I was sitting on my porch reading a Stephen King book when I had a scary thought. Ironically, the fear didn’t come from reading about an evil clown or an animal brought back to life in a Pet Cemetery. I was reading the author’s bestselling book, On Writing. This particular book is listed as one of the most notable on the craft of writing, and it’s become a staple in my life. My eldest son often teases me because I am always reading it. I leaf through it over and over, finding so much insight between its covers.
Mr. King is straightforward about the importance of writing honestly and blunt in his opinions of authors who fail to do so. He urges wanna-bees to write truthfully. Imagination is vital, but there has to be an element of truth. Even with writing about the supernatural, it’s not about whether or not something could happen, it’s about revealing secrets we would die for: the truth we know in our hearts. But then he cautions with this: “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.”
Sitting there on my shady porch, reading his instruction, lamenting over the truths I have come to know, and sealing it with his warning was enough to bring tears to my eyes. The combination of what I knew to be true, what I knew I could share, and what that meant for my place in polite society gave me a chill.
Limerence: The Monster Within
This article is Part 2 of a trilogy of blog posts attempting to explain a psychological disorder which affects more than 5% of the population. (Part 1, Honest Beginnings is HERE) The term Limerence is used to define a distinct and involuntary psychological state that affects a multitude of people. Dr. Dorothy Tennov, an American Psychologist who interviewed thousands of people in her studies which supported her hypothesis about the obsessive drive for romance worked until the end of her life to help others have an understanding of the psychological anomaly.
Because I didn’t understand the disorder brewing in me, I assumed I was a lost cause. I was experiencing a nightmare, and there seemed to be no way out. In truth, there was a monster growing inside. That monster could have destroyed my life. Even after the affair was disclosed, the monster lived and breathed and was reliant on me keeping its ways a secret. That’s what makes a monster scary—not what you see, but what you can’t see.
Limerence isn’t exactly the same for every person, but it has certain qualities that are common for the majority. Some of its universalities include:
- Obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors towards another person
- Longing for emotional reciprocation from the other person
- Overwhelming fear of rejection from the other person
OBSESSION: During the time I lived the double life of an affair, I would go for days without sleeping for more than two or three hours at a time. There was an obsession about the other person hanging over my head like a canopy. I could have twenty tasks I needed to accomplish in my day, but they all had to be accomplished under the over-arching first task of maintaining and meeting the desires and the needs of the other person. Every other task fell under that umbrella.
I was consumed with this other person, and my mind was constantly spinning as I tried to understand what was happening to me. I have never been addicted to alcohol or drugs, but many of the physical attributes and characteristics of substance addiction are similar to what I was experiencing.
And scientifically speaking, I later learned that is exactly what was happening. As more and more research is being done on this disorder there is a clinical understanding to the biochemical responses happening in the brain of a person with Limerence. Imagine being in a relationship with someone where just being in their presence stimulates your brain causing your pituitary gland to release a mixture of dopamine, norepinephine, and phenylethlamine. The chemicals produced have been referred to as a cocktail of euphoria. The other person is like your drug dealer—or worse, your drug.
These euphoric feelings are misinterpreted and mistakenly attached to romantic words and ideals. Women (and men) get trapped in this addictive state because they believe they are in love, when what they are actually experiencing is a chemical addiction to the pleasurable cocktail their own brain is producing.
This obsession monster takes the form of an underwater sea creature with seventeen tentacles. Swimming to shore to catch your breath is impossible because if you look away for one moment you’ll lose sight of one of the creature’s limbs and be pulled under completely.
LONGING: If you are involved in an affair and you say this to your affair partner, “All I want is what’s best for you.” You, my friend, are a liar. You cannot truthfully declare wanting what is best for the other person while simultaneously encouraging them to deceive the people they love the most. The undercurrent of every affair in its strongest moment is dishonesty.
With a Limerence affair the lanes on the road adjust to make room for the truck with the widest load. In this instance the cargo is not about how I feel about you, but rather it’s: how you feel about me makes me feel about me.
We all have a longing to be desired, needed, and wanted. That God created longing is deep inside all of us for a reason. Peter Rollins suggests in his book, Insurrection, that our greatest desire is to be desired by the one we desire. If the one we truly desire is God, we are on sturdy pavement because His desire for us is strong and unchanging. If however, the one we desire is someone else (or something else) we are traveling down a dirt road of chronic longing. The potholes not only will leave us dissatisfied, but quite often in our attempt to maneuver around those unpleasant obstacles we can get completely off course.
With a person who has Limerence there is a willingness to overlook areas where there is a lack of compatibility. In a healthy situation a person is drawn to someone with whom they have much in common. With Limerence, the lack of compatibility is irrelevant. Unappealing attributes in the other person cease to matter because the longing of being desired is what is being fed.
This longing takes the form of a giant blob. In 1958, the horror film The Blob depicted a monster (which looked a lot like a gargantuan mound of jell-o) that would roll over people and swallow them into his sticky clumpy form. With a longing blob-monster there is a loss of identity and autonomy. Really caring for and loving the other person is not your focus, because you are constantly consumed with whether or not they love you. In many ways this longing blob-monster is the opposite of love.
REJECTION: Lingering at every goodbye, and winning the award as The Biggest Fear, the interesting and confusing thing about rejection is the way the person with Limerence responds to the act. Like a person with a split personality, the person with Limerence behaves as someone who is trying to make rejection happen. Pushing their partner to the point of rejection reinforces the strength of the Limerence disorder. “If I push him away from me, and he no longer wants me—my need for him increases.” The possibility of rejection makes his approval more desirable. Being rejected is the key to keeping a person with Limerence interested. The thing they fear the most also feeds the disorder.
This is probably the most confusing monster. The fear of being rejected escalates the longing to be desired which increases the obsession to do whatever is necessary to keep rejection from happening. Obsession and longing become slaves to the reward of being desired–but ONLY to be desired by the one who is capable of rejecting. A healthy relationship says, “If you don’t want me, I’m outta here.” With Limerence the threat of not being wanted feeds the other characteristics.
This rejection-craving monster takes the scariest form of all. Just when you think you can see it and no longer fear it—it changes. Every lie the rejection-craving monster tells you is only meant to confuse you. This monster masterfully convinces you that rejection will not only mean a loss of relationship, but a loss of self. This rejection-craving monster tells you that in the end—you, too, will disappear. The rejection-craving monster tells you that you will be forgotten.
For years the Limerence monster told me that he was the one in control. That’s a lie. God not only knows secrets about Limerence, but He also knows the way this can be harnessed for use in His Kingdom. I have always known these parts existed inside me, but rather than owning them I tried to conform to the image of who I thought I was supposed to be. When I see myself now, I feel like I look different. God has a plan for people with Limerence that not only takes all of the monsters into account, but mysteriously turns them into something unexpected.