My senior year of college, I fell head over heels in love (or so I thought) for the first time. Aaron* and I had an on-and-off friends with benefits type situation that I kept hoping would evolve into more. It didn’t and I probably should have stopped hooking up with him because it really wasn’t benefitting me mentally. But I just couldn’t. Not being with him literally made me sick. I thought about him almost constantly, completely involuntarily. The obsessive thoughts continued even after I graduated and moved to New York, when having a FWB relationship wasn’t even possible. I would think about him while I was at work, while I was on the subway, before I went to bed at night, all the time. In total, my mind and heart’s obsession with him lasted for three goddamn years. Sounds kind of crazy, right?
Turns out, my crush may have actually been a sign of a rare psychological disorder called “limerence,” in which someone “is in a constant state of compulsory longing for another person.” In an essay for Marie Claire, Samara O’Shea writes about finding out that her profound and seemingly never ending grief following a breakup was the result of limerence. “It doesn’t matter if their affection is returned,” a doctor told her about people who suffer from the condition. “Nothing will satiate their need for emotional reciprocation.” Those afflicted with limerence basically never leave the honeymoon stage of their infatuation with someone, high on a “hormonal cocktail” of oxytocin, dopamine, and elevated levels of estrogen and testosterone. Never coming down from that high can cause heart palpitations, loss of sleep, and chest pains, not to mention the truly horrible feeling of loving someone who doesn’t love you back and not being able to get over them. Ugh. Apparently, only about 5 percent of the population suffers from limerence, but the doc O’Shea spoke with said that he’s had patients with limerence towards just one person for as long as 60 years. 60!
The only available treatments for limerence right now involve beta-blockers, cognitive behavioral therapy, and even a 12-step program in which patients learn to regulate their thoughts. O’Shea has made some progress, writing, “I look forward to falling in love — the real way — someday.”
As for me? Well, I’m not sure if what I was feeling was a result of limerence, though there are certainly aspects of it that sound very similar. I eventually felt my infatuation with Aaron fade when I fell in love for real. But I’ve never felt the same level or type of feelings — blissed out when it was good, soul-crushingly devastated when it wasn’t, and completely obsessive the whole time — for anyone since. And that, I can say, is a relief.
*Name has been changed.
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