Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Limnrix On Limerence

I know we're all trying to ignore Valentine's Day. I, for one, know that this will be the year the tradition of watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind alone and crynerbating will be firmly established.

I Am Whatever You Say I Am, 2008

I did not know this word existed until two days ago.

This may or may not be your response to reading the extensive attempt to define this: I know that I have felt something like it, but my experience differs in various ways from Tennov's attributions to it. I think it's possible that people experience it in different ways, and this is the root of some things attributed to limerence. Like many psychological definitions, you try to self diagnose. Personally, I know that most meaning in my life comes from one or two limerent attachments I've had - primarily one that was, for a while, mutual. My tendency when discussing it is to not be able to articulate more than snarky soundbites.

Dorothy Tennov coined the term "limerence" to describe a kind of long-term infatuation her subjects were describing in her study of love. Limerence and love are not two different things - limerence is a kind of love. (Officially, it's the early stage of love, but I consider that limiting.) It's also a way of evading the dismissiveness of terms like "infatuation" or "crush", although the dismissiveness creeps in as a kind of attempted antidote to limerence's hightened affect. Limerence is both itself an emotion and an intensifier of emotion. It's produced a lot of good music, great literature, and probably not a lot of great art, although it is a decent motivator - or extreme demotivator. The reaction is not binary "elation or despair". Even a good interaction can induce the emotion that, like limerence, needed an English word, but which I have seen called "sangry".

Limerence attaches every intense emotion one feels, regardless of connection through anything but oneself, to the limerence object (LO, or, as I will put it in tribute to David Foster Wallace, subject). If you've resolved to cure your limerence, you will end up avoiding anything interesting or that you like.

One way of thinking about it: If you have love or affection toward a subject, you google it. If you are limerent, you avoid googling anything closely connected to the subject, because you are afraid you will run across them, and end up unable to think about anything else for weeks.

An objection I have to part of the definition is the part about how limerence can end with consummation or conclusive knowledge of reciprocation status. Even with confirmed reciprocation, terror that one's limerent subject would lose the limerence reignited the feeling. Once I'd stopped feeling that fear, the limerence was less urgent, turned into an entity supported by two bodies. Whether an asymmetrically limerent relationship should be terminated is a difference of opinion that can terminate any kind - according to Tennov, relationships with one limerent member are sustainable, though commonly maligned.

The "limerent-limerent" relationship is what I've called a "positive-feedback-based assemblage", but why most agree that that coupling (which I want to think can contain any number, including not just integers but imaginaries, etc. ) is itself inherently unsustainable is hard to define. Positive feedback exceeds the boundaries of its system within some amount of time. With limerence the result could be a "burned out" emotional sensorium. I can't tell whether being unable to become interested in anything without limerence is still limerence, or its fallout.

While it's said that different people are more inclined toward limerence or inducing limerence, I suspect it's more likely that people have different and incompatible ways of effectively de-limerencing. I'd like to hear from anyone who hasn't ever felt limerent. I remember sustaining something from 2000 onward, which was replaced in 2006 by definite limerence - I don't think any was involved in the long-term, healthy relationship I was in starting in the middle of that time. Possibly, I always require transformation - a new subject. Which is kind of a bitch, and something I may have immunized against now, but two years of starvation haven't been cutting it.

I have resolved that next time, instead of having most interaction, with a human, mediated by the internet, I'll aim to be limerent towards a nonhuman (non-animal, probably non-carbon-based) entity. I'm not going to assume it would be an AI, partially because the determination of intelligence and whether it's required for limerence are part of what's so fascinating about this particular weird-ass fantasy. Remember, this woman married the goddamn Berlin Wall.Possibly an element of what makes someone more limerent has to do with how much they question the communication system and what constitutes an autonomous entity capable of reciprocation. Example: I do not believe I can be objectively determined to be intelligent or autonomous. Second example: My subject may have been incapable of reciprocal feeling, only attached if returned feeling was ambiguous. There is nothing psychically sick about either of these attitudes - maybe not even with Mrs. Berliner-Mauer.

Here's a paper(pdf) that argues that limerence is problematic, different from love as seen from instances of persisting into later stages of a relationship. I haven't read the whole thing, but without a threshold in the form of an amount of time or interaction after which limerence shouldn't persist, all it really does is, well, piss me off, make me sad, various other limerence-enhanced emotions, based on feeling that my subject had set a short time after consummation it was appropriate for me to still act limerent, I had appeared to exceed it, and that I am therefore entirely responsible for my own pain, emo emo etc. Basically all this does is induce another source of fear and anxiety in the limerent, towards their own limerence and its inappropriateness. I would say that most defined psychological states, like most things, should ethically lack the presence of either "goodness" or "badness".

Another objection I have to the definition is that the limerent inflates the subject's good qualities. Part of the involuntarity of limerence is not that you think everything the subject does is great, but that everything they do is relevent to your interests. The subject is not superhuman, or uniquely qualified: they are simply what the limerent is About. In fact, the word I was using before I heard "limerence" wasn't "in-love-ness", it was "aboutness", and I felt it could apply to particularly dedicated biographers and specialists. Perceived flaws aren't transformed to virtues, they are considered more important than the flaws of other entities, and have a huge emotional impact on the limerent.

