SM Limerence

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April 1995

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1995 by William A. Henkin

<Q> I am in a long-term committed relationship, and very much in love with my partner. But I am also a long-time SM player, and though my partner tried valiantly a few times she really doesn't enjoy SM at all. I tried giving up SM to support our relationship, but it quickly became obvious to both my partner and me that doing so left me with strong needs that were not being satisfied. Finally she said I should go to parties, play, and get my needs met – but I was not to fall in love. I understand her position and I have no wish to jeopardize our relationship, but how on earth do I develop an intimate play partnership without falling in love?

<A> First, must you have an "intimate play partnership" in order to meet your SM needs? Many people just play for the fun of it, or play for the exchange of erotic energy – sort of like the sport fucking some swingers do, only kinky and/or spiritual. While their SM interactions are often intimate, and a kind of warmth comes to inform their non-play exchanges with their play partners, they do not have to become focused on some single person or partnership in order to meet their SM needs. Hence, they need not fear falling in love particularly, if they don't wish to do so.

If you are not such a person my next question is, is the intimate play partnership you imagine really about falling in love? Or is it about a kind of SM limerence? Limerence is a term coined by Dorothy Tennov. It means the feeling of lusty infatuation people feel when, for instance, they are newly smitten but cannot be with the object of their desires in the sort of full-out way that might either lead to real bonding and love, or to the realization that this was just one of those flings. Limerence, for example, is often part of being in "love" with someone who's in a marriage or other committed partnership, and who is therefore never available to spend the night or to go away for a long weekend. The impossibility of fully consummating the connection may leave the other person perpetually hungry and unsatisfied, and he may as a consequence become fairly obsessed with the "love" object who is never really out of mind precisely because she is never really completely in sight.

SM limerence – a term I just concocted for this column – occurs when a top's and a bottom's fantasies match up so perfectly both people think they can live in the SM space forever, regardless of the weird curves life will surely present to them. SM limerence is different from SM lust in the same way ordinary limerence is different from ordinary lust: lust can be satisfied and limerence cannot.

A third question is whether, when you say "SM," you mean what I mean when I say "DS." In my universe SM is the physical sensation involved in erotic power exchange: the whipping, pinching, caning, squeezing, and so forth; DS is the psychological and emotional exercise of power and control. Very few people I have met need as much intimacy for a good whipping scene as they do for a good scene of devoted, obedient service. If what I mean by DS is what you mean by SM, you may well need an "intimate play partnership" in order to meet your SM (DS) needs. Then falling in love, or at least in limerence, is a real possibility. You will have to monitor yourself carefully, and you and your partner may want to examine your relationship in more depth than I can offer to do in a column like this one.

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