Falling in love – a scientific perspective


I have read many books on the topic of falling in love, most recently one called Love and Limerance by Dorothy Tennov.

Dorothy defines ‘limerance’ as:

To be in the state of limerance is to feel what is usually termed “being in love”. It appears love and sex can coexist without limerance, in fact that any of the three may coexist without the others. … Limerance enters your life pleasantly. Someone takes on a special meaning. … Sometimes the reaction is [so] clear that it is no wonder the ancients believed it was brought about through the intervention of a magical or supernatural force.

[pp. 16-17, Love and Limerance]

She came up with this name for the state of being infatuated with a Love Object (as she refers to it) because the term ‘love’ was just too ambiguous. Also, she wanted to legitimise the study of love in the eyes of other scientists – who were rather dismissive of her research topic.

She was writing in 1979 and the scientific landscape has changed since then. Several other titles on the subject have been published.

Other books on ‘love’ I have read in the past are:

I’ve enjoyed them all and they’ve shed much light on this notoriously mysterious topic.

Of course, you could say many books are about ‘love’ – but these books directly deal with the state of being in love – from a scientific or psychological perspective.

My interest in limerance

I’m also interested in the topic of romantic love because it caused me so much pain when I was a bit younger.

It can drive you to bad choices.

Falling in ‘limerance’ is not dependent on your suitability with your target Love Object (LO). It strikes seemingly at random, with no forewarning.

It threw off my whole system when it came to relationships and dating.

I spent years wondering about it – before realising there were whole books published on the subject by people wondering exactly the same thing.

Definition of limerance

So, what is limerance exactly?

Limerance has these features:

  • Intrusive thinking about the object of your passionate desire, who is a possible sexual partner
  • Acute longing for reciprocation from the LO
  • Mood dependent on LO’s actions – or your perception of their actions in anticipation of them reciprocating your ardent feelings
  • Inability to react limerantly to more than one person at a time (unless intensity is very low in the early or end stages)
  • Vivid imaginings of reciprocation brings relief (in the case of unrequited limerance)
  • Fear of rejection and incapacitating shyness in LO’s presence
  • This fear and shyness is intensified whenever uncertainty strikes
  • Intensification through adversity – you feel more in love if it’s difficult to be together
  • Heightened sexual state which makes hedonistic activities more rewarding
  • Obsessive thinking about the LO – so all thoughts and situations come back to LO
  • Aching of the heart when uncertainty is strong
  • Buoyancy when feelings are reciprocated
  • Intensity of feelings that makes you forget other things
  • Ability to over-emphasize what is truly admirable and good in the LO
  • Ignore, romanticize or reimagine negative traits as positive

So that’s a lot of features.

Most people report broadly the same feelings. You know it when you have it. A huge body of art has been created around the topic of love.

Suddenly – it all makes sense.

Light and dark side of limerance

You’re sucked into this world of love and songs take on a new meaning. This can be an exciting experience, but I believe limerance can have a light and a dark side.

On the one hand, your soul is exalted, you are euphoric, in touch with the entire world and alight with creative fire. Hope, joy, and wonder are all alive within you. Anything is possible.

On the other hand, it’s an emotional rollercoaster.

Euphoria one minute, despair the next. You’re unreasonable and irrational. You make terrible choices and you have an inflated sense of optimism and positivity. You view your Love Object as an Angel, completely blind to their defects.

You are mad.

It’s also dangerous because limerance can lead to episodes of self-harm, violence and murder if not reciprocated. It has a strong impact on your mental health if love is unrequited. It’s not as simple as getting over it to go out to find a new partner.

I’m lucky to never have experienced unrequited love. It must be devastating.

Extending limerance

Despite the dangers, limerance is a highly pleasurable state that is enhanced when the feeling is mutual.

That’s why I have an interest in extending the duration of this state as long as possible, even after the relationship becomes committed. It’s nice to feel some of those highs even in an established relationship.

Helen Fisher describes in more detail in her book, Why We Love, how one can extend this feeling of limerance (though she calls it being in love).

On top of maintaining a healthy relationship, here are some tactics for stimulating limerance in a long-term relationship:

  • Increase the unexpected (change up your routines, take calculated risks)
  • Do unusual things together
  • Introduce some element of danger (even just walking somewhere in the dark)
  • Keep a strong sense of humour
  • Stay attractive and take care of yourself
  • Don’t assume the relationship will last forever

I’ve come up with my own theories based on the principle that uncertainty is key. You cannot be too sure that the other person returns your feelings.

