Limerence is a state of mind which results from 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.

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

Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term "limerence" as an alteration of the word "amorance" with no other etymology[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] In her book Love and Limerence, she writes that "to be in a state of limerence is to feel what is usually termed 'being in love.'"[3] She coined the term to distinguish between this and other less-overwhelming emotions[4] and to avoid implying that people who do not experience it cannot experience love.[5]

According to Tennov and others, limerence can be considered romantic love[1][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13], passionate love[14][10][12] or infatuation.[15][8] It's also sometimes compared to a crush, but contrasted as being much more intense.[16]

Anthropologist and author Helen Fisher has written that data collection on romantic attraction started with Love and Limerence, with Tennov collecting survey results, diaries, and other personal accounts.[17] Fisher (who knew Tennov[18] and corresponded with her)[19] has commented that Tennov's concept had a sad component to it.[18]

Limerence is associated with dopamine reward circuits in the brain.[10][20][21][8][16] A long-running theory compared intrusive thinking associated with romantic love (and limerence) to obsessive-compulsive disorder[13] with a hypothesis that this is related to lowered serotonin levels in the brain,[19] but the experimental evidence is ambiguous.[12]



Dorothy Tennov's concept represents a scientific attempt at studying the nature of romantic love.[22] She identified a suite of psychological traits associated with being in love, which she called limerence.[23] Other authors have also considered limerence to be an emotional and motivational state for focusing attention on a preferred mating partner[10] or an attachment process.[24][11] The experience is characterized as happening involuntarily,[25] and involves preoccupation[26][27] and a strong desire for reciprocation of one's feelings.[28][29]

Nicky Hayes describes limerence as "a kind of infatuated, all-absorbing passion," the type of love Dante felt towards Beatrice or that of Romeo and Juliet.[30] 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."[30] Hayes suggests that "it is the unobtainable nature of the goal which makes the feeling so powerful," and occasional, intermittent reinforcement may be required to support the underlying feelings.[30]

A central feature of limerence for Tennov was the fact that her participants really saw the object of their affection's personal flaws, but simply overlooked them or found them attractive.[31][27] Tennov calls this "crystallization", after a description by Stendhal in his 1821 treatise On Love. This "crystallized" version of a love object, with accentuated features, is what Tennov calls a "limerent object", or "LO".[32]

For Tennov, sexual desire is an essential aspect of limerence[33] but the desire for emotional commitment is greater.[34] The sexual desires of Tennov's interviewees were overshadowed by their desire for their beloved to contact them, invite them out and reciprocate their passion.[29]

Limerence can be difficult to understand for those who have never experienced it, and it is thus often derided and dismissed as undesirable, some kind of pathology, ridiculous fantasy or a construct of romantic fiction.[35]



Dorothy Tennov's original components from Love and Limerence were:[36]

  • intrusive thinking about the object of your passionate desire (the limerent object or "LO"), who is a possible sexual partner
  • acute longing for reciprocation
  • dependency of mood on LO's actions or, more accurately, your interpretation of LO's actions with respect to the probability of reciprocation
  • inability to react limerently to more than one person at a time (exceptions occur only when limerence is at low ebb—early on or in the last fading)
  • some fleeting and transient relief from unrequited limerent passion through vivid imagination of action by LO that means reciprocation
  • fear of rejection and sometimes incapacitating but always unsettling shyness in LO's presence, especially in the beginning and whenever uncertainty strikes
  • intensification through adversity (at least, up to a point)
  • acute sensitivity to any act or thought or condition that can be interpreted favorably, and an extraordinary ability to devise or invent "reasonable" explanations for why the neutrality that the disinterested observer might see is in fact a sign of hidden passion in the LO
  • an aching of the "heart" (a region in the center front of the chest) when uncertainty is strong
  • buoyancy (a feeling of walking on air) when reciprocation seems evident
  • a general intensity of feeling that leaves other concerns in the background
  • a remarkable ability to emphasize what is truly admirable in LO and to avoid dwelling on the negative, even to respond with a compassion for the negative and render it, emotionally if not perceptually, into another positive attribute.

