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Unrequited and Requited Love

Unrequited and Requited Love.

What a feeling! But can that first flash-dancing, knee-buckling sensation of falling in love endure? Feels like you are walking on air.

“Turns out, I am mentally ill. Aspects of my current brain chemistry resemble that of a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I haven’t started turning the light switches on and off or urgently avoiding sidewalk cracks. But I have been shopping for beauty products and underwear in a fever. I read cookbooks now. I spend an embarrassing amount of time looking at myself naked. My classic symptoms—involuntary preoccupation, mood swings, emotional sensitivity, enhanced sensual awareness—are what tip the diagnosis. I am limerent. In the throes of limerence. It is both a psychological and physiological state. It is also the state I wish to call home.”

Terms for limerence: romantic love, crazy love, lovesick, mad love, amour fort. You see a theme in the words crazy, sick, and mad. In this condition, one’s body drugs itself mightily with hormones that create a feeling of joy. The rapture is balanced with the panic and dread that it could end. And it will. Limerence has a shelf life. By some estimates, you’re lucky to get 18 months. Some it for a year. n I Some people even suffer stomach pains, headaches, and jitters when they think of becoming nonlimerent in six months. Like a junkie.

Dorothy Tennov, PhD, author of the groundbreaking 1979 book Love and Limerence and the woman who originated the term ‘limerence’, says it does not have withdrawal symptoms. She also says “18 months sounds short to me. If the limerence is requited, it can last up to three years. But you won’t wake up nonlimerent on your anniversary. It’s a gradual decline.”

Love has been found to range from ‘empty love’ when a couple is high in commitment, but lacks any intimacy and passion, to ‘infatuation’, when the passion is pumping but devoid of intimacy or commitment. These are just simplistic notions of love. Actually, love comes in multifaceted forms. The three sides of the triangle usually triangle work in tandem to form more complex experiences. When a couple is on the way to high intimacy and passion, they constantly feel romantic love for each other. This period feels like a honeymoon, because it is that phase of the relationship where you are in a state of intense euphoria and there is a release of reward-activation neurotransmitters, like dopamine in the body.

When you move into the attachment stage, after limerence, where you see an increase of vasopressin and oxytocin, the other hormones return to normal. Most couples in attached relationships have less sex than those in the infatuation stage. The phrase addicted to love applies to women and men who crave the excitement and sex of infatuation, floating from one intense affair to the next, leaving a pile of heartbroken, attachment-seeking partners in their wake. Some scholars say two, maybe three years is an ideal time for limerence to last. During this stage, that is called infatuation, you experience increases of norepinephrine and dopamine levels in the brain and of testosterone, too, since lust forms an important part of limerence.

I am wary of presenting a relationship time line by stages. You can flow from infatuation to attachment and back again. Also, some relationships start with attachment, a loving friendship, and then shift to infatuation and lust. Once you’ve transitioned out of infatuation, hormone levels dropping, you either attach or you do the opposite. I wouldn’t call it ‘detach’ but that’s what actually happens. When you’re heartbroken, hormones change again. You get another dopamine boost. That makes you have no interest in food at the beginning and end of a passionate relationship.

The Love Drug

The classic scenario, the only one I’ve known, is to fall madly in love at the start and eventually settle into a pleasant commitment or suffer a devastating breakup. A comfortable marriage is another course that limerence takes. Attachment is a relief, a safe haven. For most people, the ultimate reward. But I’d rather not contemplate attachment or detachment when the stage I’m in is the greatest joy, the height of euphoria, walking on air. In my twenties I was always looking ahead, insisting that relationships move forward to be satisfying. My goal then was to progress to marriage. Now, in my late thirties, I try to live in the present.

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