ERP 344: How Our Language Can Steer & Shape Our Relationships — An Interview With Dr. Georgi Gardiner

By Posted in - Podcast November 1st, 2022 0 Comments

Have you ever been in a situation where you just can’t find the words to express how you are feeling, and then all of a sudden you come across a word that perfectly captures how you feel? Isn’t it empowering to finally have a name for that feeling or experience so you can share it with others?

Language is an incredibly effective tool for communication and expression. It not only helps you understand who you are, but it also alters the way you see the world. There are simply not enough words to adequately describe the various kinds of emotions and relationships that people are capable of experiencing, which is why communities, such as the LGBTQ and polyamory, are developing new vocabulary.

In this episode, Dr. Georgi Gardiner discusses some new vocabulary words that she covers in her essay, We Forge the Conditions of Love, in an effort to raise awareness. In the aforementioned essay, the author discusses how people’s conceptions of love impact their romantic relationships and offers suggestions for how to direct and mold them.

Dr. Georgi Gardiner is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and a fellow of the American Council for Learned Societies (ACLS). She previously held the Andrew Fraser Junior Research Fellowship at St. John’s College, Oxford University. Georgi received her doctorate from Rutgers University and Undergraduate and Masters degrees from Edinburgh University. Her research interests include the philosophy of love, sexuality, and sex work. She also researches beliefs about trauma and rape.

In this Episode

6:22 What is linguistic luck and how can it affect your romantic relationship?

8:17 Love has a very permissive flexibility of meaning. 

13:27 An example of social forging: holiday romance or a summer fling.

18:51 How can trying on various interpretive frames of oneself be an empowering cognitive skill? 

23:15 How to switch between being disempowered and being empowered.

27:12 What influences societal constructs, and how are communities broadening the vocabulary they use to describe their relationships?

30:42 What is limerence, and how might it influence how people perceive love and romantic relationships?

34:22 Are you really experiencing falling in love or is it just limerence? 

44:21 How can people utilize this knowledge more in their daily lives? 

47:42 Find out more about Dr. Georgi Gardiner and her work.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Be more aware of the concepts you hold and the surrounding ideas, not just the linguistic environment in which you were raised.
  • Expand your vocabulary to help you understand and interpret the world around us, as well as your own emotions and interpersonal relationships.

Mentioned

We Forge the Conditions of Love (essay)

Living with Limerence (book)

ERP 286: How to Know if You Experience Limerence & What to Do About It – An Interview With Dr. L

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Connect with Dr. Georgi Gardiner

Website: georgigardiner.com

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Dr. Georgi, thank you so much for joining us.

Oh gosh, well, thank you, I’m really pleased with the opportunity to talk about this project.

And I am thrilled to be able to talk to professionals who are doing research. Because so often when people in academia are doing research, and there’s so many great findings, and it doesn’t always immediately translate to application. So I think being able to have your voice here around on some of these topics is such a gift. So thank you for making time for us.

Yeah, thank you. I mean, my research does have such applications, and it really is like applied, and it can change how people see their relationships and how their relationships go. So I’m really excited for the opportunity to share that.

I love that. I’m curious, as you look at concepts around love and people’s experience around what they’re feeling as it relates to relationship, what got you interested in approaching these topics?

So this essay was written for a particular volume. It’s a volume on the philosophy of language. So it’s usually very abstract, kind of out there, sort of up in the sky, up in the clouds, and not really having these real world applications. But the philosophy of language book was about linguistic luck, and then what is linguistic luck? I understood that to be a kind of luckiness, in our linguistic environment, in our linguistic community, about what words are people using and not using. The thought is, if words have a power to change our feelings, our emotions, our relationships, our possibility, then there’s a luckiness, sort of good or bad fortune, good or bad luck, about which words we stumble across, which words we come across when we’re young, or when we’re older, and which words we never do, and so which possibilities are not open to us. 

So I thought the idea of writing about what is linguistic luck would be this opportunity to explore some of these ideas about sexuality, sexual attraction, and then romantic love and mere crushes, and what the difference is between romantic love and mere crushes. Then as we’ll get to, I stumbled across, in my own case, this word limerence, which is not really in the linguistic environment. And we’ll get to this, I think reading the Reddit forums, when people come across the word limerence, they’re like: “Ah, I wish I’d heard about this word sooner, this really helps me understand my experience.” So coming across limerence myself while writing the essay was a perfect instance of, well, here’s a word that I didn’t know about and now I can use in my essay.

