When people first start learning about nonmonogamy, they regularly hear the term New Relationship Energy (NRE). It can come with a warning, or with excitement, but it is something that many people experience at some point. To some, it’s a wonderful feeling to chase and lets you know you’re on the right track for building a deep connection with another person. To others, it’s a field of red flag landmines that should be avoided at all costs. And to others, it’s an elusive thing that seems to only exist in romance stories and literature, something likely to be exaggerated by writers for dramatic effect. To be clear, it is not. It does indeed exist, but not all people experience it. Today, I want to take a closer look at this phenomenon and how to identify when you are experiencing strong forms of NRE.
I want to start by introducing you to a term often dismissed in psychological and therapeutic circles called Limerence. Limerence was studied by Dorothy Tennov in the 70s and early 80s. Limerence is a state of developing attachment to that can sometimes border on the obsessive. The thing to which you are attaching is called a Limerent Object (LO). It is specifically referred to as an object, even if it’s another person, because you experience the LO as you want to see it, inside a fantasy bubble of your own making. Sometimes this fantasy bubble is subtle, sometimes it’s blatant. While Tennov studied limerence in terms of people attaching to other people, I’ve seen people experience a similar state with new jobs, new friends, or even in chasing desires for new objects that they then quickly discard once they obtain them. As a limerent person myself, I had much more of it in my teens and early twenties, and it is a lot less intrusive in my middle age (thankfully). But I have certainly seen parallels when starting a new job or getting a new car.
The Experience of NRE/Limerence
People experience Limerence and NRE to various degrees. At one end of the spectrum is obsession to the point of physical harm and emotional harm to the self or to others. At the low end of the spectrum, someone may not experience it at all. The non-limerent person is often confused by the behaviors of people who experience limerence, especially when it’s directed at them. The fact that there are so many non-limerent people is one of the reasons this concept gets dismissed in academic circles.
Let’s look at what Tennov described as the symptoms of limerence, and you’ll see how this relates to NRE:
- Intrusive thoughts and fantasies about the LO – this might look like planning things together for the future or imagining how attractive your babies will be when you are two months into the relationship.
- Strong desire for reciprocation of emotions – you want this other person to feel the same way about you that you feel about them, and you will spend a lot of time analyzing everything about what they are saying or doing trying to find evidence for or against the reciprocation of those feelings.
- Exaggerated dependency of mood on LO’s actions – If your LO is giving you attention, you are elated. If they are not, you are depressed, lost and lonely. This is more exaggerated than if you weren’t feeling limerent towards someone at all.
- Insecurity or shyness around LO – You may become very aware of how you look or think about how you come off around them, especially if you aren’t dating them. You may avoid talking to them even though you really want to, and over-analyze whether you should or shouldn’t be trying to talk to them.
- Intensification of feeling in the face of adversity – anything that could possibly get in the way of connecting you with your LO will increase the feelings of limerence. This is one reason veto power can be so destructive. Think about how all the greatest romance stories have some barrier standing between the two love interests. That’s because the writers know it increases limerence.
- Desire to behave better or look better, even when not in the presence of LO- You might start dressing better or focus more on grooming. Sometimes this comes in as being nicer to people, as if your LO were watching you, even if you know they aren’t present.
- Depression, when uncertain of reciprocation, is strong – When you are out of the spotlight of your LO, it becomes very painful, and you can become depressed and despondent, especially if they have very clearly outright rejected you.
- An intensity of feeling that leaves other concerns in the background – All of the above going on can take up a lot of brain power. In Tennov’s research, she found that people were thinking about their LO between 35% and 100% of the time. When you are devoting that much time to analyzing whether one person is interested in you and your mood is highly dependent on them liking you, other concerns can seem inconsequential.
- A tendency to maximize LOs positive features and minimize negative features – This is part of the limerent fantasy, and what objectifies the person on the other side of the person experiencing the limerence. When you are limerent, you are only seeing the other person as a projection of your fantasy, not as they really are. It can take some time for that fantasy to dissolve, and reality to become apparent.
- A desire for exclusivity & inability to react limerently to more than one person at a time – this is one Tennov was insistent about in her book on limerence, even while discussing open relationships, which she basically dismisses. Because of this, I have a lot of questions.
I have heard from many people in the nonmonogamy community that they “don’t really think they experience NRE”. Looking over the list of how Tennov describes limerence, I have a hypothesis that NRE is just rebranded limerence for the nonmonogamy world.
Isn’t This Just Attachment?
I will cover this in a later blog post, but limerence is wholly separate from your attachment style. People will say things like “oh that just sounds like a crush” or “that’s just a preoccupied attachment style”. Limerence is a temporary biochemical state that goes away after a while. Your attachment style may influence the way your limerence expresses towards your LO. Limerence comes and goes. Attachment is a more persistent aspect of your personality that persists over time. Attachment tends to only shift through experience, positive or negative, and intentional work. Don’t confuse limerence with bonding. Limerence feels like bonding, but it is a temporary bond. Lasting bonding is a different process.
Isn’t This Just Falling in Love?
NRE and limerence are not love, but many people who experience it consider it to be an indicator of falling in love. For non-limerent people, love is a different concept where bonding and attachment are experienced very differently. I often think of this state of mind as more of an addiction, and it physiologically is similar to addiction in many ways. Many heroin addicts claim that heroin feels like falling in love, but I don’t have the experience to know this. True, lasting, enduring love is a choice you make every day to be with someone, regardless of whether or not they happen to be pissing you off that day. This is a healthier way of viewing love since it doesn’t require strong but ultimately fleeting and labile, emotional states to tell you what’s going on.
I would like to hear your stories about love, limerence, and NRE. Which of these ways do you experience it, for how long, and how do you feel about them? Are you someone that doesn’t experience limerence/NRE? If not, how do you bond or feel yourself falling in love with someone? If you want to email me with your story at email@example.com, I’d love to read them. I may also want to reach out and conduct a more in-depth interview with some of you, so if you are open to that, please let me know.