Passionate and companionate love


Elaine Hatfield has related limerence to passionate love, considering them synonymous[14] or commenting in 2014 that they're "much the same."[37] She remarks that "Almost all lovers [Tennov interviewed] took it for granted that passionate love (which Tennov labels "limerence") is a bittersweet experience."[14] Hatfield and Walster define passionate love as:[14]

A state of intense longing for union with another. Reciprocated love (union with the other) is associated with fulfillment and ecstasy; unrequited love (separation) is associated with emptiness, anxiety, or despair (p. 9).

Some example components of passionate love are longing for reciprocity, intrusive thinking or preoccupation with the partner, idealization of the other, positive feelings when things go well and negative feelings when things go awry.[14] Passionate love is contrasted with companionate love, which is "the affection we feel for those with whom our lives are deeply entwined."[14] Companionate love is felt less intensely and often follows after passionate love in a relationship.[12][37]

Evolutionary theory


In a 1998 essay[38] (as well as in Love and Limerence),[39] Dorothy Tennov has speculated that limerence has an evolutionary purpose.[40]

For what ultimate cause might the state of limerence be a proximate cause? In other words, why were people who became limerent successful, maybe more successful than others, in passing their genes on to succeeding generations back a few hundred thousand or million years ago when heads grew larger and fathers who left mother and child to fend for themselves were less "reproductively successful"—in the long run, that is (Morgan 1993). Did limerence evolve to cement a relationship long enough to get the offspring up and running? [...] The most consistent result of limerence is mating, not merely sexual interaction but also commitment, the establishment of a shared domicile in the form of a cozy nest built for the enjoyment of ecstasy, for reproduction, and for the rearing of children.[41]

Helen Fisher's components of romantic attraction are largely derived from Tennov's components of limerence,[23] and in a similar vein as Tennov, Fisher has theorized that this 'attraction' system evolved to facilitate mammalian mate choice.[23][10]

A 1998 paper by authors Leckman & Mayes presented a comparison between Tennov's limerence, early-stage parental love and obsessive-compulsive disorder.[13] Adam Bode has incorporated this analysis by Leckman & Mayes in to a theory that romantic love evolved by co-opting the brain systems for mother-infant bonding.[12][42]





Unrequited love, frustration and craving for the love object manifest in lovesickness, a depressive and melancholic state of mind characterized by intrusive thinking.[43] 42% of Dorothy Tennov's group reported being "severely depressed" "about a love affair".[44] Other effects are distraction[45] and self-isolation.[46] In a 2002 interview, Tennov remarks that "For the majority of limerent subjects, the feeling is unrequited. They have a horrible time."[8]

Tennov describes being under the spell herself, saying "Before it happened, I couldn't have imagined it[.] Now, I wouldn't want to have it happen again."[47] She even encountered interviewees who described incidents of self-injury,[48] but maintains that limerence on its own is normal[49] and tragedies involve additional factors.[50]

Limerence has been related to addiction.[51][16] Helen Fisher's team draws on brain scan evidence associating romantic love with dopamine[10][20][21] and suggests that it's a "positive addiction" (i.e. not harmful) when requited and a "negative addiction" when unrequited or inappropriate.[21] Along with activation in the ventral tegmental area which produces dopamine, Fisher's fMRI scans of rejected lovers showed activation in brain areas associated with physical pain, craving and assessing one’s gains and losses.[21]

Lovesickness has been pathologized in previous centuries, but is not currently in the ICD-10, ICPC or DSM-5.[43] There is also a debate over the moral implications of using modern drugs for this,[43] and there are currently no drugs which are a realistic candidate.[52]

Historical accounts of lovesickness attribute it, for example, to being struck by an arrow shot by Eros, to a sickness entering through the eyes (similar to evil eye), to an excess of black bile, or to spells, potions and other magic.[43] Attempts to treat lovesickness have been made throughout history using a variety of plants, natural products, charms and rituals.[43] The first known treatise on lovesickness is Remedia Amoris, by the poet Ovid.[43]