Yes, and you are expanding your vocabulary, if you will. What would you like to start with, as it relates to you talk about permissive flexibility, and as it relates to relationship, and particularly love? Where would you like to start with that?

So this idea of permissive flexibility, that’s a term that I coined in the essay. So I’ll start with the essay, maybe we’ll start there. So what is permissive flexibility? It’s this idea that for some words, there’s no hard and fast boundaries about what words mean; there’s no kind of language piece that say this is what the word means. So some words don’t have permissive flexibility. So if a child goes around calling every bird that’s black, a Raven, they’re just mistaken about what the word Raven means; they’ve got the word wrong. 

There’s some words that have permissive flexibility to them. So suppose somebody calls some birds charming and some birds not charming, for some cases, they just mean slightly different things by charming. To take another example, like, calling a crowd rowdy, so a certain level of agitation and loudness and action. Suppose there’s a crowd of soccer fans on a train going to the match, and they’re excited and they’re loud and they’re moving around. Well, you might call that crowd rowdy. But I might think, well, they’re not being loud enough to count as rowdy, they’re not being kind of obnoxious enough to count as rowdy. So you have a more permissive definition of rowdy, and I have a more narrow restrictive one. So I wouldn’t call it rowdy, and you would.

The thought is, it’s not like one of us is right and one of us is wrong, we just mean slightly different things by the word rowdy. That’s permissive flexibility: we can mean different things, and we can both be right. I think love has a lot of permissive flexibility in the meaning. Some of these are just a matter of degree. So how much do you have to be fond of the person for it to count as love? How much affection do you need for it to count as love? How much do you have to think about them to count as love? It has permissive flexibility, so we can disagree but both be right about our conceptions of love. 

For some of these properties, it’s not just a matter of degree. It’s more binary. It’s like, does the property have to obtain or not? So for instance, can you be in love with a person without liking them? You might think, of course not, that’s not possible. I might think, oh, that is possible. So we have different conceptions of love. Similarly, can you be in love with a person and not care about their interests? Can you be in love and yet not be remotely sexually attracted to them, or think that they’re slightly abhorrent, slightly repulsive? Is that possible? One person might say that’s not possible, another person says that’s possible, and they can both be right for some cases. 

So the example that I really lean into there in the essay is, can you be in love with a celebrity that you’ve never met? Or does love require a personal relationship? So one person might think, yeah, you can be in love with someone you’ve never met, a celebrity; like a writer, a podcaster, musician, an actor. You can be in love with them without personal relationship. Somebody else will say, no, that’s not possible. That’s just a celebrity crush or an infatuation, that can’t be love. 

That’s what I mean by permissive flexibility. In some such cases, social forces; there’s no language piece, and there’s no natural forces, like scientific facts that will say that one of them is right and one of them is wrong.

Well, I appreciate your wide array of examples, and I’m sure many listeners can identify with their own flexibility in using terms such as love and what that entails. Or perhaps have even confronted that in a relationship, where someone might have, like you had said, a little bit more narrow. Like, I would never say I love you until, and there’s a lot of parameters and criteria that would need to happen for that person to actually use the word love. I can think of actually a family member who shows me in a million different ways how much he loves me, but rarely, if ever, have I ever heard him say I love you, when that might be the actual expression of it. 

As you’re talking, other people might question, like, how did they just say I love you, they just met each other? Or like, even just befriending someone and having such a close knit, kinship, and feeling that sense of love. That there is such a wide array, and I love that you’re giving us so many examples to reference. I will just say, I’m pretty familiar with the difficulty of this, having come from the background of studying psychology and the field of psychology as it relates to research. Many people are contending with what we would call constructs; they’re not easily observable, or we don’t have a lot of objective ways of measuring them. That we don’t have these police, we don’t have these visual things that we can look at a bird and say those are their characteristics, thus it is this. So it’s much more difficult to quantify. 

This is so fascinating, because you’re really looking at how it relates to one’s experience. So before we go there, would you name the title of your essay?

Yeah, the essay is called “We Forge the Conditions of Love.” And “forge” there is intentionally ambiguous between kind of creating, and also in a certain sense, a kind of faking, but also a kind of social construction.

Free Man Kissing Woman Stock Photo

“So what we think love is can in fact change what love is, and what our relationships look like.”

I give a host of examples that we can get to, in the essay, about this kind of forging; this social forging, social construction. So for example, having the conception of holiday romance can bring holiday romances into being. 

