by Andrea M. Darcy
Sure you are ‘head over heels’ in love, but your friends keep saying it’s just infatuation? What is the difference between love and infatuation, anyway? And why does it matter?
What is love?
In psychology, ‘love’ could be seen as a healthy relationship between two people where you see and accept each other, then support each other to grow as people.
For more, read our free “Guide to Relationships” and see our article on ‘What is an Authentic Relationship?’.
And what is infatuation?
Infatuation, on the other hand, is a state of intense admiration based on what we think we know about someone.
Even if we are around the other person a lot, infatuation tends to be a limited perspective. We only see only what we want to see.
[At the end of your rope after another infatuation has ended? Book an online therapist from anywhere you are in the world, at a price you can afford, and receive the support to finally move forward.]
The love and infatuation connection
Our brain releases quite the cocktail of chemicals when we are attracted to someone. From the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin to the buzz of dopamine, we are on a ‘love high’. And brain scans of students in love showed that areas of the brain related to motivation and reward had higher activity than usual.
This means that healthy love can begin with a feeling of infatuation that then develops into something more.
Love vs infatuated
So when it comes to love and infatuation, how do we know which one we are dealing with?
Love builds a connection steadily over time. Infatuation is instant.
Love grows from shared experiences and exploration. With infatuation you think you just instinctively know everything about someone. OR feel you understand them in ways others just can’t.
Love seeks to know the person well and accept their positives and flaws. Infatuation tells us the other person is are very special, perfect, different to anyone else, an ‘angel’.
Love means we can be ourselves around someone. If it’s infatuation, we are trying to be what we think the other person would be attracted to.
Love means we are still essentially ourselves and can function well in life. But if it is infatuation, it’s like we are drugged and distracted from daily life. We let things that were once important to us take a back seat.
If it’s love that is growing between you, you navigate conflict and grow from it. If it’s only infatuation, conflict throws you overboard, into huge drama and pain.
Love has a stabilising affect. You feel grounded. Infatuation might give you buzzy highs, but also crashing lows. You start to feel drained all the time, and catch all the colds going around.
Is infatuation ‘bad’?
If you are a teenager or pre-teen, infatuation is pretty normal. When we are young and still gaining our confidence, infatuation helps us learn who we are attracted to. Our brains are actually still growing, our hormones fluctuating. Infatuation is our body waking up to being attracted to others.
By our twenties, if we are on a normal self development curve? We learn that infatuation is only a starting point, but learn to take other things into account, too. We consider shared interests and values, and how the person treats us.
Can’t get past the infatuation stage?
Far beyond the teen years and still caught up in endless infatuations?
For some people it’s simply a case of low self-confidence or shyness.
If we are feel socially anxious at parties and even at work, then we might never interact with our love interest enough to learn if our infatuation is realistic or not. And holding onto our infatuation can be a way to hide from the deep loneliness we feel.
If we seek support to overcome our shyness and build our self-esteem, we might even find we are good at healthy relationships. We just needed to give one a try.
Love and infatuation and traumatic childhood experiences
But some of us get stuck in endless infatuations for reasons that don’t clear up even if we have one relationship after another.
If we had a difficult childhood that involved neglect, abuse, and/or trauma, then we develop a fear of intimacy and rejection, as well as issues with abandonment. These can lead us to be needy, or aloof, or obsessive in relationships.
And intense infatuations become the playing grounds for all these behaviours to play out, all the while avoiding the real connection we are secretly terrified of. We substitute love for a diet of relationship drama and codependency.
If I am addicted to infatuations, what do I do?
A life of endless infatuations and no real connection is at best exhausting, and at worst dangerous for your mental wellbeing. With time the loneliness builds, along with anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thinking.
If you are struggling with healthy intimacy, then consider seeking support. Read our article on the types of therapy designed just to help you with relating issues.
Ready to change the way you relate and attract real love? Harley Therapy connects you with London’s top counsellors and psychotherapists. Not in London, or even the UK? Book therapy UK-wide or try international online therapy by visiting our booking site.
Andrea M. Darcy is a lifestyle and wellbeing writer as well as a coach who often writes about relationships. Find her on instagram @am_darcy