Rachel: I'm crazy in love with him...is that possible after just one week?
Friend's Mom: Both are possible
Rachel: Both of what?
Friend's Mom: You could be in love, but more likely you are just crazy. It's not your fault -- it's just what happens sometimes at the beginning of relationships.
Rachel: How can I tell if it's true love and not just crazy love?
Friend's Mom: Just wait.
I first fell in love with the idea of love when I was about fifteen years old. I saw a boy. He was cute. He seemed smart. He had brown hair, drove a cool car, and he was tall -- all things that were on my "must have" list. I couldn't stop thinking about him. My mind raced. I doodled my first name with his last name. I couldn't focus on anything else. I felt like I had OCD. He must be the one, I reasoned....because I can't get him out of my mind!
A couple of months passed and I realized that the boy probably only seemed smart because we didn't share any classes together. He was tall, but my fifteen year old mind was sure that he'd wasted his inherited height by never learning to play basketball. He was definitely not the one.
Then it happened again. And again. And again. Met a boy. Became "crazy" for a boy. Then the feelings faded, I wasn't crazy for them anymore, and I was sure that the relationships weren't meant to be.
It wasn't until I met with Brant Burleson, one of my professors at Purdue University, that I was introduced to the formal name for the craziness I experienced at the beginning of relationships -- it was LIMERENCE!
"Why do you want to go to graduate school," Brant asked me. "What do you want to learn?"
I closed my eyes for a moment, wondering how he might react to the truth about what I yearned to know. Feeling crazy in love didn't seem very academic, after all.
"I want to study love", I told him -- "the crazy love that makes relationships feel meant to be". He listened intently, and smiled a knowing smile. A few days later, I received a book in the mail from him -- Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love, by Dorothy Tennov.
It turns out that the chemical reaction in our brains when we're falling in love (or when we experience unrequited love) is exactly like the chemical reaction in the brains of those who suffer from obsessive disorders or OCD. No wonder I felt crazy -- I was!
A few years and a few heartbreaks later, I was in my first year of graduate school studying love. One of my classmates from Purdue (Craig Terrill) was in town to play in The Capital One Bowl. We met for dinner and something clicked. How had I never realized it before? He was cute. He was smart. He was tall -- and he even had a decent jump shot, although he preferred to play football. He was a poet. He was a singer -- and he sang love songs for me. I was smitten. Had I learned nothing!?
After that dinner, I started making a list of all of the things that I loved about Craig. I couldn't stop. During my graduate school classes, I couldn't make out the words my professors were saying because I couldn't stop thinking about Craig. Within four days, I had a list of over four hundred things I loved about him. I was obsessed -- and I loved it. I had no idea if he felt the same way, but I was sure that I wanted to be with him forever. It was the best and worst feeling in the world. Does he like me too? Is he thinking of me? What if he doesn't feel the same way? Am I crazy or is he the one, I wondered.
Rachel: How long do I need to wait until I know if it's really love?
Friend's Mom: Just until the feeling that you are calling love starts to fade.
Rachel: That's when I typically leave relationships.
Friend's Mom: Then you've left before the best part had a chance to begin.
Eight years later, still a bit crazy for Craig, I realize that she and Brant were right. Before Craig, I'd never made it more than a year in a relationship without a breakup. Looking back, I realize that I bailed when the limerence ended. In retrospect, I'd never given love a chance to grow. Love can only begin when limerence ends. The obsession fades and we can more clearly see the reality of the person we're with.
I realize now that Craig's jump shot isn't as great as I thought it was...but it's getting better as he spends time shooting outside while playing with our daughters. Other things that I thought were "perfect" about him I realize now aren't perfect, but that's okay. In fact, I'm glad he isn't perfect because I'm not either, and living with someone who really was perfect would be miserable for someone as flawed as I am. We appreciate and love each other both despite and for our imperfections and weaknesses. It gives us a chance to need each other.
The limerence that we once felt for each other occasionally resurfaces, mostly as romantic passion that allows us to see each other through the eyes of infatuation and perfection from early in our relationship. It's fun and exciting, but it would be exhausting to live in that state of obsession all the time and it wouldn't be conducive to real life. We'd be unable to focus on other things like school, parenting, and finances. We'd also be unable to grow toward each other because we'd be too consumed with our own infatuation and the fear of losing our love.
I recently read that scientists are working on a drug to help combat limerence. I was saddened by the idea and I hope it doesn't get passed. Sure, limerence can be tough while you're in it, but it's also exciting, passionate, and the basis for most marriages in America. It may be an immature reason to get married, but it's an exciting way to start a relationship.