So some self-ascriptions are inert; they have no potency, they have no power. So if I say I’m wearing a red dress, that doesn’t change the world. That just describes the world. It’s true, I’m wearing a red dress. But it doesn’t sort of change anything about the world when I just describe that. If I say I’m in love, or not even say, but think. So self-ascriptions can just be purely in the mind, just like thoughts. If I think I’m in love, that can be potent, that can be powerful, and change emotions and relationships and commitments and interpretation. Similarly, if I self-ascribe not being in love, I say I’m not in love, or in my mind, I think I’m not enough, that can change the world. 

So I’m really interested in these judgments that don’t just describe the world but also change the world. I think there’s a lot of them. I’m queer, I’m straight. I’m in love, I’m attracted, I’ve fallen out of love. I think these things are very powerful self-ascriptions. So I’m really interested in how do we make those, when do we make the call, when do we think it? One of the things is, how do we interpret our emotion, how do we introspect about our emotions? But one is, well, what do we even mean by love? If you think you can’t be in love with a celebrity you’ve never met, you’re never going to self-ascribe being in love with that person. 

So that’s where I’m interested in that some conceptions might be better than others, some meanings of words might be better. Because sometimes, it can be good or it can be bad to self-describe being queer, or attracted, or in love, or similar.

Okay, there’s so much in what you’re saying, and I want to just try to see if I can reflect here if I’m getting this right. So when you say good or bad, is that disempowering or empowering? Is that what you are referring to?

It can be a host of different things, and one of those things is disempowering or empowering. I think that’s one of the ways that we can evaluate these conceptions. So an example of an empowering, potentially empowering conception is holiday romance. Suppose somebody goes on holiday and they meet somebody. A person called Holly, because they’re on holiday. And very quickly, they become affectionate, romantically affectionate, and they have a good rapport, and they sort of find each other charming and funny, and they’re sexual together as well within this week. Suppose that she doesn’t have the conception of holiday romance, which in America, I think you call a summer fling, holiday fling, there’s a few words like that. But in Britain, it’s a much more common idea, and we call it holiday romance. 

So holiday romance has distinctive features. Because you don’t live in the same town, and you’re away from your normal society and your normal friends, so your friends won’t meet the person and so on, that’s a kind of freedom to not just be potentially sexual with the person, but also romantic. Whereas if you had met in the same town, and you had that much romantic intimacy so quickly, that would create a bunch of expectations that you would continue to see each other. 

So suppose that the person doesn’t have the concept of holiday romance, and this happens to them. They might now interpret themselves as having a great bond with the person. They would see the explanation as being: “Well, the person I met, we must be really compatible, we must have a lot of potential for a future relationship. Because we got on so well, we were romantic together, we were sexual together. It happened so fast; this is something like a destiny. There’s something about this person where we’re very compatible for a future potential long-term relationship.” That might be a kind of clash. Because what actually caused the situation or the romance to occur so fast, wasn’t anything about the person particularly. It was the context, so the fact that they were both on a holiday in a different place together. 

Then somebody else who has the concept of holiday romance might sort of implicitly realize that what caused that level of intimacy, emotional intimacy and romance, so quickly wasn’t deep compatibility with the person. It was the fact that you were both on holiday in a different town, and so had more of a freedom. 

So that’s an example of both a concept, the holiday romance or summer fling, where having the concept can bring the thing into being. We have more holiday romances because we have the concept. And it’s also empowering because it lets us interpret what happens to us in a certain way, having a certain understanding. In fact, we might even underestimate the level of future compatibility. But that underestimation could be a good thing, because you can’t go pursuing every potential relationship you have. So that’s one kind of example. 

But in the essay, I also talk about how trying on different interpretive frames itself can be an empowering cognitive skill. So I have an example of two people who start at college and they join the basketball team. One of them sees herself as queer, and one of them sees herself as straight. Now they both have a certain kind of excitation around their basketball coach, and so they have the same degree of nervousness around the coach. I call the coach Pat Summitt, because I’m here at the University of Tennessee, he’s a famous basketball coach. 

So they both find her funny and charming, and they are both agitated around her and want to hang out with her and want to impress her. The undergrad who sees herself as queer might interpret those underlying feelings and dispositions and behaviors as being sexually or romantically attracted to her coach, Pat Summitt. The one who sees herself as straight might now interpret those same underlying feelings and emotions and dispositions as instead being platonic nervousness about impressing the coach; she wants to impress the coach; she wants to get onto the team. 

