Two Quick Questions to Start the Week

Comments

1

Is biological determinism something we really want to argue though? You could also argue that when MRE wears off, familiarity sets in—an exceptionally binding emotion.

We're smart little mammals, whatever works for the parties involved is what's best.

2

wait wait is tarnishing a gold star an act of violence or not?

3

Limerence isn't exactly the same as NRE because limerence involves uncertainty about whether your feelings are reciprocated, whereas during NRE, both people are feeling that intense drive to be together.

From Wikipedia:
"During the height of limerence, thoughts of the limerent object (or person) are at once persistent, involuntary and intrusive...All events, associations, stimuli, and experiences return thoughts to the limerent object with unnerving consistency, while conversely the constant thoughts about the limerent object define all other experiences. If a certain thought has no previous connection with the limerent object, immediately one is made.
...Limerence develops and is sustained when there is a certain balance of hope and uncertainty. The basis for limerent hope is not in objective reality but in reality as it is perceived. The inclination is to sift through nuances of speech and subtleties of behavior for evidence of limerent hope... What the limerent object said and did is recalled with vividness. Alternative meanings for the behaviors recalled are sought. Each word and gesture is permanently available for review, especially those interpreted as evidence in favor of reciprocated feeling."

Also -- to the OP, not everyone likes limerence or NRE; it's one thing to take a drug that temporarily muddles one's thoughts on purpose; it's another thing to be involuntarily muddled without any antidote.

4

My one and only opposite sex experience happened after I'd been out as gay for quite some time. Led to random boners for days afterwards. THAT was an eye-opening experience. I really had to sit back and reassess what I thought I knew about myself.

In general, I have learned to be suspicious when I get feelings of "I'm only this way and cannot possibly be any other." That's a feeling that has been contradicted by life experience far too often for me to take seriously.

So it's helpful to remember that categories like "gay," "straight," "bi," "trans," (or "addict," "white," "nerd," "Catholic," "communist," "American," or "working-class," all categories I have applied to myself at one point or another) are just labels. They are a tool to help us understand who we are and how we should act and how we relate to others and how others relate to us. So those labels are artificial things that we collectively create and share and use.

It's how I can have really enjoying sex with that one woman years ago and still think of myself as gay. Because, as much as it is about what I like to do with my genitals, it's even more an expression of group identity (one simultaneously chosen by me and imposed by society, to varying degrees). BTW, that "imposed by society" is important; we are never the only authors of our identity and can never truly be self made.

So in that sense, your prof is wrong. Your group is your group. It's part of the matrix that determines who you are.

But in the sense that we are all capable of enjoying sex with any gender to some degree under the right circumstances? Yup, I'll buy that one.

5

"I'm a pretentious sociology student that likes to brag about their arcane vocabulary, and I'd like to ask if you can disprove an unknowable absolute."

6

I had a similar aha moment. Strangers in a Strange Land. Heinlein has a character say "There are two types of people in the world. Those who know they are bisexual and those who don't."

That made immediate sense to me. It is just skin, after all. Why do we get so hung up on innies or outies as an absolute?

Having said all that, women don't smell right to me and I have never had the urge to kiss a conventionally attractive woman. (I have been attracted to masculine looking women -- operative word "masculine.")

I think if social pressures were gone (see #4 above), there wouldn't be this binary stuff. And Heinlein would be proven accurate.

7

What @5 said.

8

I am here to say that NRE is an extremely uncomfortable feeling for me and I love the moment that settles down.

9

A., the world of sex and attraction and love and crushes/infatuation is a much wider one than we sometimes think when we're young. Have fun navigating it. You don't need an answer from an expert--whether your sociology professor or Dan Savage--to be open to all kinds of possibilities or to accept that people you know may be broadening their horizons.

10

@5 & 7 Now, now, be kind. LW is trying out some new ideas. That sort of thing ought to be encouraged.

11

The Psychology Today article quoted by Dan suggests that women who are loud during sex are vestigial sluts. Yay!

When I was a young university student, I was courted by my lesbian housemates' gay male friends. I knew I could get blown if only I could get excited about it; I had nothing against it as a concept, but I just couldn't get there. I was reluctantly forced to conclude that I was stuck with being straight.

