What Is Limerence, And How Is It Different From Love?

We've all had the experience of crushing hard on an actor, actress, or artist because they just have ... a quality we can't get enough of. Cue the hours of binge-watching their performances, scouring YouTube for every single interview they've done, and feeling heart palpitations meeting them for 30 seconds at a book signing. It's a rush, and it's a fun, harmless fantasy.

But sometimes a crush crosses the line into limerence. Limerence is an involuntary, unrequited, obsessive infatuation with another person that may in fact be rooted in trauma. According to the Private Therapy Clinic, the danger of limerence is that those who are affected obsess over the person they are fixated on believing that person can fill all of their "unmet needs." It's influenced by our attachment style, and while it is not considered a mental illness, severe cases can be pretty serious and require therapeutic support. That's especially true if you already have a partner yet are considering initiating a sexual relationship with someone you're obsessed with. 

What is limerence exactly?

Limerence has an obsessive, unhealthy quality. You idealize someone to a state of superhero perfection while ignoring the reality of their flaws. A type of hypervigilance sets in; the limerent (one who's obsessed) watches and examines their target for any glimmer of hope that they feel the same way. There's excessive grooming in case the limerent object (LO) is nearby.

In the beginning, because oxytocin and other hormones are in hyper-drive, you may feel states of euphoria, intense sexual attraction, and joy. This changes though. You know you've tipped over from crush into limerence when this all-consuming focus on someone you desperately want starts to interfere with daily life, interrupting your ability to focus at work or prompting you to neglect yourself, your friends, or obligations.

There are three phases of limerence. In the infatuation stage, you get incredibly excited by how unobtainable your guy or gal is. Your thoughts are consumed all day by this person, but truthfully they're intrusive and cause stress, even anxiety. In the crystallization phase, you consider your target perfect and ideal as if they were a savior. You easily ignore that they don't feel the same or that you're incompatible. Finally, the deterioration stage is a period of reckoning with grief and disappointment — because the mad, life-saving affair is not going to happen.

How is limerence different from love?

The ability to distinguish between love and limerence is initially difficult because, in the early stages, they do feel the same. The feelings emerge from a deep urge to be loved (and hey, we can relate). What they both have in common is a strong, multi-dimensional attraction to one specific person, and that it can strike without warning.

The number one way it differs from love is that the limerent expects their "object" will resolve all their problems — this is a form of trauma bonding and not the ingredients for a truly reciprocal relationship. Psychologist Dr. Becky Spelman from the Private Therapy Clinic shared that people vulnerable to limerence may have developed an anxious or insecure attachment style from an inconsistent parent and that they are re-directing, one might say dumping, their unmet care needs from childhood onto their obsession. Full force.

Someone in limerence ignores basic incompatibilities or the danger signs that are obvious to friends. Another key distinction is that the hunt for someone unobtainable is baked into this toxic "relationship." An anxious attachment style makes the limerent more comfortable with worshipping from afar, although it is also possible for them to become physically involved. 

The Attachment Project explains that there are varying severities of limerence, but if your feelings are negatively affecting aspects of your life that have nothing to do with the object of your desire, like work, friendships, or your mental well-being, you may want to enlist the help of a professional therapist.