What Is Limerence and How Is It Different From Real Love?

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You’re a rational person. You understand, logically, that after two dates and getting to second base on a sweaty dance floor, you should hold off before ordering a wedding dress. (Yes, even if it’s on sale.) You also understand that it can be very normal for people to take over an hour to respond to a text. You yourself forget to text friends back all the time for the simple reason that you’re caught up in your favorite show! And you don’t even usually check who’s viewed your Instagram story, but now you’re refreshing your profile every five minutes to see if your new obsession has seen the carefully selected meme you kinda-maybe-definitely posted just for them.

Why? Because you’re not in a logical space. You’re not even healthily hopeful about a new romance. You’re stuck in the emotional hurricane that is a little thing called limerence. It’s chaotic, it’s stressful, and—not unlike a natural disaster—totally out of control.

Essentially, limerence is a handy term for an extreme form of romantic obsession—one that’s more intense, and potentially more destructive, than your standard crush or honeymoon phase (although it can be hard to tell the two apart). It’s comparable to any other high: fleeting and potentially bad for you, with a side effect of irrational behavior.

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“Limerence frequently involves a feeling of urgency or desperation to be close to the other person, occasionally resulting in irrational behavior and impaired judgment,” says psychologist and sexologist Denise Renye, PsyD. “Individuals in a state of limerence may also disregard their own needs, either due to their preoccupation with the other person or because they are pressured to do so.”

While that passionate, volatile cocktail of emotions might feel like the beginning of a love story for the ages (or at least a new Taylor Swift era), limerence is *not* the fairytale romance it may seem.

In fact, according to LaNail R. Plummer, Ed.D, a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Onyx Therapy Group, all those fairytales (and romcoms and romance novels and whirlwind ‘Twin Flame’ celebrity relationships) are a big part of the reason it can be so hard to tell the difference between limerence and real love.

“In our society, we watch movies, read romance novels, and observe relationships that are full of drama,” says Plummer. Limerence fits neatly into this fictional ideal of over-the-top romance that makes us think we’re supposed to be head over heels OBSESSED with a new partner—“obsessed” being the key word here. Limerence is an all-consuming obsession and so different from actual love. But what does it feel like, and how can you tell the difference between limerence and real-deal love? Here’s your no-drama guide to this very dramatic experience.

So What Exactly Is Limerence?

Most of us have pined over someone we’ve had a major crush on or gotten a little bit ahead of ourselves in the early days of a new romance. When you’re feeling this buzzy excitement/anxiety, you’re getting a small taste of what limerence feels like.

“Limerence is a gushing feeling of ecstatic ‘love’ that people experience, especially at the beginning of a romantic (or even non-romantic) relationship,” Renye says. “It can often be confused with a deeper love because it feels so intense.”

Indeed, it’s easy to confuse love and limerence. Early in some passionate relationships, they may feel the same. But the latter tends to be much more intense—and even downright toxic. “Limerence, as a scientific term, is the darker side of love, controlled by intrusive thoughts about the object of our desire,” says Plummer. Those thoughts are usually marked by a fear of rejection and loneliness, and while it’s not all doom and gloom, the more positive feelings limerence can bring are usually rooted in an equally unhealthy (and ultimately unsustainable) high.

Someone experiencing limerence might feel like they’re literally living off the hope that the object of their affections feels the same way, or the dopamine hit of getting a text

from that person or hanging out with them. Eventually, a limerent person might come to view this relationship as the answer to all their problems, sometimes referred to as the “crystallization” phase. You can think of limerence as an addiction or all-consuming obsession, which is obviously not a super solid foundation for a new relationship.

It’s important to understand that limerence is an experience, rather than just a feeling, says Plummer. It’s difficult to get control of, and can completely distract you from reality. Your experience of limerence can also vary day-to-day, moment-to-moment, depending on how much or how little attention and affection you think you’re getting from your new crush or S.O.

“The feeling of limerence can range from euphoria to devastation,” says Megan Green, a psychotherapist and owner of Prismatic Therapy LLC. “Your experience is dictated by the object of your affection and what you perceive about their attraction to you in that particular moment.” In other words, it’s your classic roller coaster of emotions.

Why Have I Never Heard of This Before?

