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What's the Difference Between Love and Infatuation?

Updated on June 29, 2013
"Lovers" by Pierre Auguste Cot, 1873
"Lovers" by Pierre Auguste Cot, 1873 | Source

The Power of Attraction

Since lovers first walked the planet, scores of men and women have asked themselves one big question when feelings of sexual attraction are so powerful they threaten to overwhelm their emotions - is this real love?

The symptoms are certainly similar and it can be hard to discern the difference when you're in the throes of a new and exciting relationship. Yet there is a difference, often only evident after the all-engulfing waves of passion have dissipated and the air cleared for a more rational view.

Love and infatuation may start out the same, with feelings of light-headed euphoria, butterflies in the stomach, a general distractedness and obsessiveness about the one.

That's the oxytoxins, adrenalines and seratonins swimming around in your brain - chemicals nature has designed to make physical attraction powerful enough to ensure the propagation of the species. It can turn us into obsessive fools.

However, a new, passionate love is like a delicate bud and either it will open up to reveal all its full glory as a mature bloom or it will shrink and wither to an unspectacular and underdeveloped death.

Some powerful attractions are more akin to a serious crush than a mature, burgeoning love relationship. A passion that never metamorphoses into real love will end and when that happens we rationalise what might have become love into something we call infatuation.

“Yes, I was infatuated with you: I am still. No one has ever heightened such a keen capacity of physical sensation in me. I cut you out because I couldn't stand being a passing fancy. Before I give my body, I must give my thoughts, my mind, my dreams. And you weren't having any of those."

~Sylvia Plath

"The Old, Old Story" by John William Godward. 1903
"The Old, Old Story" by John William Godward. 1903 | Source

Is infatuation just love that doesn't last?

The short answer is yes - if what you are experiencing is real love then it will withstand the test of time. If however those powerful feelings fizzle out earlier than expected, then you have every right to believe it was just an infatuation after all - a passionate but brief encounter.

While it's true that if you think you're in love, you kind of are or at least you're tricking your brain into thinking that you are but if it's all over in a period of time and you're not utterly devastated about it, then it wasn't real love; it was just a temporary infatuation.

When a powerful physical attraction fails to move on to another level after sexual desire loses its honeymoon hotness, it wasn't really love. Real love cuts deeply to the emotional core and if if something intervenes to cut you adrift from the person you love, you will feel it badly and not just for a few days. While the end of an infatuation can be painful, the loss of real love is like having a piece of your flesh torn away.

Signs of Real Love

  • Real love is more than a mere physical attraction; it's an emotional and intellectual connection as well. Infatuation has no great concern for compatibility
  • Real love will strengthen over time and not become watered down when the sexual excitement begins to wane
  • Real love is not just about your own gratification. It's about caring on a deep level about the welfare of the other person
  • Real love means at some point you will stop floating around like a besotted fool and begin to think about making plans for the future with this person and not just living in the moment. You'll want them in your life, long-term.
  • There is warmth and security in real love. Not uncertainty and fear

“Infatuation is not quite the same thing as love; it's more like love's shady second cousin who's always borrowing money and can't hold down a job.”

~Elizabeth Gilbert

Are you in Love or Infatuated? Who really knows? Take the Quiz anyway, just for fun

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Love is a Two Dollar Word

The word "love" is bandied about so frequently, it can be hard to tell what it really means. Love is a cheap word said by anyone who has a fancy to say it and of course there are different types of love; romantic, maternal, paternal, familial, friendly, the love we feel for a pet etc.

Just remember, before you throw yourself into the deep end and make that big declaration, all romantic love begins with an infatuation - a filling up of the senses with an intoxicating cocktail of chemically stimulated emotions - but only time will tell if it's the real thing or not.


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