The Reason You're So Obsessed With Him Isn't Love, It's Limerence

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woman looking forlorn leaning on balcony

There’s a reason that you can’t get over your ex, and it isn’t just because you love (or loved) them so much.

If you’ve ever been through a difficult breakup, you know that it can be one of the most painful experiences to have. Things get said, possibly broken, and there are plenty of tears, snot, and headaches throughout the whole ordeal.

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And now, with the advent of social media and internet technology that makes checking up on people easier than ever, you may find yourself being an “online stalker” in light of the breakup, clinging to jealousy, fear, and anger over what’s happening in your ex’s life now that you’re not in it any longer. You can justify it by saying that you’re sad, upset, or that you’re heartbroken.

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The reason you're so obsessed with him isn't love, it's limerence.

These things are likely all true, but what pushes you over the edge like you’re a spy in a foreign country researching your mark’s lifestyle so you don’t make any mistakes when you move in for the kill?

Well, there just so happens to be a word for when your love mutates into a stealth-action game and you’ve got an Illuminati-level crazy mental chart of everything your ex has said in the past seventy-two hours since the breakup.

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It’s called limerence, and it affects a bigger portion of the population than you’d believe. About 5 percent of people experience this event, so if you’re feeling post-breakup madness, feel free to blame it on this phenomenon.

Limerence originally came into being in the 1970s, after it was coined in Dorothy Tennov’s book, Love and Limerence. She used it to describe “the early stages of infatuation.” Or, more notably, the early stages of love, when you think about your significant other and weird stuff starts happening to you.

Your gut suddenly bursts into butterflies; you can’t stop smiling. You’ve got it pretty bad, kid — “it” being limerence, not love. And limerence can drive people to do some pretty crazy things. Remember Romeo and Juliet? Maybe if they just cooled it for a little while, so many people wouldn't have wound up dead.

This eventually matures into “companionate love” — that is, the long-term relationship kind of adoration you and your partner develop. It might be less exciting, but it’s definitely a bit healthier than the early stages of love, where you’re literally head-over-heels gaga for your beau.

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And, unfortunately, limerence doesn’t necessarily take place in a relationship. It can make way for your long-term love, or it can happen when they’ve suddenly gone, leaving you a nail-biting, strung-out wreck of your usual self, unable to do anything but obsess over them and everything you just experienced together.

In other words, it's an absolutely crazy sauce, and sometimes when you break up, your brain is cracked out on it.

So when you and your love are in splitsville and you’ve started developing the urge to find out what’s going on with them at all hours, it’s not just because you’ve broken up or because you love them; no, it has a lot to do with feeling limerent and your brain obsessing over them because they’re gone now.

Limerence is totally involuntary, which means when your friends say, “You’re not acting like yourself,” it’s because you’re really not. But be careful — if you’re experiencing feelings of limerence after a breakup, that’s totally normal. But if you’re starting a new career in being a private eye with no clients and only one target, you juuuuuust might be crossing the line into stalking.

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Merethe Najjar is a professional writer, editor, and fiction author.