Falling in love feels euphoric, transporting us into a world of vivid colors. Everything is new and exciting. At first glance, it’s not much different from the experience of infatuation.
However, over time, a love relationship evolves into a deep intimacy that strengthens each partner, while infatuation erodes one’s self-esteem, triggers addiction, and fosters insecurity.
How do you know if what you have is love or infatuation? Here are a few ways you can begin to distinguish between the two.
Love breeds peace, infatuation breeds chaos
Among her “30 Ways You Can Tell The Difference Between Love And Infatuation,” Rania Naim says, “Infatuation makes you act irrationally or ‘crazy.’ Love calms you down. Infatuation is reckless with our emotions. Love is more considerate.”
Love works toward sanity, grounding you in a security that fosters peace. It’s based on mutual understanding and trust. You seldom obsess about when or if your love will call, nor do you spend hours worrying about your partner cheating on you. Infatuation, on the other hand, delivers you to insanity and chaos. Its excitement is not without an element of danger or risk. While it may be fun to live on the edge for awhile, that lifestyle is typically not sustainable.
Love tells the truth, infatuation lies
In her blog post, “How to Tell the Difference Between Love and Infatuation,” Alison Segel writes, “Infatuation is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It sneaks into your relationship and makes you think you’ve met the one, only to have things blow up in your face before your romance has even gotten off the ground. And that’s because infatuation is just a fantasy. Love is a reality.”
Love involves a constant effort between two people to communicate effectively and to show affection and appreciation in meaningful ways. Sentiments are backed up consistently with loving actions. Infatuation, on the other hand, may involve gushy love letters, but the words are usually hollow. Seldom are they matched with action or with any real effort towards clear communication.
Love builds the self, infatuation erodes it
Love makes us better people. Love is the scene between Melvin (Jack Nicholson) and Carol (Helen Hunt) in the 1997 flick As Good As It Gets, when Melvin says, “You make me want to take my meds. You make want to be a better man.”
Andrew Davidson, a relationship therapist in the UK, has helped a number of men, women and children break loose from the bonds of infatuation. “As a counselor, it’s certainly a very interesting and challenging issue, and not always straightforward,” he told me. “It’s also quite sad that once the infatuation is over, the individual then looks back on what they’ve been like and start to feel the loss, shame, and regret of their actions. This is when they can start to look at putting their life back together.”
Love is a sense of well-being, infatuation is like a drug
Love may initially have the same kind of dopamine rush as infatuation; however, it’s rarely destructive. At its core is a sense of well-being. Infatuation, on the other hand, involves pursuing a dopamine high over and over, which can change the wiring in your brain in the same way as the rush of cocaine.
Psychiatrist and bestselling author Gordon Livingston says, “Most of us, when we are offered the ecstasy provided by cocaine or heroin, will decline because we have observed the drawbacks of addiction. But addiction to love has such a good reputation that it appears safe.” If you are going after the high much like you would from another addictive substance, you’re infatuated. You’re not in love.
Love respects distance, infatuation is clingy
Because infatuation is so addictive, you may experience withdrawal when you’re not with your partner. While you may think this means that you are that much more in love with him or her, it’s likely an indication that you are seeking a physiological high from the relationship that is not unlike narcotics. Infatuation typically involves a psychological addiction, as well — there is an element of codependency and unhealthy attachment. Love, on the other hand, respects distance. There is no dramatic withdrawal. Contrary to what some people think, independence is not a sign that two people aren’t into each other. It points to a mutual respect, a hallmark of true intimacy.
Love heals old wounds, infatuations infect them
Love inspires us to confront the baggage of our past with awareness so that we can love more deeply and give more generously. Infatuation, on the other hand, infects old wounds (usually unconsciously) in a vicious cycle of destructive behavior. For example, a woman might seek a man who resembles the father who rejected her, thinking that if she can win his love that she will be whole.
In his bestselling classic Getting the Love You Want, Harville Hendrix, PhD, distinguishes between our old or “reptilian” brain, which is weighed down with unconscious baggage from our past and reacts automatically in fear, and our new brain, the “analytical, probing, questioning part of your mind that you think of as being ‘you.’” Harville theorizes that when we get sucked into intense and damaging emotional relationships, our old brain is holding the helm. It wants to recreate the pain of our past in order to heal the wounds.
Love is organic and evolving, infatuations are stagnant
Love is organic and evolving. It doesn’t stick to one form. It encompasses friendship, romance, care-taking, and many different kinds of relationships. As two people change, its elasticity allows for the transformation. Infatuation, one the other hand, is stagnant. It is stuck in one form, unable to accommodate the change in the people involved.
Still can’t decide if it’s love or infatuation?
In an article for Redbook magazine, American author Judith Viorst distinguished them this way: “Infatuation is when you think that he’s as sexy as Robert Redford, as smart as Henry Kissinger, as noble as Ralph Nader, as funny as Woody Allen, and as athletic as Jimmy Conners. Love is when you realize that he’s as sexy as Woody Allen, as smart as Jimmy Conners, as funny as Ralph Nader, as athletic as Henry Kissinger, and nothing like Robert Redford but you’ll take him anyway.”
I think you get it now.
Segel, A. (2017, June 7). How to Tell the Difference Between Love and Infatuation [blog post]. Elite Daily. Retrieved from https://www.elitedaily.com/dating/difference-between-love-and-infatuation/1989085
Naim, R. (2018, December 28). 30 Ways You Can Tell The Difference Between Love And Infatuation [blog post]. Thought Catalog. Retrieved from https://thoughtcatalog.com/rania-naim/2016/02/30-ways-you-can-tell-the-difference-between-love-and-infatuation/
Harville Hendrix, H. (1988). Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples. New York, NY: Holt.