What if they’re out of your league? - Living with Limerence (2023)

In the comments section of a previous post, B raised an interesting point about the situation where limerent and LO are mismatched in terms of physical attractiveness. That got me thinking: should your response to limerence be any different if your LO is “out of your league”?

It’s aninteresting question, because any attempt to answer it raises many morequestions. Some readers will react negatively to the very premise – peopleshouldn’t be ranked or sorted or scored! Everyone has intrinsic value and noone is “above” anyone else. Some people will be dismissive and shrug– plenty more fish in the sea. Some will be sympathetic and instinctively tell thesuffering limerent to not be so down on themselves, and reassure them that everyoneis worthy of love. Some will be more blunt: man up and stop being so lily-livered.

In short,it’s one of those questions that taps into a lot of deep insecurities andprovokes strong emotions.

So let’srun straight at it flailing wildly, full of heroic idiocy!

What if they’re out of your league? - Living with Limerence (1)

Whatleague are you playing in?

The first big question is what does “out of your league” mean? I’m going to play the odds here and assume the commonest scenario will be a man who thinks that his female LO is markedly more physically attractive than he is. The corollary of this is that he assumes she is not interested in him, because she is seeking a partner who matches her physical beauty.

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It’s notan unreasonable assumption, but it doesn’t take much scrutiny before doubtsstart to creep in. We all know of happy couples that have an obvious disparityin their classical beauty. Guys who seem to have so much charm that theytranscend asymmetric features or paunches to radiate charisma. My wife callsthese guys “ugly-handsome” – men like Jean Reno, Jack Nicholson, orKevin James. Similarly, we all know women who are immensely alluring despitefairly ordinary faces – compare photos of Norma Jeane Mortenson and MarilynMunroe. There are plenty of examples of people who have a lot of sexual andromantic magnetism in apparent defiance of their objective beauty.

Divingeven deeper into this concept, a few of the big dating app companies haveconducted studies about physical attractiveness using their enormous databasesof profile pictures. The results are quite eye-opening. OKCupid, for example,reported that when asked to rate the attractiveness of women, heterosexual manranked them on a “bell shaped” curve (a normal/Gaussiandistribution). That means 50% of women were ranked above average and 50% belowaverage, sensibly enough. In contrast, heterosexual women ranked 80% of men tobe below average attractiveness. Only 20% of men were considered OK-looking orbetter, illustrating that men and women are using quite different yardsticks.

The same result was clear on Tinder: 78% of women are competing for the top 20% of men, leaving 80% of men to chase the bottom 22% of women (there’s a good summary of this contentious evidence here).

It’s fair to say that online dating has had lots of unintended consequences when it comes to judging “league status”.

Now thecynics among us might start drawing attention to other factors that influenceappeal. Men who are very rich seem to defy their physical limitations. Womenwho are very flirtatious attract a lot of male attention. Ordinary American menseem surprisingly popular with beautiful Filipino women.

These cynics might also point out that when nearly 80% of women on dating apps are getting replies from the top 20% of men, those men are not looking for a genuine romantic connection. They want to have lots of sex with as many women as they can, and, as an unfortunate consequence, the 80% of women who have had “access” to the top 20% of men are reinforced in their belief that those are the guys they can feasibly make a match with. Getting serious with the other 80% of men would be “dating down”, when they know that they can get a date with a 20%-er.

This is all starting to feel a bit transactional, isn’t it? All grubby compromises and sexual market values. That’s the problem with looking at dating as a league – you rapidly fall into statistical analyses and bargaining power imbalances, and end up wondering whatever happened to love…

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Limerencelaughs at objectivity

I think that the foregoing arguments also reveal a faulty premise – what could be called beauty chauvinism. This is the idea that people with matched physical beauty belong together. Matches that deviate from this hierarchy are taken as evidence of gold-digging or sexual bargaining on someone’s part, or insecurity about their own looks, or some other hidden agenda. I’m not a Polyanna about this – of course this happens – but it presupposes that attraction to beauty is honest, whereas attraction to other factors is insincere.

We all know that, actually, attraction is a complex amalgam of a lot of factors: beauty, personality, status, sex-appeal and compatibility, all spiced up by the idiosyncratic quirks and peccadillos that have shaped our own individual romantic disposition. Indeed, limerence could be taken as the perfect case study in why beauty chauvinism is wrong.

