Can Chemistry Make You Sick?

In a recent article on TheFrisky.com, “limerence” is described as a constant state of compulsory longing for another person.

In an essay for Marie Claire, Samara O’Shea writes about finding out that her profound and seemingly never-ending grief following a breakup was the result of limerence. “It doesn’t matter if their affection is returned,” a doctor told her about people who suffer from the condition. “Nothing will satiate their need for emotional reciprocation.” Those afflicted with limerence basically never leave the honeymoon stage of their infatuation with someone, high on a “hormonal cocktail” of oxytocin, dopamine, and elevated levels of estrogen and testosterone. Never coming down from that high can cause heart palpitations, loss of sleep, and chest pains, not to mention the truly horrible feeling of loving someone who doesn’t love you back and not being able to get over them.

The only available treatments for limerence right now involve beta-blockers, cognitive behavioral therapy, and even a 12-step program in which patients learn to regulate their thoughts. O’Shea has made some progress, writing, “I look forward to falling in love—the real way—someday.”

Read the article here. Have you experienced limerence? How is limerence different from love? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    claudia

    incredible!  i knew all about limerence for a long time b/c i suffered from it.  could never get out of the first 3 months of the relationship – even after it went bad, he went bad and i continued to get sick.  while i kissed his ass, he kicked mine.  it was an awful time.  i’m so glad others are writing about this.  there are books out there on the topic….took 2 years to get over a 9 month relationship.  awful. 

  2. 2
    starthrower68

    I think I was close to this once, but I haven’t experienced it since and I hope I never do.  What is troubling about this is it does not appear that we can predict if or with whom it may happen.  

  3. 3
    Lindsey

    This did happen to me once.  It was awful.  I was longing for something that was not reciprocated.  I was depressed all the time, but I also had physical effects.  I lost my appetite and couldn’t stand to eat.  Then when I did eat, I would have really bad diarrhea.  I lost 26 pounds on this “stress diet.”  I had a 5 week relationship and it took 10 months to get over him.  I started reading on why I was feeling this way and found out about dopamine and serotonin.  I then wrote articles about it.  My writing was a safe place for me to release some of my stress.  He finally did call me and we went out once.  Then he pulled the same crap.  I knew what I had to do.  I turned off the hope that we would ever be anything and I got better.  But my savior was my writing.  Dopamine with no release has horrible effects. 

  4. 4
    Sarah

    I’ve never heard of this condition before but think i may have been suffering this for years. I am actually going through this right now in regards to someone who i dated for a relatively short time before he ended the relationship. This was well over a year ago and i have been unable to move on since. I simply could not imagine him not being in my life. I can’t describe it, except i felt so happy when i was with him and so terrible when i wasn’t. To the point where it felt like an addiction. Following the break up i tried to be friends with him. He knew the depth of my feelings for him and unfortunately took advantage of me to the point of where it became torturous. I allowed this to happen, i think, because i was constantly trying to re-capture that ‘honeymoon’ feeling i had when i dated him. I am no longer in contact with him after he became increasingly cruel and abusive to me. I finally quit and stopped all contact. To describe the grief as ‘profound’ and ‘never ending’ is very accurate. I can’t stop having obsessive thoughts about him and the time we were together. 24/7. And i have tried so hard to forget. It has definitely affected my mental and physical health. Depression, insomnia, heart palpatations – so bad that beta blockers didn’t work and i had to have heart surgery. It has literally felt like a sickness. It’s also affected my ability to do my job, to have a normal social life. And of course to try and meet other men. Very debilitating. I would really like to know more about getting help for this. I’m so glad you posted this Evan, as i have felt a lot of shame in telling anyone, even a therapist, about this problem. But feel better that i’m not the only one and that there may even be a physiological reason for it. Maybe i’m not as mad as i thought i was!

