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Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss, by Antonio Canova, first version 1787–1793

Limerence is a state of mind which results from romantic or non-romantic feelings for another person, and typically includes intrusive, melancholic thoughts, or tragic concerns for the object of one's affection as well as a desire to form or maintain a relationship with the object of love and to have one's feelings reciprocated.

Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term "limerence" as an arbitrary euphonious alteration of amorance[1] to describe a concept that had grown out of her work in the mid-1960s, when she interviewed over 500 people on the topic of love.[2]

Anthropologist and author Helen Fisher writes that data collection on romantic attraction began with Tennov's Love and Limerence, with Tennov collecting survey results, diaries, and other personal accounts.[3] Fisher has said that "limerence is romantic love, with all its feelings and behaviors".[4] She describes Tennov's limerence as "a suite of psychological traits associated with 'being in love'", and theorizes it to be part of a biological "attraction system" involved with mate selection in mammals.[5][6]

Intense, ruminative romantic fixation is associated with dopamine reward circuits in the brain[6][7] and falling in love may lower serotonin levels which is associated with intrusive thinking.[8]


The concept of limerence "provides a particular carving up of the semantic domain of love",[9] and represents an attempt at a scientific study of the nature of love. Limerence is considered as a cognitive and emotional state of being emotionally attached to or even obsessed with another person, and is typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one's feelings—a near-obsessive form of romantic love.[10]

For Tennov, sexual desire is an essential aspect of limerence but the desire for emotional commitment is of greater concern.[11] The sexual desires of Tennov's interviewees were overshadowed by their desire for their beloved to call, write, invite them out and reciprocate their passion.[12]

Limerence is sometimes also interpreted as infatuation, or what is colloquially known as a "crush". However, in common speech, infatuation includes aspects of immaturity and extrapolation from insufficient information, and is usually short-lived. Tennov notes how limerence "may dissolve soon after its initiation, as in an early teenage buzz-centered crush",[13] but she is more concerned with the point when "limerent bonds are characterized by 'entropy' crystallization as described by Stendhal in his 1821 treatise On Love, where a new love infatuation perceptually begins to transform ... [and] attractive characteristics are exaggerated and unattractive characteristics are given little or no attention ... [creating] a 'limerent object'".

Willmott and Bentley define limerence as an acute onset, unexpected, obsessive attachment to one person (the limerent object). This is characterised by "experiences of ruminative thinking, free floating anxiety and depression temporarily fixated and the disintegration of the self", themes which they claim are "further linked to an inclination to reintegrate unresolved past life(s) experiences and to progress to a state of greater authenticity".[14]

It has been suggested that "the state of limerence is the conscious experience of sexual incentive motivation" during attachment formation, "a kind of subjective experience of sexual incentive motivation"[15] during the "intensive ... pair-forming stage"[16] of human affectionate bonding.

According to Tennov, there are at least two types of love: "limerence", which she describes as, among other things, "loving attachment"; and "loving affection", the bond that exists between an individual and their parents and children.[17] She notes that one form may evolve into the other: "Those whose limerence was replaced by affectional bonding with the same partner might say ... 'We were very much in love when we married; today we love each other very much'".[18][clarification needed] The distinction is comparable to that drawn by ethologists "between the pair-forming and pair-maintaining functions of sexual activity",[16] just as "the attachment of the attachment theorists is very similar to the emotional reciprocation longed for in Tennov's limerence, and each is linked to sexuality".[19]

Nicky Hayes describes limerence as "a kind of infatuated, all-absorbing passion" which is unrequited. Tennov equated it to the type of love Dante felt towards Beatrice—an individual he met twice in his life and who served as inspiration for La Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. It is this unfulfilled, intense longing for the other person which defines limerence, where the individual becomes "more or less obsessed by that person and spends much of their time fantasising about them". Limerence may only last if conditions for the attraction leave it unfulfilled; therefore, occasional, intermittent reinforcement is required to support the underlying feelings. Hayes notes that "it is the unobtainable nature of the goal which makes the feeling so powerful", and that it is not uncommon for those to remain in a state of limerence over someone unreachable for months and even years.[20]: 457  A famous literary example of limerence is provided by the unrequited love of Werther for Charlotte in the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe.

