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9 Lessons to Learn From Limerence (Unrequited Love)

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I studied neuroscience and am fascinated by human consciousness and perception. I delve into psychology in my free time and adore writing.

1. You Are Really Searching For Recognition

You may wonder why romance is a completely different experience for you than for other people. Rather than moving in and out of slow-burn, stable relationships, you fall in love with elusive characters and find yourself unable to get over them. What makes these people so attractive is not their inconsistency alone (intermittent reinforcement begets obsession (Machado, 1997)); they typically offer you a degree of connection that you experience with no one else.

Most humans have in common the desire to be in love, but some of us are more emotionally complex than others. If you are a deep-thinker, you have probably come to realize the alarming scarcity of like-minded romantic partners. We want more than the conventional nuclear family, craving authentic, soul-stripping vulnerability and true recognition.

The people you fall for may peer into your soul while also exposing intriguing parts of themselves, creating the illusion of a 'world' that is only accessible with them. This forms the basis of a very emotionally-involved delusion, often sustained by the romanticization of obsessive love online. The good news is that this individual is not truly one-of-a-kind or your 'twin flame', but just one of many people capable of understanding your true nature and offering you high-quality communication.

2. There Is Nothing The Brain Can't Heal From

Limerence is an extremely intense phenomenon that has a clear neurobiological basis. In other words, only some of us are predisposed to feeling ineffable highs and lows in response to romance and falling into addiction (Fisher et al., 2016). Our ability to enter such states of manic, unwavering focus may well place us on the OCD and bipolar disorder spectrums, but this does not mean that we should throw in the towel.

It is only after recovering from a severe bout of unrequited love that you realize the true healing power of the mind; each limerent episode that you enter can be overcome. If you truly commit to shaking yourself free from this person's allure, your brain will employ compensatory rewiring mechanisms and return itself to normality.

Some affectionate tenderness for this person may temporarily linger, but they will no longer trigger your primitive emotions or be your only source of excitement. This concept can be neatly wrapped up by neuroscientist Donald Hebb's axiom 'neurons that fire together wire together'; every time that you engage in sports, work or otherwise avoid ruminating over your love interest, you are strengthening new connections and rediscovering how to seek joy elsewhere (Skrebitsky and Chepkova, 1998).

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3. Anyone Can Permanently Cure Limerence

In order to permanently conquer this limiting, distracting, humiliating form of unrequited love, you will need to do more than just detach from your current LO. While going cold turkey on them will eventually make them seem less attractive, you will still be carrying around the same psychological points of weakness that allowed you to become limerent in the first place.

Remember, you are not weak nor is this pain your fault, but obsession and mania is not a normal response to love - unmet needs, unhealed trauma and problematic belief systems regarding yourself (and what love you deserve) have caused:

a). this person's personality to drive you so wild, and

b). you to tolerate them only occasionally throwing breadcrumbs your way.

Fortunately, limerence is simple to overcome. You can and will cure yourself of the sharp romantic pain and obsession permanently when you learn to treat the above elements of your psychology.

I want you reading this to realize you are worth more than this; fight this state with anger and with the knowledge that it is the only thing barring you from real, expansive romance. So much magic and so many innocent, blissful moments lie ahead of you, if you can accept some temporary discomfort and commit to rewiring your subconscious mind!

4. Some Neurochemical Highs Aren't Worth It

It is human nature to be thrilled by certain experiences; we are governed by our dopaminergic reward center (the nucleus accumbens), which is part of the limbic brain (Day and Carelli, 2007). When infatuated with someone, our days revolve around them and we receive a 'hit' of dopamine whenever we perceive that we are getting closer to them.

You see, the limerent behavioral pattern does not mimic a drug addiction, but rather, is a drug addiction (Redcay and Simonetti, 2018) and must be overcome. Whether it be a polite smile from the object of your unrequited love or an inspiring conversation with them, they are providing you with a source of euphoria. Limerence involves the continual yearning for the bliss that only their company can provide. Naturally, withdrawal symptoms occur when you are temporarily starved of this attention, or when they seem to act coldly.

To restate, the pursuit of exhilaration is inherent to human nature; it is perfectly healthy to seek out stimulating books, or enjoy the buzz from green tea. With experience, however, you soon realize that some highs derail your life too intensely to be worth it. While caffeine is acceptable and does not lead to the abandonment of personal belief systems, crystal meth never is. It helps to view limerence as an unhealthy, pathological version of romantic love; butterflies over a love interest are harmless, but feigning friendship with someone that you love just to get your 'hit' will prove heartbreaking in the long run.