That said: from time to time, I've noticed and had certain feelings about a curvy ass, only to discover that it was attached to a bloke, so maybe that knocks me off the 100% podium.

12

@ 3 EricaP, that definition reminds me of someone who had it bad for me but I didn’t reciprocate. Yikes, not fun. I’ve had it myself more privately, thanks be. It’s the stuff of comedy when it’s fictional. Stalkerism when it’s not—if I understand the Wiki info correctly. As you say, not the same as NRE because there’s not necessarily an R.

13

I don't see how "limerence" differs from "being in love".

14

@12 yeah, I too got the tense gut discomfort feeling reading that definition. I'm frankly glad I didn't jump into relationships during that phase the few times it happened to me but I know all too well how easy that kind of intensity can get you into thinking something is mutual when it is not. It also stinks of the inversion of 'friend zones', aka people with expectations that friend level favors will be met with romance level reciprocation.

At any rate, given how common rape and forced pairings are through history and still today, I think using any kind of love or obsession argument for the species as a whole is going to miss a lot. On the other side, monogamy isn't uncommon enough to be accounted for simply by one group or cultural practice (I am no more poly than I am bi, probably less so, and while I would be willing to discuss the possibility of my partner having other partners, I have zero interest in actually starting and maintaining more than one intimate relationship, and it was offered explicitly in a previous relationship so I am not speaking hypothetically here). Possibly of note, humans have an extremely wide range of sexual dimorphism (like, hampsters are obviously male or female at a glance if you know what to look for, norway rats are pretty similar regardless of sex, but there are very androgynous people and then 400 lb linebackers dating 80 lb cheerleaders), compared with other species, so maybe we have a wider than normal range of desire for multiple partners too.

15

I'll just note that even if humans aren't naturally wired to be monogamous, it doesn't follow that humans are naturally wired to be /ethically/ nonmonagamous. A lot of things that sound nice in a classroom wind up being justifications for assholishness. (See also: Everybody who thinks that Ayn Rand explains everything perfectly.)

16

Sounds like a sociology professor was being purposefully provacative with new college students.

17

@5. Knat (&7). I like the fact that the LW is asking questions they've always wondered about and now have the occasion to pop. Many people seek advice in extremis, and consequently may be in no condition to appreciate or act upon it. And we don't know whether, for instance, A. is tempted to break up a LTR in pursuit of limerence, or is reconsidering their sexual orientation.

@11. Fubar. Receiving a blowjob is rarely the gay sex act that appeals most to heterosexuals. Or (in my experience) 'heterosexuals'. Fucking a guy in the ass? More like it.

@4. Corydon. I agree with you about 'labels'. 'Straight', 'gay', 'bi' are social identities. Someone who has gay thoughts, fantasies, images spilling round their brain but doesn't act on them is straight--in behavior, probably in social identity; someone who acts on them or confesses to them is gay or bi.

18

I actually think we all start out in infancy bigendered and bisexual and come to adopt a specific identity in the course of a formative process that's heavily repressive.

19

Limerence, what a great word for the vocabulary!

Dougsf @1: Great typo. When MREs wear off, it's hunger that sets in. :)

EricaP @3: So "limerence" just means "infatuation." Why then did they need a new word? Great point that it is not always pleasant. Indeed, just like the effects of addictive drugs.

Bareboards @6: Do you know who thinks everyone is bisexual? Bisexuals. (Actually, it's naive bisexuals. It's part of the coming-out process -- going from "what's wrong with me for having these weird feelings" to "these feelings aren't weird" to "these feelings are 100% natural and logical" to "everyone must have these feelings!" Nope, they don't. Quite a lot of them, but not all.)

RE @13: Presumably because being in love CAN last a lifetime. And is not accompanied by that desperate sense of need.

Harriet @17: Again presumably, "heterosexuals" want to fuck a guy in the ass, but non-quotation-marked heterosexuals would prefer to receive a blowjob because it would be easier to fantasise that their blower is female.