Limerence can be difficult to understand for those who have never experienced it, and it is thus often dismissed by non-limerents as ridiculous fantasy or a construct of romantic fiction.[2]

Tennov differentiates between limerence and other emotions by asserting that love involves concern for the other person's welfare and feeling. While limerence does not require it, those concerns may certainly be incorporated. Affection and fondness exist only as a disposition towards another person, irrespective of whether those feelings are reciprocated, whereas limerence deeply desires reciprocation, but it remains unaltered whether or not it is returned. Physical contact with the object is neither essential nor sufficient to an individual experiencing limerence, unlike with one experiencing sexual attraction.[21]


Limerence involves intrusive thinking about the limerent object.[2] Other characteristics include acute longing for reciprocation, fear of rejection, and unsettling shyness in the limerent object's presence. In cases of unrequited limerence, transient relief may be found by vividly imagining reciprocation from the limerent object. Tennov suggests that feelings of limerence can be intensified through adversity, obstacles, or distance—'Intensification through Adversity'.[22] A limerent person may have acute sensitivity to any act, thought, or condition that can be interpreted favorably. This may include a tendency to devise, fabricate, or invent "reasonable" explanations for why neutral actions are a sign of hidden passion in the limerent object.[citation needed]

A person experiencing limerence has a general intensity of feeling that leaves other concerns in the background. In their thoughts, such a person tends to emphasize what is admirable in the limerent object and to avoid any negative or problematic attributes.[citation needed]

Intrusive thinking and fantasy[edit]

During the height of limerence, thoughts of the limerent object (or person) are at once persistent, involuntary, and intrusive. Such "intrusive thoughts about the LO ... appear to be genetically driven".[23] The obsessive, intrusive thoughts of people in love may be caused by low serotonin levels in the brain, levels which may be comparable to those with obsessive–compulsive disorder.[8]

At the height of obsessive fantasy, people experiencing limerence may spend 85 to nearly 100% of their days and nights doting on the object of their love, lose ability to focus on other tasks and become easily distracted.[24]

According to Tennov, limerent fantasy is unsatisfactory unless rooted in reality, because the fantasizer may want the fantasy to seem realistic and somewhat possible.[25]

Fear of rejection[edit]

Along with an emphasis on the perceived exceptional qualities, and devotion to them, there is abundant doubt that the feelings are reciprocated: rejection. Considerable self-doubt is encountered, leading to "personal incapacitation expressed through unsettling timidity in the presence of the person",[26] something which causes misery and galvanizes desire.

In most cases, what destroys limerence is a suitably long period of time without reciprocation. Although it appears that limerence advances with adversity, personal discomfort may foul it. This discomfort results from a fear of the limerent object's opinions.


Limerence develops and is sustained when there is a certain balance of hope and uncertainty. The basis for limerent hope is not in objective reality but in reality as it is perceived. The inclination is to sift through nuances of speech and subtleties of behavior for evidence of limerent hope. "Lovers, of course, are notoriously frantic epistemologists, second only to paranoiacs (and analysts) as readers of signs and wonders."[27] "Little things" are noticed and endlessly analyzed for meaning. Such excessive concern over trivia may not be entirely unfounded, however, as body language can indicate reciprocated feeling. What the limerent object said and did is recalled with vividness. Alternative meanings for the behaviors recalled are sought. Each word and gesture is permanently available for review, especially those interpreted as evidence in favor of reciprocated feeling. When objects, people, places or situations are encountered with the limerent object, they are vividly remembered, especially if the limerent object interacted with them in some way.

The belief that the limerent object does not and/or will not reciprocate can only be reached with great difficulty. Limerence can be carried quite far before acknowledgment of rejection is genuine, especially if it has not been addressed openly by the limerent object.


