Love Sickness: The "Symptoms" of Infatuation

collage of thermometers and pills

Last time, I wrote about the time course of romantic infatuation, and about how being in love is like being on cocaine, or heroin. This time, I want to dive deeper into the actual “symptoms” of infatuation (also called limerence, if you’re feeling fancy).

The psychologist Dorothy Tennov wrote her book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love in 1979, detailing her rigorous research on love. Although it’s dated, it serves as a strong foundation for relationship psychology’s focus on romantic infatuation and obsession. Tennov has taught us a lot about love sickness, so read on to hear about the three major symptoms of infatuation — mental preoccupation, mood dependency, and idealization.

1. Mental Preoccupation is defined as “a state characterized by thoughts that are hard to keep your mind off of.” If you experience this, it means you literally cannot stop thinking about them, even when you don’t want to. It also means that every little thing reminds you of them, and it causes you to talk about them constantly to anyone who will listen (this is also the symptom that your friends are most likely to notice). 

2. Mood Dependency is when you’re more prone to intense mood swings based on how the object of your affection responds to you. You long for their acceptance (and fear their rejection) so much that your entire mood is dependent on your crush. You’re over-the-moon ecstatic when you get to interact positively with them, and absolutely miserable when they’re not reciprocating your affection.

3. Idealization is defined as “the exaggeration of the positive attributes and minimization of the imperfections or failings associated with a person, place, thing, or situation, so that it is viewed as perfect or nearly perfect.” This is the most dangerous symptom of infatuation, because you’re willing to ignore serious red flags and incompatibilities that reveal themselves over the long-term. When you idealize them, you over-inflate their value. In your eyes, they can do no wrong.

Mental preoccupation, mood dependency, and idealization can be both debilitating and exhilarating at the same time. Keep an eye out for these symptoms, but remember that even though it’s called love “sickness,” it’s an essential part of life — limerence can open us up to heartbreak, but it also allows us to be unapologetically human.