  5. 5
    helene

    Isn’t this how everyone feels when they want somone who doesn’t want them or won’t commit to them?!! Don’t we all obsess about men who’ve broken our hearts??! Can’t quite see what’s so groundbreaking about this…

  6. 6
    Sarah

    Helene
    From my observations, this is as you point out something that everyone feels probably, at least once in their life. But i wonder if the difference here is the length of time it continues and the extremeness (not sure that’s a word?!) of the psychological and physical effects.
    The fact that this has happened to me on several occasions also makes me question whether there is something more going on here.
    I wonder if some people, perhaps related to their levels of hormones and brain chemicals, are more susceptible to this? Perhaps like some people are more susceptible to certain addictions?
    It seems to me that it’s not normal to keep experiencing this on such a profound and devastating level, even after short term relationships. 

  7. 7
    starthrower68

    @ Lindsey & Sarah,

    There is a very wise saying: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”, which I think describes this phenomena to a tee.  I think part of what is so unsettling about this is it could happen to anyone who is a normal, rationed, balanced person in all other areas of life.  Have either of you tried counseling or some sort of talk therapy?  I read a book a few years ago by Dr. Susan Forward called Obsessive Love which you might also check out. There may be some useful information for you in there.  I’m sorry that you are struggling with this.   

  8. 8
    Ruby

    I also don’t see what is so groundbreaking about this either. I don’t think the problem here is “chemistry” making you sick, it’s unrequited love. And i do think it can happen even with a short-term relationship, particularly one that starts out great, but goes nowhere. 

  9. 9
    TW

    You raise an interesting question Evan: Is this chemical compulsion love?  If both parties felt the same way and no break-up happened, is this still healthy love?

  10. 10
    George

    Haha.

    I have to say that this is a great article and is something I am very experienced in.

    Not too recently I had a client with exactly the same problem. ;-)

    Good thing we have males like Evan to show us what to do! Keep up the great work as a role model, Evan! 

  11. 11
    Jenna

    I have experienced this on more than one occasion, when I was younger I used to experience this feeling with the dissolution of a very close friendship, and as I got older it would be with love or love interests.  I have felt this the worst during 2 different relationships, my first love and now my most recent breakup.  My recent breakup was a 5 year long distance relationship that was very emotionally intense.  This was a man that told me he could not live without me, that I was the only one, the only person that could turn him on.  Our last physical relationship was 3 wks ago, he stayed for the weekend and then we were going on vacation 2 wks after that.  A few days after our last meeting he cancelled our vacation, said that things had changed at work and he couldn’t go.  A few days after that he broke things off, said he truly loved me and had deep feelings but things were just not working out–he was tired of the distance and couldn’t see himself moving to my area, therefore there was no point in prolonging our relationship.  The breakup blindsided me and I have been devastated!  We were planning a future together and now I am broken.  I was in a 12 year marriage prior to this relationship and I have 2 kids with him, but I never felt this way about that breakup as I do about this one.  The first week was the worst, I could hardly eat or sleep, I was sent home from work twice for having a breakdown and I lost 10lbs.  I am eating and sleeping a little better but the depression has not gone away and I still cry daily, even multiple times a day.  I wonder if I did or said something wrong, if I wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough.  I think about him constantly and wonder if he is thinking of me.  I dread thinking about if he is with other women, and if he is if he is thinking of me while he is with them.  We tried to be friends, we both told each other that we missed the others friendship, but the other day I was feeling down and he was very indifferent toward my feelings, even downright rude.  I haven’t spoken to him since and he has not tried to contact me, but I sit on the messenger and wait to see if he will appear, I constantly check my phone to see if he has called…this pain is killing me, feels like I am going to die.  The worst part is I am currently off of work for 10 days because we were suppose to be on vacation together.  I plan on getting on some antidepressants soon.  I wish there was a support group for this kind of thing.  