20

@17. Bi. For the avoidance of doubt, I don't think that all heterosexuals have heads full of maddening, enticing gay fantasies. There's no reason to think that at all. (Nor do I think that idea 'offensive', in the way Dan seemed to).

21

BDF @19 "RE @13: Presumably because being in love CAN last a lifetime. And is not accompanied by that desperate sense of need."

Hmm, you are right. I guess I should have said "infatuated" rather than "in love" (mistranslation from my native language). So is there a difference between "being infatuated" and "limerence"?

22

If I'm permitted to butt in, Reg and BDF, I'd opine that 'infatuation' carries with it a romantic and/or sexual connotation, and limerence explicitly does not, according to the definition provided. (I have not consulted a dictionary for the precise definition of 'infatuation' so this could very well be solely my understanding.)

23

IWS @22 I guess you're right.

Weird: at en.oxforddictionaries.com there's the following note:

Origin
1970s: from limer- (apparently an arbitrary syllable) + -ence.

Looks like it's a made-up word.

24

Since 100% ≠ 99.9999% (and "Because sexual orientation ≠ romantic orientation") the prof's statement sounds far more bold than it is; it stirred a debate difficult to lose.

25

"limerence" = made up term by a psychologist in 1979 to sell books. Never caught on in psychology research -- probably because it is not distinct from infatuation or the feeling of being in love.

26

Limerence/infatuation is the only kind of “in love” I’ve experienced. I have experienced deep, lasting love (including my 16 year and counting marriage) without it, but it doesn’t give me that in love feeling. I’ve struggled with understanding whether this is just definitional (so the thing I call “in love” is really infatuation and no one gets that long term), or if it’s connected to being poly (so I need occasional NRE), or if I’m missing out by settling for my wonderful in many ways but not in love relationship.

27

IWasSfR @22: Of course you may butt in!
According to which definition provided -- Dan's or EricaP @3's? Dan's definition states that limerence is "characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one's feelings but not PRIMARILY for a sexual relationship" (emphasis mine). So sexual feelings are not ruled out, but they are not the focus. I am picturing a crush where one concocts fantasies about the crush object falling for them, mentally picking out children's names and furnishings for their future home, etc., which are not primarily sexual but definitely romantic. If not romantic in nature, can you give me an example of what you picture limerence referring to?
EricaP @3's description sounds more like obsession than infatuation.
I think these are very nuanced distinctions, though. In practice limerence doesn't sound different from infatuation, to me.

Something @26: I am also poly. Do you find that you can get bursts of NRE from existing partners if you haven't seen them for a while, or when you get a new partner and feel so lucky that your existing partners can coexist with the new one that you get a resurgence of NRE with the existing partner as well? (I'm there at the moment, it's pretty awesome!) I wonder if anyone has coined a word for this phenomenon yet.
As to your situation, it sounds like you're getting the best of both worlds -- the giddy highs of NRE and a lasting, stable, settled love. Yay for cake and eating it! :)

28

Not every culture has been monogomous, and western people today are finding alternative forms. Humans take so long to grow up, unlike other animals, that a settled situation has been needed. The form the family takes in different cultures, isn’t and hasn’t always been monogomy.
Nature didn’t give us rules on how to set our social systems up, it just made sex feel really good and catching the bug of attraction/ love is part of the honey trap. Fall in love have sex make babies. After that nature doesn’t much care how we feel, it’s object has been achieved.
It’s human intervention which has allowed sex to be easily enjoyed without procreation.

29

That’s my take on heterosexuality. I’ve recently had some NRE, though it didn’t evolve into anything because I had to throw him back, too young. It was very destabilising and though it was a buzz to have a younger man pursue me, I’m still unsettled by it, weeks after.

31

The problem with seeking what humans are biologically wired for is that you so quickly get into absurdities. It's easy to show that humans are biologically better designed for walking than for swimming, but it would be absurd to say that no human can swim or that therefore humans shouldn't swim because it's a moral wrong. I could argue that humans can sing naturally while it's unnatural to play the violin. It takes a ton of conditioning to play the violin, but I'm not drawing any conclusions about symphony orchestras because of that.

