1/8/23: Platonic limerence

The first time I was exposed to the word “limerence”, some decades ago, it didn’t really register. It felt like a fancy, dismissive word for “New Relationship Energy”, and though the two concepts are tangential, they’re not the same.

Today I ran across it being used in a (potentially) Platonic sense, in terms specific to Autistics:

A meme about limerence, with a graphic of Pearl from “Steven Universe”

The text of the image says, “One of the reasons Autists isolate is to mitigate the risk of future Limerence. Many Autists see a profound pattern of abandonment in their lives and they can never seem to break the cycle… and suffer more with each additional person they lose.”

Having forgotten the term, I looked it up again, and found this on Wikipedia: Limerence is a state of mind which results from romantic or non-romantic feelings for another person, and typically includes intrusive, melancholic thoughts and/or tragic concerns for the object of one’s affection as well as a desire to form or maintain a relationship with the object of love and to have one’s feelings reciprocated. Limerence can also be defined as an involuntary state of intense desire.”

Key concepts include intensity, intrusiveness of thoughts, a potential lack of reciprocation, and the idea that it can apply to both romantic and non-romantic feelings.

I have reflected on the past, and would like to reflect more in the future, on my struggles with interpreting any sort of affection as romantic interest. However, in my life right now, I can and do generally interpret attention from others as being friendly, not romantic.

Even so, I still struggle with intense feelings when someone new notices me. Internally, these feelings can seem “clingy” and even “obsessive”, and I feel high levels of anxiety about abandoned, yet again, by the people who have caused them.

Today I’ve been wondering about the interplay of these feelings of intense need to be around someone (which often have the effect of scaring them away) and rejection sensitivity: The cycle is obvious. Meet someone, decide they are the greatest human ever, cling to them, get upset and pushy when they don’t fully reciprocate, scare them away, get rejected.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

One advantage to knowing that this cycle is something that I do, that other people do, that is attached to some manifestations of neurodivergent brains, is that I can then acknowledge it. I can step back and remind myself: This is okay, this is the way my brain works sometimes, but let’s adjust our interpretation so that it’s not beholden to the dysfunction.

I saw one Autist suggest that limerence was a form of special interest, one where the target of that interest is another person. I’m more inclined to think that it comes from damaged emotional attachments in early childhood: In Freudian fashion, I read a suggestion that Platonic limerence comes from seeking a missing emotional mother, and while that feels a bit blindered, I think the abstract gist is solid.

So many of us are lacking a history of healthy emotional bonds. This is more true for Autists, who are traditionally stigmatized, marginalized, and misunderstood, so it makes sense that we’d be more vulnerable to getting overwhelmed by a new bonding, romantic or otherwise. Indeed, Autism as a medical disability is related to a difficulty properly managing stimulus responses, and human relationships involve stimulus responses.

The challenge is managing that response in a way that doesn’t harm another person. Seeing limerence as a special interest manifestation is objectifying: Trains and comic books don’t have feelings (something we objectively know, even if we Autists are prone to anthropomorphizing them). People do. Infatuation rising to obsession is problematic, and can bring emotional discomfort to both the target and the obsessed one.

Anyway, I was also going to reflect on rejection sensitivity, but this is already long enough, and the concept is still new to me. I hope I’m not completely botching it up. This is my perspective, today, and subject to change.

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