Here are my tips:

  • Avoid living together as long as possible (living on your own is fun)
  • Keep your identities separate (different friends, activities, tastes)
  • Never be totally available to each other and carve out your own time
  • Pursue your own careers and goals even if you think you don’t need the money
  • Don’t follow prescriptive patterns too much (ignore people who say you should move in together, get married, or have children)
  • Be radically honest, even when it hurts and upsets the status quo

You basically need to combine these tactics with acting like you’re totally grateful this person is in your life. And you should be.

If you do these things and you’re with the right person, you will still feel flickers of limerance similar to the early days.

It won’t be as ferociously intense. But you’ll be happy.

It should be said that the presence of limerance doesn’t define a healthy relationship. In fact, it’a only when limerance fades that true intimacy can flourish. It means you’re both seeing each other clearly and authentically.

Chasing limerance in ignorance can lead to a string of broken relationships, when the only problem cited is boredom or a lack of ‘chemistry’. The real problem is that limerance has faded due to increased commitment, and you’re not feeling as euphorically optimistic anymore.

It’s important to see warts and all in a romantic partner. You can only love a real person – not an idealised image.

My own experience with limerance

As I mentioned earlier, limerance isn’t all fun and games – especially if you’re inexperienced with limerance. My first experience of limerance was the most euphoric and soul-crushing.

At first, I couldn’t understand what had happened to me. I assumed I was just really happy. Then I realised it was love. It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. I was totally consumed by it, and made a relationship choice based on this feeling.

What a total mistake.

I was devastated when it didn’t last forever. It was terrifying when the strong feelings faded and I had the creeping suspicion I had chosen the wrong person. Ultimately, it turned out that I had. I spent a lot of energy trying to revive that feeling. You can’t revive it when it’s truly dead.

It turned my whole life upside down. I was forced to change my life to deal with how this phenomenon had affected me. I had to go from being a highly controlled person to someone with no emotional restraint or perspective.

It basically rewired my brain.

It’s hard to say which of my experiences in my early twenties stemmed from limerance, and which came from other mental health struggles. Perhaps identity doesn’t work like that. It’s all tangled together, resisting labels and definitions.

I didn’t understand the difference between all the different types of ‘love’. In fact, I didn’t believe in limerance – until it happened to me.

How to control limerance

It might be fair to say that as soon as you have experienced limerance once, you’re fully primed to experience it again.

At the time, I wasn’t looking for limerance again. I’d pretty much made up my mind to avoid relationships forever after getting so hurt (another terrible cliché, I’m sure).

The second time that I experienced limerance – not that I ever expected to have it again – I was much more wary of it. I deliberately resisted some of the tendencies it produces, such as obsessive thinking about the Love Object. Over-idealisation. I intentionally focused on bad qualities about the other person to maintain a balanced view.

I think it worked. I got to experience the highs without a cold, sick comedown at some point in the future, wondering what the hell I had done with my life.

Perhaps it wasn’t as totally all-consuming as the first time – but I think my life was better for it.

Some people chase that feeling of ‘being in love’ their whole life. This is the motivation behind a string of failed relationships and the fruitless search for ‘the one’. Limerance always fades. Intimacy is what replaces it.

And it’s so much better.

Final thoughts

I find this fascinating because there is so much confusion when it comes to love. It’s both obsessively promoted by popular culture, and casually scorned by scientific minds.

No surprise there, then.

One of my passions in life is to demystify the mysterious, partly because I selfishly think it makes things more exciting. When you can understand something properly, you can think about it much more deeply and come up with far better theories and ideas. All things I love.

Interestingly, Highly Sensitive People may be more susceptible to the experience of falling in love – or, limerance. This has implications for people managing their mental health, and for how HSPs should approach their romantic life.

It seems that HSP tendencies are exactly the traits that are emphasised in falling in limerance. We are very good at examining our thoughts and feelings in minute detail. We are very sensitive and easily affected by emotions. We reflect and ruminate.

In short, being in limerance is mind-blowing for HSPs.

Learning about ‘limerance’ made me feel a lot better about making bad life choices due to falling in love. Hopefully this article can connect with at least one person who ends up feeling less alone and confused. Thanks for reading.

CatherineCatherine Heath is a freelance writer in software and marketing. She’s obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing and being in nature. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s