Dizzy spell

Pub date April 7, 2010 Blog

Dear Andrea:

You’ve written occasionally about infatuation, but is it really such a bad thing? It has driven even logical, structure-loving me to be romantic and 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: 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.

Love, Cloud Head

Dear Head:

I have written about infatuation, but never without mentioning the word’s etymology, which never fails to charm me, if not as deeply and enduringly as “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 assume you’re thinking of infatuation as the dizzy, dopey first flush of attraction that has no time for those aspects of love that 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.

This is not to be confused with limerence, a word that did not exist until the 70s, when psychologist Dorothy Tennov saw fit to coin it. Limerence seems fitting for that transcendent sensation, that sense that since you and your “limerent” object met or connected, the world has been utterly transformed.

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.

Limerence does not become love as much as it can leave you and the limerant 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 isn’t 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. Finally, should you throw all caution to the winds and throw in together? Um. This is pretty wishy-washy but … sort of? How about you wait a year? How about traveling together first? Sharing a vacation house? Those situations are not real life but they do involve real stressors. 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?

Love, Andrea

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