Limerence is not worth the misery and insanity that it comes along with!

5. 'Autopilot' Mode Serves A Purpose

Once a severe bout of unrequited love has already set in, little can be done to instantly snap yourself out of it. If you commit to moving past the illusion you will rapidly recover, but in the meantime, coping mechanisms will prove invaluable. Most people find that it helps to temporarily adopt a slightly flat, detached life stance in order to exit depression and function.

As cultured animals, we must learn to discern which of our emotions should be tamed or risk struggling in the face of modern-day obligations. When intensely limerent and mentally unwell during university, I found myself entering a state of 'autopilot' and stoically carrying out all my responsibilities. While I disliked feeling apathetic at the time, this allowed me to immerse myself in my academic work, maintain high grades and also take care of my health. There is no harm in carrying on 'soullessly', especially when the alternative is to wallow in a deep state of emotional despair.

Never silence your thoughts or dissociate from your issues, but temporarily put a hold on anything (e.g. romantic music) that arouses intense emotion in you while battling unrequited love/infatuation. Even if your pain makes such pastimes seem tiresome and void of substance, go jogging, reply to those friends that you have been ignoring and start your mornings off with positive affirmations. Choosing to rise against your misery will paradoxically take the edge off it, and is the only way to move forward.

6. Some Adults Are Very Dysfunctional

Since this article pertains to limerence, undeniably driven by uncertainty, it is safe to assume that the object of your desire is unpredictable and inconsistent in some way. The truth is, it is improbable that someone calm and stable will ever trigger all-consuming, destabilizing feelings in you.

While pigeonholing people with diagnoses can seem demeaning and unnecessary, limerence is a good example of how certain conditions can wreak havoc on others if left untreated. People commonly report feeling 'stuck' in infatuation with borderline personality disorder (BPD) or narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) individuals.

Though these two mentioned disorders are polar opposites in how they outwardly manifest, both can give rise to the desire for intimacy yet the tendency to be avoidant and unreliable due to emotional dysregulation (Olsson, 2018). If you are prone to limerence, someone who declares you their soulmate before suddenly disappearing back into their own world and seeming disinterested will have you hooked like a moth to a flame.

I must add, true limerence extends far beyond the realm of physical attraction and conventional romance and is not simply 'love addiction'. In addition to overstimulating your reward circuits, these evasive people represent something extremely evocative and abstract to you, hence your insurmountable feelings of attachment. Only you can do the self-work required to ascertain what, exactly, they are providing you with.

7. Anything You Pedestal, You Can't Have

Even if committed to living purposefully, your neural makeup will always steer you towards seeking out 'special', enthralling folk. The issue is, through believing that these people are magical, you will be exuding a sense of need even if unaware of it and this will push them away. Nothing is more deterring than someone seeming willing to drop their entire life for you, especially when the connection is still forming.

If you feel incredibly lucky to have met someone, you must convince yourself that they are a natural part of your life rather than a rare commodity that has blessed you. Until you manage this, you will not stand a chance at getting reciprocation or keeping the connection alive; we attract and keep that which we believe we deserve. There is a reason why it is easy to successfully flirt with someone that you are neutral around, yet very tricky to enter a relationship with a sparky new acquaintance.

It is therefore crucial that you change your attitude regarding these people. If you feel that they are a rare chance at love that you must grab, you are creating the very outcome that you are assuming to be true: they will entertain you for a while, before slipping away and making you wonder why partnership is so difficult to achieve. You must strive to stay busy and empowered by a life goal, seeing people as fun opportunities for connection but never prerequisites to mental stability. The people who match that healthy energy will effortlessly stay in your life, and they will be smart, driven and have securer attachment styles.

8. Your Outer World Is A Reflection of Your Beliefs

With experience, you come to realize that the people that you attract into your life are not a coincidence. They mirror not only the energy that you are giving out, but also your perception of your self-worth. The trouble is, people prone to limerence are typically intelligent, thoughtful and have insecure attachment styles. While the former two traits allow for great empathy, the latter leaves them believing that they are unworthy of a real relationship.

