As someone who has been crashing into virtual doors and falling into large virtual bodies of water in the virtual world of Second Life for over a decade, I am quite familiar with limerence. It’s such a lovely sounding word, isn’t it? It sounds like what happens when limericks and romance collide. Like lime green hearts.
And limerence feels good. It’s the best drug in the world. It floods your body with some awesome chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine. But in the end, it usually brings you nothing but pain and regret. That’s why in recent years I only go into Second Life twice a week, to catch up with friends.
Limerence is often mistaken for falling in love. But it’s love on steroids. It’s butterflies in the stomach writ large. It’s when you crave the other person. You ignore all the red flags. You fantasize about them when they’re not with you. They have all the power to lift you up or tear you down. It’s not steady and solid nurturing as real love will be. It’s dramatic and unstable and exciting.
The internet is rife with limerence. It’s a state that thrives when you don’t really know the other person. The more blank canvas they present you with, the more you are able to paint in what you really want to see. You turn them into the perfect purveyor of all your unmet needs. Your mind convinces you that your beliefs about this person are real so that it/you can continue to be flooded with those awesome chemicals.
Second Life is full of such stories. I knew a guy who spent money he did not have to fly from Australia to the US, thinking he was going there to meet the love of his life, only to find out that the person waiting for him was… a person. She was not the gorgeous voluptuous avatar that he danced with in ballrooms every night in virtual reality, without a care in the world. And for that matter, he couldn’t afford a tuxedo in real life, and neither of them really knew how to dance. Their happily ever after crumbled like the house of cards it had always been.
You can draw limerence out in a virtual world for years. It’s a heady experience. As long as you both continue to play the unspoken roles that each has subtly laid out for the other, you can binge on the testosterone and estrogen for as long as you want, even if your real body is too old or too unhealthy or too married or too far away to actually consummate your connection.
Cyber-romance can be quite satisfying, as long as you don’t mind a diet that consists of nothing but empty calories. But when it starts to crowd out your real life, it can be trouble. If you use up the bulk of your time daydreaming about the object of your limerence, that’s a problem. If it gives you an excuse to not work on establishing or improving a real life relationship, it’s unfair to your real life partner. When it worms its way into your psyche and starts nibbling away at your mental health, it’s toxic.
And while you are in limerence, you assume that the other person is putting in as much effort and being just as vulnerable and honest as you are. But so many of my friends have been lied to in virtual reality that it stuns me that anyone indulges in it anymore. You can be whoever you want to be in a virtual world, and if you don’t truly care about the person behind the other avatar, you can make up all the stories you want.
You can falsify your sexual experience and proclivities. You can experiment with other gender identities than your own. If you identify as male, regardless of what your birth certificate says, it’s cruel, in my opinion, to role play that you identify as female, because you’re role playing with someone else’s emotions. Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with role playing. Just be up front about it if you’re engaged in a cyber romance. I really never understood people who delight in catfishing others. It’s heartless. No relationship can thrive if it’s based on deception.
And it boggles the mind, the number of people in there who are miserable and lonely and lying about their marital status. For many, virtual reality seems to be the land of quiet desperation. You don’t have to be you in there.
You can pretend to be successful or rich or even (for a short time) intelligent, when in fact you are none of those things. You can be utterly incapable of feeling real emotions, but you can make them up as you go along. You might even cut and paste dialogue from other parts of the net if you can’t think of anything to say yourself. If you’re a teenage boy, you can pretend to be in your 30’s. If you’re an old woman, you can pretend to be a model. If you’re four feet tall and wheelchair bound, you can pretend that you’re 6 feet tall and a professional dancer. If you’re a sinner, you can be a saint. If you’re a convicted felon, you can pretend that you are a commodities trader on Wall Street who lives in a brownstone in Manhattan instead of someone sitting in a trailer wearing nothing but an ankle bracelet and a bathrobe, on the outskirts of Detroit.
Again, all well and good if you’re not playing with someone’s heart. But don’t lie to someone as you both suck on those hormones, baby, and you convince yourself that you’re the happiest you’ve ever been in your life. What a rush! Until the truth comes out and you devastate the other person.
While it feels better than anything you’ve ever felt before, limerence is an illusion. And it keeps you in thrall as your real life begins to atrophy from the sheer neglect. And then one day you get slapped back into reality, and you have to start all over again.
Love enhances you. But beware of limerence. It depletes you. Check out these articles for more information.
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