Long-term infatuation, little studied
Register Science Editor
Do you remember falling in love?
Euphoria alternated with romantic longings; intimate fantasies intruded into unrelated thoughts.
You concentrated solely on the object of your desire, forgetting about friends and framing all activities around her or him.
As weeks go by, you recognize that Mister or Miss Perfect is a real person, with foibles, faults and funny habits. You either accommodate all of it, or start over with someone else.
But, there are some people — perhaps many — men and womenwho stay infatuated, constantly calculating how to elicit a loving response from the beloved. That desperate feeling can persist for months, or years.
This unhappy and insatiable kind of love is called limerence.
Dorothy Tennov, a psychologist at the University of Bridgeport, name and the "limerence,"phenomenon, publishing a book, "Love and Limerence" in 1979.
Interest in limerence waned until an adjunct professor of psychology at Southern Connecticut State University, who studied with Tennov, and a SCSU graduate student recently renewed research.
Albert Wakin, who is also a psychology professor at Sacred Heart University, said he hopes to define limerence more rigorously, and explore the limerent personality along with a profile of the typical limerent’s object.
Wakin and graduate student Duyen Vo, shown above, believe limerence includes elements of obsessive compulsive disorder and addiction. Ultimately, Wakin and Vo want to formulate an effective treatment.
Incidentally, Tennov made up the word "limerence." As far as Wakin and Vo know, the word has no Latin meaning noror Greek roots.
So, what is it exactly?
"A person longs for emotional reciprocation from another, to the point that they’re fixated, focused on the other person. Addicted to another person," Wakin said.
The limerent person adjusts his behavior to please and get a response from the person to whom he has latched.
"He constantly is adjusting his behavior and always asking, ‘Am I OK?’" Vo said.
Early stages of limerence are indistinguishable from love, Wakin said. In limerence, the early phase of the relationship persists. The limerent’s object may at first welcome the attention, only to take advantage of the limerent person. Or the limerent may drive the object away with a constant desire to be together.
Limerence seems to depend on uncertainty, Vo said.
"When you have certainty, it diminishes," she said. This can be problematic if the object expresses the wish to spend the rest of her life with the limerent, only to then find out that he’s no longer interested.
The constant thinking about the beloved and focus on interpreting words or even barely perceptible expressions is similar to an obsessive compulsive disorder, Wakin and Vo said. The thoughts are intrusive, meaning they emerge involuntarily and are unwanted.
Limerence also seems to encompass an addictive factor, Wakin and Vo said.
If the limerent’s object gets fed up and unambiguously ends the relationship — for instance, by moving to another country — the limerent person experiences withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, discomfort in the chest and abdomen, stomachache, depression, irritability and difficulty sleeping.
Limerent feelings slowly decline and may vanish in weeks or months. However, longing may continue for decades, Wakin said.
Limerence seems to occur across racial, educational and socioeconomic lines, affecting men and women equally, he said.
Wakin and Vo are studying Tennov’s case studies and have screened several hundred subjects, finding about 100 with limerent tendencies.
"No one knows about limerence, so there are no treatment protocols. It is often misdiagnosed as an anxiety disorder or depression," she said.
The duo are also interested in determining what other psychological issues limerent patients have, along with a profile of the object person.
Wakin said limerence is a problematic behavior. Jealousy and domestic violence may result in a small number of instances, but a vast majority of limerent people develop other relationships and function normally, suppressing feelings for the limerent object, he said.
Limerence is not love gone to extremes, Wakin said. Some people have mild cases and others severe, but the behaviors run parallel to love, which itself is not well understood, Wakin said.
"Limerents are apt to feel: "Something is wrong with me. I can’t control it. I think I’m going crazy,’" Vo said. Limerent people are generally relieved to discover that they aren’t losing their minds, she said.
Wakin said a predisposition for limerence is probably hard-wired into the brain, and has been with humans for millenniums, who have called it love sickness, love madness, puppy love and many other names.
"Love is different than limerence," Wakin said.
Abram Katz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 789-5719.