Let me clarify with the following example: you may know someone who, despite not being particularly vivacious or attractive, always seems to always be in a satisfying romantic relationship. Their success is not down to luck, but rather, a result of the fact that they a). do not crave rare, deep connections, or even know to look for them and b). do not have any detrimental self-beliefs regarding their ability to attract their ideal partner. They simply expect to be with someone mellow and trustworthy, and emit this assumption with their body language and communication until it naturally comes to pass.

It is perfectly fine to realize that you need deeper romantic bonds and more mental stimulation than your friends, as this still leaves you with an abundance of people to meet and date. The goal here is to fathom why you are trapped in unrequited love for someone who is likely fickle, hot-and-cold and lacking normal boundaries. Limerence is rarely the product of insanity, and yours will be sustained by their disordered behavior as much as it is your own obsessive ways. You may be in a strange, tender 'friendship' that feels romantic but goes nowhere, or find that this person is fascinated by you one week but dismissive the next. Why does this keep you engaged, when most adults with boundaries and positive self-identities would be repelled by such noncommittal bonding?

9. Magic Isn't Limited to Romance

I wish to end this article with a short and sweet message that runs parallel to what I typically discuss. While most of my content pertains to how to conquer your own psychological afflictions by internalizing a stronger, more integrated concept of self (this involves fulfilling all of your deepest needs, treating any wounding etc.), healing is always a multi-dimensional process. Certain external factors will also play a key role in your journey of self-expansion, including exercise, a good, anti-inflammatory diet, enriching books and stimulating platonic connections.

Platonic Love Is Real and Healing

Personally, I believe that one of the most effective painkillers against the raw state of limerence is tuning into bonds with friends (new and old) who strongly resonate with you on a mental level. This is no cure - the only way to true freedom is to target the root causes of limerence as I have described in point number 3, and there is no getting around this - but doing so will temporarily assuage your misery and keep you more functional and less depressive.

Why? There is no better way to shatter the illusion that your LO is 'the only person who understands you' or the 'only person with whom you feel truly free/excited/alive/thrilled with' than by enjoying really special moments with other people who you could never associate with romance. So, go on a spontaneous camping adventure, spend hours discussing the esoteric topics that you love or even go on a night out with your friends, as long as they are people you feel truly connected to.

You'll still need to work on yourself and deal with some discomfort in the process of leaving this toxic pattern behind, but it'll be much more effortless when you confirm to yourself that you can actually be affected emotionally and inspired by people other than your LO.

References

Day, J. and Carelli, R. (2007). The Nucleus Accumbens and Pavlovian Reward Learning. The Neuroscientist, 13(2), pp.148-159.

Fisher, H., Xu, X., Aron, A. and Brown, L. (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.

Machado, A. (1997). Learning the temporal dynamics of behavior. Psychological Review, 104(2), pp.241-265.

Olsson, P. (2018). Psychodrama and the Treatment of Narcissistic and Borderline Patients. Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 46(2), pp.252-264.

Redcay, A. and Simonetti, C. (2018). Criteria for Love and Relationship Addiction: Distinguishing Love Addiction from Other Substance and Behavioral Addictions. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 25(1), pp.80-95.

Skrebitsky, V. and Chepkova, A. (1998). Hebbian synapses in cortical and hippocampal pathways. Reviews in the Neurosciences, 9(4).

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Lucy

Comments

Mathmath18 on June 20, 2020:

Wow. I see a lot of what you described in personal experience. It feels like approximately 100% applies to the most important of my unrequited love experiences. I will leave a summary of my experience here for other people's benefit, as I have benefited from the comments below.

I met a beautiful and smart girl, to whom I was extremely attracted since first sight, and fell in love after the first date. Her intelligence, empathy, comprehensiveness, and all the other "social" qualities helped me to open up and I had no doubt that she was the most intimate person in my life after a few months. To add to the situation, all of this happened while I was under intense pressure: working full time, having 4 hours of classes every day, writing my thesis, and working on parallels projects with demanding responsibilities at the university (I still don't know how I survived and am proud that I managed to do all of that although I never want a life so busy ever again). So there it was: my "world"/life sucked and I met this girl, had this intense connection, and suddenly she became the most important thing in my life. I was very busy but kept thinking about her all the time, what made me live more with the "idea of her" than with herself. I thought highly of her and the "idea of her" was, therefore, a great woman, an ideal romantic partner, but not really herself. Needless to say that I put her on a pedestal, she was like an angel that came to save me from hell, a one in a million chance that suddenly appeared in my life out of nowhere. Also needless to say that this neediness made her push away. The love experience lasted for a few months and had several additional complicating factors. It was the most intense experience I have had in my life. I’ve walked a long way since then. I must say that I am extremely thankful that I had this experience in my life, although it has been the hardest punch I ever got so far. I am still learning to cope with everything, at the same time that I am aware of the progress I made.