  12. 12
    Sarah

    I’ve been there.  I experienced limerence with a boyfriend I had known for only a few months (and been romantically involved with for an even shorter time).  It took me about six years to fully get over a relationship that lasted only one summer!  The tough part was that he told me over and over how crazy he was about me… and I believed it.  And I still believed that he had loved me even when he started treating me like crap.  And when I broke up with him, he still made noises about wanting some sort of involvement and in the end he wouldn’t revive the relationship but also wouldn’t let it die.  And so I was strung along, yearning for a return to the time and situation when he said he was crazy about me and acted like it.  I held out hope for reconciliation for far too long, even though the signs that he was insincere and unreliable (and had been the whole time) were painfully obvious.

    While I got over him, I dated a truly good man for over two years.  The good guy grew on me slowly, as the level of comfort and respect started high and got even higher through our years of dating.  Eventually I realized I loved him.  Not in a crazy, honeymoon-phase puppy-love sort of way, but in a stable, comfortable, this-is-someone-I-could-grow-old-with sort of way.

    That’s the difference between love and limerence.

    Unfortunately, I was still too messed up by Bad Guy to fully appreciate and make it work with Good Guy, and he left to find someone who appreciated him as much as he deserved.  I don’t blame him one bit.

    At least I learned what to look for and what to walk away from.

  13. 13
    Judy

    Oh brother, now there is a medical term for being obsessive about an ex. I guess the defense now for a stalker is I have limerence. Seriously, good to know the term for what many of us have experienced. Keep keeping us informed.

  14. 14
    Katarina Phang

    Jenna check my forum.  It basically is a support group for a broken-hearted people.

    Talking about limerence, I think I’m having it right now with my estranged husband only because I feel sick in the stomach that he has a new girlfriend.  I’m so used to being away and not talking to him but knowing your ex has “moved on” (I don’t believe he has totally moved on) is kinda hard to your ego.

  15. 15
    Lisa

    Sarah – I completely identified with your situation and I hope it was cathartic to share your story. I only recently found out about limerence and I felt that I had a lightbulb moment as I thought I was going crazy after feeling this way for someone for 10 years who I only dated for 7 months although we continued to see each other on and off with no commitment (his choice). We built up a really strong connection to each other over the years although he maintained that we were too different to have a relationship and I have never been able to have a proper relationship with anyone since because I don’t seem to be able to feel the same way about anyone. This is something I am trying to change. He finally met someone and got married which devastated me but he then told me he was in love with me although he never saw us being a real couple so this tortured me even more. We are still in contact and he has just told me that he is going to be a father which was a real shock for me but I hope will be the final thing that will make me move on because I am completely ‘stuck’ in a false state of denial about him. I am an intelligent woman and I can’t understand how I ever ended up in this situation when I can completely analyse what I have been doing but I can’t seem to stop it. I feel like I am in a prison of my own making and I long to end this torture and find love and happiness with someone who wants me for who I am.

  16. 16
    jurate

    One of my friends has best described limerence when she tried to describe experience of being a parent. She said it’s very similar to early romantic relationship: you think of them, want to be with them, except it has no expiry date. Would you call it “unhealthy” when it comes to parenting? I think they found in brain research (Helen Fischer?), that some people are like that in romantic relationships. Literary, if they’re lucky to be with the right person, their entire love life is one big honeymoon: they genuinely feel that much unending attraction to their partners. Beware of falling into popular psychology trap. Hardships of coping during/after breakup are rather attributable to disrupted attachment system, which is unique to each individual, but comes as a result of (still rather short) evolution of human brain. Being attached is not a pathology or otherwise “unhealthy”, it is just being patologized by modern society.

  17. 17
    starthrower68

    I’d be interested to know (and I know this will not apply in all cases) how many of those who’ve suffered from limerence also had a parent leave him or her as child.  When we don’t learn healthy attachment and bonding from our parents, sometimes our mate is that symbolic “parent” and we try to work out the unresolved hurts with the mate.  Doesn’t generally work too well.  Now that I think back, I have suffered this a couple of times.  Its brutal.  It’s not unreasonable to seek counseling for this sort of thing. 