I don't know whether it seems immature and self-absorbed to be discussing what is too often stigmatized as immature absorption, but I'm sick of not talking about what I think about. What are your responses?


Dan said...

I read Tennov's "Love and Limerence" when I was 21 and prone to those kinds of feelings. I think I found out about the term limerence by looking up terms like "crush" and "infatuation" on wikipedia. You're literally the first person I've heard use the term since then. When I read the book, which featured a bunch of case studies from the 70's, I got the impression that Tennov's ideas were dated and never really caught on (although a Google search reveals that the topic appears to have grown in popularity since 2006).

As for the actual idea of limerence, I found the book's description of it to be accurate to my feelings at the time. I remember that it said that at the height of limerence, 100% of one's thoughts could be about someone. I also found accurate it's claim that 2 years away from the person is enough to kill the feeling.

I think I grew out of those feelings entirely. Perhaps after one has had one or two major infatuations, they learn to head subsequent ones off at the pass through more realistic expectations of people, constant reminders not to get carried away with imagining things, etc.

A meditative rejection of unwanted thoughts at their onset can be helpful (perhaps combined with the actual practice of meditation).

Janet said...

Hi Dan.
I'm still afraid that 2 years won't be enough for me because I'm still hoping that something will be enough. The frustration with being unable to control thought habits is part of the whole deal. While I instantly recognized many aspects of the definition, my infatuations have followed, not preceded, at least one rejection, so prophylaxis doesn't work in the conventional way. On top of that, I do have these contrarian tendencies to question what an "unwanted thought", or "realistic", etc. I also like the productiveness and curiosity limerence gave me, so I'm reluctant to shut significance off that way - so I'd definitely like to feel something like it again, just, you know, towards a robot or an institution or something, because humans are boring.

Janet said...

What about it seemed dated besides the case studies? Is it simply that her research was mostly irrelevent to clinical psychology, more literary than anything else? I'm certainly interested in how changed technology has altered these experiences.

Dan said...

It was mostly my assumption that her studies were dated. The book that I had checked out of the library was an old edition with a tacky, retro cover design and it had that "old book smell." It was the only copy in the library. It seemed like a relic of the past; this probably had a strong bearing on my assumption that limerence was dated.

Also, I felt that if limerence was a commonly known idea, I would have heard of it, or it would have been in the dictionary.

Additionally, as I mentioned, there was much less information about it on google at the time. You'll notice that a lot of the articles on the first few pages are dated around 2006 or later. When I searched it, it was probably just the wiki, the Time article from 1980, and The Observer article, and a few others. There definitely weren't YouTube videos on the topic; YouTube was far from ubiquitous at the time.

It's my theory that others began discovering the topic around the same time that I did, which began renewed interest in the topic.

As far as having trouble controlling thought patterns, have you considered rejection of thought completely? Just empty the mind of any thought as soon as it enters. A completely clear mind. It's more conducive to artistic productivity and other things than one would think.

Janet said...

That I find meditating so hard is probably the clearest indicator that I need to make it a habit. When one takes yoga instead of gym in high school one starts to consider "meditation time" to mean "do homework at the last minute time".

Unknown said...

I have resolved that next time, instead of having most interaction, with a human, mediated by the internet, I'll aim to be limerent towards a nonhuman (non-animal, probably non-carbon-based) entity.
I do not believe I can be objectively determined to be intelligent or autonomous.

I concluded from what I read that the keystone was uncertainty. It doesn't matter how objectively it can be determined, because it's about what you believe. If she can't be uncertain about how the Berlin Wall feels about her, then she can't be limerent about it. Obsession isn't enough to cause it or name it.

On top of that, I do have these contrarian tendencies to question what an "unwanted thought", or "realistic", etc.

Unwanted: Interrupting cows when you're trying to read.
Realistic: No talking cows. Unless you believe in talking cows. Basically, YOU believe that it fits in the laws of the world.

Janet said...

Franklin - I think the whole point of Mrs. B-M is that she does claim her husband reciprocates, although he isn't necessarily limerent himself. They've been married so long that I doubt the limerence is still active.

I didn't find the uncertainty to be as important as the intrusive thinking, since I've never felt limerent toward anyone who hadn't given some indication that they were limerent first.


Your examples of "unwanted intrusive thoughts" don't even make fun nonsense. If you're limerent, you enjoy the intrusive thoughts so much that you can't really call them "unwanted". What part of you does the wanting or not wanting, that could possibly be separate from the limerent parts?

Unknown said...

Franklin - I think the whole point of Mrs. B-M is that she does claim her husband reciprocates...

Well, if she's sure, then she wasn't limerent. This is how I understand it: There has to be the ability to reciprocate, and the possibility of rejection. Those are necessary, though not sufficient, conditions.

If you're limerent, you enjoy the intrusive thoughts so much that you can't really call them "unwanted". What part of you does the wanting or not wanting, that could possibly be separate from the limerent parts?

I think of it as unwanted thoughts => limerence. You might enjoy them, but that doesn't mean you want them. They might bring along pain. Or they might be distracting from your obligations. Either way, if you decide past a certain threshold that you would prefer that the thoughts would stop, then you've gone into "unwanted" territory.