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5 Ways to Tell That It's Love and Not Just Infatuation

Infatuation idealizes love. Love accepts what is really there.

Key points

  • Infatuation is romance and sex rolled into one colossal high.
  • Infatuation is about idealizing romantic love. Real love accepts the good, bad, and ugly.
  • Infatuation is often superficial and obsessive. Love encourages deep understanding and mutual goals.
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Many of us have fallen madly in love, or what we thought was love. It’s sure to happen at least once in your life, if not many times. It’s that feeling like no other of being swept away on a magic carpet ride into the sunset with this one very special person. Your heart beats faster when you’re around them, or even just thinking about them. Life seems so exciting, so full of joy. Your beloved is like no other, and when you are with them, you are like no other. The world is a beautiful place. You know this feeling will go on forever.

But time goes by and life happens. Eventually, infatuation evolves into something else. That something could be love, or it could just stay infatuation for a while before it finally fizzles out and dies. To shed more light on the difference between love and infatuation, we turn to the research of Helen Fisher and her team who have found that romantic love exists as three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. A specific set of hormones is assigned to each of these categories. Lust has to do with sexual gratification and is governed by the sex hormones of testosterone and estrogen. Attraction, governed by dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, is tied to “reward” behavior, which explains why the beginning of a love relationship is so exciting and all-consuming.

Then, there is attachment, governed by oxytocin (the “cuddle hormone”) and vasopressin, which is the major factor exclusive to long-term relationships. It’s about bonding, friendship, the desire for closeness beyond sex. Throw lust and attraction into the mix and you’ve got the whole package—love in the fullest.

Here are five ways to help you recognize and understand the huge difference between infatuation and authentic love. Understand that every relationship is unique and different so what happens in one relationship may not happen in another. Infatuation may be over in a flash or last for weeks and months. Feelings of love may emerge early on in the relationship or may take time to evolve.

1. Biology is a key factor

I know we might like to think that we’re in total control of our thoughts and emotions. But when we’re attracted to someone and begin to have intense feelings for them, it’s largely because biology is helping us. Neurotransmitters released by the brain pour into our systems and produce and sustain feelings of pleasure, happiness, and even euphoria.

These hormones make us feel amazing. We feel fulfilled with another, attractive and attracted, powerful in our beliefs that this person (and relationship) is the one to last forever. We’re actually experiencing a chemical high. These neurotransmitters are addicting us to the feelings of “love,” or what we think is love. But over time, this intensity lessens and, if it is just infatuation, what you once felt will lessen as well, and the reality of the situation will become much clearer.

If it’s love, these initial feelings may lessen, too. But the neurotransmitters tied to attachment will kick in and what will emerge is a desire to bond, to want to be close, and to share life experiences.

2. Fantasy versus reality

When we’re infatuated, everything looks wonderful and perfect. Even though we know life isn’t perfect and often not wonderful, when we’re in this state of heightened emotion it seems as if everything is right as it is and that nothing can go wrong. That’s how distorted our thinking is. Infatuation allows us to see what we want to see, what we want others to be rather than who they are. We imagine that something is there that we want/need but that’s only a projection of what we want and need, and not what’s there in reality. In infatuation attraction overrides everything. It’s the fairytale.

In reality, life is what it is with no sugar-coating—the good, bad, and ugly. Love accepts what is, rather than what you want it to be. In love, our partner not only becomes the object of our desire but a trusted, dear friend. In authentic love, there are shared values, hopes, and dreams.

3. Superficial versus deep

When we’re infatuated, the emphasis is on what we think makes us most attractive—the way we look, dress, behave. We may be holding back for fear that if we showed parts of ourselves we don’t care for, our partner might be turned off. As with any fairytale, looks and outward appearances are everything. When infatuation starts to fade and the veil of so-called perfection is stripped away, who we thought we loved so much may not be the person who is really there.

Love accepts everything about the one we love including all their faults and flaws. Love knows that none of us is perfect, that we are all works in progress. Love supports, encourages, and nurtures the one we love. Authentic love encompasses honesty and trust.

4. Obsession versus "let it be”

Infatuation is another way of saying we are in love with an idea/ideal versus the real thing. One may become so infatuated that they think about the other person all day, totally consumed by them or thoughts of them when they’re not there. Infatuation can foster insecurity. The obsession with another can go as far as needing to control a partner’s every action—needing them around all the time, keeping tabs on them, tracking their actions, controlling their behavior. Infatuation can cause one to put their life on hold, neglecting family and friends, and the responsibilities of their own life.

Love allows for feeling completely at ease to be who you are at your core and accepts who you are without judgment or condition. Love is not just about how you feel for another but just as importantly, if not maybe more so, love in a relationship supports you to express your love in everything you do. A loving relationship is the fertile ground for becoming a fully loving person.

5. "Addicted" to love versus finding peace in love

Then there are those relationships in a class all their own. They may start off the same way as other relationships but their evolution is quite different. And here it helps to know about a person’s past as well as their past relationships. There are those who feel they are "addicted" to romantic love, believing that that is what true love is. They fall in “love” hard and fast, so sure that this one is the real one. They know right away that they have found their soulmate. They look for the high of romance.

However, when real life imposes itself, as it must, they’re sure they got it wrong and go on to the next romantic relationship where the inevitable high happens and then fades. If infatuation is all they really experience, they may never get to the love part with its ups and downs, triumphs and disappointments, difficulties and rewards. If you’re looking for love at its best and fullest, then buyer beware in situations like this. While romance is beautiful, that alone won’t sustain a relationship over time.

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