  18. 18
    Nia

    I watched a tribute to Amy Winehouse tonight; I honestly think this condition is what contributed to her demise. She was said to be someone who got very, very attached, very quickly. Obviously I’m not an expert, and basing this on secondhand information, but based on that, I do think that is what heavily contributed to her start on a very rocky road, one which she then used music, alcohol & drugs to help her cope with the condition described in the article. Not sure that the affliction needs naming, but definitely belief it is a vert real thing some people experience and sometimes with a very tragic outcome.

  19. 19
    BeenThruTheWars

    My understanding has always been that limerence refers to that “in love” feeling in general, at all stages of a relationship, not just unrequited love or the agony one can experience when things don’t work out.  That said, I had one relationship where I definitely was not in my right mind for most of the seven years it was going on, as well as for about two years afterward when I suffered enormously, even though I initiated the breakup.  The article is absolutely what I experienced, and it was hellish.  I wouldn’t wish that kind of obsession on anyone. 

  20. 20
    Ruby

    Who hasn’t been there? Most of us have experienced this kind of heartbreak, with someone who didn’t quite love us as we loved them. Generally, this is the person who gives us lots of mixed signals, who gives us the impression that he feels the same way, at least at first. He (or she) is the one who doesn’t completely want us, but won’t quite let us go, and who always gives us the impression that with a little more time and effort he could love us as we love him.

    My parents were married for 50 years, and were very loving, and I still experienced this. The last time it happened, I knew i was a goner the first evening i actually spent with the guy. I was on Cloud 9. Instead of listening to the negative signals, I listened to the positive ones. Huge mistake, but this time, I figured it out much more quickly than I had in the past. After a few months, I knew i had to cut the cord. It hurt like a mother___, but I knew it had to be done, and it still took me another 7 months to get over it, and I cried every day. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if i hadn’t taken control of the situation, and continued to let him run the show. Today, I don’t really have any feelings at all about this person, and I’m so glad I ended it.

    That said, I still believe chemistry is important. For some, it’s head over heels, for others, it grows on you over time, but i do know that it is reciprocal and healthy, and not torturous. 

     

  21. 21
    Goldie

    It is a tough choice. If you don’t allow yourself to get emotionally attached, that takes all the fun out of your dating process. But, if you do, you risk being in a situation similar to the ones described here. Doesn’t happen to me often, but, unfortunately, it just did, a week or so ago. Luckily we hadn’t been seeing each other that long before it ended, and I count on getting over it soon enough. It does hurt like a mother___ at times still. But hey, I’ve lost 7 pounds so far, I’m taking up running, I look and feel great physically as a result of it, and most importantly, I know that in the long run, it would’ve hurt me more if things dragged on instead of ending quickly. I’ve been through enough bad stuff that I’m confident I can deal with this one on my own – but if this was something serious, like an end of a several-year marriage/relationship, I wouldn’t hesitate to go see a therapist.

  22. 22
    Goldie

    Apologize for double-posting, but I feel I have to say this – Katarina #14, I clicked over to take a look at your forum – looks interesting, but I’ve got to say I’m not sure how I feel about all the links on there such as “Get-Ex-Back Resources”, “Make your ex want you back”, or “How to push his “emotional hot buttons” to get him back for good”. I don’t think I like this for two reasons. One, imagine that the shoe’s on the other foot. In my case, my decision to leave my ex was a result of a lot of thought, research, weighing the alternatives, therapy (that I paid for), talking to him etc etc. and I would really NOT be happy if he started messing with my head “to get me back for good”, like I’m an immature child that doesn’t know what she really wants or what’s good for her and her family members! I’m so glad he didn’t try, and respect him for that :)
     
