Baby Reindeer (2024)© Netflix

‘Limerence’ Is The New Problematic Dating Term To Know

Salva Mubarak
Senior Features Writer

Developing a crush on someone can be uniquely beautiful and painful at the same time. There’s the giddiness of being in their presence, the slow learning of everything there is to know about them, and ultimately expressing your feelings for them. But sometimes it can veer into a slightly problematic area and that’s officially known as ‘limerence’.

What Is ‘Limerence’?

Limerence is a stage of having intense longing, craving or desire for someone without the person even knowing or fully reciprocating your feelings.

The idea is not new. The term was first coined by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in her 1979 book Love and Limerence. She wrote, “I don’t direct this thing, this attraction, to Emily. It directs me. I try desperately to argue with it, to limit its influence, to channel it (into sex, for example), to deny it, to enjoy it and, yes, dammit, to make her respond! Even though I know that Emily and I have absolutely no chance of making a life together, the thought of her is an obsession. I am in the position of passionately wanting someone I don’t want at all and could find no use for if I had her.”

It came back into relevance post the release of Netflix’s latest hit Baby Reindeer. The mini-series is based on the real-life story of an up-and-coming comedian who finds his life turned upside down after an obsessed stalker enters his life.

Actress Jessica Gunning, who plays the stalker Martha in the show, said in an interview, “(Limerence is) when somebody takes the smallest thing that someone might say and loads it up in their imagination…With Martha, Donny would compliment her, and she would go home and inflate that moment into something hugely romantic that means they’re meant to be together forever.”

In a 2023 TikTok video, creator Danielle Walter spoke about limerence, stating that it’s an “unhealthy obsession or infatuation without the facts”.

Who Does ‘Limerence’ Affect?

In her book, Tennov notes that limerence can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, background, or any other trait. Experts agree that people who are susceptible to limerance have trouble connecting with themselves and use their connection to their crush or object of affection as a way to fill the void inside them. Parasocial relationships with celebrities and influencers is also a form of limerence.

Why Is ‘Limerence’ A Negative Thing?

While having a crush is not harmful, going into a state of obsessive longing can be harmful to your mental health and the way you connect with others. When someone is in limerance, they become obsessed with the image of the person they’re longing for, so much so that they don’t focus on who they actually are or getting to know them at all. Limerance can also cause a person to struggle to think about anything else but their crush and neglect their duties.

The state of mind is not irreversible. Through professional therapy and guidance, people can gain back their sense of self and develop a healthy way to connect with others.