Limerence vs. Love: What's the Difference?

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The spark is undeniable. Whenever you’re around that certain person, your stomach does somersaults and your heart quickens. They are everything you’ve ever wanted. You might say they’re perfect in every single way; a truly flawless human being, if ever there was one. While your emotions are running high, take a moment to stop and breathe. You might not be falling in love at all. You might be falling deep into limerence. 

What Is Limerence?

Limerence is a state of infatuation or obsession with another person that involves an all-consuming passion and intrusive thoughts.

"It is often a result of not being present either through trauma or certain childhood development issues," explains psychosexual therapist Cate Mackenzie. "Alternatively, you may experience it when you are run down, if you haven’t had enough sleep for example, and are lacking serotonin. So, you fantasize that someone else could save you and crystallize those thoughts into a golden image of 'the one.'"

Meet the Expert

Cate Mackenzie is a COSRT accredited psychosexual therapist and couples’ counselor.

While it feels like ecstasy right now, you may be guarding your own emotions. "The person feels safe to fantasize about because most likely nothing can happen and the infatuated person is not in a grounded enough place to receive a real relationship," adds Mackenzie. “It can be a state of being that allows fantasies without a real threat of intimacy."

But is limerence healthy? And is it the same as love? Ahead, Mackenzie explores the difference between limerence and love, the stages of limerence, and more.

Limerence vs. Love

Similarities

The problem with the whole limerence vs. love conundrum is simple: The two look strikingly similar. As you’re falling in limerence with someone, you’d be forgiven for thinking they are "the one." Squint hard enough and limerence looks an awful lot like love. Here are a couple of ways that the two are frustratingly similar. 

  • You are drawn to a certain person. Confusing hardly does it justice. When you’re in limerence with someone, it’s similar to falling in love. The attraction is real. "It is a form of infatuation which can mirror the early stages of falling in love where you obsessively think about the other person," says Mackenzie.
  • It can happen with anyone, anytime. You never know when you’re about to fall in love and it can happen with the most implausible people. As it turns out, limerence is the same. "It could be then with anyone from a landlord, a boss, or a shop owner."

Differences

However, no matter how hard you stare, limerence and love are not the same concepts. The main difference here is that love requires a real, meaningful connection with another person, while limerence is all about the chase and lusting after someone. If you’re not sure which one you’re feeling, take a look at these major differences.

  • You think the person will complete you. Are you looking for a relationship or are you looking for someone to fix you? "Limerence is the feeling that the object of their desire will complete them," says Mackenzie. "This can be a form of trauma-bonding where one person is seeking to be 'saved' by another."
  • You want them whether they are good for you or not. A loving, nurturing relationship should be all about mutual respect. You should grow with the relationship. However, when it comes to limerence, all of that goes directly out of the window. "The limerent person is desperate to have the object no matter whether it is good for either of them and they may idealize them," says Mackenzie. 
  • You ignore the person’s flaws. Seeing a bunch of red flags and ignoring them? You might be in limerence. "With love, each person has the possibility to see the other’s flaws and still like them and there is more safety and genuine reciprocity," explains Mackenzie. "This involves the happiness hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin. There is clear communication and reciprocity."
  • You neglect your own needs for them. Is this infatuation taking priority over your needs? "The difference is if someone gives up their needs and wants to obsessively focus on the other person and that there might be intermittent reinforcement from the limerent object by occasional connection and not real friendship or love. 
  • You’re scared of real connection. Real talk: There could be an underlying reason that your default is limerence. "Deep down the limerent person may be afraid of genuine connection and may be more comfortable with distance. There may be psychological reasons and fear why they prefer obsessing over connecting."

Stages of Limerence

Limerence isn’t one state of being. Instead, it typically happens in three stages. As you start to become attracted to a new person and they pique your interest, you may notice this familiar process: 

Infatuation

"The unobtainable nature of the person makes them more alluring," offers Mackenzie. "This stage of limerence includes addictive type behavior, thinking about the other 24 hours a day, stress, heart palpitations, stomach anxiety, and even intrusive thoughts. It’s best described as an uncontrollable overwhelming desire for someone."

Crystallization

While that infatuation is unlikely to wane fast, the second stage of limerence is all about solidifying that idea. You start to believe that the person in question is the solution to all of your problems. "You decide that the person is flawless and you idealize them by putting them on a pedestal," says Mackenzie. 

Deterioration

Reality starts to sneak into your mind and you start to realize that you will never have the person you’re lusting after. "The final stage of limerence is the disappointment in the love object and letting go of them," says Mackenzie. "It’s the realization that nothing is going to happen. It’s a feeling of loss."

Negative Effects of Limerence

Unsurprisingly, limerence can negatively affect your life. As Mackenzie puts it, this state can include "stress, loss of sleep, obsessive thinking and obsessive things." All of the above means that you may not be living the healthiest lifestyle when you’re in limerence with another person. The deeper you fall, the more likely you are to neglect your basic needs. Failing to sleep or eat well will have a massive impact on your well-being. 

It doesn’t end there. When you’re in the thick of it, you might start to engage in some risky behavior that could start a ripple effect throughout your entire life. "Some people risk their relationship by having a limerent affair and this experience often mirrors fear of love or their partner's power," explains Mackenzie.

How to Manage Limerence

Worried that you’re drowning in a state of limerence? Don’t worry—there’s a lifejacket coming your way! Once you’ve identified that there is a problem, you can take some positive steps to pull yourself back to reality. 

"Underneath limerence is a fear of being with yourself and making a good enough loving relationship with yourself," Mackenzie shares. "There may be patterns of avoidance and a lack of self-care and self-love and an inability to create secure self-attachment."

She continues, "This can shift with setting limits and setting top lines of behavior—meaning getting accountable to treating yourself well. That means taking care of your diet, getting rest, nurturing your friendships, exercising, sleeping, and taking care of your basic needs. You should also stop negative self-talk and behaviors, such as obsessive thinking."

If you can’t take your mind off the person in question, Mackenzie says to try the two-minute rule: "That means only thinking about the love object for two minutes then moving on," she explains. What’s more, since limerence is a state of infatuation, chances are you’re obsessing about what that person has to offer. Switch up the focus and try to find that sense of joy within yourself. "You could try making a list of the characteristics you feel the person has and starting to work on owning them yourself so you don’t feel you need the other person."

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