Intrusive thinking and fantasy


Intrusive thinking is an oft-reported feature of romantic love.[53][12][42] Dorothy Tennov wrote that "Limerence is first and foremost a condition of cognitive obsession."[54] One study found that on average people in love spent 65% of their waking hours thinking about the beloved.[53] Arthur Aron says "It is obsessive-compulsive when you're feeling it. It's the center of your life."[7] 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.[27]

According to Tennov, limerent fantasy is unsatisfactory unless rooted in reality, because the fantasizer may want the fantasy to seem realistic and somewhat possible.[55]

In the late 1990s, it had been speculated that being in love may lower serotonin levels in the brain, which could cause the intrusive thinking.[23][56] The serotonin hypothesis is based in part on a comparison to obsessive-compulsive disorder,[13][56] but the experimental evidence is ambiguous.[12] One experiment may have actually suggested higher serotonin levels, and another found different serotonin levels in men and women.[12][53]

Leckman & Mayes have also drawn a parallel between preoccupation during limerence and maternal preoccupation during and after pregnancy, speculating that they share common neurobiologic systems.[13]

Fear of rejection


Tennov's conception of fear of rejection was characterized by nervous feelings and shyness around LO, "worried that your own actions may bring about disaster."[57] Awkwardness, stammering, confusion and shyness predominate at the behavioral level.[58] She quotes the poet Sappho who writes "Sweat runs down in rivers, a tremor seizes [...] Lost in the love-trance."[59] One of Tennov's interviewees, 28-year-old truck driver, says "It was like what you might call stage fright, like going up in front of an audience. [...] I was awkward as hell."[60] Fisher et al. has suggested that fear in the presence of the beloved is caused by elevated levels of dopamine.[10]

Many of the people Tennov interviewed described being normally confident, but suddenly shy when LO is around, or being only in this state of fear with certain LOs but not others.[61]

Tennov wonders if fear of rejection even serves an evolutionary purpose, by drawing out the courtship process to ensure a greater chance of finding a compatible partner.[62]

Uncertainty and hope


Dorothy Tennov suggested that limerence appears to develop and be sustained by a balance of uncertainty and hope of reciprocation.[63] She writes:

The recognition that some uncertainty must exist has been commented on and complained about by virtually everyone who has undertaken a serious study of the phenomenon of romantic love. Psychologists Ellen Bersheid and Elaine Walster discussed this common observation made, they note, by Socrates, Ovid, the Kama Sutra, and "Dear Abby," that the presentation of a hard-to-get as opposed to an immediately yielding exterior is a help in eliciting passion.[64]

The presence of barriers, what Tennov called intensification through adversity,[65] was crucial to the mutual limerence of Romeo and Juliet.[66] Helen Fisher calls this intensification effect "frustration attraction,"[67][68] and suggests that attraction increases because dopamine levels increase in the brain when an expected reward is delayed.[69][10] Judson Brewer characterizes the intermittent reinforcement of receiving an occasional message from an LO as "gasoline poured on the fire."[16]

However, uncertainty and mood changes can even just be a matter of perception on the part of the limerent person, rather than there being actual obstacles.[70] A married couple that Tennov interviewed were both in limerence for each other in high school, but unaware, then met again in college but only found out about their mutual limerence in high school after being married for several years.[71] Tennov notes that there were no obstacles to their relationship, but suggests their inaccurate perceptions that each was not interested probably increased their limerence in high school.[72]

Tennov writes "It is limerence, not love, that increases when lovers are able to meet only infrequently or when there is anger between them."[73]



The physiological effects of limerence can include trembling, pallor, flushing, a general weakness, sweating, butterflies in the stomach and a pounding heart.[74][25]

Tennov wrote that the sensation of limerence is associated primarily with the heart, even speculating that intrusive thinking results in mutual feedback where thinking of LO causes an increase in heart rate, which in turn changes thought patterns.[75] She says:

When I asked interviewees in the throes of the limerent condition to tell where they felt the sensation of limerence, they pointed unerringly to the midpoint in their chest. So consistently did this occur that it would seem to be another indication that the state described is indeed limerence, not affection (described by some as located "all over," or even in "the arms" when held out in a gesture of embrace) or in sexual feelings (located, appropriately enough, in the genitals).[76]

