Limerence vs. Love: When a Crush Turns Into Intense Obsession

What differentiates limerence from a crush or love is the intensity, an emotional roller coaster that fluctuates from euphoria to despair. Giulia Poerio, a psychologist and mind-wandering researcher at the University of Sussex in England, said, “Any sign of rejection can make somebody hit a low, and any sign of interest can make somebody hit a high.” It’s an endless mind game of, “She loves me, she loves me not.”

Limerents, deeply fearful of rejection, allow their self-esteem to rest in the hands of an LO who may not even know they exist. The LO is most often a friend, colleague, or stranger met in passing. It can also be someone with whom you’ve had a brief romantic encounter that feels unresolved, explains Dr. Poerio, especially if the LO continues to leave breadcrumbs.

Sue Crump, a 67-year-old volunteer at a mental health charity shop in Sheffield, England, said for 18 months, she obsessively watched YouTube videos featuring her LO, a much younger, married singer she’d briefly met a handful of times. “I fantasized about a relationship with him and read things into texts and online messages he sent in reply to my own.” She turned to a limerence support group on Facebook soon after the isolation of the pandemic lockdown made her longing worse. “It made me realize I was not alone, and I was not going mad,” said Ms. Crump.

Limerence is nourished by replaying memories and rehearsing future interactions. “There’s a fair amount of mental time travel,” said Dr. Poerio, who asked survey respondents to write descriptions of these fantasies. “It’s often not romantic or sexual in nature. It is very much about wanting to feel loved and cared for.”

Chris Gregory, 53, a certified yoga instructor in Denver, recalls first experiencing limerence in high school. “I would develop insanely obsessive crushes on women and then not pursue them. Then I would be crushed by them not responding the way the scene had played out in my own head and heart. I felt unworthy,” he said. Gregory continued to experience limerence throughout his adult life, he said, but mistook it for love.

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