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Writer's Block: Chemistry test

Has your idea of the perfect romantic partner changed with age? Do you think we can teach ourselves to desire partners who are better for us or are we constrained by the laws of attraction?

I'm fascinated by the idea of limerence, which wikipedia defines as an "involuntary cognitive and emotional state of intense romantic desire for another person".

Emphasis on involuntary. It's a compulsion.

When you can't stop thinking about someone, or when thoughts of that person literally alter your state of mind, you're in limerence. There have been studies that demonstrate how people in limerence and people on cocaine undergo the same brain activity. The same pleasure centers light up.

That person is your cocaine.

Limerence is, as one psychologist explained to me, a mash-up of physical and psychological influences. There's a theory that on a subconscious level we recognize something in another person that hooks into whatever need or neurosis we often don't realize we're carrying around. It's not love, although it sometimes leads to love, and when it does it creates a relationship that stays passionate for years. It can also create an unhealthy attachment impossible to break because the individuals are addicted to one another.

For some of us, attraction can be a warning. A red flag. Just because something attracts us doesn't mean it's good for us. If you grew up with a troubled relationship with one or both parents, and you seem to repeat the same bad relationship with a series of different partners, I'm probably talking about you. Sorry.

I don't think we can teach ourselves to "desire partners who are better for us" so much as recognize that love and desire are not the same thing. We can examine our history, our relationship patterns. We can heal the wounded places in ourselves if we're willing to invest the time and energy, and that act alone attracts higher-quality unions into our lives.

We can make the conscious decision to strike out for something different. We can recognize that the kind of person who has always been "our type" is the person we should reject, and that someone who might not seem to be "our type" is worth another chance.

It's not about resigning ourselves to a romantic relationship with someone we're not attracted to -- I think that's a living death, myself -- but recognizing that sometimes the most powerful attraction reveals itself over time, comes hand-in-hand with a deepening friendship. It might lack the sizzle and drama of limerence, but it also lacks the pain...and it just might go the distance.
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( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 14th, 2009 06:21 pm (UTC)
Interesting post, and a lovely new word to know...coined by a psychologist in the 60s says wikipedia - I wonder how she settled on "limerence}? (Wikipedia also says Portuguese already had a word for it - "paixonite," which reaffirms my conviction that Portuguese is the real language of love.) I'm curious about "involuntary," though - is there any other kind of desire? To say it's not love...well, does love really have any kind of stable parameters? It seems to me that we call a lot of very different things by that name, limerence among them. Maybe limerence is what we mean by being "in love"? (I love you, but I don't limer you?) Hmm.

P.S.: I saw this over at boing boing & thought of your, uh, project: http://www.boingboing.net/2009/11/13/i-am-unicorn-destroy.html
Nov. 14th, 2009 11:57 pm (UTC)
I've been in limerence and I've been in love, and they are not the same. The real problem is when you think limerence *is* love. It's like mistaking cotton candy for oatmeal. It's fluffy and fun but doesn't stick to your bones.

Not that "you are my oatmeal" is a romantic thing to say to anybody, but you know what I mean.

And there's nothing wrong with cotton candy once in a while. :)
Nov. 15th, 2009 03:23 am (UTC)
oh my pagan gods, the unicorn thing is hilarious.
Nov. 14th, 2009 08:58 pm (UTC)
Right on the money.

But one does mellow with age. For men, at least, I don't think it's the accumulation of wisdom as much as it is the eventual decreased level of testosterone and other hormones.

I've always known it when I was attracted to someone bad for me. I just couldn't help myself -- I was addicted. Now, the attraction is still there, and the recognition, but I'm no longer compelled to take the plunge anyway. I truly think it's a chemical change, not wisdom gained from experience.

Or maybe it's just the awareness that the next obsessive relationship would probably kill me.
Nov. 15th, 2009 03:25 am (UTC)
Definitely something to be said for getting older -- you learn to circle the fire, or admire it from a distance, instead of dancing right in. Theoretically, anyway.
Nov. 14th, 2009 09:49 pm (UTC)
"Limerance" is a beautiful word with a troubling meaning.
Nov. 15th, 2009 03:26 am (UTC)
Point. It *is* a lovely word, isn't it?
Nov. 14th, 2009 11:24 pm (UTC)
Seems like a fancy word for infatuation - we all believe we can't fight things like that, but I think it's only true if we want it to be. You always have a choice...sometimes the limerance makes it for you, but is that because you "can't" control it of because you've already set up limits within yourself beyond which the intoxication is worth whatever price?

By the way ... Unicorn, Destroyer of ponies is hilarious.

Nov. 14th, 2009 11:35 pm (UTC)
Re: Hmmmm
it's erotic obsession, or infatuation on steroids.

of course you can fight it, but that's the point -- you have to fight it. :)

Edited at 2009-11-14 11:54 pm (UTC)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

About Me

I'm the author of three published novels: the dark fantasies BLOODANGEL and LORD OF BONES (Roc/Penguin) and the YA supernatural thriller UNINVITED (MTV/Simon&Schuster). I also have stories in the MAMMOTH BOOK OF VAMPIRE ROMANCE 2 and ZOMBIES: ENCOUNTERS WITH THE HUNGRY DEAD. I'm working on a psychological thriller called THE DECADENTS. I am divorced, with sons, and live in Bel Air.

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