Take the absurdities further. Those in favor of swimming can point out that there are a lot of problems with walking too. Humans have troubles with backs, hips and knees. As joints where down, lots of people get good exercise from swimming, therefore it's actually walking that's unnatural. "But what about the people who drown?" the walking advocates reply. "Swimming isn't for everyone. Look at the thousands of years of non-swimming civilization!" "There isn't a civilization on earth where people don't walk." "Oh, yeah? What about people born with spinal bifida or old people who use wheelchairs? Should we just kill them? Are the non-walkers morally corrupt, or just unnatural?" "And non-violin playing! Playing the violin is the sign of an advanced civilization."

Let's put this argument to rest by saying that no one is 100% a walker or a swimmer, and some people live long happy lives without ever listening to let alone playing a violin.

Etc. My point is only that what's natural keeps changing as does what's moral. Which isn't to say that the study of evolution and morality aren't important, only that I wouldn't leap to too many conclusions-- which is hard for college students given their age and the heady feeling of being exposed to so many new ideas at once. It's hard for advice columnists too.

32

I'm unsure of whether Dan is deliberately sidestepping the implications of his monogamy links or if he's not connecting the dots. For example, that ball size link has it exactly backwards. The science seems to indicate that it's women who are genetically programmed to be non-monogamous, not the men. Ball size correlates to the activity of the females of the species.

The question is why women changed? The running joke in Shakespeare was the horniness of women, but now we have this plague of incels. The answer is that the non-monogamy of our evolutionary ancestresses was switched on as a reward for good hunting skills on the part of the males of the tribe. In other words, women are hardwired for orgies in the aftermath of a big game kill and subsequent barbeque, and male bodies evolved to accommodate them. But in modern times, the effects of the omega-3 fatty acids and iron are lost, due to grain-fed livestock and a myriad of new environmental influences that interfere with the balance of serotonin and dopamine.

I'm starting to wonder if the hostility to my science could be chalked up to Putinbot efforts to cultivate incels. tcot definitely came after me hard. The more incels, the more civil unrest and the greater the market for prostitution and sex trafficking. But that's probably just me being paranoid.

33

We do keep evolving and nature has a form of morality. . Incest creates damaged humans, sexually transmitted diseases exist, so nature puts brakes on our sexual behaviours.
Good the LW is asking questions, wish someone like Dan had been around when I was young.

35

I think limerence runs along one spectrum from mild crush to infatuation to obsession, as well as a toggle switch of reciprocated/unreciprocated.

I think it's useful to be able to talk about the harm involved in an unreciprocated love obsession, and maybe infatuation doesn't convey the same potential for creepiness and disruption to both people's lives.

36

If you don't know what limerence is, you're obviously not enough of an expert on the subject to be so outspoken about a particular answer.

37

@17,
While there are bi guys who enjoy fucking a gay guy, a large percentage [I think higher] are looking for the one thing a woman cannot give them, a cock to suck.

38

BDF, I was using the definition Dan quoted. As to an example, the definition reminded me of how it feels to make a new friend, one with whom we 'click' instantly. Sometimes I make friends slowly, gradually getting to know them, sometimes I meet someone and instantly hit it off. I was especially thinking of times when life has changed in such a way that I was separated from old friends, and so meeting someone I connected with was especially intense. (Meeting a friend for the first time after my family moved to a new community when I wasn't quite 10, the roommate in college I had right after the Roommate-from-Hell, a friend I met shortly after leaving college/getting married and starting 'adult' life, a friend I met when, after a period of intense baby-toddler years, I rejoined a club sport I used to play and sorely missed, etc.)
I missed the word 'primarily' though, so I attributed 'limerence' to non-crush, excited-about-a-new-friend feelings only. I think I agree that it could include the 'crushing on someone' feeling, now that you've pointed out the word I missed. I think it useful to have a word that doesn't necessarily include romantic/sexual connotations (like I think infatuation does) as I've definitely experienced this new-friend excitement with no sexual/romantic overtones.

39

@5 and @7.