Shaver and Hazan observed that those suffering from loneliness are significantly more susceptible to limerence,[28] arguing that "if people have a large number of unmet social needs, and are not aware of this, then a sign that someone else might be interested is easily built up in that person's imagination into far more than the friendly social contact that it might have been. By dwelling on the memory of that social contact, the lonely person comes to magnify it into a deep emotional experience, which may be quite different from the reality of the event."[29]



The physiological effects of intense limerence can include shortness of breath, perspiration, heart palpitations[30], trembling, flushing and butterflies in the stomach.[31]


Awkwardness, stuttering, shyness, and confusion predominate at the behavioral level. A sense of paralyzing ambiguity predominates, punctuated by pining. Intermittent or nonreciprocal responses lead to labile vacillation between despair and ecstasy. This limbo is the threshold for mental prostration.[citation needed]

The sensitivity that stems from fear of rejection can darken perceptions of the limerent object's body language. Conflicted signs of desire may be displayed causing confusion. Often, the limerent object is involved with another or is in some other way unavailable.[32]

A condition of sustained alertness, a heightening of awareness and an enormous fund of energy to deploy in pursuit of the limerent aim is developed. The sensation of limerence is felt in the midpoint of the chest, bottom of the throat, guts, or in some cases in the abdominal region.[2] This can be interpreted as ecstasy at times of mutuality, but its presence is most noticeable during despair at times of rejection.


Awareness of physical attraction plays a key role in the development of limerence,[33] but is not enough to satisfy the limerent desire, and is almost never the main focus; instead, the limerent focuses on what could be defined as the "beneficial attributes". Nevertheless, Tennov stresses that "the most consistent desired result of limerence is mating, not merely sexual interaction but also commitment".[34][clarification needed]

Sexual fantasies are distinct from limerent fantasies. Limerent fantasy is rooted in reality and is intrusive rather than voluntary. Sexual fantasies are under more or less voluntary control and may involve strangers, imaginary individuals, and situations that could not take place. Limerence elevates body temperature and increases relaxation,[35] a sensation of viewing the world with rose-tinted glasses, leading to a greater receptiveness to sexuality, and to daydreaming.[36]

People can become aroused by the thought of sexual partners, acts, and situations that are not truly desired, whereas every detail of the limerent fantasy is passionately desired actually to take place.[37] Limerence sometimes increases sexual interest in other partners when the limerent object is unreceptive or unavailable.[38]

Limerent duration[edit]

Tennov estimates, based on both questionnaire and interview data, that the average limerent reaction duration, from the moment of initiation until a feeling of neutrality is reached, is approximately three years. The extremes may be as brief as a few weeks or as long as several decades. When limerence is brief, maximum intensity may not have been attained. According to David Sack, M.D., limerence lasts longer than romantic love, but is shorter than a healthy, committed partnership.[39] Others suggest that "the biogenetic sourcing of limerence determines its limitation, ordinarily, to a two-year span".[40]

Bond varieties[edit]

Once the limerent reaction has initiated, one of three varieties of bonds may form, defined over a set duration of time, in relation to the experience or non-experience of limerence.[41] The constitution of these bonds may vary over the course of the relationship, in ways that may either increase or decrease the intensity of the limerence.

The basis and interesting characteristic of this delineation made by Tennov, is that based on her research and interviews with people, all human bonded relationships can be divided into three varieties being defined by the amount of limerence or non-limerence each partner contributes to the relationship.[2]

With an affectional bond, neither partner is limerent. With a limerent–nonlimerent bond, one partner is limerent. In a limerent–limerent bond, both partners are limerent.

Affectional bonding characterize those affectionate sexual relationships where neither partner is limerent; couples tend to be in love, but do not report continuous and unwanted intrusive thinking, feeling intense need for exclusivity, or define their goals in terms of reciprocity. These types of bonded couples tend to emphasize compatibility of interests, mutual preferences in leisure activities, ability to work together, and in some cases a degree of relative contentment.

The bulk of relationships, however, according to Tennov, are those between a limerent person and a nonlimerent other, i.e. limerent–nonlimerent bonding. These bonds are characterized by unequal reciprocation.

Lastly, those relationship bonds in which there exists mutual reciprocation are defined as limerent–limerent bondings. Tennov argues that since limerence itself is an "unstable state", mutually limerent bonds would be expected to be short-lived; mixed relationships probably last longer than limerent-limerent relationships. Some limerent-limerent relationships evolve into affectional bondings over time as limerence declines. Tennov describes such couples as "old marrieds" whose interactions are typically both stable and mutually gratifying.


