Finally, you have met him or her. You know what I mean, the one. All your life, or so it seems, you have been waiting for the person who made your heart pound, made the stars bright, and taken over all reasonable thought processes with ideas of making love on every beach from here to Tahiti.
You have a weird expression on your face, food suddenly seems like a mere inconvenience and sleep is just something you used to do. Your friends tease you about being in love. Your mother WARNS you about being in love.
Of course, you’re not stupid. You’ve been around (more than Mom knows about), and you have spent time in meditation/therapy having explored your own needs in the world. You want a soulmate but this guy or gal is just so sexy that it’s hard to imagine introducing him or her to your parents at all.
So, things are going well and you are looking toward the next step, becoming an item. Going public. Everyone knows and invites you as a couple. People you know speculate about the future of your relationship. But the future means forever when it comes to commitment, so how do you know if this is really a good thing?
Are people whispering about how happy they are for you, or are they wondering if you should be committed yourself (like in a secure mental health facility)? And how about yourself? Do you feel comfortable with your newest love interest or do you just want to feel comfortable with someone? Is this the person that you want to spend your life with or are you just afraid to march into the future alone?
These very large questions deserve great considerations. The passions of new love are so entwined in our own emotional makeup that it seems impossible to find objective considerations when proceeding along love’s thorny paths. So, for the purposes of this discussion, let us define love and infatuation so each can be thought about in a more organized manner.
Love is Forever Changing
Love as a dynamic process. For me, that means that there is a relationship that flexes, changes and grows as people mature, experience happens upon them, priorities and dreams are built and goals are met. Love brings out the best in people as individuals. The relationship between them becomes the way they define their lives. As jobs, careers, and family concerns change, people are able to work as a team to be understanding and flexible so the relationship (their lives) will flourish.
Dynamic process of love equals a sharing of emotion, trust, and growth of relationship. Growth is increasing ability of a couple to live symbiotically, enjoy each other’s company, trust each other with more secrets, depend on each other in more crises over the years, in raising children and taking care of aging relatives. It’s about growing old together, and long-term investments like real estate and children.
Is it Just Infatuation?
So what about infatuation? That’s when you think of someone all the time, you go out of your way to be around him or her, and you begin to center your priorities around him or her as well. There is history with this person: Maybe a short history, but maybe quite a while. You both enjoy being together. You both daydream about each other and get all crawly in your underwear. But is it love? I mean, you hate to be wrong about this kind of thing, especially if you have in mind perhaps reproducing together (or maybe if you forget to think about it just once).
Infatuation as we are defining it here is a static process characterized by an unrealistic expectation of blissful passion without positive growth and development. Characterized by a lack of trust, lack of loyalty, lack of commitment, lack of reciprocity, an infatuation is not necessarily foreplay for a love scenario. People, however, have many reasons for making commitments.
Most people are infatuated with their love partners to a certain degree. People who are in love think of their partners periodically when they are apart (some more than others). Men seem to be better, in general, in compartmentalizing their lives, thereby putting thoughts of loved ones aside until the mind is free to dwell on life. And yes, there are many exceptions and many ranges within the genders.
Knowing the Difference?
So how do you know? The question, actually, is simple; the answer, however, is not easy to own or accept. And here it is: Does this relationship bring out the best in both of you?
This is the part where you get to assess and evaluate yourself and your partner, and your relationship honestly.
Though difficult, evaluating how things are going at regular intervals can help to give some direction (and redirect misdirection) to people who are self-guided toward happiness and success. For those who are on a negative course, people who are unhappy, confused and perhaps self-sabotaging, regular evaluation can point out some hard truths about oneself, or about the person you want to take the next step with.
While you try to evaluate whether it is the real thing, here are some things to consider:
Are you happy? That would be a yes or no. When you wake up, are you glad to be alive? Are you grateful for the blessings that you receive daily, like being alive and loved? Are you loved and treated as a person of value? Does his or her mother know about you?
Is your life on a positive track? Do you have hope for the future? Do you have dreams and work toward them all the time? Is your life better because your boy- or girlfriend is in it? Really?
Are you in this relationship alone? Having someone on your arm makes life less complicated. You get a built in-escort and date. Most people seem to think and feel better as part of a pair. There is a sense of social relief as well, meaning family and friends stop trying to fix you up. Are you thinking and planning as a pair? Do you automatically consider both of your plans for the weekend, or merely anticipate maybe meeting up sometime? Have you postponed or given up your hopes and dreams for the relationship or have you restructured your dreams together?
Determining the Difference
The answers, and the courage to face the facts is the key to making the determination. In infatuation, your gaze, your thoughts and maybe your world revolves around someone. You have blinders on. It seems that all the world pales in comparison to this person’s looks, talents, intelligence, creativity, etc. What you might not see by keeping the blinders on, what can be serious flaws in any relationship, are the destructive traits and behaviors that degrade self-esteem and cause some pretty negative effects on one’s choices and decisions.
Many have had the experience of looking back at some early romance, in middle or high school perhaps, when we were “in love” with a special teacher or camp counselor. It can be easier to see in retrospect what you weren’t ready to see at the time. Your thoughts of
romance were simply an innocent fantasy: An infatuation that felt like love at the time.
Aside from your age, what was it about you that made you make that mistake. Innocence? Loneliness? A longing to grow up, maybe. But those were things going on in your head. In fact, these feelings had little to do with the actual object of your infatuation (crush). It could be that some of those same feelings and needs exist for you today. Beware of your own vulnerability, and your own desire to “get rescued” from that solitary life of the unpaired.
In time, the faults that you refuse to see will begin to come to the foreground. You may be infatuated with a rich and powerful person, but as you come to know that person on a more intimate basis, the qualities that intrigued you will begin to fade into the background.
In the case of love, your focus is on your special someone, and that someone exists in the real world. Give and take, compromise and cooperation are characteristics of love relationships. Working toward common goals, sharing dreams and values define the dynamics of a good love relationship. People know each other on a separate and private level than the world at large.
Bringing it Into Reality
Infatuation can even be thought of as love with only two dimensions. With love, that third dimension is reality. So, it is actually your ability to tell what is real in a relationship, versus what is imagined. You love being part of a couple, but is this the person you want to be in a couple with?
Look at the reality of who this person is, not who she or he wants to be. Do you always interact over dinner and drinks? Meet under different circumstances. Become part of each other’s lives. If that is not happening, why not? Are you spending and enjoying time together? What happens when you’re apart? Are you sure?
Trying to differentiate your love interest from your lust interest is requires a level head and the courage to face the unpleasant. It also requires maturity and the ability to take a step back and survey the big picture. The result is more control and confidence as you stride your way in love’s direction.
About the Author: Michelle Drew is the pseudonym for J. Michelle Davis, a psychologist, educator and advocate with 30 years of experience in various social service and educational agencies in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York. She holds a M. Ed. in Counseling Psychology from Cambridge College and a B.A. in developmental psychology from the University of Rochester.
Not to be sidelined by an accident induced disability in 1999, Michelle has continued to provide insightful advice, information and resources in her on line advice column, Soft Shoulder Advice. Please visit her website at www.softshoulderadvice.com for more advice, motivations and resources.