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Confused About Infatuation vs. Love? Here‘s How to Tell the Difference.

Allow the experts to help you navigate this one.


Infatuation vs Love

So you just met someone new and you’re utterly obsessed with them. You’re falling. Hard. Like, your friends are already kind of annoyed with how much you talk about this person—but whatever, you’re going to marry them! In fact, you’ve been thinking about your married friends and how they all say when they met their partner, they just…knew. That’s got to be what’s happening to you, right? But then there’s another voice—one that’s way too mature and such a buzzkill—telling you to calm TF down for a sec. But you don’t want to calm down—you’re high on love! …Or is it infatuation?

When you’re first dating someone, it can be hard to tell if what you’re feeling is infatuation or love. And it’s not just you, BTW. It might actually be hard for your literal brain to tell the difference. “Both love and infatuation can feel similar in terms of the neurochemicals they create, such as oxytocin, dopamine, and adrenaline,” says Dulcinea Alex Pitagora, PhD, an NYC-based psychotherapist and sex therapist, who adds that adrenaline tends to be more present and more intense during a phase of infatuation than love.

But despite these chemical similarities screwing with your brain, love and infatuation are different things.


“Love involves deep emotional connection, mutual respect, and understanding, often growing over time through shared experiences, connection building, trust building, and resolving and managing challenges,” says Jesse Kahn, LCSW-R, CST, director and sex therapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York. “Infatuation, on the other hand, is characterized by intense but often short-lived feelings of attraction or obsession, lacking the depth and longevity of love. While infatuation can be intense and exciting, it may not necessarily involve love or the same level of commitment, loyalty, and emotional intimacy.”

Okay. So clearly infatuation and love are different things. But you may be confused about which one you’re experiencing or—more importantly—if it’s healthy. Oh, and is it sustainable? Much to consider!


While love and infatuation are different, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to end the relationship (unless it’s an unhealthy situationship) just because you’ve found yourself infatuatied. To help you sort it all out, allow us to break down the details of love vs. infatuation, review when infatuation can lead to trouble, and fill you in on how (in some cases) it can turn into love.


What Does Infatuation Feel Like?

Infatuation is kind of like obsession. It consumes you. Sure sometimes, people do know on the first date with their future partner that they're "the one." Or maybe you’ve had the experience of hooking up with someone for the first time and you’re like, “Huh, this feels spookily familiar, like I already know this person.” And then sure enough, it turns into a grand, life-changing love affair.

There’s that—and then there are all those times that you’ve been utterly obsessed with someone, sure it's forever...and it’s blown up in your face.

“Infatuation is often an intense, short-lived feeling experienced at the beginning of a relationship,” says Rachel Needle, PsyD, a licensed psychologist in West Palm Beach and the co-director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes. “Typically, when you are infatuated with someone, there’s this fantasy of who they are and your relationship; you crave the person and feel like you are head over heels. People often only see the best in someone when they are infatuated.”


Being infatuated is, tbh, kind of like being on mind-altering substances. Deep down, there’s part of you that knows that this isn’t sustainable. But it just feels so damn good. Infatuation is exciting and euphoric. But as you text your friends about how obsessed you are with this person, work on your wedding Pinterest board, or find yourself unable to work as you wait by your phone for their next text (or sext), it’s important to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re basing this on reality or a fantasy.

“Infatuation is the projection of a fantasy on someone else, often based on attraction to that person's looks, behaviors, and/or status,” says Pitagora.


What About Love?

Well, love is patient, love is kind…. Okay, sorry—but it is!

“Love is a deep, enduring emotional connection that involves mutual respect, attachment, trust, and commitment, transcending the initial intensity of infatuation and fostering a stable, supportive partnership over time,” says clinical psychologist and certified sexologist Denise Renye, PsyD.

But even after reading about the buzzy high of infatuation, love should not seem boring. It’s just that love takes time and, honestly, effort. If infatuation is a drug, love is more of a responsible decision. Love involves waking up each day and deciding to treat that person with respect. Love is patient because it doesn’t just happen overnight. “Love tends to emerge over time, after getting to know and understand someone and bonds of intimacy and attachment have formed,” Pitagora says.


Love isn't an obsession but an ongoing, enduring relationship in which you accept, respect, and cherish someone—not the illusion of them or the possibility of them, but all of their flaws and annoying bits in addition to all the things you can’t get enough of. “When in love, a person is more realistic. Love is marked by feelings of deep connection, security, closeness, mutual trust, vulnerability, intimacy, and respect,” says Needle.