That's not what I'd have inferred from the LW at all. To me it looks like he/she is not a native English speaker. I'd guess that he/she is very good at English, but isn't aware of which words are common and which are unusual in regular speech. It's a very common thing - I work mostly with non-native speakers and see this a lot - and it's not something I'd criticise anyone for.

But if I'm wrong, and it's just someone trying hard to express some new ideas, I wouldn't criticise them for that either. It seems an odd thing to jump on someone for.

40

@37. vab251. I think you're right. This would be a distinction between bi men, who are predominantly cocksuckers, and certain out-of-hours heterosexuals open to butt-fucking. I'm agnostic on whether these people (who of course can also be seeking cock) are closeted bi-s or all-purpose 'straight' tops.

41

I think it is a matter of definitions. I always assumed I was not actually 100% straight because I could see a shirtless muscle man and envy/appreciate their beauty but never liked dicks, balls or man ass even in straight porno. If you only count actual sexual/romantic attraction, that has not happened. It would take a trans person who identifies male with huge, real(istic) tits and a big old butt and a nice vag to get me up for a dude, and that seems like cheating the definition.

42

A fair percentage of young men I meet these days are not gay, bi or straight, they're "whatever" (I rarely talk about sex with women, so I don't know if that's true for them, too).

"Whatever", of course, is an old sexual identification, predating gay, bi and straight by a few millennia, where sex is situational and dependent on the context you're in. Could be with whoever. It's a reflection of your inborn predilections, but it doesn't feel the same.

How people self-identify is wildly variable, too, even in our (possibly fading) gay / bi / straight world. People's preferred identity sometimes doesn't match their actual sexual behavior as other people understand it. Years ago I knew a hot little builder in Brisbane, Australia who was straight and married to a jealous woman. He had to sneak around because he had other women on the side, and he really loved getting fucked and fisted by other men. I asked him if he liked to fuck and fist men too, and he looked at me like I'd asked a really stupid question,

"No," he said, "like I said, I'm straight. That would be gay."

43

@19 OMG hahahaha...

44

I think your professor is wrong LW, not everyone is a little bit or more bi. Some men are repulsed by female bodies and some women feel the same about men’s bodies.
I’m only attracted to the top half of women, not interested in another woman’s genitals. So this part of me stays in fantasy land.

45

“Nobody is 100% gay/straight” is more about the spectrum of objects than the spectrum of subjects. An “entirely straight” guy will find himself attracted to some non-binary/otherwise-non-conforming person (with current/past body parts falling into whatever definition you use to define non-straight attraction) without suddenly lusting after Ashton Kutcher. At least that’s what my high school kid tells me.

46

@5, 7: Buckle up, this is my field, and I find it endlessly interesting. Or, you know, don't, and just ignore the discussion. :-)

@23: It's not arbitrary at all, the OED editor just missed the roots, possibly becasue ze didn't read the paper establishing the term. It's a portmanteau formed from the roots "lim-" as in "liminal", the beginning of, "er-" as in "eros", desire, and "-ence", the state of. Limerence: the beginning state of desire, and it's specifically "desire" to capture the possessive, obsessive elements and also not necessarily connect it to romantic love.

Also, they're ALL made up! (@25, too)

@38: Limerence does indeed describe an obsessive desire to be around a new friend, not only an obsessive desire to be around a new (potential) lover. It's sexuality-agnostic for exactly the reasons you surmise.

On to the questions.

"Natural" is an ideograph - a word with no consistent denotation but a stable connotation, which people then interpret according to their own biases in any particular context. It's not especially useful in a case like this - I could say that monogamy is or isn't natural and be perfectly correct either way because there is no particular referent for "natural". Also, there is no such thing as a pre-social on non-social environment for human beings: we are social animals that are conceived and gestated in a social context, and we cannot survive as infants without a social system to provide us resources and protect us from harm, so we also always develop in a social context. If you're taking "natural" to mean "without human intervention" or "not impacted by human social systems", there is no such thing for human beings. So what are you really asking?

Is there a biological basis for non-monogamy? Yup, there's a biological basis for literally everything we do, as well as a social basis - everything we are and do is a function of both. That means there's also a biological basis for monogamy.

