7 Lessons to Learn From Limerence (Unrequited Love)
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).
3. 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.
This behavioral pattern does not mimic a drug addiction, but rather, is a drug addiction (Redcay and Simonetti, 2018). 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.
4. '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.
5. 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 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.
6. 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.
7. 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?
Are you someone who experiences intense limerence?
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