Because love does take time, respect, and effort, it’s honestly more than okay if you want to spend your youth enjoying infatuation and save real-deal love for when you’re a little older. The key is just to recognize infatuation for what it is and act accordingly.


What Happens When You Confuse Infatuation for Love?

Basically, you can get your heart broken.

“Many people desire to experience love and may be eager to label intense feelings of infatuation as love in order to fulfill this desire,” Needle says. “This eagerness can cloud judgment and lead to confusion about the nature of their feelings.”

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But honestly, sometimes heartbreak is preferable. Perhaps the biggest risk is that you could end up wasting everyone’s time. “When you confuse infatuation with love, it can lead you to moving forward in a relationship that might not be the best fit for you. It can also lead to unrealistic expectations and poor decision-making,” Needle says.


The key to enjoying infatuation is to recognize it for what it is. It’s okay to say, “Hey, I’m completely obsessed or infatuated with someone. There’s so much potential here!” Or, even better, just acknowledge how much fun you’re having. I can’t stress this enough: There’s really nothing wrong with enjoying passionate affairs and taking your time before committing to monogamy, marriage, or anything long-term. No one really regrets having plenty of intense relationships when they’re young. But plenty of people regret settling down too quickly. And that’s what can happen when you mistake infatuation for love.

“The risk in conflating infatuation with love is that you might rush into commitments or make significant life decisions based on temporary feelings,” Renye says. “Infatuation can fade quickly, leaving you to realize that the deep, lasting connection of true love isn't there, potentially leading to disappointment and heartbreak.”


Of course, while people don’t often regret living it up, if your infatuation isn’t just infatuation but something toxic, you’ll want to go ahead and remove yourself from the situation(ship). The main challenge is that, as with any other high, you’re having trouble with judgment because there’s actual brain chemistry at work.


“Because this neurochemical cocktail feels so good, sometimes people engage in confirmation bias and rationalization in decision-making around relationships to keep feeling the way they feel, which is not always sustainable and doesn’t necessarily end up prolonging that feeling,” Pitagora says. Writing lists about what you like about someone and journaling about how you’re feeling can help you discern if you’re falling for someone’s potential (infatuation), if it’s love (falling for actual things about them), or if you’re just having a lot of fun and living in the moment. We know, we know—everyone from Buddhist spiritual teachers to therapists to TikTokers love to talk about mindfulness, or the act of being totally in the moment and taking things as they come, but it really can be a helpful exercise in terms of discerning what’s actually going on in your love life.


Can Infatuation Turn Into Love?

While Team Breakup is so fun (and. tbh. the best move more often than not), just because you realize that you’re infatuated doesn’t mean that you need to cut the cord. Sometimes people do end things and then later regret it, especially in the era of swipe culture where the next lay is just a click away. So for all the hopeful, romantic girlies out there: Infatuation can, in fact, develop into a mature and lasting love,” Needle says.


But here’s the trick. It doesn’t happen overnight. Remember, to develop love, you need to be patient. “Yes, absolutely, infatuation can turn into love as people get to know each other and find they have common interests, preferences, values (or whatever is important to them in a partner), and learn how to effectively work through conflict—all of which combines to create increased intimacy among partners,” says Pitagora. The key phrase there is “among partners.” At the risk of scaring you, remember that the person you’re infatuated with could also be (just) infatuated with you. For it to turn into love, you both have to do the work and put in the effort. That not only means that you have to decide to show up and accept the object of your affection for exactly who they are, but they have to be willing to do the same thing for you. If they’re not up for that, and you feel like they’re in love with the idea of you rather than you, then it’s not love and you’d be best served by kicking them to the curb and putting your energy elsewhere. But! If you’re both ready to make the investment (which, again, takes time, patience, and, yes, kindness), there’s really no reason not to hope for the future. Most great loves start out as infatuation.


“Infatuation can absolutely turn into love,” Kahn says. “Infatuation can evolve into love when the initial intense feelings transition into a deeper emotional connection. As the infatuation fades, individuals have the opportunity to develop a lasting bond founded on genuine affection, connection, and commitment, leading to love and the growth of love over time.” As the infatuation fades and love (maybe!) develops, you’ll have a slew of other things to worry about as this high-flung fling turns into a long-term relationship. Hence why—if you’ll allow me to reiterate—it’s so important to take things as they come and remember to let yourself enjoy your youth (and infatuation).


