any obstacle in order to be together. I dreamed of a love that would prioritize each other as family over everything else. I dreamed of a love where each party would look out for the other’s best interest. I dreamed of a love where each party would put each other first – ahead of themselves. I dreamed of a love where you can feel each other’s pain even you are separated by an ocean. I dreamed that I was special, someone whom life would reward with a relationship such as this.
I know there will probably be a large variety of reactions to this, but I am curious how many people think these are naïve fantasies and how many people think these are not totally unreasonable things to want. After all, media paints the eye-rollers as the cynics and the cooers and sighers as the hopeless romantics. I used to think along the lines of the latter, but nowadays I am leaning towards the former. This was after I discovered the concept of limerence.
Limerence was defined by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in 1979, who described it as a state of mind that is associated with “being in love” as portrayed in literature and media. It involves infatuation, obsession, fantasizing, and idealization, among others. It’s the state of mind that makes one become foolish for love. It has been described as an altered state of mind and an addiction to the person of interest. One of Tennov’s key observations was that, broadly speaking, people fall into two camps: limerents and non-limerents. Non-limerents can of course fall in love and form attachments, they just don’t tend to experience the intrusive obsession and desperate craving for reciprocation experienced by limerents. (In the call for submissions, I wondered about how related the concept of non-limerents is to aromantics.)
Media and literature have time and again conflated love and limerence. From Shakespeare to F. Scott Fitzgerald to rom-coms to countless love songs, the idea of love has been portrayed through limerence. Apparently some people (limerents) bought into this depiction of love and thought this is what love is supposed to feel like; others (non-limerents) thought it was an exaggeration. In my culture, I think the reason love working out is viewed as a fairy tale is because … two young people falling in love is viewed as two young people being limerent for each other: they are in an altered state of mind and so unlikely to be making the best decisions; when the limerence fades, they might well regret not having listened to their parents, who were the ones thinking straight when they cautioned against a love match. Yet, despite its ubiquity, limerence not talked about very often, and it often goes unnamed.
I think limerence is made worse in an amatonormative society because amatonormativity teaches us there is nothing more important than romantic love. This makes it easy to keep feeding a limerent brain more limerent obsessions. The thing about limerence is that it typically fades, and if you believe that you no longer love your partner because you are no longer limerent for them, you might end up chasing after love your whole life. I’ve heard of people (mostly in movies and TV) complain about the initial high or the “spark” from early in the relationship having been lost; another way to think about it is the “honeymoon period” being over. Of course, people can and do settle into a comfortable routine despite the loss of limerence, but I suppose there are those who are constantly seeking out the high. However, while some limerents may have a love addiction, limerence is not necessarily a love addiction – it’s more of a person addiction. Limerents come in many forms – some have mild cases, some have severe cases, and some are in-between; some are serial limerents (developing limerence for many people and transferring limerence from one LO to another), and some are one-time limerents, and some are in-between.
(Btw, some limerence lingo I will be using: LO = limerence object; LE = limerent episode)
I have personally suffered from limerence. I’ve had two extreme cases of it. The first one lasted for years on end, but it was intense only at the beginning and eventually settled into an on-again off-again obsession. But it was the recent one that had a big negative impact on my life. I hadn’t pursued my first LO; I’d just pined away in secret. But to my second LO, I came clean. Then I went through several months of depression after being rejected. It wasn’t a case of “limerence, not love” though (unlike my first LE). I questioned myself for a long time time whether it was only a one-sided infatuation that was more about me than him. It would have been easier if I could have come to that conclusion, but instead, I realized I did love him. He was my best friend for the few months we spent in close company. During that time, he made me feel loved and supported and cared for. And I genuinely wanted to do that for him too. He told me that he did love me, but in a “platonic” way. This experience set off an obsession in me to understand the difference between romantic and platonic love. That, however, is a fruitless attempt. There are no universal definitions and every individual experiences romantic love and platonic love in different ways.
I’ve come to realize that limerence is what I used to think of as romantic love, and was what constituted the main distinguishing characteristic – in my mind – between romantic and platonic love. I don’t know that I can “fall in love” with someone without experiencing limerence for them. But … I’m not particularly enthusiastic about experiencing limerence again. Despite the highs, it is ultimately somewhat destructive. I don’t want to “put myself out there” trying to become limerent for somebody else with hope they won’t ultimately reject me. I don’t know what limerence would look like under reciprocation (it has had negative impacts on me under unrequitedness and rejection), but I’m not about to deliberately put myself through another round to find out. But … I also don’t want to “put myself out there” trying to “date” people with a cool and logical head and make a calculated decision about who would make an appropriate life partner. Without limerence, I feel no desire to share my life with someone or change everything about my life to join it with someone else’s. Without limerence, it seems like too big an ask. In the absence of limerence, I feel aromantic. Thus, I have opted not to actively seek out romantic relationships and just “go with the flow”.
But why does this feel like a tragedy? It’s not as if my singledom is miserable. In fact, my singledom is going so well for me, that it would take an altered state of mind to want leave it behind in favor of coupledom. But it still feels like a tragedy. I think this is because of the amatonormativity. In this amatonormative society, I feel lost without knowing I will have the opportunity to participate in society’s great rite of passage. After all, I had bought into the amatonormative narrative and dreamed of love. Now I’m confronting the fact that maybe those weren’t the right dreams. And that feels tragic.
I’ve written a few pieces on amatonormativity, please check them out! These articles discuss how amatonormativity is different in Eastern cultures compared to Western cultures, how even in the West it is a modern phenomenon, and more about how my (and everyone’s) well-being has been affected by it:
- Who is my “we”? Belonging, fitting in, and amatonormativity
- Amatonormativity, intersectionality, and well-being
- Amatonormativity, A Modern Phenomenon
To learn more about limerence, visit Living with Limerence, a blog by Dr. L, and limerence.net, a site managed by Dr. Perl. The links regarding limerence on this piece has been taken from these sources.