So what I suggest is that that can be something empowering about the cognitive skill of being able to switch between interpretations. So for some borderline cases, and it doesn’t have to be a queer romance or queer attraction, it can be empowering. If you’re slightly borderline attracted to your colleague, it’d be great if you can see yourself as attracted and see how that feels, try on that interpretive scheme. And then see yourself as purely platonic, that you just find the person funny, and try on that interpretive scheme. 

The reason why I think this is a particularly empowering cognitive ability is, for one thing, it protects you against things like Pickup Artists’ negging. So pickup artists are the people that sort of go around trying to have as much sex as they can. Usually, it’s men picking up women. Negging is a kind of strategy that they use, where you put the person on edge, you criticize them, you insult them, you sort of don’t treat them particularly well. And because you put them on edge, the woman is then agitated, nervous, kind of excited around them. And they then mistake that agitation and nervousness, and wanting to impress the person, for being sexually or romantically attracted to the person. Or in fact, they can become sexually or romantically attracted. So it’s not just a mistaking, it’s in fact being sexually romantically attracted because of this negging. 

So what I suggest is that if you can try on interpretations, according to which you are and are not sort of attracted, then that can be empowering as a defense mechanism against, for example, the negging of pickup artists.

And perhaps to have more consciousness around choice and to run it through our intelligence system, rather than perhaps just going into the default mode. Because you did name earlier, there is a cultural and wider societal context that I want to point to in a minute. But as we go back to the holiday fling, I so appreciate that. Because there could be this openness, there could be the novelty of all the excitement of a new environment and just feeling all the positive feelings of that, and then feeling this chemistry. That if we don’t wander or be in a place of discernment, like you’re inviting us to perhaps have some flexibility and switch between these schemas to get more information. 

Like, I might feel all this excitement, and can I just slow down for a minute? If I know I want a life partner, and I’m looking for a life partner, and yet the confines of this aren’t necessarily that supportive of that, given the distance and whatever other variables, then like, am I willing to have a hookup, am I open to that, what am I wanting? Let’s say they have a really adult conversation and the other person is like, “No, I want to just hook up. I’m super into you, and I want to have a lot of fun, and this seems great. Do you want to play?” And it’s clear that it’s a fling, then perhaps we have a little bit more choice, now that conversation might not happen. 

That one might be able to, as you’re pointing to the tool or the skill of this, to have some ability to move between possible schemas. Is that what I’m hearing?

Yes, certainly. I think that’s absolutely right. Just being more self-conscious and self-aware and reflective about what are my presuppositions going into this relationship? What are the limits of my thoughts, the limits of my cognition, given the concepts I have? So one person might have heard of a holiday fling, summer romance, or a holiday romance kind of idea, for instance. But maybe they haven’t heard some other concepts, some other words. 

To give another example here, a comet lover, a comet relationship. Like, what is a comet relationship? You come to sort of learn about all these words in our linguistic environment, or in some linguistic environments. So part of that was learning about words that I hadn’t come across, because they weren’t in my linguistic environment. Poly Reddit. So polyamory communities, the communities of people that have more than one romantic love at a time, more than one relationship at a time, are full of these romantic terms. Because there’s so much linguistic innovation, so much social innovation, romantic and emotional innovation, partly because they’re creating new kinds of relationship and lifestyle.

So for example, new relationship energy, they call NRE. It’s very natural in a monogamous relationship that you would have a lot of energy, doing sports and activity and feeling great. Having that energy, positive affect, positive feeling, going into a relationship. We know that that’s normal, and it’s part of what fuels the romantic relationship right at the beginning. Well, in poly communities, you can be in one long stable relationship, meet a new person and have NRE with them because it’s a new relationship. So they now have to name it and describe it, so that they don’t accidentally mistake NRE for this great compatibility that they should actually be with a new lover permanently and dump the old lover, because the old lover has this more stable and fixed status in their relationship and they don’t have NRE anymore.

It’s necessary to just define that, because that allows for a little bit more organization, being able to identify it and be able to work with it.

Yes, exactly. So you don’t make this mistake of dumping somebody else because you have NRE, it’s just part of the stage of forming new relationships in poly communities. So a comet lover is one of the words I came across through reading Poly Reddit as part of this research. A comet lover is a lot like a holiday romance, except it’s not just a sort of one-off or one-and-done kind of experience. So it can be romantic, not just sexual. So it’s not just what they call, I’m not sure if I should be swearing on this program, the term fuck buddy. So that’s another example that having the concept could then help you better understand what’s going on, or, in fact, to bring those kinds of relationships into being. 

