Limerence as a
Resistance to Intimacy
In thinking about limerence — the sensation of being obsessively infatuated with another person with a strong desire for reciprocation, and which I’ve written about more in depth here — I found myself pondering the relationship between the fear of intimacy and the fear of abandonment. Although it seems like these fears oppose one another, in limerence especially, both fears coexist.
Humans are hard-wired to care for each other and seek out ways to be cared for. This evocative video gives a visceral understanding of the ways in which, for our survival, we’re intrinsically built to avoid loneliness, rejection, and abandonment. In theory, we find ways to be liked and loved to ensure the continued acceptance into our familial and social circles. But, love is not exactly a binding contract, therefore alternate plans to feel loved need to be in place when there’s an emotional drought. Limerence gives the illusion that it’s a perfect plan B.
Here’s what that looks like: To avoid loneliness, I will keep myself company with fantasies of someone who regularly smiles at me on the subway during my morning commute, my ex, a person who I’ve been chatting with online, a really good friend who I’ve always wanted to be intimate with, or whomever comes to mind when I’m seeking comfort. I will have a rich fantasy life, which will give me great pleasure in particularly difficult or lonely moments. I’ll replay the moments with this person that prove I’m loved, cared for, and special. I’ll have this person — my limerent object — in my life forever, which means I’ll never feel alone.
Limerence is “acting out” the fear of current loneliness or an imagined eventual abandonment (e.g., rejection, separation, or death) that could lead to loneliness. It’s quite effective...until it isn’t. Limerence can also make one feel anguish, bereft, and even more lonely since the feelings of desire and longing often go unrequited. In fact, in defending oneself against real loneliness, a person under the influence of limerence is also defending against real intimacy. I almost want to repeat that sentence again, because I think the concept is almost non-existent in the limerence discussion.
When you’re in the midst of obsessive fantasizing about the budding or scorching romance between you and your object of desire, you’re missing out on real intimacy. Feeling limerent toward someone blocks you from knowing or loving that someone, or anyone else for that matter. If the end goal is to avoid feeling abandoned or alone, limerence will trick you into believing you’re on your way there. But in reality, limerence is a mirage preventing you from seeing what’s really there. Whether it’s the adored limerent object, a partner, or someone you have yet to meet, in the limerent dreamscape, you reside alone.
Maybe it’s not happenstance that this particular article was written during the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when so many of our interactions take place in two dimensions. Like a Zoom cocktail, even our most anguished limerent relationships lack the depth and mutuality that accompany the most meaningful and memorable interactions of our lives. Diverting for a time, we cannot genuinely partake in something that exists only in pixels and in our wishes.
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