In the thick of limerence, LO becomes the most attractive thing that could possibly exist. We want them beyond all reason, beyond all logic, beyond all sense. I’ve heard from countless limerents who are infatuated with someone who is objectively “lower in the league” than their spouse, but they are utterly besotted nonetheless.

Limerence can even redefine the very nature of beauty, and cause us to project an impossible ideal onto an ordinary person, convincing ourselves that they would never be interested in us.

The factors that cause the glimmer are rarely aligned neatly with simple physical beauty. They are born of that weird alchemy of our life histories, our genetics, our bonding experiences during childhood, the role models that were around in our youth, and the previous romantic experiences – good and bad – that we’ve had in our lives.

What if they’re out of your league? - Living with Limerence (2)
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Some women love bald men, others are repelled. Same with short hair and tattoos on women. And height, and buxomness, and eye colour, and all the other myriad ways in which we all subtly differ.

Limerenceteaches us that quirky details are often more important than good bonestructure when it comes to total infatuation.

We’requite bad at judging our own attractiveness

Another problem with league tables is that many of us are really quite bad at judging our own position. A bad experience in youth can have a very formative impact: a mean-spirited parent, a jealous friend, a harsh rejection by a crush, these slights can imprint a deep insecurity about our own appeal to others. Most of us are all too willing to believe that we’re ugly. We look in the mirror and see only the flaws. We lose confidence, and become hesitant, social awkward and, perversely, even less attractive.

Theopposite can happen too. Those given early compliments can internalise a beliefin their appeal, giving them more romantic confidence, and more resilience torejection.Our own self-image really does influence how other see us.

Finally,people mature and blossom at different rates. It’s not so great to hit yourprime in your twenties or early thirties if your self-image as an ugly personwas established in adolescence.It’s another gift of midlife to look backat photos from your twenties and think “Is that really what I lookedlike?”

What if they’re out of your league? - Living with Limerence (3)
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Theyshould love me for who I am

A common sentiment when faced with all this competitiveness and attraction calculus is to stop playing the game entirely. “I want genuine love,” declares the affronted limerent, “I don’t want someone who judges me by the size of my bosom or my wallet. If they don’t want me at my worst, they don’t deserve me at my best!”

It’s anadmirable sentiment, but there is an uncomfortable reality to confront:relationships require effort.

Simply declaring “they should love me for who I am,” while lounging on a sofa eating chips and chocolate, and watching Netflix for weeks on end, isn’t going to impress many potential partners. There’s a narcissism about expecting people to somehow discover the wonderful person within you, as if by magic.

Wanting to love and be loved with immense fervour isn’t enough to sustain a relationship of any depth. You have to get out and meet people and find common interests and get to know them, which also means you need to share yourself and your dreams and your vision of life.You have to contribute to each other’s lives, and help each other thrive.

And thatbrings us to the ultimate solution to all this trouble. The best thing you cando to attract others is to strive to be your best self. If you live your lifewith purpose, you will be happier, more confident, more secure in your ownworth, and you will attract people that like that kind of person. You’ll alsobe more likely to care about your health and fitness, and look after your bodyand mind.

That’s the secret. If you focus your energy on becoming a more admirable person, you will both feel more attractive and be more attractive. If you approach relationships from the perspective of wanting to connect with someone who complements your own goals and dreams, you worry far less about league tables and status and far more about compatibility and emotional connection. Ironically, that also makes you more attractive to others, raising your “market value” in general, but most powerfully, your value within the market of people you want to attract.

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If you can connect with someone that is attracted to the best aspects of yourself, then you also have the benefit of being with someone who wants you to continue to strive for your ideal. It’s the best kind of chemistry: mutual reinforcement of your best traits.

So, totie this back to the original question: the answer is to ignore the league tablesand concentrate on being the best version of yourself that you can. We can’thave whoever we want. Statistically, most of the time we’ll get rejected. Butwe stand the best chance of meeting our match if we can develop ourselves intothe sort of person that we would want to be with.


How long does limerence last if you live together? ›

Limerence brings people together; it was not designed to keep them together. On average, limerence lasts somewhere between three months and 36 months. If you were with your lover more often, likely your limerence would be ebbing already. Because you see him rarely, it takes a little longer to run its course.

