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Saturday, May 27, 2023

Romantic Attractions: What Are the 3 Stages of Limerence?

In my prior article, Romantic Attractions: What is Limerence, Also Known As "Love At First Sight", I defined limerence and its similarities and differences to love.  In the current article, I'm focusing on the 3 Stages of Limerence.

Romantic Attractions: The 3 Stages of Limerence

As a recap: Limerence is a state of mind where someone feels infatuated or obsessed with the person they desire. This state of mind is often referred to as "love at first sight."  Limerence usually occurs during the early stage of a relationship.  Generally, it lasts anywhere from a few months to a few years for most people. It has similarities and differences with love, which you can read about in the prior article.

What Are the 3 Stages of Limerence?
  • Stage 1: Infatuation: This stage occurs during the early stage of a relationship. This is the "honeymoon" phase or the stage when there's a crush. Relationship experts often refer to it as the infatuation stage.  It's often characterized by obsession, possessiveness and jealousy as well as idealization of the desired person (as opposed to a realistic perspective).
  • Stage 2: Crystallization: Limerence begins to fade in this stage as the two people get to know each other. They're each beginning to get a more realistic perspective about each other.  If the two people become a couple, they face disappointments in each other as well as in other parts of life and they face challenges together. During this stage, although the perspective might be a little more realistic, they might also rationalize away individual problems as well as problems between them.  There is a strong impulse to try to maintain the earlier stage of infatuation even as it might begin to fade.  There might still be obsessive thoughts and emotions during this phase.
  • Stage 3: Deterioration: This is the stage where limerence deteriorates. Deterioration can happen quickly or slowly over time depending upon the two people and the situation involved. Instead of idealizing the other person, the person is this stage sees their flaws and problems in the relationship more clearly.  Any unrealistic fantasies fade.
Clinical Vignette: The 3 Stages of Limerence
The following clinical vignette illustrates how someone can go through the 3 Stages of Limerence. As always, the vignette is a composite of many clinical cases with all identifying information removed.

When Alice met Rick, she had not been in a relationship for three years.  Her last relationship ended badly after she found out her boyfriend was cheating on her.  

After that relationship ended, she was in despair because she wanted to get married and have children and, since she was in her mid-30s, she was concerned about her age.

She met Rick on a dating app and she liked that he wanted to meet her after a few texts.  So many of the other men she texted with on these dating sites seemed fearful of meeting in person.

From the moment she met Rick, she felt immediately drawn to him.  She found him very handsome, intelligent, charming and funny.  

After their first date, Alice couldn't stop thinking about Rick.  He texted her everyday and called her several times that first week.  He showered her with so many compliments and gifts that her close friends warned her that she was being love bombed, but Alice ignored them (see my article: 10 Signs You're Being Love Bombed).

After the first week, they were spending 3-4 days together even though they were busy with work and other commitments.  

Alice was so infatuated with Rick that she only wanted to spend time with him instead of spending time with her friends.  Rick also told her that his friends were complaining that he didn't hang out with them anymore, but he said he didn't care--he only wanted to be with her.

Sex was passionate between them. Alice never felt as free sexually as she felt with Rick. He introduced her to sexual role play and kinky sex, which she loved.

During that time, they agreed to be exclusive with each other, so they both got off the dating app.  By then, Alice was obsessed with Rick.  When her close friends suggested that she slow down, Alice ignored them.  

When Alice's old college buddy, Mike, contacted her to say he would be in town and he would love to see her, she told Rick about it.  He became jealous and angry.  Even after she tried to reassure Rick that her friendship with Mike had always been strictly platonic, Rick told her that he didn't want her to see Mike. 

Alice thought Rick's possessiveness and jealousy meant he loved her.  And, since she didn't want to do anything to jeopardize her relationship with Rick, she told Mike she would be out of town and she couldn't see him.  

Once again, Alice's friends warned her she was confusing jealousy and possessiveness for love, but she didn't pay attention to their warnings.

Shortly after that, Alice and Rick were in an Indian restaurant and she was surprised to see how rude Rick was to the waiter.  After the waiter left, Rick mumbled a racial slur under his breath--something Alice had never seen him do before.

Although she didn't like Rick's rudeness and she felt somewhat disheartened, Alice rationalized his behavior away by telling herself that he was tired and he didn't realize how he was behaving. But it continued to bother her.

By then, Rick wasn't texting and calling her as much.  He told her he had to stay at work late and his weekends were taken up by a special project he was working on.  

But Alice's best friend saw Rick holding hands with another woman in a restaurant on a Saturday night when he told Alice he was at work.

Romantic Attractions: The 3 Stages of Limerence

When Alice heard about Rick being with another woman, she was shocked.  She couldn't believe he would lie to her this way.  

She called Rick repeatedly the same day she heard about the other woman, but he didn't return her calls.  A few days later, Rick contacted her in a short text admitting he lied about being busy at work. 

He rationalized it by writing he didn't want to hurt her feelings.  He also told her he was no longer interested in seeing her anymore because he was head-over-heels about this other woman.

After that text, Rick didn't respond to any more of Alice's texts and eventually she realized he blocked her on his phone.

Shortly after her last contact with Rick, Alice began therapy to try to understand why she kept choosing men who hurt her (see my article: Choosing Healthier Relationships).

The vignette about Alice discusses the 3 Stages of Limerence from Infatuation to Deterioration.  

Alice was particularly vulnerable at that time because it had been a long time since she had been in a relationship, her last relationship was so disappointing, she wanted to get married and have children and she was concerned about her age.

During the Infatuation Stage, she was obsessed with thoughts of Rick and couldn't get enough of him. She ignored the red flags that her friends could see clearly, and she also ignored her friends' warnings (see my article: Do Your Friends See "Red Flags" About Your Relationship That You're Not Seeing?).

During the Crystallization Stage, she began to see flaws in Rick, but she remained ambivalent.  Although she saw these flaws, she rationalized them away by making excuses for him.

The Deterioration Stage came abruptly crashing down on Alice after her friend told her that Rick was cheating on her, he admitted cheating by text, told Alice that he only wanted to see this other woman and eventually blocked her from his phone.

Her illusions were crushed and she had no choice but to admit to herself she was making poor choices when it came to the men she dated.  

She also realized she needed help in therapy to deal with this problem. 

In therapy, her therapist could help her to identify the unconscious issues and blind spots related to her early history and help her to make better choices (see my article: Unhealthy Relationships: Bad Luck or Poor Choices?).

In the vignette about Alice, her relationship with Rick never developed beyond the limerence.  In the next article, I'll discuss what happens when limerence turns into love.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.