Every day it seems that I am introduced to a new term related to sex, gender, sexuality or gender expression – which serves as a reminder to me of the complexity of human sexuality. Today the word is “limerence“, probably the most poetic term encountered during my week. While “girlfag” might spring to mind a grunged-out beat poetry cafe, “limerence” smacks of English romantics sitting on benches under lime-tree bowers.
When it comes down to it, limerence is a classy name for the word “crush“. Apparently first described by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in the late 1970s (and not in the 18th Century as I had lovingly imagined), limerence describes that anxious/exciting period of time when you can’t stop thinking about someone – also known as having a heavy dose of love blindness or seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses. The “symptoms” include: fantasies and constant thoughts about your Limerent Object, self doubt and rejection fears, feelings of uncertainty versus ones of hope, all those embarrassing physical factors like literally not being able to talk, and a desire for partnership (i.e. not just sexual attraction).
This last aspect of limerence got me thinking about how this idea might relate to our understanding of sexual orientation. Turns out that the font of all knowledge (i.e. Wikipedia) gives a pretty interesting definition of sexual orientation as: “an enduring pattern of attraction – emotional, romantic, sexual, or some combination of these – to the opposite sex, the same sex, both, or neither, and the genders that accompany them” (note: this definition does not account for pansexuality). But what about those that claim polyamory as a sexual orientation? How could a poly disposition be differentiated from other orientations if we use the wiki definition? The answer might be limerence.
Lawrence Mass’ 1990 work, Dialogues of the Sexual Revolution, includes a conversation with controversial sexologist John Money regarding the relationship between limerence and sexuality. In this interview, Money claims that limerence (as described by the symptoms above- fantasies, desire to partner up, etc) has more to do with our orientations than pure sexual desire. This rings true for the consideration of polyamorous orientation – which is described as the ability to have strong feelings for more than one person and/or ethically maintain more than one partnership at a time. When faced with the concept of polyamory, many people respond with, “I could never do that” – perhaps non-poly people can have attraction to someone else while partnered, but cannot maintain limerence for more than one person? After all, one commonly noted “cure” is finding a new Limerent Object…so maybe the key to poly orientation is the ability for simultaneous-limerence.
Here’s a video exploring limerence and first crushes (lovely):