Dizzy spell

Pub date October 10, 2006

› andrea@altsexcolumn.com
Dear Andrea:
You’ve written occasionally about infatuation, but is it really such a bad thing? I mean, is it meaningless? When it wears off, what happens next?
I know it when I feel it. It has driven even logical, structure-loving me to be romantic and well, loopy. But isn’t it based on genuine attraction? Is it something to be wary of?
The object of my desire lives far away, and infrequent visits keep the natural relationship progression at bay. It’s always exciting to see each other, and many of the normal daily annoyances and issues of relationships don’t arise.
Here’s the rub though: while I’m convinced I’m in love and confident in his feelings as well, I fear that making huge decisions and life changes (he’s thinking about selling his house, for instance) may be rash and based on infatuation.
Cloud Head
Dear Head:
I have written about infatuation, yes, but never without mentioning the word’s etymology, which never fails to charm me, if not as deeply and enduringly as I am charmed by the source of bugger, which is a corruption of Bulgarian, or herpes, which shares a root with herpetology, the study of reptiles, or “things that creep.” Infatuation, of course, means “to make foolish,” and shares a root with fatuous. Aren’t you glad you asked? What? You didn’t ask?
I don’t know what definition your psych 101 teacher gave. I’ll assume that you’re thinking of infatuation as the dizzy, dopey first flush of attraction which has no time for those aspects of love which take time, by which I don’t mean marriage and baby carriage as much as putting the other person’s needs and comfort first, or at least on a level with one’s own, and being made happy by the other’s happiness plus trust, commitment, and mutual support. These latter qualities get something of a bad rap — they’re the nice, dull things you earn in compensation for the sexy, shiny part wearing off — but of course they are no such thing. You can have trust, commitment, and an investment in each other’s happiness and still want to see each other nekkid.
Neither of these is to be confused with limerence, a word that did not exist until the ’70s, when a psychologist, Dorothy Tennov, saw fit to coin it. Unlike infatuation and herpes, limerence shares a root with exactly nothing. It’s rather a lovely sound, though, and seems fitting for that transcendent sensation, that sense that since you and your limerent object met or connected, the world has been utterly transformed. Surely others can see it! If they can’t see it, it’s only because they’re not as sensitive as you are. They could never understand the exquisite torture that is your special, special love.
Limerence is not love, it’s “being in love” (without infatuation’s connotations of foolishness and brevity): the intrusive thoughts to the point of obsession, the feeling of walking on air, the mad longing, the way that every touch, every word, every glance from the beloved is imbued with meaning, and the palpable pain (heartache) of separation or lack of reciprocity. Without limerence all popular music would be either “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” or “Kill You,” nothing in-between. The Rodgers and Hart song “This Can’t Be Love,” which is has been playing in my head since the XM radio in the kids’ room got stuck on the show tunes station, ought to have been called “This Can’t Be Limerence,” but it just doesn’t scan as well:
This can’t be love, because I feel so well,
No sobs, no sorrows, no sighs.
This can’t be love; I get no dizzy spells,
My head is not in the skies.
My heart does not stand still, just hear it beat.
This is too sweet to be love.
Limerence does not become love as much as it can leave you and the limerent object ideally positioned to find love together. You ask, is this really love or merely infatuation? I answer, it’s limerence, and better yet, requited limerence; enjoy it. You ask, “But is the attraction real?” and I say, of course it’s real. Limerence causes a certain type of temporary insanity but you still know what you feel. And finally, should the two of you throw all caution and real estate to the wind and throw in together, despite not really knowing each other that well? Um. This is pretty wishy-washy (limerence is never wishy-washy), but … sort of? How about you wait a year? How about traveling together a little first? Sharing a vacation house? Those situations are not real life but they do involve real stressors. I’d agree that this can’t be love but I won’t say it can’t get there. Let him see you without make-up. Find out what he’s like when you’re lost and hot and cranky on a road trip. Head in the clouds? Easy. How about shaving scum in the sink?
Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life she was a prop designer. And she just gave birth to twins, so she’s one bad mother of a sex adviser. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view her previous columns.