But a comet lover has the romantic possibilities of a holiday romance. But it’s not just once, like a one night stand, you can go back to the person. So maybe you see the person twice a year and have this kind of deep, intimate romance, but only for a couple of weekends a year, over many years. 

Free 
Women Kissing Each Other Stock Photo

“So having the concept of a comet lover is the kind of thing that if you have it, you can both interpret what’s going on. But it also opens possibilities, it opens spaces.”

If that appeals to you and you have the kind of life circumstances where that would be okay, like you’re not in a monogamous relationship, then it makes possible having comet lovers in your life, because you now have the concept of the word comet lover.

It strikes me, as I said a moment ago, of just the cultural, societal context. It does seem as though if we look in history, at least in the States, in America, there was this 50s more popularized mainstream imagery around relationship and the confines and the gender norms of that, then you have the 70s and more liberal and free love. Do you think that those societal constructs, whereas people start to begin to explore new territory, and then there’s more of a movement, if you will, then people have more language and schemas to then choose? Is that what you’re also saying, that the influences, that’s also part of the process?

I think that’s right, that it’s making more forms of relationship possible, which I’m not saying that’s good. It’s just certainly something that’s happening, and it’s certainly something that would be empowering to learn about these things and to know more about these possibilities, and also help us scaffolding these ideas. So Andre Gide would sort of famously say something like, queer people don’t have the same support structures that straight people have, so we make our own stuff up. That’s also part of the We Forge the Conditions of Love project. 

Free Happy Gay Couple Kissing and Celebrating  Stock Photo

“It’s this idea of, well, if the scaffolding isn’t there, then people will create it. They’ll begin to invent new words.”

So again, with this poly community inventing new words to describe their particular relationships in geometry terms, because there’s more than two nodes in poly relationships. So using terms from geometry to better describe the relationships that people have between the sort of primary lovers and others.

It’s like, there’s a lot of work being done to define and describe these experiences and relationships that perhaps maybe more traditional relationships take for granted, or don’t have to be as explicit about, and don’t even necessarily evaluate or don’t have a lot of consciousness around. It’s just what we do. Is that fair?

I think that’s right. I think partly, for some people, even if they’re having relatively traditional relationships, they might have some of these feelings and not be able to name them and so not understand what they are. So an example of that kind of thing would be alterous attraction. So alterous attraction is a feeling towards somebody that is not, strictly speaking, platonic or non-platonic. Instead, it’s this deep feeling of wanting to be emotionally intimate with them, wanting an emotional intimacy, and also wanting to be closer friends. But because of the limits of what conceptual resources we have in our society, people think of that as, well, then I want to be their lover, I want to be romantic with them, I want it to be like a monogamous romantic relationship. Because that’s what seems possible. If it’s not merely a friendship, the normal kind, then it must be something more romantic. 

A squish is a friend crush. But not a crush on a friend, because the crush is something sexual or romantic. It’s wanting to be closer friends, wanting to be sort of more emotionally intimate with the person. So it’s like a crush, but having to do with emotional intimacy, rather than romantic or sexual intimacy. So this is alterous attraction and the squish.

So helpful. In some ways, you’re saying, we might misperceive our cues if we don’t have more language or more schemas to work with, that gives us more freedom and possibility. If I’m hearing you correctly, you’re also saying that we may have experiences internally, that if we hear a term for, like limerence, or love bombing, or these things that maybe we were feeling but we didn’t have language, we might stay internal about it and be in a lot of confusion, because it doesn’t fit what we have schemas for. Is that right?

Exactly, yeah. I think limerence is a perfect example of this, partly because as I mentioned, right up top, that when people come across the term limerence, and they write this anonymously on these Reddit forums and similar kinds of forums about limerence, they’re like: “Oh, now I understand what’s happening to me, now I understand my emotions. I wish I’d come across this sooner.” 

So what is limerence? It’s sociologically really fascinating, because almost no one knows the word. When they do know the word, they’re often mistaken about what it is. So there’s a use of the word limerence which is a lot like that new relationship energy, that excited glimmer when you first meet somebody and you’re excited about them. Then the idea is, well, that then fades off into either forgetting about them, or just a normal romantic relationship without that initial glimmer of excitement. 

I think that’s actually a misuse of the word, because it’s not what the word was coined to mean. So it was coined, it was just invented whole cloth by Dorothy Tennov, in the 70s, to describe a phenomenon that she observed, and in fact that she observed in herself. She mentions in the book that the reason that she began to study this is that she experienced it and she was confused about it, and so she began to look into it as a psychologist. Other people, though, other researchers are skeptical of its existence. Not many people research it at all in general, very few people research it. 

So the part of why it’s sociologically fascinating is, academics don’t really study it. There’s only been about eight academics who have ever published on it ever, and I’m one of them. So very few of us. And ordinary public have not really heard of it. But if you look at things like online forums on Reddit, it’s really active, really lively. There’s about four or five self-help books about it, podcasts, and women’s magazines, like Oprah magazines and those kinds of blogs, relationship blogs. There’s a lot of discussion of limerence there. I find that really interesting, that there’s this kind of disconnect, there’s not a kind of going in step, where the amount of research done is almost none, and then the amount that is discussed online, that’s where the research is happening is these people just talking about it online. 

In my essay, I’m relatively agnostic about what love is, what attraction is, what sexuality is, and what limerence is. Instead, I talk about the discourse. How do people talk about love? How do people talk about attraction? How do people talk about limerence? So my project is describing how limerence is discussed, and how that might affect our other concepts in our conceptual web, our web of romantic concepts, and how it might affect our interpretations of feelings in relationships? 

So I can now talk about what limerence is, but maybe I should stop in case you have questions.

You’re doing great, I want to just follow where you’re going. My only question in that would be, do you have a suspicion as to why there is such a disconnect? 

That’s a really good question. I think part of it is that a lot of people understand it as being simply falling in love. So some writers describe this thing as an addiction, thinking about the person and you can’t stop thinking about the person, and it takes over your life. And they’re writing about it, and there’s some famous writers writing about love. Stendhal, writing about love. And what they seem to be describing perfectly matches what other people call limerence. So I think part of why there’s not much research about it, is people have just assumed that it’s love. It’s just the process of falling in love. Then other people are like, no, it’s a distinctive thing with different properties. It’s actually different from love.

Permissive flexibility.

Absolutely, completely. So in the essay, I didn’t actually talk about whether or not it is a kind of love, or whether it’s compatible or incompatible with love. I just note that people differ on that score, that some people say it is. So there is a couple of the researchers who are trying to get it added to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) as a mental disorder, as a mental illness. So very different from the discourse about love. Other people say, no, this is just sort of the process of falling in love. 

So it’s invariably described as having a kind of pathway to limerence. I should say, Dr. L has a website and a book that’s freely available online. I find it very interesting, Dr. L’s work.

He was on the podcast. I can’t remember how long ago, but it’s been at least a year or so. 

Oh, great. Yes, he’s anonymous, but he sounds great. Because I’ve also listened, maybe it was this very same podcast, because I’ve listened to podcasts with him as well. So a lot of it I’m getting from his book, Living with Limerence. So he describes pathway to limerence, where you have an initial glimmer, which is a kind of the chemistry and initial flirtation of attraction. 

Then, very soon after that, some doubt and some uncertainty, particularly about where the relationship is going, the future of relationship, and particularly if it’s high stakes. So a typical example of high stakes would be, it’s a teacher and student, boss and employer, colleagues, a big age difference of a relationship, one person’s being married, it’s being somebody’s first relationship. Or it’s being a same sex relationship when you think of yourself as straight, that would be another kind of example. Therapist patient is another kind of example. But something with a high stakes feature, where it would make the future of the relationship a significant thing, like, the decision significant. 

So that doubt comes in, and sort of getting this uncertainty. That causes an early replaying of the interactions, to try to figure out what’s going on. Was that person flirting with me? Is that person attracted to me? What’s going on? That early replaying, because it happens so early during the glimmer phase, when the interactions were flirtatious and positive, it causes a dopamine hit. This is how it’s described in the limerence discourse. It’s a kind of chemistry based discourse, which is very different from the discourse about love, I think, how people describe their own experiences of love, they don’t really get into the brain chemicals. But in the forums, they really do. It causes a dopamine hit. 

So thinking about the person causes a dopamine hit, that early replaying, and that feels positive. So they do it more. So they condition themselves to thinking about the person, because they’re getting the dopamine hit. They accidentally cause these cognitive ruts in the brain, where they start becoming addicted to thinking about the person, replaying those early interactions and also thinking of new interactions. So they’re kind of lost in a reverie where they can’t stop thinking about the person. That’s the kind of setting in of limerence. 

There are some other properties as well, like, overestimating the other person’s interest in you, and overestimating the other person’s positive qualities. Those seem to be the main central defining features of limerence. Then, in the extreme cases that are described in the original Tennov book, and then also in some of the self-help books and the forums, it becomes such an addiction to thinking about the person that it’s debilitating, and the person can’t think about other things, except through thinking about that other person. That you hear a new album and you think I wonder whether they would like it, that kind of thing.

Have you come across anything that also talks about reduction of serotonin or reduction of some neurochemical that reduces one’s ability to discern clearly or to be able to see flaws more? I mean, that’s probably common in even the new relationship energy. But have you seen that in any of the limerence?

Yeah, that’s right. Literally, the way that it’s described by these writers is literally seeing the person as flawless, literally flawless, which is also different from the love of discourse. So in their love discourse, it’s more natural. The way that people talk is that you can see the person’s flaws but you accept them anyway or unbalance. So you think of that as just flaws are a very ordinary part of people, everybody has flaws. So integrating that in your broader understanding and coming to accept the person. 

Limerence, the discourse talks about seeing the person as completely flawless. So for that reason, perhaps not really appreciating the actual real person, instead something like a representation of the person or an ideal of the person. Again, with talking of coining lots of new vocabulary is that the person who’s the object of the limerence attraction is known as the limerence object. This is uniform across the blogs, the podcasts, and the forums. They’re just reduced to LO. It’s always called the LO, and I think that’s very telling, and it’s deliberate, and it’s seen as appropriate. Because you’re idealizing this image of the person, maybe you don’t even know the person very well. 

This gets to some of the distinctive features of limerence as opposed to love, is in some cases of limerence, described, including in the original book, but also on these forums and so on, you barely know the person at all, you barely see them. But the limerence has this kind of snowball effect in the mind where the whole thing exists in the mind. That it’s not really about interacting with the person at all, it’s about thinking about the person. So the actual original person sort of drops out of the picture.

And we’re perpetuating, perhaps a fantasy, or an idealized version of some maybe not even real thing.

Yes. I’m actually an epistemologist, so I’m very interested in working on cognition and the mind. So thinking of it as it’s a purely cognitive activity. 

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“Like, limerence is really not about the other person, it’s about what’s happening in that one person’s mind.”

I try to remain relatively neutral about what all of these phenomena are. But I do suggest that one helpful way to understand it is, it’s an attentional addiction; not an addiction to the person or interacting with the person, it’s an addiction to an attention pattern. For that reason, I liken it to other attentional addictions, so OCD and similar. And other addictions in general, so behaviors, drugs, and gambling and so on. But actually, addictions to attention patterns, ruminations on negative thoughts, or compulsive violent thoughts, or a compulsive sexual fantasizing, for instance, or compulsive daydreaming of other kinds. Some people compulsively do mental math in their head or music in their head. I find that I spend far too much time on Facebook, and I formulate my thoughts in the form of Facebook posts, or on Twitter, because that’s even shorter. 

So one way I’m understanding it is, this is really not romantic or about the person at all. It’s a cognitive behavior that is maybe serving some other need, like escapism. That’s another feature that comes up a lot in the limerence discourse is the role of reverie, as escapism, which is part of why this is so timely with the pandemic and the climate crisis and so on, is having the need for escapism. In fact, initially when I talked about the pathway to limerence, it included uncertainties very early; there’s a glimmer of flirtation and then uncertainty. 

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“I think that the kinds of interactions you have online have a lot of uncertainty, a lot of ambiguity. So we might be seeing more limerence as a result of the ambiguity and uncertainty of text messages. Like, was that a flirtatious text message or not?”

It could cause more uncertainty. And the pandemic causing more escapism really could be a perfect storm for limerence.

I’m so grateful for you pointing that out, because it’s really pointing to the inner workings and where somebody might be a little bit more prone or primed for this. Also, with the uncertainty and maybe not having as much direct relating, there’s not as much opportunity to reality-check or get feedback that’s helping us experience the real person and what is true. So we have to modify based on the interaction and the co-creating. But when we’re not in that space, we can fill in the blank, so to speak. 

Georgi, I am like, oh my gosh, we could talk for hours and hours and hours! I don’t want to lose you today without giving any voice to, you had spoken about application. So is there anything that you want to say about how people might be able to just think about how to apply this more in their lives? Obviously, I want to direct people towards your essay and your webpage for this. Is there anything you want to invite people to consider around application? 

