There's a word for obsessive longing and rumination—'limerence'—and it can ruin your productivity and relationships

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For most of my adolescent and adult dating life, I longed, sometimes obsessively, for someone to want me back. I would waste time and energy fantasizing about relationships with men who I inexplicably found flawless, but in reality were emotionally or physically unavailable.

It wasn't until years later that I learned this state of overwhelming longing for and rumination about an unrealistic love interest has a name: limerence. It can become addictive and undermine other relationships in your life, romantic or otherwise. 

How limerence can destroy your relationships

For many years, my mom was a reliable sounding board and cheerleader, but even her patience grew thin with my obsessive crushes on "limerent objects."

My friends got tired of my mood swings from elation when I'd receive some bit of attention from my LO to grief when he'd stop communicating with me. And my coworkers could only overlook my lack of productivity for so long.

Limerence distracted me from recognizing when available and loving men were interested in me. I allowed it to waste so much of my time, it almost stole my chance at having a child — now my most precious relationship.

I've spent 10 years interviewing experts on longing, as well as people who've experienced limerence, for my podcast The Longing Lab, TEDx talk, and forthcoming book, "When Longing Becomes Your Lover." I've heard how it destroyed people's marriages, eroded relationships with children, or ruined wonderful friendships.

If this sounds familiar, here are five steps you can take to prevent limerence from damaging your relationships: 

1. Recognize and interrupt the habit

Limerence is based on the trigger, behavior, reward system in the brain. Whenever I felt lonely, I'd begin scrolling social media for updates on my LO or sometimes even text him. The emotional reward was the happy hormone dopamine I'd feel from imagining a relationship together or anticipating a response. 

One of my first steps toward change was recognizing my behavior in the moment and realizing that not acting on my impulse didn't mean I was messing up a chance with my soulmate. It meant I was protecting my heart. 

2. Curb your hookups

Sociologist Lisa Wade's research on hookup culture identifies unspoken rules, chief among them that casual sexual experiences should be considered meaningless and those involved should be aloof after the fact. 

Because limerence is fueled by uncertainty, hookups are like gasoline on a fire. A string of hookups in my 30s with men who later ignored me intensified my limerence and destroyed my self-worth. 

3. Seek out a therapist

With the help of my therapist, I came to understand my anxious-avoidant patterns and to see how my love for the chase and the rejection that came with it reinforced the narrative that I was unworthy of love unless I was striving to earn it. 

"Emotional unavailability can sadly feel familiar and therefore good to people who haven't had the privilege of past secure attached relationships," says Jennifer Douglas, a psychologist who specializes in helping people "recover" from perfectionism. 

Whatever your own patterns are, a professional can help you recognize and deal with them. And regardless, Douglas says, "It's important in therapy sessions to make a distinction between wanting the idea of a relationship versus wanting the actual relationship." 

4. Journal

Write down memories of when your LO has (intentionally or unintentionally) made you feel bad about yourself. I started recording the times my LO had made me feel used, unattractive, and disrespected, which helped knock the person off the pedestal on which I'd placed them.  

At 39 years old, I began writing this statement in my journal every night at my therapist's recommendation: "I am ready for and worthy of a deeply intimate and loving relationship." Writing it down helped me believe it — and recognize my limerent feelings toward unavailable men as a dead end. 

When my (now) husband showed up a year later, I was ready for him. I found his love and availability very attractive — something I never would have seen in my 20s and 30s.

5. Ditch the longing soundtracks

Many movies and songs normalize an obsessive longing for an unavailable love interest. Take, for example, the last four lines of Taylor Swift's song, "Enchanted":

I'll spend forever wondering if you knew
I was enchanted to meet you

Please don't be in love with someone else
Please don't have somebody waiting on you

Take a break from the rom-coms and songs that remind you of and reinforce your longing. Instead, invest time in activities and people that boost your mood without triggering limerence.

For me, that meant becoming more involved in the running and faith-based communities that strengthened my self-worth, rather than undermining it.

Amanda McCracken is a journalist and host of the podcast The Longing Lab. She's been interviewed about her essays on relationships, sex, and longing by Kate Couric, USA Today, Bloomberg News, and the BBC. She's also the author of the forthcoming book "When Longing Becomes Your Lover." Follow her on Instagram or LinkedIn.

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