What kind of people are prone to limerence? ›

Anyone can experience limerence. However, those who have encountered trauma or certain developmental issues, specifically in childhood, may especially be prone to this state of infatuation. On the other hand, those who are simply exhausted or drained from a lack of sleep or stimulation may also experience limerence.

How do you starve limerence? ›

Starve the source of limerent reinforcement. View the LO as a danger to your wellbeing, and cut all ties. Avoid their company wherever possible. Absolutely no social media contact.

Can marriage survive limerence? ›

Limerence Will End~Eventually

No one could live with this level of emotional intensity for a lifetime. Just like infatuation, the early stage of romantic love. It is great for a time, then reality sets in. The bad news is that limerence may last several years, which in many cases is too late to save your marriage.

How do I stop being a limerent? ›

Tennov tells us that the best cure for limerence is no contact (NC). Most people suffering from limerence may need to change their lifestyle in order to reduce the possibility of encountering their LO. That means you might have to move, change jobs, find a new social circle…you get the picture.

What mental illness causes limerence? ›

Intrusive thinking and fantasy

Such "intrusive thoughts about the LO ... appear to be genetically driven": indeed, limerence is first and foremost a condition of cognitive obsession. This may be caused by low serotonin levels in the brain, comparable to those of people with obsessive–compulsive disorder.

Can you fall back into limerence? ›

Some limerents even report a sudden relapsing back into a deep, continuous, and intrusive obsession years after breaking contact with an LO. As though the intervening time had never passed. In my experience, such relapses are often triggered by stress.

What makes limerence end? ›

Limerence usually exists between two people. If only one person feels it and the other person does not, limerence eventually extinguishes itself because of the lack of response from the other.

Is limerence toxic? ›

The phenomenon of limerence was coined by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in 1979. It is characterized as “an involuntary state of deep obsession and infatuation with another person.” While it might sound like a typical crush, basing a relationship off of limerence or limerent feelings can lead to toxic relationships.

Is limerence a mental illness? ›

Today, many scientists and mental health professionals believe that limerence is not only a psychological state but also a neurological one, caused by low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.

Can you be friends with your limerent object? ›

No. It is not possible to be an authentic friend to an LO. It is more feasible to be a friend to a former LO, especially if the limerence was discharged through a sexual relationship and so no hint of frustrated romance remains.

Does no contact help with limerence? ›

Unfortunately, the best strategy for reversing limerence – going No Contact – requires the limerent to embrace even more loneliness. That's quite a hurdle. Even worse, the full implications of no contact take a while to set in, and tend to come at a time when limerents are most likely to be vulnerable to relapsing.

Is there medication for limerence? ›

Patients who suffer from limerence describe their thoughts and feelings as obsessive and compulsive; it shouldn't come as much of a surprise, then, that one of the only medications to treat those suffering from limerence, Lexapro, is the same one used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Can limerence be controlled? ›

Many serial limerents come to a point in life where they wish to be able to control, or at least moderate, their core sensitivity to limerence. While not a cure as such, the best strategy I know for managing limerence – and a great deal else – is to live a purposeful life.

Does limerence end badly? ›

Probably the commonest experience for the resolution of limerence is a slow decline towards a more emotionally stable baseline. No grandiose change in emotion, just a gradual cooling until one day you suddenly realise “I don't feel infatuated any more”. Which is an end of sorts.

Can limerence turn true love? ›

We commonly hear about it from the media and pop culture. However, sometimes limerence can turn into a long-term relationship when both partners have limerent feelings for each other. But most of time limerence is felt only by one side and the person experiencing it is the most affected.

Is limerence a trauma response? ›

Limerence is also a symptom of relational trauma from early life attachment wounds. Jumping ship to a new relationship is not the answer for limerence. Better we invest our energy in how we relate to our partner and how they relate to us.

Does limerence end suddenly? ›

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." Helen Fisher, PhD, the author of Anatomy of Love, gives it two years.

Is limerence selfish? ›

This argument is built on the premise that limerence is largely selfish (in the literal sense of being focussed on your own feelings and needs), is frequently jealous, can involve subterfuge or misrepresentation in attempts to impress LO, and involves involuntary and exaggerated disruption of emotional stability.

Why is limerence so painful? ›

Limerence can be a painful process to untangle yourself from because it's likely wrapped up in your sense of self, self-worth, and self-esteem as well. If you're dealing with limerence, it may be necessary to figure out how you can ground yourself back into reality to feel more emotionally stable and grounded.

