I just finished Dorothy Tennov's Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love...
March 3, 2019
Limerence is a term the author invented for overwhelming romantic feeling that many people seem prone to - but many aren't. The nearest synonym might be "infatuation", but Tennov is trying to describe something less adolescent and more beautiful than that - the lovely neologism "limerence" certainly has echoes of "luminous" or "liminal".
Trying to think of cultural referents for "limerence", I recalled this quote from the ending of the movie "True Romance":
Amid the chaos of that day, when all I could hear was the thunder of gunshots, and all I could smell was the violence in the air, I look back and am amazed that my thoughts were so clear and true, that three words went through my mind endlessly, repeating themselves like a broken record: you’re so cool, you’re so cool, you’re so coolThat gets to the spirit of it about as well as anything in Hollywood. (Though when I think about "A Fish Called Wanda" - the way John Cleese's character and his wife undress for the night in a companionish way before heading to their separate single beds, vs how he lights up for Jamie Lee Curtis' Wanda - that's a great case study as well.)
I have a theory that sometimes "limerence" is idolized in our society because people want the relationships they deeply invest in to be beyond the reach of market forces. To quote the grand balladeer Weird Al:
You're sort of everything I've ever wantedNo one wants to be subjected to that! Even if the state of limerence is famously fickle, people look for that beautiful madness as inexplicable, nostalgic bedrock to set their relationship on - maybe even for a future family - even if they are aware that the initial rush may die down.
You're not perfect, but I love you anyhow
You're the woman that I've always dreamed off
Well, not really, but you're good enough for now
As some who generally is, as the book puts it, "nonlimerent" (or at least since college) I got to wondering about the neurochemistry of it all - the descriptions of the state reminded me of the euphoria of certain drugs... I wonder if people inclined to that kind of feeling more prone to drug or alcohol abuse, or are they especially susceptible to hypnosis - i.e. are they vulnerable to go other places where conventional rationality (and rational convention) is put aide?
But those questions may be self-serving FOMO sour grapes from a nonlimerent! (I sometimes feel stunted as an emotional person that I have an internal gardener that will examine seedlings of emotion that spring up and quick weed out ones that don't make sense...) Especially when the book builds on Stendhal's metaphor of "Crystalization":
In the salt mines, nearing the end of the winter season, the miners will throw a leafless wintry bough into one of the abandoned workings. Two or three months later, through the effects of the waters saturated with salt which soak the bough and then let it dry as they recede, the miners find it covered with a shining deposit of crystals. The tiniest twigs no bigger than a tom-tit’s claw are encrusted with an infinity of little crystals scintillating and dazzling. The original little bough is no longer recognizable; it has become a child’s plaything very pretty to see. When the sun is shining and the air is perfectly dry the miners of Hallein seize the opportunity of offering these diamond-studded boughs to travellers preparing to go down to the mine.Who wouldn't want to be connected to that kind of beauty, even if it's all in the eye of the beholder? Or short-lived? As Joe Haldeman put it in "The Forever War":
But love, he said, love was a fragile blossom; love was a delicate crystal; love was an unstable reaction with a half-life of about eight months.And so I think back to relationships where I've been a bit more limerent - the foreign exchange student in high school, where it feels like a kind of limerence was mutual, to the on-again/off-again in college that was much more one-sided. I don't get sparks like that too often. Mortifyingly, sometimes the strongest echo of those times comes with a little frisson of excitement I get with certain technological devices - to cite an old Dilbert:
Clearly, unless one has embraced a Shinto / animistic outlook (or accepted Tom Robbins' "Still Life with Woodpecker"s view of our bias against inanimate objects as being a bit uncalled for) this delight in mere "things" is a bit untoward - but what can I say? Some gadgets embody supreme elegance! - and they empower me without making demands on me, and without me having to risk rejection...
Heh, in a too-long ramble already brimming over with quotes, what's one more? Here's Carrie Fisher journaling while mooning over Harrison Ford:
I've got to stop getting obsessed with human beings and fall in love with a chair. Chairs have everything human beings have to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need. Less emotional feedback, less warmth, less approval, less patience and less response. The less the merrier. Chairs it is. I must furnish my heart with feelings for furniture.An affection for gadgets and furnishings aside, what are the implications for romance among the nonlimerent? Again, I turn to the movies, specifically "Birdman":
"You know, just because I didn't like that ridiculous comedy you did with Goldie Hawn did not mean I did not love you. That's what you always do. You confuse love for admiration."Oh, man. THAT is just what I do, in spades. In every significant romance with which my past and present has been graced, I can dig and find that admirable quality: "the most" - she was the most beautiful, this one the most exotic, that one the most academically accomplished, or the cutest, or the smartest, or the funniest, or the kindest or... certainly not "the most _____" in the whole world, but in MY world.
And with some of those categories... if I'm forthright (and I strive to be nothing if not unflinching and truthful about myself) there's an ego aspect with it, or at least a need for validation. Sometimes I don't want to be around that admirable quality merely for its own sake, or as an inspiration for my self-improvement, but so that the world can see me near it - and for my own insecurity - I am affirmed that I'm worthy of wooing the bearer of a quality so fine, in the eyes of the world, and of myself.
So, back to the book. It definitely has the 60s/70s feel of its era - kind of like the book "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex" - people being frank and reflective about their experiences during an era of transition, where men and women were reconsidering their relationship with the world and with each other. And I guess in the end, its conclusion is... you're either limerent or you're not, or at least, mostly not. And there's not a lot you can do it about it, but it's important to be sympathetic to the people that are.
I'm grateful to this book for letting me come to terms with the fool I was when I was limerent and the more sedate guy I am now.