Something Good #35: Sheila Heti on Limerence
For the next couple of months I’m going to be off shooting a feature film. I will be extremely busy during this period so I’ve asked some friends to take the reins of Something Good. Every other week will feature a post from a guest writer in which they recommend something to my readers. (On alternate weeks I will be re-running notable posts.)
This week I am pleased to welcome Sheila Heti to the newsletter. Sheila is the author of books like How Should a Person Be?, Motherhood, and the upcoming Pure Colour. Last January I took part in a writing workshop with her that led to me putting aside a science fiction novel I was struggling with and starting this newsletter; I won’t get into the details but it involved me asking a lot of questions and flipping a lot of coins and getting some very definitive answers from the universe. I am very happy to have Sheila as my inaugural Something Good guest author.
Many years ago, way way back in my deepest youth, I became obsessed with a man, although he was no good for me (he was no good for anyone!) but I could not stop thinking about him and it was ruining my summer—ruining every swim in every lake—I could not be anywhere for I was always in my head, with his little face dancing in it. I remember being at the hairdresser and complaining about the situation, and she said, “ah, it’s just limerence.”
“Limerence,” she repeated, and after I asked her to spell it, she wrote it down for me on one of the salon’s business cards. I took the card from her hand, on which was printed YOU HAVE A DATE WITH—under which the stylist would usually scribble their name before you sending you home—and I read, “YOU HAVE A DATE WITH limerence.”
When I got home, I looked the word up. It was exactly the word I needed. Since learning that word that summer, I have passed on this word to other friends, and they have found it useful, so when Mark asked me to write a recommendation, I thought I would recommend that you learn this word.
It was coined in 1979 by the American psychologist Dorothy Tennov, in her book Love and Limerence, which she wrote after interviewing hundreds of people. She deduced that love, unlike limerence, is actually love. While limerence is something different—it can lead to love, but as likely does not. It is obsessional thinking, anxiety, an uncommonly strong, romanticized attachment to a love object, intrusive thoughts about that love object, over-sensitivity to their every move, idealization of their qualities—a near-addiction to a person which has little to do with the person or any authentic knowledge of them; it can come with physiological effects such as shortness of breath, excessive anxiety, depression and heart palpitations. The only good thing about limerence (besides the fact that it might attach you to someone who will become a genuine love object—though not usually) is that it tends to last no more than 18 months. Then reality—and sanity—sets in.
When I learned this word, I realized I had been suffering from something unchosen that had nothing to do with love, and that it was up to me to put a stop to this limerence, since it was limerence and nothing more. Something mechanical had to be done to my brain which was stuck in this meaningless loop. I began to think of what I was experiencing as akin to a record skipping: when I noticed it was skipping—when I noticed my thoughts had returned to that man—I gently lifted the needle and placed it further along. I would think, it’s my date with limerence, and move the needle onto the next thought.
Some people are “highly limerent” in that they might experience this feeling many times in their life, others are barely limerent at all. My best friend at the time had never experienced limerence, and though I pointed out that almost all the love songs were really describing limerence, she said that she’d never had much interest in all those songs about love. I could tell that in my limerent state, she had no interest in me, so it was particularly important to transcend this tedious, destructive, distractingly obsessive, completely impersonal state of mind. I sought out Tennov’s book. Imagining the surely worthless people her interviewees were limerent over, I was able to see more clearly the likely worthlessness of my own limerent object. I was not in love, it was useful to know, and now I can blithely say to my friends, What you’re feeling is just limerence. Enjoy it if you can; you’ll feel better it in 18 months.
I tell them to read the Wikipedia entry, and they always write to thank me.
— Sheila Heti
I found this week’s #nojacketsrequired on a friend’s bookshelf. It is very weird (and nice) to be able to go into people’s houses and look at their books again. As always, please send your unjacketed discoveries directly to my email address, email@example.com—if you reply to this message the attachment will bounce off Substack’s servers.
Every Wednesday, I—or someone else—will send you Something Good. Thanks, of course, to Sheila Heti. Pure Colour will be released on February 15, 2022. If you’re not listening to The White Saviors, the new podcast I wrote for Canadaland, may I suggest you check it out? It’s available anywhere podcasts can be found. And if you liked this edition of Something Good, please tell a friend, or subscribe right here: