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How to Tell the Difference Between Love vs. Infatuation

Chloe MullinerChloe Mulliner
Chloe Mulliner
7 min read
Published in Compatibility 
How to Tell the Difference Between Love vs. Infatuation

You see love played out in your favorite books and movies all the time. Characters fall head-over-heels in a matter of minutes, while others speak dreamily about the sensation of love at first sight. But it’s not every day that you feel the emotions for yourself—so when you do, it’s kind of a big deal. 

Maybe you’ve recently met someone, and just the thought of them makes you have butterflies in your stomach. Or perhaps you feel a deep, growing connection with your partner that you’ve never felt with anyone else before. Have you fallen in love, or is this just another fleeting crush? 

With so many emotions at play, it can sometimes be tricky to tell the difference between love and infatuation—especially when you’re in the thick of it—but we’re here to help untangle it all for you. In our guide on love vs. infatuation, we break down these two terms and provide some of the tell-tale signs of each.

Defining Love vs. Infatuation – How To Tell The Difference

What is the difference between love and infatuation? According to psychologists like Robert Sternberg, there are actually some major distinctions between the two and noticeable signs of each. 

Below, we’ll sort through the differences to give you a better idea of love vs. infatuation, so you can determine which best describes your situation. 

What is Infatuation?

Let’s first consider the infatuation definition, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a feeling of foolish or obsessively strong love for, admiration for, or interest in someone or something.” 

If we look at Psychologist Robert Sternberg’s theory of love, he describes “infatuated love” as “love at first sight.” He says it has passion but lacks intimacy and commitment (the other two requirements of what he calls “consummate love”). Sternberg also suggests infatuation can be a feeling that comes on as quickly as it disappears, meaning it doesn’t typically last very long. 

Basically, infatuation is like a crush—a strong desire for someone that may not be based on anything beyond pure physical or sexual attraction. 

So, what does it feel like? You may recognize infatuation as that giddy feeling when you first meet someone you’re attracted to—the one where you almost feel intoxicated by their presence. It often refers to that rushing sensation of excitement and eagerness, usually during the early stages of a blossoming relationship, aka the “honeymoon phase.” 

Feelings of infatuation are also often fast, intense, and unstable. In fact, they can be darn right nerve-wracking. When you’re around that special someone, your heart might race, and your palms start to sweat. Not to mention, your cortisol and dopamine levels are through the roof while your serotonin is plummeting, which may explain why you’re ignoring red flags or feeling slightly obsessed. 

Now, as its definition suggests, infatuation can be associated with “foolishness.” It’s true; infatuation can sometimes have a negative connotation, especially if it triggers obsessiveness or unrealistic expectations. However, as long as it remains innocent and harmless, there’s nothing “bad” about it. And just because it develops before Sternberg’s idea of “consummate love” doesn’t mean it’s something silly. In fact, being infatuated with someone is sometimes the first step you take toward falling in love with them.

Although, that’s not to say infatuation always turns into love—in many cases, the feeling fizzles out before it gets very far. So, if you think you might be infatuated with someone, don’t assume it’ll automatically transform into feelings of full-blown love.

Signs of Infatuation:

You’re probably wondering, what are the signs of infatuation? While everyone is different, you may experience some or all of the following if you’re feeling infatuated with someone:

  • You feel giddy and excited at just the thought of them 
  • You constantly think of this person
  • You crave being around them
  • You feel drawn toward them, despite not knowing very much about them 
  • You have a strong physical attraction toward them but may not know them on a personal level
  • You see this person as flawless, even if they’ve shown you undesirable characteristics
  • Your relationship is purely physical 
  • Everything seems new and exciting 
  • Your attraction is rooted in passion 
  • You feel insecure and constantly question whether they like you, too 

What is Love

Let’s move on to the definition of love, which Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as a “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties.” According to this explanation, love differs from infatuation in that there is actually something on which to base that attraction. 

If we ask for Sternberg’s thoughts, he says “consummate love” is the “complete form of love,” in which the relationship has all three elements, intimacy, passion, and commitment, representing the perfect balance. Basically, when it comes to the different types of love, consummate love is like nirvana—the state most couples strive to achieve. 

When comparing love vs. infatuation, love is much slower. Rather than the frenzy that infatuation ignites, love makes you feel calm, stable, and supported. Love is also selfless—you want whatever is best for them, even if it doesn’t always fall in your favor. This is a stark contrast to the feeling of infatuation, in which you want what is best for that person—only if it means being with you. 

As for the physical and sexual attraction you experience with infatuation, these are present with love, too, but a loving relationship tends to thrive more on the personal bond you’ve created. This person is more than just a pretty face; you also appreciate the beauty of their mind, heart, and soul. In short, love is a feeling of mutual trust and connectedness. 

Now, just as there are physical elements of infatuation, there’s a physical side of love, too. When you begin to fall in love, increased oxytocin levels may be at play, as they help foster strong social connections and feelings of trust and cooperation. Also, while an early surge of dopamine may have contributed to your initial infatuation, continued high dopamine levels may suggest you’re actually experiencing the “L-word.”

Signs of Being in Love:

It’s difficult putting into words what exactly love is, but if you’re experiencing the following, it may be a sign you’ve officially fallen in love:

  • You feel safe, content, and secure with this person 
  • You care for them on a deeply personal level 
  • You share a deep connection that goes beyond just physical attraction
  • You understand and accept their flaws and don’t expect them to be perfect 
  • Being intimate together isn’t the crux of your relationship
  • Your relationship is built on trust and honesty 
  • Your feelings and relationship have slowly grown over time 
  • You want the best for them no matter what
  • Your relationship has a balance of intimacy, passion, and commitment,

So, what about love vs. lust? Lust is usually described as that initial spark or intense feeling of sexual desire when first meeting someone. Typically, first comes lust; then comes infatuation. Infatuation is the phase in which you begin acting upon that lust, whether that means spending more time with that person or exploring a potential relationship with them.

Turning Infatuation into Love

Is it possible to turn an infatuation into love? Yes, sometimes! If you want to move your relationship out of the infatuation phase toward some semblance of love, we recommend taking the time to actually get to know this person. Instead of focusing on what you like about their outward physical appearance, dig a little deeper to see what you like about them on a more personal level. Who are they, and what do they stand for? 

To do this, start by spending more time together. Instead of hanging out in the bedroom, go for a hike or check out a new museum exhibit. And instead of texting, talk on the phone. Focus on holding in-depth conversations, asking questions, and discovering their interests, goals, and fears. What are they passionate about? And what plans do they have for the future? 

As your bond grows and you form a deeper connection, you might find you’re more compatible than you thought or just not that interested anymore. Knowing this can give you a better idea of whether falling in love with them is possible and if you even what to move in that direction. 

Remember, feelings of attraction can be confusing, and that’s ok! After all, a big part of falling in love involves navigating through those complicated emotions until you find yourself in that perfect unison of intimacy, passion, and commitment.

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