While the term limerence may be new to you, the concept probably sounds pretty familiar (like, maybe even a little too familiar). But while people have obviously been falling in various degrees of romantic infatuation for, uh, ever, limerence only emerged as a defined psychological phenomenon a few decades ago.

The term was first introduced to the general public by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in the 1979 book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. According to Green, Tennov “describes limerence as ‘remarkably tenacious, involuntary, and resistant to external influence once it takes hold.’”

More recently, limerence has gained popularity on TikTok (which, hi, may be what brought you here). The term “limerence” currently boasts around 22 million views on the platform, while “limerence psychology” has racked up more than 8 billion.

What Are the Stages of Limerence?

1. Infatuation

The infatuation stage can feel the most intense. It’s when you have zero chill and may even experience panic-attack-type symptoms, such as tightness in your chest due to stress, quickened breathing, and a feeling of detachment from reality. You don’t see the object of your desires as a person but as a canvas to project all your wildest dreams and wedding plans onto. You may sabotage any chance of a real relationship by blowing up their phone to a degree that would annoy anyone.

2. Crystallization

So you’re infatuated. Now you crystalize those yearnings into something real—or whatever the psychedelic love trip convinces you is love. You see the person more, always looking for behavior that confirms your belief that they are the love of your life. You move fast, and they may be experiencing limerence on their end, too. It’s during the crystallization phase that people tend to rush into things. This phase is ripe for making rash decisions, such as leaving an otherwise happy long-term partnership for your new limerent relationship you’re obsessed with.

3. Deterioration

It’s during the depressing (but needed reality check) of the deterioration phase when the truth comes to light. People reveal their true colors. One or both parties begin to regret reacting rashly. This phase hurts. And it can hurt others, especially if you’ve cheated or left something real for a limerent obsession. This phase will hurt the least if you consider working with a therapist to help ground yourself, begin to forgive, and return to reality.

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Love and Limerence?

If you’re just Insta-stalking a little too much, there’s no reason to fret that you’ve fallen in limerence. But it’s a red flag if checking your phone for a text from That Person feels compulsive and/or triggers feelings of desperation, says Tinders’ resident relationship expert, Devyn Simone.

Notably, limerence also lacks the real and necessary connection crucial to meaningful relationships. “It features a fantastical view of the other person,” Simone says. “Love holds the ability to see the other person in a realistic light and continue to develop feelings towards them despite their flaws, rather than pretending they have no flaws at all,” she adds, noting that between the right people, love has the potential for growth and long-term sustainability. Limerence does not.

This is part of the reason limerence is often experienced in the early stages of a relationship and/or in more vague situationships. “When you don’t know someone well, it’s easy to connect with some aspects of their personality and project what you imagine to be the rest of it,” says Green.

Essentially, the less you really know someone, the easier it is to become chaotically obsessed with an idealized version of them. This means that limerence is basically antithetical to the bedrock of emotional intimacy that real love needs to thrive. In fact, some experts argue that limerence is actually, on a potentially subconscious level, a defense mechanism rooted in a fear of real intimacy—i.e., you latch onto an inherently unsustainable fantasy because you know, on some level, that it can never be something real, thus sparing yourself the risk of actual romantic vulnerability.

That doesn’t mean, however, that limerence can’t wreak serious havoc on your emotional state. Because once that fantasy you’ve pinned all your hopes and dreams to inevitably starts to unravel, that’s when infatuation turns to panic. You’ve fallen for a fantasy version of someone, and now you’re desperate to keep that illusion alive, aka, the “deterioration” phase of limerence.

“The thoughts are intrusive and come at unexpected and unwelcome times,” says Plummer. “We become obsessive, sometimes expressed in the form of multiple calls and texts, overscheduling dates, and wanting to move too fast—to sex, to titles, to integration in each other’s lives.”

So if you’re catching yourself telling your friends, “It’s like we’ve known each other forever,” when you’ve actually known each other for two weeks, there’s a good chance that limerence is on the horizon. As Green notes, actual love comes from knowing someone deeply through emotional intimacy, and that’s just not the kind of thing you can establish over a few rounds of drinks or a couple weeks of flirty texting. So those wedding bells you might hear after a week or two of knowing your new “soulmate?” Yeah, they’re more like warning signals.

Can You Build a Real Relationship on Limerence?

