Limerence: “The state of being romantically infatuated or obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one’s feelings but not primarily for a sexual relationship.” (Oxford English Dictionary)
I encountered limerence for the first time in “A New Leaf,” by Dana Goodyear, an investigation into the marketing of edible seaweed that appeared in the November 2 issue of the New Yorker. The article centers on Bren Smith, who farms seaweed in Long Island Sound:
Smith, who is five feet five, bald-headed, and bulk-shouldered, like the lobsters he spent his adolescence hauling from the sea in traps, was wearing dirty jeans, suspenders, and a blue T-shirt that said “Kelp Is the New Kale.” He was drinking water from an old whiskey bottle. He has epilepsy, triggered by two things he likes and one that he can’t avoid: alcohol, caffeine, and not getting enough sleep. Before he was a full-time farmer, he drove a lumber truck and sold pieces of the Coney Island boardwalk stencilled with obscure words like “petrichor” (the smell of rain on dry earth) and “limerence” (tingly infatuation) to tourists in Union Square.
Limerence is a rare example of a word that was invented mostly from whole cloth and successfully launched, at least within a specific circle. The word was coined in the 1970s by the American psychologist Dorothy Tennov (1928–2007), whose 1979 book, Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love, introduced the term to the general public. In 1977, Tennov told the Observer (UK) about its origins:
I first used the term ‘amorance’ then changed it back to ‘limerence’... It has no roots whatsoever. It looks nice. It works well in French. Take it from me it has no etymology whatsoever.
The word’s success may be due in part to its echo of liminal (related to a threshold); it also contains a familiar noun suffix, -ence. One later author, Dr. Lynn Wilcott, linked limerence to limbic in the title of a 2014 book, Love and Limerence: Harness the Limbic Brain. (The brain’s limbic system controls basic emotions and drives.)
In the first chapter of her 1979 book, Tennov explained the origins of limerence:
It was pronounceable and seemed to me and to two students to have a “fitting” sound. To be in the state of limerence is to feel what is usually termed “being in love.” It appears that love and sex can coexist without limerence; in fact that any of the three may exist without the others. … Limerence is not in any way preeminent among types of human attractions or interactions; but when limerence is in full force, it eclipses other relationships.