    That’s one thing. Another thing – after someone has decided to move on – how can you really get things back the way they were when the person was genuinely attracted to you? I don’t think you can. You may be able to drag the person back one way or another, but would it make you happy long-term? Don’t you rather deserve to be with someone else who actually likes you and treats you well, and has never let you down? “If you love somebody, set them free” and all that…

  23. 23
    starthrower68

    One of the times that I experienced it, what I remember is that I felt a high degree of chemistry, to the point that it spooked me.  That was as close to a manic phase as I think I have ever come and I had at least enough presence of mind to know that I might not be able to control it which was the frightening part.  Fortunately, I was already seeing a counselor so I did not go down that road but things did not end well and it was devastating.  He had his part but I accept responsibility for my part.  At the time, I didn’t even know how I got there.  I look back and realize that I let my mind engage in a great deal of fantasy (for lack of a better term).  I fed it with romantic music, not controlling my thoughts, etc.  Sometime later, he apologized to me for how he ended things, and it would have been better if he had left me alone because that threw me back into a tailspin and I even had to change anti-depression meds as a result.  Now I chat with him all the time, but what’s funny is, I have no romantic interest in him.  I have grown a great deal since then and have a much better ability to remain grounded and centered in a romantic situation.  Even though I’m not currently in one, I’m happy with my life and believe I’m where I am supposed to be with regard to working on some goals and ambitions.  I think that someone special will be there at some point, but I’m enjoying my life enough that it’s ok for me to take a break and not look while I focus on some other things.  And I think that when I do get back out there, I’ll be a better partner as a result.

  24. 24
    Ruby

    I said “That said, I still believe chemistry is important. For some, it’s head over heels, for others, it grows on you over time, but i do know that it is reciprocal and healthy, and not torturous. ” Maybe that should read, “…it SHOULD BE reciprocal and healthy, and not torturous. “

  25. 25
    Ryan

    There’s a movie about this very topic. It’s called “Millenium Actress”. Pretty interesting, I thought it was  a little unrealistic but it turns out to be plausible. 
    I’d say all I have is limerance.

  26. 26
    Arne

    I have to say as someone who suffers from Limerence it is refreshing to hear more mainstream sources talk about it. When you start reading up on it, read blog posts or self-help forums, you’ll realize how similar your experience is to that of others:
    You are remote controlled by body-drugs and emotions until you realize limerence is always about YOU not the other person.
    YOU can change, and you will unless you let those intrusive thoughts about the other rule your life.
    Thanks for posting this Evan.

  27. 27
    D

    I am also currently in recovery from my latest Limerence, I had to give up any Hope that my feelings can ever be truly returned.  They just can’t and won’t be. Since I can’t stop the relentless involuntary and intrusive thinking about the one I believe I am in the most intense and insane love with, I have to focus the inspiration that she gave me to improve myself. Eventhough she will never know that because of her, I am taking better care of myself and doing more for me. 
    In the end, the only cure is to to cut all contact with the person. I know it’s eaiser
    said than done. anti-depressants can help, but it still takes work to be really free
    from this lovesickness. I try to accept the things that I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can, but most important is the wisdom to know
    the difference. I treat her like a drug/alcohol addiction.

  28. 28
    CRLC

    I have limerence and it’s awful,  I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. They say time makes it go away well believe I’ve taken lots of time, no contact with this person. I didn’t choose it, it just started happening  to me when I started my new job. I don’t work there anymore and I have learned my LO is a massive player. I have no interest in feeding his ego or becoming just another notch in his bed post ( I am angry at myself that such a man could take up so much of my thinking time). I didn’t ask for this and if I had been searching for it I would have picked a less sleazy guy. Honestly try to have pity on people when this happens to them because most likely they didn’t choose it. I have removed all traces of him from my life (no Facebook, don’t live anywhere near each other, etc) still my brain reacts as it will and I find it hard to control the hope factor. How can  you still have hope for someone you haven’t talked to or seen in years? They say time makes it go away, we’ll hopefully that’s true because so far that’s not working.  

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