In her study Tennov identified three ways in which limerence subsides:

Consummation (reciprocation)
Each limerent has a slightly different view of acceptable reciprocation, and the reactions to reciprocation vary. Some limerents remain limerent (as documented by Tennov), while for others the limerence subsides as the certainty of reciprocity grows. Other limerents do not achieve any "real" consummation (e.g., physical, or in the form of an actual relationship) but find their limerence waning after a limerent object professes similar feelings.
In this process, a lack of any notice (i.e., starvation, described by Tennov as "the onslaught of evidence that LO does not return the limerence") causes the limerent to gradually desensitize. This desensitization may take a long time, in which case a limerent's latent hypersensitivity may cause any attention given by a former LO, regardless of how slight, to be interpreted as a reason for hope, precipitating a resurgence of limerence.
The limerent transfers their romantic feelings to another person, thereby ending the initial limerence; the limerence is sometimes transferred as well.


In the 1999 preface to her revised edition of Love and Limerence, Dorothy Tennov describes limerence as an aspect of basic human nature and remarks "Reaction to limerence theory depends partly on acquaintance with the evidence for it and partly on personal experience. People who have not experienced limerence are baffled by descriptions of it and are often resistant to the evidence that it exists. To such outside observers, limerence seems pathological."[42]

In 2008, Albert Wakin, who knew Tennov at the University of Bridgeport but did not assist in her research, and Duyen Vo, a graduate student, published a paper with a contradicting theory. Wakin and Vo argued that limerence was "necessarily negative", "problematic" and similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance use disorder.[30]

According to Wakin and Vo, despite the term "limerence" being invoked in popular media such as self-help books, magazines, and internet sources, "the professional community, particularly clinical, is largely unaware of the concept."[30]

In 2008, Wakin and Vo also presented work to the American Association of Behavioral and Social Sciences but suggested that much more research is needed before limerence could be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). They began conducting a study but have not published results.[4]

However, Tennov reports that even those of her interviewees who experienced obsessive, distressing, unrequited limerence were "fully functioning, rational, emotionally stable, normal, nonneurotic, nonpathological members of society" and that aside from their limerence "they could be characterized as responsible and quite sane". She suggests that limerence is too often interpreted as "mental illness" in psychiatry. Tragedies such as violence involve limerence when it's "augmented and distorted" by other conditions, which she contrasts with "pure limerence".[43]

