Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

April 24, 2023

Did You Fall in Love or Limerence?

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Apart from enjoying the content, an incredible feature of movies and books is being able to learn from the characters’ experiences and reflect on your own by applying any knowledge you’ve gained to analyze what interests you the most. In this article, I want to discuss the term “limerence” to help you understand whether you’re going through limerence, thinking that you fell in love, by using the movie Ruby Sparks as an example.

The main character Calvin is a famous writer who struggles with social anxiety. He has a peculiar dog, and he can’t get used to its behavior. His only friend is his brother, and besides attending book presentations, he occasionally visits his therapist.

On one of his monotonous days, Calvin falls asleep and imagines a girl that fulfills all of his dreams. She even accepts his dog the way it is. After waking up, he becomes invested in writing again. During a therapy session, he confesses to his psychologist that he dreamed of a perfect girl, and he can’t help but write about her. He says he writes as much as possible to stay with her longer. 

Later, Calvin shows his drafts of the story with the dream girl to his brother, who in response explains that, while he loves his wife, she has both pleasant and annoying personality traits because she’s human. Calvin’s brother finishes by saying that the girl in the story doesn’t feel like a real person. Shortly thereafter, this imaginary girl named Ruby Sparks comes alive and appears in Calvin’s house, immediately assuming the role of his girlfriend. This may sound like another bubbly story about true love. However, further analysis of the film can help us understand a concept called limerence. Limerence is an obsessive, intrusive thought pattern in which a person idealizes someone, disconnects from reality, has compulsive fantasies and seeks hidden meaning in every person’s actions. 

The crucial problem with limerence is that it devalues both the dreamer and their chosen person. Usually, through idealization, the dreamer puts their love on a pedestal and makes it unreachable. They choose not to work on a relationship, but rather bring that person with them into an imaginary world — to create and live through shared experiences there without having to encounter any uncomfortable situations that the real world might present. By doing so, the dreamer falls into a “what’s in the future” state, always trying to predict reactions and outcomes, instead of being present in the given moment with their real-life partner. 

First, the dreamer discredits themselves, and as a consequence, discredits the other person by idolizing them. The dreamer boxes the object of their desire into certain expectations, and refuses to let them express themself as they are. Instead of taking time to build a relationship and discovering another person, the dreamer tries to fill in the gaps on their own, not realizing that their fantasies might end up being totally wrong.  

Many scenes indicate Calvin’s limerence, like when he doesn’t allow Ruby to work because he can provide everything she needs, framing Ruby into his perception of the perfect girlfriend. He restricts Ruby to create some distance in the relationship, even physically, not meeting the needs of a partner. Instead of enjoying leisure time with his family and Ruby, he sleeps in the tree house, wanting to leave, showing how time spent in reality is burdensome. Finally, he blames her for not fitting into the “you are my girlfriend” framework when attending a party (again, expectations).

You may ask, is it actually limerence? Two other major scenes help us understand Calvin’s character and struggle. After some time living together and navigating conflicts, Calvin learns about his ability to rewrite anything about Ruby’s character. He uses this power and soon realizes that it gets only worse. This scene is a direct representation of the disconnect between reality and the real person — Calvin doesn’t want to take action in the present and put the effort into building relationships. Instead, he chooses to erase the unfavorable traits of Ruby, because facing unpolished life means accepting things as they truly are, which often has a bitter taste.

 The second major scene happens at the same party mentioned above, where Calvin meets his ex-girlfriend Lila. Before this scene, we were introduced only to Calvin’s perspective on their breakup. According to Calvin, they broke up because she was cold and selfish, loved only his fame and left him right after his father died. In the scene where Lila tries to establish a connection, we discover from her words that Calvin created an imaginary idea of Lila, and he wasn’t interested in getting to know her as a person. Everything that wasn’t in line with the perfect version of Lila made him angry. From her perspective, the relationship ended because, after his father’s death, he blocked himself from the relationship and didn’t communicate with Lila. This escapism is repeated later with Ruby.

Limerence can happen to any of us. Unreasonably high expectations, running from communication when something goes wrong and not being interested in discovering the other person’s world may seem like some extreme examples. However, if you find yourself in a situation where your relationship doesn’t go any further, it may be better to reexamine your own actions to make sure you weren’t  influenced by this corrosive state of mind.

Nika Makoviak is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].