We met when we were 15 years old on the other side of the world. We were instantly attracted to each other and even made out on the first night. Saw each other over the years randomly on vacations, weddings etc. Tried to stay in touch and hang on to something we weren’t even sure was real.
We’ve always had oceans between us and no way to cross it permanently. We lost touch seven years ago. Met each other again two months ago, and there it was again – instant, strong, unstoppable attraction. Now we’re adults, talking about being able to potentially cross the ocean one day if we find something real.
I can’t stop thinking about her. It’s become an obsession. I get emotional when I look at her pictures sometimes. I have started taking selfies, to send to her. She sends them to me too, and reciprocates for the most part short of the unhealthy area. I constantly fantasize about how I can move there. We have never even spent more than a couple of days together and it’s scary to feel like this. I’ve become crazy about her.
I’m a dreamer so I get carried away easily, but never like this. It’s at a point where I think that I may fuck it all up. I’m going to see her next week and short of yoga, meditation and other self-care practices to center myself, do you have any advice for me? Do you have any advice for us for how we can know if there’s something real there beyond the intense stuff that may be mired in vacation fantasies?
Wanderlust or Wanderlove?
Limerence. Lim·er·ence. /ˈlimərəns/: an involuntary interpersonal state that involves an acute longing for emotional reciprocation, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and emotional dependence on another person.
Limerence is one of those magic little states of being that pops up somewhere between a crush and an actual relationship, and is typically responsible for that short firework-burst of time that somehow allows you to stay up all night talking or having sex without sleep or sustenance or has you missing those deadlines without a care for consequence.
Limerence is said to be fueled by our brain releasing neurochemicals such as dopamine, phenylethylamine (a natural amphetamine), estrogen and testosterone — the chemical cocktail that produces the euphoria of new attraction.
Limerence is sometimes tempered by affections being reciprocated and leading to a relationship or, it fizzles out and you go your separate ways with the hangover of “Whoa, what was I thinking??” Throw a couple oceans between you, and it’s quite possible this stage hasn’t faded in the 8 years you describe.
Limerence can lead to love but limerence isn’t necessarily love, Wanderlust. Limerence idealizes and projects onto your romantic interest while love deeply appreciates, connects to, and honors your relational mate. While limerence might look like it’s all about her, it’s mostly all about you: getting you the love drug you so desire and by any means necessary.
So, how do you find out what’s real? The strategies you’ve already come up with are great: practice mindfulness and live in the present rather than your fantasized future. Develop a couple of mantras that might help remind you to live in what’s true and possible now rather than where your obsessive thoughts take you. Write them down and carry them with you.
Perhaps 8 years in is time to talk about what a relationship between the two of you might actually look like. Like really, though. Practically speaking. Oftentimes limerence forgets about real-life deal-breakers like core differences around politics, religion, kids, marriage, monogamy, sex, and family. What would each of your expectations be of a relationship if you were to have one?
If it’s something you’re both into doing, have sex! Real, physical connection can often burst bubbles or confirm what your fantasies have been feeding you. Sexual in/compatibility can give you a whole lot of information your thoughts cannot.
Finally, heed the saying of my ex-girlfriend’s mom: “When in doubt, lean out”. Though the pursuit of happiness is always a worthy goal, the obsessive pursuit of a person that’s come to represent your entire happiness is not.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.