In 1979 the psychologist Dorothy Tennov coins the term ‘limerence’ to describe ‘an involuntary state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one’s feelings reciprocated’. Ever felt that way? Personally, a million times, counting only the crushes between kindergarten and high school. Tennov goes on to describe limerence, whereby ‘attractive characteristics are exaggerated and unattractive characteristics are given little or no attention’.
Has Dorothy peaked into my mind while I was sitting for countless hours, day-dreaming about the boy in the other class, whose eyes were as shining and deep as the ones of a hero – or a poet, depending on my mood – and whose every single action or word was as cool as the ones of a movie star?
A long time has passed since then. And, as with maturity came a different understanding and approach to love, my mind started nevertheless to contemplate the idea behind limerence. I am a foreigner to the science behind the word but have had first-person experience of it countless times, therefore entitled to my own explanation of it; or, if you find this too unorthodox an inquiry method, I will indulge in my own reverie about it.
“Humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves…. and when one of them meets the other half, the actual half of himself (…), the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment...” (2).
This is how the philosopher Plato constructs one of his arguments about love in his wonderful ‘Symposium’. It’s a little story taken from the Greek mythology, one that Plato uses to explore the idea of romantic attraction and one that stayed with me for its powerful imagery and profound connection with the way we feel sometimes. What strikes me in this metaphor is the implicit implication that – as a result of Zeus splitting us into halves – we live in a condition of incompleteness. What Plato beautifully explains, with his simple example, is that sense of longing for merging that I have personally experienced so many times and that I believe belongs to the human condition as a whole.
No, not all people feel limerence. Not all of us have innumerous crushes on the boy or girl next door or even get particularly enamored with the idea of romantic love at all. But – I argue – all of us possess an impulse inside that pushes us to search and to look, to continually propel us forward, in the desire to feel a complete union with that, which will make us complete. It’s like managing to forget oneself in order to, finally and absolutely, be. It’s being able to drop the ‘self’ in order to be part of something much bigger, much more powerful and meaningful than our individual scattered thoughts and wishes.
And so I wonder: can I have limerence with the world? Can I experience that sense of merging not only with a loved one, but also with the entire universe, as it encompasses nature, family, my group of friends, the community I live in, the entire human race?
As I open up the focus of my attention, expanding it from the satisfaction of my own personal desires to the consideration of a larger reality, I loose my ‘self’ in this process and I feel the boundaries of my individuality dissolve. This, to me, requires a tiny but substantial shift in perspective. Rather than seeing myself as a separate entity, I see myself in context. The context is like concentric circles, with me in the middle, that include bigger and bigger portions of our world: my husband, my family, my friends, the environment we live in, my city, my country, my world.
I realize, not only do my actions impact on everything else, but also a profound shift happens when my actions originate from this expanded version of me. It’s no longer wanting to help others or putting oneself in another’s shoes: it’s considering others part of me. Like a cell being part of an organism, I feel that when you smile a part of me smiles, that your victories are my victories, that your suffering is my suffering. I have the clear understanding that the same essence flows in all and in me and that, in reality, we are all interconnected.
This is my armour, my strength, my consolation. The peace of a forest becomes the peace of my heart. The immensity of the sky the space inside of me, the size of my soul. My joy is a multiplied joy, like when your team scores and the entire stadium exults. My pain is a shared pain, what I feel today is being felt by thousands of others. Their understanding is my support. May my understanding be a source of action.
This is my reverie. When limerence expands its focus, it frees us, it gives us strength. It sets the basis for compassion and empathy, giving us purpose. It makes us fully comprehend the real dimension of a human soul.