Linda (not her real name) wakes up every morning and gets dressed with the goal of impressing him. She imagines that he might one day be her soulmate. During the day, she has difficulty concentrating on her work. At night, she is kept awake by unrealistic and improbable scenarios in which she would discover that he loved her too. Linda was in love…with her boss.
But what Linda has is not love. What she has could possibly turn into love but it wasn’t yet. It is something called Limerence, or infatuated love. It is described as “a state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person and typically includes obsessive thoughts and fantasies and a desire to form or maintain a relationship with the object of love and have one’s feelings reciprocated.” (Wikipedia)
In her book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love, psychologist Dorothy Tennov describes the typical features of limerence:
*Intense romantic desire
*A compulsive, obsessive, addictive quality to the experience
*The attachment increases in the presence of barriers
*Intrusive thoughts and fantasies about the love object
*Emotional swings from bliss to despondency, depending on the most recent interaction with the Love Object
*An uptick of chemical activity in the brain, powerful rushes of dopamine
*Feels intensely pleasurable but can also make the limerent person feel physically ill
*More emphasis on winning the attention of the love object, less on sexual consummation
*Heroic fantasies of saving the love object and creating a feeling of gratitude in that person
*Extreme attachment to the point of dependence
*Can become self-destructive and might lead to stalking or suicide
Limerence starts in a way that is similar to the first wave of a new romance, a time of discovery, hope, fear and desire. Soon it crosses a line and goes too far, becoming pathological, especially if the person loses the ability to function on a daily basis. That’s what happened to Leslie. It wasn’t just a crush—that pleasant, fleeting feeling of liking someone a lot—nor was it secure love, which is a deep and abiding attachment to someone, a feeling that develops and is sustained over time. It was limerence, which turned her feelings of attachment into something desperate and obsessive.
Limerence has a shelf life of about two years, which is enough time to fall in love, date, get engaged and married. Then when you wake up the morning after the wedding, you start to wonder “Who is this person I married?” Over time you feel as if he has changed, or you have changed. And you conclude that you are no longer love your partner. You’d be correct because it was never love you had for the other person. Rather, it was infatuation.
This partly explains the downward trajectory of marriage. Married couples who participated in a longitudinal study that spanned ten years rated their marital satisfaction high at the beginning. But over time, the level of satisfaction declined, quite significantly. Two steep drops can be observed in the first and eighth years of marriage.
The dip in Year 3 could be due to the arrival of the couple’s first child. John Gottman, who studied over 3,000 couples, found that 67% of couples experience conflict, disappointment and hurt feelings when the baby arrival. The already dissatisfying marriage has now become more dissatisfying. And it only gets worse from hereon unless intervention takes place.
It is therefore recommended that the dating period for couples before deciding to getting married should be at least 2 years. And during this time, the couple should engage in activities to discover who their partners really are.