Most of us want to believe in love at first sight, twin flames, and soulmates, because, duh, of course we do. But that Megan Fox/MGK kinda love isn’t exactly…realistic (or even healthy, for that matter). Limerence, however, can make us feel like it is. While what you’re actually experiencing is obsession, delusion, and extremely unhealthy fixation, you might feel like you’ve just found “the one.” In reality, it’s a ticking time bomb toward self-destruction.

“Limerence is not a positive experience,” says Plummer, explaining that behind all that romantic intensity, there’s usually anxiety, attachment issues, childhood trauma, or other mental health issues that convince us the extreme attraction/obsession we feel toward a new person is love. And while it may feel like a storybook romance in the moment, limerence is very much *not* a recipe for happily ever after.

“If a stable and lasting relationship were to occur as a result of limerence, it would be happenstance,” says Green. “Healthy connections are rooted in honesty, trust, and communication. Stable and lasting relationships happen when two individuals are on the same page about how they feel for each other, and what they want from their relationship.”

Spoiler alert: this doesn’t happen in limerence, because romantic obsession makes you focus solely on how the object of that obsession makes you feel and how they’re reacting to your behaviors, rather than how you can build something healthy and long-term. Instead of envisioning how you’ll grow into a future together as a couple, limerence goggles force you to look through a lens of fear, insecurity, and, yes, straight up delusion.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with basking in a little crushy bliss, getting butterflies when you hit send on a risky text, and maybe even dabbling in some casual social media stalking. But when the lows of waiting for a text back start to outweigh the highs of your new romance, it may be time for a little detox. Because despite what literally every pop song ever recorded may have told you, love shouldn’t *actually* feel like a drug. Such experiences only lead to playing “Clean” (Taylor’s Version) triumphantly on repeat once you finally get that toxicity out of their system.

Some Limerence FAQs (and Answers!)

  1. What are the three stages of limerence?

    The three stages of limerence are infatuation, crystallization, and deterioration.

  2. How can you tell it apart from normal romantic excitement?

    If you’re acting irrational, out of control, and hinging your happiness on someone you barely know, it might be limerence. When in doubt, talk to your friends, family, and, ofc, a therapist.

  3. Who is prone to limerence?

    While it can happen to anyone, people with anxiety, attachment issues, and childhood trauma (unfortunately) may be more susceptible.

  4. Is limerence one-sided?

    While Simone describes it as one-sided, it’s notable that in the very early days of ulta-steamy romances, it may be hard to tell. It can indeed be one-directional, but there are also twin-flame-esque examples where two people both act equally (unrealistically and unhealthily) obsessed with each other.

  5. Why is limerence dangerous?

    During limerence, you aren’t thinking straight. You may move irrationally first, put yourself on the backburner, and torture yourself over impossible expectations. You also likely aren’t seeing the other person clearly. You don’t know them well enough to.

  6. Is limerence *always* bad?

    Limerence has negative associations, but as Renye elaborates below, if you happen be in possession of off-the-charts mindfulness, you may be able to enjoy it. Every now and then, a high octane new relationship with similarities to limerence does grow into something long-term.

Is Limerence Always a Bad Thing?

We hate to give hope to anything unhealthy, but, as noted, once in a blue moon, limerence can be an early infatuation that matures into something long-term. However, that’s not really limerence, per se; it’s just powerful new relationship energy (NRE). But Renye notes that if you’re the type of person who can see limerence for what it is, step back, and enjoy the high. Just be aware that you’re not in the right frame of mind to do anything major. Relax and try to have some fun.

“Be in the present moment and try to refrain from making any life-altering decisions during this honeymoon phase,” Renye advises. Those able to do that will be the ones most likely to turn the obsession into something healthy. “And when you see your significant other as a whole person, take some time to integrate all parts of who they really are into your vision of them…the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful.”

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Lexi Inks

Lexi Inks (she/her) is a lifestyle journalist based in Jacksonville, Florida. She has reported on countless topics, including sexual wellness, astrology, relationship issues, non-monogamy, mental health, pop culture, and more. In addition to Women’s Health, her work has been published on Bustle, Cosmopolitan, Well + Good, Byrdie, Popsugar, and others. As a queer and plus-size woman with living with mental illness, Lexi strives for intersectionality and representation in all of her writing. She holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Jacksonville University, which she has chosen to make everyone’s problem.

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