Everybody loves. The ability to love and fall in love is as natural for humans as it is to eat. Love makes us feel safe and protected and, since the pre-historic ages, loves has made us survive. Love is powerful and this is why it has inspired people all over the world to write, paint and create art about it. You can find love as a central topic from movies to books, poems, cartoons and even games. Love always wins. Also love always defies the reason, the logic; people fall in love with their opposites and do anything just to be with them, even if this means that they’ll break the rules. But no worry, because breaking the rules in the name of love is accepted! In the end, what can you do when you just fall in love?
There are examples of how love wins since 1300. In The Decameron, a book published in the 12th century, people were crazily falling in love and falling ill from it. Love can be the reason for despair, but most of the times love was the reason for someone to look healthy and happy. This is why it’s important to make the distinction between love and limerence and understand how media, especially movies, have shaped our way of looking and thinking about romantic love and relationships.
As psychology Dorothy Tennov defines it, limerence is an obsessive longing for a LO (Limerent Object), focused on reciprocation of the feelings. The limerence feel can get intense and make people feel “out of their mind”. Not everyone experiences limerence, but when someone does, it can affect them highly. They will find it hard to focus on things, Limerence is a stage of intrusive obsessive thinking and intensity of passionate feelings toward a limerent object, that can last from a few weeks to a few years.
Movies represent limerent emotions in different ways and they create meaning for viewers regarding love and romantic relationships.
In romantic movies, there are all the complications, irrational escalation and conflicts. The way that a relationship is at the beginning shows how suitable the two will be for the long term attachment. But in Hollywood, there are promote some behaviours of a romantic relationship, such as the fact that always “opposites attract”. In real life, people tend to match with people who at a conscious level, are similar to themselves. All these feelings make the two lovers feel “alive”, with a deep connection and long-lasting union. There are many factors involved in the process of “loving” and limerence can be easily confused with the first stages of love, the ‘honey-moon phase’.
One important difference between love and limerence is the fact that love is selfless, even in the first stages the focus is on creating the union and seeing the other person happy. When someone experiences limerence, the main focus is to get the feelings reciprocated by the other person, Limerence is based on fantasies, but love is not only a fantasy.
Unfortunately, romantic comedies are mostly based on the representation of fantasies and desires, rather than the normal course of romantic relationships. The depiction of limerence in movies or play has been widely spread from the early centuries. Even Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo and Juliet are famous for its impossible and passionate love, for whom the only way to be together was for both of them to die.
One more contemporary movie that depicts limerence is Love Actually. Remember Mark, the guy that was madly in love with his best friend’s lover? Mark is obsessed with Julia, even if she is his best friends’ wife. He ignores all these facts and rather keeps pursuing her. He is not in love with her, he is obsessed with her. There is a scene that shows how he recorded only her during his best friend’s marriage. He can’t get past his limerence even after she is getting married, he even goes to her house with signs to tell her his love. Mark became limerent and Julie became his Limerent Object. During the whole movie, she has never shown interest back, always treating him like a friend and her boyfriend’s best friend. Yet, he kept trying to win her and getting his feelings reciprocated
This is just an example of how limerence is represented in movies. The representation of limerence in romantic movies has led people to draw meaning from these experiences. These fantasies have shaped the way people portray romance and love and, by watching this kind of movies, people adopt these fantasies into their daily life. We start to believe that these behaviours and beliefs are real.
As limerence creates an obsession towards a LO, it is common to see in movies characters that engage in stalking behaviours. Surprisingly, these characters are usually seen as love and care for the other person. For example, in the movie 10 Things I hate about you, Cameron is obsessed with Bianca, a girl that is out of his league. But this doesn’t discourage him, he has a plan to get her, which involves having someone dating Bianca’s sister or finding ways to meet Bianca “accidentally” at parties or shops. This is a clear sign of limerence; when you feel limerence you want your LO to reciprocate your feelings and you are constantly trying to create these “coincidences” to meet with your LO.
This behaviour is usually found in men and there are plenty of other examples of men that are obsessed with their lover. For example, if you have ever watched Friends, you are familiar with the Ross & Rachel love story. Even though they end up in a healthy relationship, they had a period when Ross showed signs of limerence towards Rachel. Remember the scenes when Ross started to become controlling? He was sending lots of flowers to her office and showing up without notice, even if she explicitly mentioned that she did not appreciate it. Ross has been seen usually as a romantic, but if we want to portray love as it is in reality, we can’t deny also the part of him being controlling and manipulative.
The third example of a movie that depicts limerence under the lenses of true love is The Notebook. Nicholas’ Sparks movie is one of the most romantic movies out there, a love story about second change and how love persists across years. It is, indeed, a powerful love story, but when you look more closely at it, you will observe that it misses some details on how love is described. Starting from the beginning, Noah is continually pressuring Allie to date him, even if she shows no interest. This persists along with the movie, during the times they are not together to the times he does some very grandiose gestures. This romantic and dramatic movie also focuses on the fantasy of how big gestures are what can solve any kind of romantic challenge. If you remember, in the movie, Noah writes Allie letters every day for a year, even if she doesn’t answer him. More than this, during this whole time he keeps building her a big dream house, working on it endlessly, even though they are not in contact at all. In the Notebook Noah lives in a fantasy of what could be, rather than what it is.
We know that these are just movies, yet all these can lead to forming unrealistic expectations or even definitions of what love is and how to handle a relationship. Luckily, in the past years, romantic comedies have started to become more realistic as well. There are examples of movies, such as “Marriage” that depicts the reality of relationships, with their highs and lows and the everyday reality.