Limerence results in sustained alertness and excess energy, with the limerent person ever ready to perceive LO's subtleties and analyze their importance.[77]



In Dorothy Tennov's conception, sexual attraction was an essential component of limerence (as a generalization), although she noted that occasionally people described attractions to her which fit the overall pattern of limerence but did not involve sexual attraction.[78] However, limerence is not the same as sexual attraction,[79][80] and sex is not the central focus of limerence.[81] When in limerence, "emotional union trumps sexual desire."[82] Tennov stresses that "the most consistent result of limerence is mating, not merely sexual interaction but also commitment, the establishment of a shared domicile."[83][84]

Psychologist Lisa Diamond has written that attractions like limerence can occur in the absence of sexual attraction, citing studies documenting such attractions, as well as referencing Helen Fisher's work.[80] Fisher's theory of independent emotions states that there are three primary systems involved with human reproduction and mating: lust (the sex drive), attraction (i.e. passionate love, infatuation or limerence) and attachment (i.e. companionate love), and these work somewhat independently.[23][10] Diamond argues that people can feel attraction (in the sense of limerence) without sexual attraction, even in contradiction to one's sexual orientation.[80] Diamond says there's an evolutionary reason for this, which is that these brain systems evolved as an exaption of mother-infant bonding, meaning they evolved independent of sexual attraction.[80]

Tennov also drew distinctions between limerent fantasies and sexual fantasies.[85] Limerent fantasies, she says, are grounded in a possible reality, however unlikely, and actually desired to come true. However, sexual fantasies may involve entirely imaginative situations, and may not actually be desired in reality.[86] People also have more voluntary control over their sexual fantasies than their limerent ones, which are more intrusive.[87]



Shaver and Hazan observed that those suffering from loneliness are significantly more susceptible to limerence,[88] 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."[89]



Tennov estimates, based on both questionnaire and interview data, that limerence most commonly lasts between 18 months and three years with an average of two years,[90] but may be as short as mere days[91] or as long as a lifetime.[90] Duration may be related to the perception of reciprocity[91] and shorter limerence may be less intense.[90]

According to a HuffPost opinion blog by David Sack, an addiction psychiatrist, limerence lasts longer than romantic love, but is shorter than a committed partnership.[92] However, Tennov and others considered limerence as a synonym with romantic love[6][7][8][10][12] and others in peer-reviewed material suggest that Tennov's estimate is a normal duration of romantic love.[12] Still others suggest that "the biogenetic sourcing of limerence determines its limitation, ordinarily, to a two-year span".[93]

Tennov notes that feelings may evolve over the duration of a relationship: "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'".[94] The distinction is comparable to that drawn by ethologists "between the pair-forming and pair-maintaining functions of sexual activity",[95] just as "the attachment of the attachment theorists is very similar to the emotional reciprocation longed for in Tennov's limerence".[96]



In 2008, Albert Wakin, a professor who knew Tennov at the University of Bridgeport but did not assist in her research, and Duyen Vo, a graduate student, suggested that limerence is similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance use disorder. They presented work on this to the American Association of Behavioral and Social Sciences, but suggested that much more research is needed before it could be suggested to the APA that limerence be included in the DSM. They began conducting a study in 2008 but have not published results.[7]

While a comparison between romantic love and OCD has been a general hypothesis since 1998,[13] experimental evidence for a connection with serotonin is ambiguous.[12]

Helen Fisher has commented on Wakin & Vo in 2008, stating that limerence is romantic love and that "They are associating the negative aspects of it with the term, and that can be a disorder."[7] Fisher has proposed that romantic love is a "natural addiction" which can be either positive or negative depending on the situation.[21] Fisher has said again in 2024 that she doesn't think there's any difference between limerence and romantic love.[18]

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."[34]

Tennov states that limerence is normal[97] and 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 "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, she says, involve limerence when it's "augmented and distorted" by other conditions, which she contrasts with "pure limerence".[98]

See also



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