Critics argue that Tennov's account "is based on interviews rather than on direct observation", but conclude that "despite its shortcomings, Tennov's work may constitute a basis for informed hypothesis formulation".[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ September 11, Dorothy Tennov, The Observer
  2. ^ a b c d e Tennov, Dorothy (1999). Love and Limerence: the Experience of Being in Love. Scarborough House. ISBN 978-0-8128-6286-7. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  3. ^ Fisher, Helen (2016). Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray (Completely Revised and Updated). W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-34974-0. Retrieved 18 February 2024.
  4. ^ a b Jayson, Sharon (6 February 2008). "'Limerence' makes the heart grow far too fonder". USA Today. Gannett Co. Inc. Archived from the original (web) on 10 February 2008. Retrieved 16 October 2008.
  5. ^ Fisher, Helen (March 1998). "Lust, attraction, and attachment in mammalian reproduction". Human Nature (journal). 9: 23–52. Retrieved 18 February 2024.
  6. ^ a b Fisher, Helen (October 2002). "Defining the Brain Systems of Lust, Romantic Attraction, and Attachment". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 31: 413–419. Retrieved 18 February 2024.
  7. ^ Fisher, Helen; Xu, Xiaomeng; Aron, Arthur; Brown, Lucy (9 May 2016). "Intense, Passionate, Romantic Love: A Natural Addiction? How the Fields That Investigate Romance and Substance Abuse Can Inform Each Other". Frontiers in Psychology. 7. Retrieved 18 February 2024.
  8. ^ a b Marazziti, D.; Akiskal, H. S.; Rossi, A.; Cassano, G. B. (1999). "Alteration of the platelet serotonin transporter in romantic love". Psychol. Med. 29 (3): 741–745. doi:10.1017/S0033291798007946. PMID 10405096. S2CID 12630172.
  9. ^ De Munck, V. C., ed. (1998). Romantic Love and Sexual Behavior. p. 5.
  10. ^ (unknown), Wanda (21 January 1980). "Let's Fall in Limerence". Time. Time Inc. Archived from the original on 27 March 2008. Retrieved 16 October 2008.
  11. ^ Tennov 1999, p. x
  12. ^ Fisher 2016, p. 23
  13. ^ Leggett & Malm 1995, p. 86
  14. ^ Willmott, Lynn; Bentley, Evie (5 January 2015). "Exploring the Lived-Experience of Limerence: A Journey toward Authenticity". The Qualitative Report. Fort Lauderdale-Davie, Florida: Nova Southeastern University. 20 (1): 20–38. Retrieved 30 March 2020.
  15. ^ Ågmo 2007, pp. 173, 186
  16. ^ a b Morris 1994, p. 223
  17. ^ "That crazy little thing called love". The Guardian. 14 December 2003. Retrieved 15 April 2009.
  18. ^ Tennov 1998, p. 79
  19. ^ Moore 1998, p. 260
  20. ^ Hayes, Nicky (2000), Foundations of Psychology (3rd ed.), London: Thomson Learning, ISBN 1861525893
  21. ^ Diamond, Lisa. "Emerging Perspectives on Distinctions Between Romantic Love and Sexual Desire" (PDF). Current Directions in Psychological Science. 13: 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  22. ^ Leggett & Malm 1995, p. 68
  23. ^ Moore 1998, p. 268
  24. ^ Fisher 2016, p. 21
  25. ^ Tennov 1999, pp. 85, 86
  26. ^ Leggett & Malm 1995, p. 60
  27. ^ Phillips, Adam. On Flirtation (London 1994) p. 41
  28. ^ Shaver, Phillip; Hazan, Cindy (1985), "Incompatibility, Loneliness, and "Limerence"", in Ickes, W. (ed.), Compatible and Incompatible Relationships, Springer, New York, NY, pp. 163–184, doi:10.1007/978-1-4612-5044-9_8, ISBN 978-1-4612-9538-9
  29. ^ Hayes 2000, p. 460
  30. ^ a b c Wakin, Albert H.; Vo, Duyen B. (2008). "Love-Variant: The Wakin-Vo I. D. R. Model of Limerence". Challenging Intimate Boundaries. Inter-Disciplinary — Net. 2nd Global Conference.
  31. ^ Fisher 2016, p. 22
  32. ^ Banker, Robin M. (2010). Socially Prescribed Perfectionism and Limerence in Interpersonal Relationships. University of New Hampshire (Department of Education).
  33. ^ Tennov 1998, p. 96
  34. ^ Tennov 1998, p. 82
  35. ^ Gramann, Klaus; Shephard, Jennifer; Elliott, James; Kozhevnikov, Maria (29 March 2013). "Neurocognitive and Somatic Components of Temperature Increases during g-Tummo Meditation: Legend and Reality". PLOS ONE. 8 (3): e58244. Bibcode:2013PLoSO...858244K. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058244. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 3612090. PMID 23555572.
  36. ^ Giambra, L. M. (1979–1980). "Sex differences in daydreaming and related mental activity from the late teens to the early nineties". International Journal of Aging & Human Development. 10 (1): 1–34. doi:10.2190/01BD-RFNE-W34G-9ECA. ISSN 0091-4150. PMID 478659. S2CID 9265240.
  37. ^ Lee, Coach (23 May 2019). "What Is Limerence?". My Ex Back Coach. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  38. ^ Banker, Robin (1 January 2010). "Socially prescribed perfectionism and limerence in interpersonal relationships". Master's Theses and Capstones.
  39. ^ Sack, David (28 June 2012). "Limerence and the Biochemical Roots of Love Addiction" (web). Huffington Post. Retrieved 25 December 2016.
  40. ^ Leggett & Malm 1995, p. 139
  41. ^ Diamond, Lisa. "Emerging Perspectives on Distinctions Between Romantic Love and Sexual Desire" (PDF). Current Directions in Psychological Science. 13: 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  42. ^ Tennov 1999, p. x
  43. ^ Tennov 1999, pp. 88, 89
  44. ^ Ågmo 2007, p. 172


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