I think the application here would be being more mindful and self-aware of what conceptions we have. So not being merely passive recipients of the linguistic environment that we grew up in, but really looking out there for what other ideas are around. So in my essay, I have a whole section called In the Neighborhood of Love, where I just say a sentence or two about a whole bunch of different words and ideas and concepts that are in the neighborhood of love that are similar to love. And I didn’t know them, they’re not ordinary words. I just sort of looked around and asked around and did some research and found these. 

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“So I would recommend your words are very powerful; vocabulary is very powerful. And it helps us better understand and interpret the world around us, but also the world within us, like our own emotional states, our own minds, and our own relationships.”

Then similarly, when we’re teaching children words, teaching them more words and the power of words for understanding themselves and understanding other people.

Thank you. I’m also aware that so much went into this research. How long do you feel like this essay and all the researching, what timespan was involved in that investment?

Well, it was a strange process, I got the invitation. I tend to write essays very fast, very quickly. So I wrote it really quickly, that’s just how I work. A lot of the ideas, I already had been thinking about this for a long time as it applied to my own life. 

Then, I had planned the essay out and I had almost finished writing it, it already reached 6,000 or 7,000 words, and then I came across limerence. I was like, oh, this is the perfect example of what I’m getting at about words in the neighborhood of love! So that was a whole extra section, there’s like 3,000 words at the end on limerence that is a whole extra section. Because right before I finished, I was like writing up the conclusion and I came across limerence, which is not great with respect to professional conduct. But I feel very fortunate that I came across the word at all during the writing of the essay, because it’s just unheard of. I mean, people don’t write about it, people don’t think about it. So I just stumbled across the limerence forums and the Dr. L’s limerence book, and so on. 

But I’m thinking that now as a result of this, this essay, which is done and it’s finished, and it’s forthcoming in a book, has a lot of potential for a more popular audience book. So turning these ideas into something more for the popular audience. Whenever I talk to my friends, my non-academic friends, my friends who aren’t professional philosophers about this, they’re really fascinated, and they want to hear more. There’s so much in this essay, I think it would be nice to turn it into a popular philosophy book over the next few years.

Well, I would love that, and I’m sure many listeners would also echo that sentiment, that it is fascinating and really, really helpful. Thank you so much for spending your time with us here today. How do people get in touch with your website, what would you like to direct people towards?

Yes, my website is GeorgiGardiner.com. If you Google my name, it should come up. And then the essay, this project We Forge the Conditions of Love, is its own webpage within that. You can find the essay, you can find cheat sheets, there’s sort of keywords and bullet points form, to try to make it a more navigable project. Because I feel like the audience for this project is the general public, it’s not other philosophers. So I’ve tried to make it as accessible as possible by giving it its own webpage within my website. So GeorgiGardiner.com, click on the page for We Forge the Conditions of Love, and that will give you the essay, but also a lot of resources about the essay to try to make it more intelligible.

Nice, wonderful. Is there anything else that you want people to consider as they’re on your website, in addition to We Forge the Conditions of Love? Is there a way that you want people to stay connected to you, or social media or anything?

Most of my work is on rape, so self-deception about rape. So people not realizing that they were raped, and why that can be rational and reasonable, I have projects there. She said/he said cases, so beliefs about rape accusations, and biases and prejudices people have about rape accusations, and legal proof and that accusations alone suffice for legal proof. Those are the kinds of projects I work on. Stereotyping. So if we believe something about somebody just based on their gender or their race, what kinds of mistakes people are making, why those kinds of beliefs don’t really follow the evidence? They’re the kind of projects I work on. So while you’re on my website, if you just go to my Research tab, there’s cheat sheets and essay overviews, and you can have a look at what else I work on there. I’ve also got work about sex work as well. 

Oh, wonderful. Well, I’ll make sure to have the link to your website and the specific link to this essay, and just invite people to really connect with you and engage with your work. Hopefully, we can all be in support of a future book and your continued work in the world. Thank you again so much, Georgi. It’s been a pleasure.

Oh, gosh, thank you, Jessica. I really appreciate this opportunity. Like I say, I’m really excited for the opportunities for the general public to hear about this project. Because it does really feel like a project that its value is there, not for the sort of ivory tower of academia. But instead, for people to better understand and to better steer and direct their emotional lives and their relationships.

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