What Happens When You Confuse Infatuation for Love?

Basically, you can get your heart broken.


“Many people desire to experience love and may be eager to label intense feelings of infatuation as love in order to fulfill this desire,” Needle says. “This eagerness can cloud judgment and lead to confusion about the nature of their feelings.” But honestly, sometimes heartbreak is preferable. Perhaps the biggest risk is that you could end up wasting everyone’s time. “When you confuse infatuation with love, it can lead you to moving forward in a relationship that might not be the best fit for you. It can also lead to unrealistic expectations and poor decision-making,” Needle says.


The key to enjoying infatuation is to recognize it for what it is. It’s okay to say, “Hey, I’m completely obsessed or infatuated with someone. There’s so much potential here!” Or, even better, just acknowledge how much fun you’re having. I can’t stress this enough: There’s really nothing wrong with enjoying passionate affairs and taking your time before committing to monogamy, marriage, or anything long-term. No one really regrets having plenty of intense relationships when they’re young. But plenty of people regret settling down too quickly. And that’s what can happen when you mistake infatuation for love.

“The risk in conflating infatuation with love is that you might rush into commitments or make significant life decisions based on temporary feelings,” Renye says. “Infatuation can fade quickly, leaving you to realize that the deep, lasting connection of true love isn't there, potentially leading to disappointment and heartbreak.” Of course, while people don’t often regret living it up, if your infatuation isn’t just infatuation but something toxic, you’ll want to go ahead and remove yourself from the situation(ship). The main challenge is that, as with any other high, you’re having trouble with judgment because there’s actual brain chemistry at work.


“Because this neurochemical cocktail feels so good, sometimes people engage in confirmation bias and rationalization in decision-making around relationships to keep feeling the way they feel, which is not always sustainable and doesn’t necessarily end up prolonging that feeling,” Pitagora says. Writing lists about what you like about someone and journaling about how you’re feeling can help you discern if you’re falling for someone’s potential (infatuation), if it’s love (falling for actual things about them), or if you’re just having a lot of fun and living in the moment. We know, we know—everyone from Buddhist spiritual teachers to therapists to TikTokers love to talk about mindfulness, or the act of being totally in the moment and taking things as they come, but it really can be a helpful exercise in terms of discerning what’s actually going on in your love life.


Can Infatuation Turn Into Love?

While Team Breakup is so fun (and. tbh. the best move more often than not), just because you realize that you’re infatuated doesn’t mean that you need to cut the cord. Sometimes people do end things and then later regret it, especially in the era of swipe culture where the next lay is just a click away. So for all the hopeful, romantic girlies out there: Infatuation can, in fact, develop into a mature and lasting love,” Needle says.


But here’s the trick. It doesn’t happen overnight. Remember, to develop love, you need to be patient. “Yes, absolutely, infatuation can turn into love as people get to know each other and find they have common interests, preferences, values (or whatever is important to them in a partner), and learn how to effectively work through conflict—all of which combines to create increased intimacy among partners,” says Pitagora. The key phrase there is “among partners.” At the risk of scaring you, remember that the person you’re infatuated with could also be (just) infatuated with you. For it to turn into love, you both have to do the work and put in the effort. That not only means that you have to decide to show up and accept the object of your affection for exactly who they are, but they have to be willing to do the same thing for you. If they’re not up for that, and you feel like they’re in love with the idea of you rather than you, then it’s not love and you’d be best served by kicking them to the curb and putting your energy elsewhere. But! If you’re both ready to make the investment (which, again, takes time, patience, and, yes, kindness), there’s really no reason not to hope for the future. Most great loves start out as infatuation.


“Infatuation can absolutely turn into love,” Kahn says. “Infatuation can evolve into love when the initial intense feelings transition into a deeper emotional connection. As the infatuation fades, individuals have the opportunity to develop a lasting bond founded on genuine affection, connection, and commitment, leading to love and the growth of love over time.” As the infatuation fades and love (maybe!) develops, you’ll have a slew of other things to worry about as this high-flung fling turns into a long-term relationship. Hence why—if you’ll allow me to reiterate—it’s so important to take things as they come and remember to let yourself enjoy your youth (and infatuation).


Published by Sophie Saint Thomas - May 30, 2024


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