Is limerence a love addict? ›

Limerence is a description for the altered mental state that people can succumb to when experiencing profound infatuation for another person. Limerence is better described as person addiction than love addiction, as it is the company and reciprocation of the other person that is craved above all else.

Can limerence be positive? ›

Limerence can be a positive force in life, if you cultivate the life skills to honestly judge your own drives and capabilities. Limerence, when tempered by an awareness of your own vulnerability, can be a blessing.

Can two people be in limerence with each other? ›

If two individuals are limerent towards each other, the limerence can last for a long time. However, in most cases, limerent feelings fade within a few months to a few years, rarely lasting more than two or three years.

Can a crush turn into limerence? ›

However, despite pop culture's romanticization of infatuation (think: Love Actually grand gestures), crushes aren't always 100% harmless — sometimes, they can turn into a potentially harmful experience known as limerence.

Do limerent affairs last? ›

The reality is limerence never lasts – typically it spans from 6-36 months. Just long enough for us to pair-bond and continue the survival of the species.

How can you tell if someone is a limerent? ›

Symptoms of Limerence
  1. Intrusive and obsessive thinking about the LO. Spending more time thinking about LO than anyone or anything else. ...
  2. Replay and rehearsal. High sensitivity to LO's behavioural cues. ...
  3. Anxiety and self-consciousness. ...
  4. Emotional dependence. ...
  5. Impaired functioning.

Can limerence cause depression? ›

The highs and lows of limerence can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, rumination, and a disrupted sense of self.

What percentage of people experience limerence? ›

This actually occurs in five percent of the population, who suffer from a condition known as Limerence. Patients recount feelings of intense grief following a break-up, characterized by chest pains, heart palpitations, insomnia, lethargy, and an inability to consume food.

Is limerence a symptom of OCD? ›

Both OCD and limerence involve underlying anxiety. However, while people with OCD aim to remove the anxiety by performing repetitive behaviors, people with limerence aim to have their “love object” reciprocate their emotions. Some people develop what's known as obsessive love disorder.

Is limerence always unrequited? ›

Oftentimes, limerence is unrequited. It may be that LO is not interested, it may be that one or other of you are unavailable. Regardless of the cause, with one sided limerence that isn't resolved, a likely emotional assault that the limerent will face is seeing LO with a partner.

Can a narcissist experience limerence? ›

Experiencing limerence with a narcissist feels like being sucked into a ferocious hurricane. In general, the limerent feelings towards a LO are mostly in the subconscious, even though their manifestations are visible, such as sweaty hands, racing pulse and the famous stomach “butterflies”.

Can limerence last for decades? ›

Tennov reported that limerent episodes may occur just once in a person's life or sequentially for a series of different limerent objects. Each episode may last for a few weeks or for decades, with the average episode lasting between 18 months and 3 years (1).

What chemicals are released during limerence? ›

Powerful neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) including Noradrenaline, Phenylethylamine (PEA), and Dopamine surge when we're in a state of limerence.

How do I deal with my spouse in limerence? ›

With knowledge about limerence and its root causes and typical patterns of development, purposeful steps can be taken to respond to the emotional crisis.
  1. 1) Self care. ...
  2. 2) Assert your needs clearly. ...
  3. 3) You are right. ...
  4. 4) Do not try to compete with LO. ...
  5. 5) Educate your SO.
1 May 2017

How long does limerence take to fade? ›

Nearly all limerent relationships end within 36 months; some much quicker. I've witnessed them last only a few weeks. The range tends to be between 3 months and 36 months.

Does no contact work with limerence? ›

Unfortunately, the best strategy for reversing limerence – going No Contact – requires the limerent to embrace even more loneliness. That's quite a hurdle. Even worse, the full implications of no contact take a while to set in, and tend to come at a time when limerents are most likely to be vulnerable to relapsing.

What comes after limerence? ›

Stage 2: Crystallization

However, with limerence, the next stage is known as the crystallization phase.

What happens when limerence is over? ›

Once limerence ends, someone generally gets hurt. Sometimes one partner is no longer interested in being together, tearing the other person apart emotionally. When you've given up everything in your life to be with someone, and they leave you, you may feel broken.


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