Let’s face it, we love bright, shiny and new. New year, new resolutions… but is that new relationship love or infatuation? Leslie Malchy investigates.
So you check out the profiles on MeetMindful, you go on a few dates and you pick out the one person you are just dying to see again. You meet again. The conversation is great. The chemistry is flowing. You don’t want the date to end. And after it does, you just CANT STOP thinking about this person.
Is it love? Or is it infatuation? Let’s find out.
The term “limerence” is interchangeable with “infatuated love” and can be used to understand this beginning stage of relationships. The definition of limerence is: the state of being obsessed with a romantic attraction to another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation. You can’t stop thinking about them. And you ruminate over signs that maybe they feel the same way.
Infatuation is often a narcissistic ideal of similarity (i.e. you are like me, we are the same, therefore I am infatuated with what I see in you that reminds me of me in a thrilling and delighted way). In fact, infatuation often is the beginning stage of coupledom in which relating can be described as akin to symbiosis–an intense merging of two people as they become attached to each other. This merging is emotional, psychological and biochemical. Sometimes the infatuation state ends close to where it started. With a quick and dirty love affair. Or with longing and unrequited feelings, and eventually heart break. But sometimes people move on towards another phase: love.
What is Love (baby don’t hurt me)
The state of love arrives in a later stage of relating, a graduated process from infatuation, friendship and/or companionship towards genuine appreciation, warmth, respect and admiration. Some relationship experts describe this as a differentiated stage, different from the earlier stage of symbiosis.
This is a part of relationships in which you are able to see your partner for who they are as very different than you, but you still have the ability to feel warmth and admiration–even more so than before. An early indicator of this may be when you see your partner’s yoga pant strewn about on the floor after a quick practice and smile with affection, despite your need for order and cleanliness.
Love at “First Sight” or Love at “Last Fight”
Being able reach the stage of love in a relationship is not always easy. Some theologians argue that this is a more divine and spiritual state, a kind of practice or discipline of love. The idea that loving another person fully is a measure or capacity of how much love and compassion one is able to hold for themselves. A kind of love that is unconditional or separate from what your partner does or says towards you.
As a relationship therapist, I see love as a measure of how much depth is possible in the relationship. Unfortunately though, getting to the point of understanding one another better is often accomplished through fighting and arguing. Growth is accomplished by the ability to negotiate difference and conflict, to accept your partner as different, to have the courage to acknowledge your own challenges. And to continue to take the risk to become vulnerable and be known to another person with all of your fears and worries.
As each person deepens their capacity to witness their partner as separate from themselves but continues to show up, set boundaries, loosen boundaries where needed, accept difference as welcome and not as distancing, love grows.
What You Think vs What Society Says
Our society has glamorized and mythologized the idea of infatuation. We see this clearly through the increased costs of and proliferation of the wedding industry despite the rising number of divorces in North America. First impressions, first date, first kiss, first romp, first, first, first!
We are often so busy focusing on the beginnings of relationships that we don’t get even close to what the middle looks like. And it’s a shame, because that is often where the really great stuff comes into play.
Why Do You Want to Tell the Difference?
While lusty interludes and the associated good feeling chemicals make a good story and a quick tweet, learning to trust, gaining the ability to create intimacy and letting ourselves be vulnerable are all necessary elements of long term love and lasting relationships.
Check yourself and your values: Are you more interested in having a reminiscent thought about a love affair you had while traveling abroad? Or in smiling into your smartphone at the smile you receive back when your partner phones to share a story? Hopefully, you get to experience both.
[image: via Robert Bejil on flickr]