Is limerence like an addiction? It can be, for some people, like just about any behavior - addiction is a function of our brain's habituation process, sometimes reinforced by additional neurochemical effects from a substance (in the case of substance addictions), which we label "addiction" when the habituated behavior violates social norms and the habituation is so strong that it's difficult for the person in question to stop or redirect (sometimes the behavior itself violates norms, sometimes necessary behaviors that enable the habituated behavior violate norms). Clinically, limerence is an obsessive mental state, and addiction can lead to obsession, present as a comorbidity, or result from coping behaviors to manage obsession, so they can be linked, but they're not exactly the same thing.

Personally, I prefer euphoria and reduced impulse control that I can choose when to induce and that lasts for less than a day and that doesn't depend on another person's buy-in (and that won't turn into awful pain in response to a rejection), so drugs like alcohol and cannabinoids work better IMO than chasing limerence, but I understand why people are drawn to it.

I'm wondering if "no one is 100% straight or gay" was presented in class with some additional context, an operational definition for "straight" and "gay", and/or is a paraphrase by A rather than a direct quote. If we're talking physiological sexual arousal and response, it's probably true that nobody responds ONLY to stimulation (aural, visual, tactile, or olfactory) from people of a narrow range of embodiments, gender expressions, gender identities, etc. And as Dan implies with his response about the gender spectrum, "gay" and "straight" are simplified models that rely on a binary construction of gender (social and/or biological) and often normative congruence between biological gender/embodiment and social gender within a relatively narrow range of possibilities, so we'd need a specific operational definition for those terms to evaluate the truth of that claim.

In terms of identity, people can absolutely be 100% straight, gay, bi, asexual, pansexual, or attack helicopter - it's a self-applied label, and one can apply any label one wishes (though, with apologies to the hard-core identitarians, nobody is obligated to believe you* - just ask Rachel Dolezal). But the answer to the question really depends on what we're taking as our determinant of both gender and sexuality qua gendered object choice. If I'm a man (by whatever definition) who is attracted to someone I read as a woman becasue of zir gendered social presentation, but who identifies as a man, am I gay/straight/bi? Does it matter if he has a normative male or female embodiment? Someone with a female embodiment and masculine presentation? Does it matter if ze identifies as a man or a woman (or non-binary)? It's politically expedient to use identity as the primary determinant of gender when we're talking about interactions between an individual and the state (laws, identification cards, etc.), but it's probably one of the worst factors to use as a determinant when we're talking about transitive sexual attraction, becasue humans can't read minds, so other people will be attracted or not based on THEIR perceptions of one's presentation and embodiment, not based on one's identity. "No one is 100% straight or gay" is overly simplistic framing that additionally is based on concepts for which our models are political and contested, so, without an additional clarification of the operational definitions or some other contextual information, ultimately I'd say that it's not even wrong.

*An aside about trans rights: I believe that as long as we are going to insist on maintaining any kind of gender discrimination, which we very much still do, in situations as common as dictating where people get to poop, that anyone should have the right to legal and social recognition of one's gender as whatever one wishes. I also think that gender is itself an absurd social system for categorizing people with which we should do away entirely, and I don't think that the gender identities of cis people are in any way more real or valid than those of trans people, I think like all aspects of identity they're all internalized stories we tell ourselves about ourselves based on the cultural systems of meaning in which we were socialized. Much like marriage, I'd prefer a radical change that does away with the social institution entirely, but while that remains a minority position, I view expanding access and eroding the barriers as a positive step, at least in part because it calls into question the supposedly essential basis of the social institution (be it gender, marriage, or anything else).

47

IWas @38: I think you also missed the words "infatuated or obsessed" in Dan's definition, which don't strike me as typically pertaining to friendships.
If you want a word for new friend excitement (which does seem like a fairly typical thing when you are 10), how about NFE? :)

48

The closest I can come to those who give that horrible and gay-murdering assertion any credence at all (straights will survive it far better) is that it may just be possible that I had some tiny capacity that I had to destroy in order to defeat conversion therapy. That is as charitable as I can be.