Ignoring relationship red flags and fantasizing about the perfect life with someone you just met may be signs of infatuation versus love.
Being swept off your feet or “head over heels” for someone new — despite not knowing them very well — is often referred to as infatuation.
Infatuation is also a deep sense of connection, mainly based on the idealization of someone else. It can feel intense, passionate, and beyond reason. Many may refer to it as love at first sight.
Love, on the other hand, may be less oblivious to another person’s shortcomings or incompatibilities. It exists despite those.
Love also looks to celebrate differences and build a connection that allows both people to thrive as individuals. It may require intentional work and effort from each partner to come together in disagreement to work toward a mutual goal. Love is a choice.
The difference between infatuation versus love is often one of assumption versus reality.
“With infatuation, there’s usually a connection; you usually have at least one thing in common, but the high it creates for someone is based usually on a fantasy that we have created about the person, an idealized version of them,” explains Sarah Moore, a licensed professional counselor from Arlington, Virginia.
Here are other differences between love and infatuation:
Perfection vs. individuality
Infatuation can lead you to see someone as flawless or ideal, despite evidence of differences, says Dr. Dug Y. Lee, a board certified couple and family psychologist and professor from Bellevue, Washington.
Love, on the other hand, has identified and acknowledged differences as individuality, accepting the partner as a whole.
Lee explains infatuation might make you put a positive spin on undesirable characteristics instead of accepting them, for example, whereas love will be empathetic, kind, and looking to problem solve challenges without denial they exist.
In extreme situations, infatuation may lure you into an abusive relationship by blinding you to important red flags.
Craving vs. satisfaction
Moore says the feelings that come along with infatuation are often similar to a “high,” including:
- heightened arousal
- excessive laughter
This could lead you to engage in behaviors that may not be safe for you or others.
Love can also involve feelings of excitement about being with the other person; however, love typically allows for you to feel content in your relationship, free of constant craving for that other person or the anxiety that it may cause you the uncertainty of their feelings.
Assumptions vs. intimacy
“On a truly personal level, you don’t know the individual all that well,” Dr. Joann Mundin, a board certified psychiatrist from Sacramento, explains of infatuation. “Most of what you know about the individual is superficial, either on their looks or how they behave in a group.”
Love involves a sense of real intimacy; knowing things about your partner other people aren’t privy to, witnessing vulnerability and emotional need, and being trusted with potentially hurtful information.
Planning the future vs. future planning
Mundin adds it’s also common for people experiencing infatuation to fantasize about the ideal future they may or could have with the other person.
These fantasies may involve vacations they’ll go on, children they’ll have, or achievements they’ll receive — all without input from the other person. Infatuation may even lead you to believe the other person is in love with you, without this being the case.
Love may take a more practical approach to the future. Couples in love often discuss career, marriage, and children goals together after feelings and the relationship have proven stable.
Is infatuation the first stage of love?
Infatuation can be the first stage of love, but not everyone experiences infatuation. You can meet someone wonderful without that love-at-first-sight rush.
Mundin emphasizes that infatuation can turn into love, but only if you’re willing to let go of the perfect fantasy and overcome any disappointment that brings.
“Infatuation is selfish because it makes you feel good to fantasize about the individual, but in truth, it’s likely that they aren’t as perfect as you believe,” she says. “Yes, it can develop into love if you are willing to compromise, give, and work things out with the person you are fascinated with.”
In other words, you may need to be disillusioned in order to truly fall in love.
Long-term commitments don’t usually survive on infatuation alone, but you may experience infatuation for years, depending on the circumstances.
“Usually, infatuation lasts for between 18 months and three years,” says Mundin. “Unless a long-distance relationship is involved or an extremely insecure individual is fascinated, infatuation rarely lasts longer.”
The remnants of infatuation may help strengthen a relationship, however, according to Lee.
Through a continued process of maximizing your partner’s strengths over their weaknesses, you can maintain a sense of joy and excitement that isn’t ruled by fantasy.
Infatuation is often a fantasy-based, passionate longing for someone else. It can prevent you from acknowledging their weaknesses, and may even land you in an unhealthy situation.
Love is often based in reality and is fed on closeness and knowledge of the other person. You respect your partner’s differences, enjoy true intimacy, and work together as a team.
While infatuation can lead to love, it may require you to let go of the fantasy and embrace differences, shortcomings, and individuality.