Arbion on April 23, 2020:

This is good

Lucy (author) from Leeds, UK on March 29, 2020:

Hello, Kevin. I can promise you that ANYONE can recover from the most delusional, stubborn, agonising limerent episode and that you are no exception.

You will, however, need to do a significant amount of self-work and completely reprogram your subconscious.

I offer personalised psychological reports, which would involve me analysing your case and producing an extended 5-7 page piece for you ft. a recovery program to ensure that you escape this pain.

Thanks to the current quarantime, I can now take on far more cases than usual per week. Throw me a message and we can chat! :)

Kevin on March 29, 2020:

Lucy, I seriously need help with my case. All ur info is 100% correct and insanely insightful, but I'm so depressed, lovesick and broken that I can't assimilate it enough to actually recover from this limerence.

The girl I'm limerent over (my LO?) is so dazzling, beautiful and rare that I can't see how this will ever end. I will love her forever. Please help me.

Lucy (author) from Leeds, UK on February 18, 2020:

@Adam I'm so glad you've had that revelation - it's easy to bask in the blissful highs of limerence, but once you acknowledge that it is actually a pathological phenomenon, you are far more likely to engage in proactive recovery. Best of luck!

Adam Paradise on February 14, 2020:

Wow, Holy crap. The lights just went on for me. Like - bingo. My problem is exactly what you describe and now that I read your words -I can see it. I have this very close but erratic friendship with a good looking female colleague a few years younger than me. She is not only beautiful, she is erratic and mysterious and runs hot and cold and is very much on a pedestal half the time. Other times she give me awesome feedback. I am like a rat in a cage here, pushing a lever and hoping for a pellet. Man, that is exactly it! Thanks for this insight, it really helped me sort this. What an idiot I am.

Lucy (author) from Leeds, UK on December 21, 2019:

I’m sorry to hear that you’re dealing with this individual’s confusing and manipulative behaviour, Dave. Although this doesn’t excuse him nor justify how he is treating you, it must come from a place of deep-rooted self-hatred and denial. He seems to be deep in cognitive dissonance and incapable of accepting his sexuality. If you can find the strength to walk away, I promise you that brighter and safer connections will align with you and enter your life!

Dave on December 21, 2019:

Hi I'm a gay man who feels like I fell in love to a stright man the hugs me and cuddles me naked and yet says he not gay he meets this women now and then and I go crazy, and he knows I love him i think it's love I don't know what to do

From Terry: please consider over time 2 sides to any and every story. on October 19, 2019:

From Terry: please consider over time 2 sides to every situation, just hope to help someone trying to make best decision for long term.

Terry on October 19, 2019:

Have scoured net looking help for understanding event happened 35+ years ago and just now found. Am now 72 wife just divorced 50 year marriage I paid price since n did everything I could to make things good then about 4 years ago she became religious fanatic n running w bunch young gals n she decided to replace us with. Don’t think has anything to do with limerick as gave up n I did what necessary for us. Then now she gets in what I consider a cult type church, no regard for previous relationships even marriage. Now alone in RV with my dog n only a cousin support by phone (2 grown sons in 40’s no contact under her swell). My advice now don’t be quick to give up on what could be, even due to deep seated “responsibilities “. My life could have been so different, all of it but especially now, as she was amazing and we were amazing together in every way!!! As I tell few people know my story don’t think you want end up this way! Can happen to anyone. Problems then that she neglected and opened door for right person and she came in to my life. Now 35 years to late. Did I make “right decision for wife and family some say yes. Right decision for me and? No, don’t think so. Advice, think through carefully before deciding. I MADE WRONG CHOICE and now nothing left but to die alone. Don’t make this huge mistake after turning around and planning everything for the wrong one!

JC Scull from Gainesville, Florida on August 16, 2019:

Interesting article!

Larry Slawson from North Carolina on August 13, 2019:

Really interesting and informative article. Thank you for sharing!