“Toska – noun /ˈtō-skə/ – Russian word roughly translated as sadness, melancholia, lugubriousness.
“No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”
— Vladimir Nabokov
In 1979, Dr. Dorothy Tennov coined the term “limerence” to describe what most people commonly refer to as “lovesickness.” Her work put into words what humans throughout history have long known: that people who fall in love become involuntarily crazy. Lovesickness is marked by a mixture of intense romantic attraction and an obsessive need to have the attraction reciprocated, according to Psychology Today. When feelings of love aren’t returned, the lovesick individual sometimes plunges into despair.
Romeo and Juliet:
Lovestruck Romeo: “See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand! O that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek.”
Lovestruck Juliet: “Good Night, Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow.”
Romeo compares Juliet to the sun: “…brighter than a torch,” “a jewel sparkling in the night,” “an angel among dark clouds.” Juliet sees Romeo as “day in night,” and “whiter than snow on a raven’s back.” Doomed by family feuds beyond their control, lovesick Romeo concludes: “A greater power than we can contradict hath thwarted our intents,” and the lovesick pair take their own lives.
Shakespeare ends with: “For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
But lovesickness isn’t just about feelings of romance, sadness and longing. The condition contains elements of intrusive thoughts, obsession, impulsiveness and delusions that some experts think mimic mental illness.
Who hasn’t known the “crush” of the lovestruck? It can become “puppy love,” “erotic love,” “mature love,” or even “true love, and in most cases without the “broken heart” of lovesickness. The mentally challenged are less fortunate. One might ask, why hasn’t the profession of psychology taken lovesickness more seriously, given its association with wet hands, dry mouth, insomnia, loss of appetite, rapid heart rate, confusion, awkward behavior, sexual addiction, obsessive thoughts, compulsive behavior, and even suicide?
These feelings and behaviors are deeply rooted in physiology and chemicals in the brain.
The lovesick brain is flooded by serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine — each of which trigger strong emotional and physiological responses — according to Sack. The mixture of these chemicals produces emotional, mental and physical symptoms that are simultaneously lovely and terrible.
Symptoms of lovesickness
Of course, lovesickness doesn’t have to occur in each and every relationship you enter. How would you get any work done, after all? But if you’re in a new relationship or recently experienced a breakup, here are some signs you may be lovesick according to Sack:
- Idealization of the other person’s characteristics (positive and negative)
- Intrusive thoughts. You go about your business, but are suddenly flooded with images and thoughts of your beloved.
- A sense of euphoria in response to real or perceived signs of reciprocation.
- Fantasy.You daydream about your love interest, even when it negatively impacts your job performance. Alternatively, you make up entire scenes with your love interest that aren’t based on reality.
- Self-doubt. You fear rejection from your love interest so much that you question yourself and feel unbearably shy in his or her presence.
- Weakness. You lose strength in your knees and legs when you think about him or her or have trouble controlling your shaking hands in his or her presence.
- Insomnia. You have difficulty sleeping at night due to intrusive thoughts or because of your heightened sensitivity to your emotions and fears.
- Anxiety.You experience heart palpitations, flushing of your cheeks or shaking. You fear the worst possible outcome from your infatuation.
- Maintaining romantic intensity through adversity.
- Experiencing physical symptoms such as trembling, flushing, weakness or heart palpitations around the other person.
- Arranging your schedule to maximize possible encounters with the other person.
- Endlessly analyzing every word and gesture to determine their possible meaning.
If the receiver of the affection is emotionally or physically unavailable, being lovesick is a state of being caught up in the fantasy that the passionate love they experience in stolen moments can exist forever in reality. Stolen moments in a blissful state, such as in an affair, simply create physiological responses perpetuating a belief that, in the long term, the impossible is probable. Eventually, however, it can make you sick or crazy even though it begins on an intensely positive note.
It is reminiscent of an early experimental psychology study about intermittent reinforcement; in this case, regarding pigeons who received a food pellet when they pecked on a red dot. Those who learned to expect the delivery of a pellet at consistent intervals limited their pecking. However, when a food pellet was delivered intermittently and unpredictably, the pigeons frantically and crazily pecked at the dot.
I believe we’re one step above pigeons but still – it does ring true.
What are your thoughts?