Love or Infatuation?
August 7, 2006 3:03 AM   Subscribe

How can one tell the difference between love and infatuation?

Easy enough question, probably not an easy answer. How do I know whether what I feel is true love or infatuation?
posted by PuGZ to Human Relations (27 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Do you care about getting to be with them or do you simply care about them?
posted by edd at 3:09 AM on August 7, 2006

The idea of romantic "true love" is, in some senses, a social construct so I'm not sure anyone can provide you a good answer to this. Some people (and I think edd is one of them) would say that "true love" is more altruistic. But, again, that's mostly a social construct we've built around the idea.

The primary difference from my point of view is that love persists while infatuation fades when you get to know the person, warts and all. When the object of your infatuation farts loudly in an enclosed space, you get grossed out. When the object of your "true love" does, you laugh at it.
posted by Justinian at 3:18 AM on August 7, 2006 [4 favorites]

Yes. Justinian has it. Time is the essential way to know the difference. Infatuation and love in their first stages are indistinguishable (in my experience). If it's love, over time, your feelings will not diminish but deepen. If it's infatuation, you will quickly become tired of the person. Things will annoy you instead of charm you. Like farting. Strange that THAT'S the indicator, but, that's how far science has come on this subject.
posted by generic230 at 3:35 AM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Well I wouldn't say it's about altruism, but I think there's something about things extending beyond what you want to what you both want that serve as a good indicator.

Perhaps not quite as good as the fart one though (which I think is brilliant, and holds pretty true, but on the other hand some people will always find farts funny and it doesn't mean they're necessarily full of love).

I wouldn't want to say what the true fundamental difference between love and infatuation is, but there are indicators that help you decide between them I think.

and now I have visions of someone saying "fart if you love me", thanks!
posted by edd at 4:04 AM on August 7, 2006

True love does not mean you always feel great, that you're never lonely, or that you have to laugh at your lover's farts. It's possible to be annoyed at someone you really love.
posted by thirteenkiller at 4:11 AM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Very well then. Let us discuss this thing called... 'Love', then.

Earlier this year (around Valentines Day, as it so happened to be) 'Love', such as it was, had been on my mind a great deal. It was the season, I suppose. And whilst I dwelled on this subject, I began to consider what it meant to 'be' in love. Others have offered their opinions, and I have read them, and found these musings to be enlightening to my own explorations. However, I disagree somewhat with all of them. They are certainly not incorrect in their conclusions, and that is perhaps the most important thing to consider at this point. Love is a strange and varied creature which differs in strength and nature from person to person. But what it means to be in love brought me to another question; how could one know whether or not they were in love? I considered my own experience. I am in love with my grlfriend. And I knew this instinctively because... well that will take some explaining for it to become clear. Allow me to reminisce, and perhaps it will become clearer.

The first time I had ever thought I was in love was with my very first girlfriend, a girl whom we will refer to as 'K', back in 1996. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that I didn't love her. It was probably a case of inexperience; I was young, I was dating and sleeping with a girl and with no prior experience with women all I had was the idealism of Hollywood movies to go on; if I was doing what I was doing surely I had to be in love, no? But I wasn't. I liked her, but I didn't love her. This is a surety. Indeed, when it ended one year and six months (exactly!) later, it barely registered a nerve.

The second time I thought I might have been in love was with my third girlfriend, a girl whom we shall henceforth refer to as 'J'. When I was with her, I did some crazy things. Things I would never have normally done, and I did them because I was utterly infatuated with her. In terms of this question, I was utterly in lust with this woman, though I did not see it at the time. But when I was with her, I was not myself. I stayed up and out to all hours, partying hard, whereas before I had been much of a homebody. I coloured my hair blonde to make her happy (it was her favourite colour on guys) and even started taking an interest in things that she liked! Egad! So it seems fair to say that at the least I was head over heels in lust with her, but what of love? I agonised over that question many nights whilst I was with her and I was never able to come to a definitive conclusion. But as before, it was only with the benefit of hindsight that it became clear I wasn't in love with her. She was dumb and vapid and an outright bitch; the perfect profile for someone who aspired to be a model, really. So she was everything I didn't ever want and clearly most of my feelings towards her probably stemmed from her undeniable good looks. But did I love her? Not a chance in hell. To this day, she is the worst break up I have ever expereinced with a girlfriend.

A few years later came a girl we shall refer to here as 'P'. I was with her for about 8 months or so, and during that time I rarely saw her, because she lived over 300 kilometres away from me. I saw her at least once a fortnight, though sometimes, during rare periods of increased wealthiness, I could afford to go see her once per week. But the weekends I spent with her were almost always nice. Once more, hindsight reveals that it was this strange arrangement that contributed to my belief that I was in love with her. Or, to be more specific, my belief that I was falling in love with her. Even during my time with her, I never believed I was in love with her, though I often questioned whether I was falling for her. The afforementioned hindsight showed me, however, that the fact I saw her so little made me value what little time I had with her even more, so the passion of our meetings was always intensified. With such passion came the belief that there must be love growing there. But hindsight shows this not to be. I didn't love her, and I wasn't even falling in love with her. I enjoyed her company, but that's as far as it went.

I mention hindsight alot. Hindsight this, hindsight that. It is a wonderful thing, hindsight; especially so when it comes to my current girlfriend, explaining my feelings towards her and, hopefully, answering your question. You see, what hindsight revealed about all my past experiences with 'love' was that I always questioned whether or not I was in love. I always wondered if I was in love, or if I was falling in love, or if my actions meant that I was in love. I never knew I was in love. But with my current girlfriend, I know I am. I lust after her body the same way I did with 'J'. I look forward to meeting her at the end of each day and spending time with her even more than I did with 'P'. And I'm as excited with my relationship with her as I was with my very first relationship with 'K'. And while these are all good signs, they don't speak the most about my feelings towards her. No, at the end of the day, I just know I love her, without any need to question that. I just know. And that's the answer to your question right there, I believe.

If you ever need to figure out if you love someone, of if you simply want to know what I believe to be the difference, I believe that the key indicator should be that you shouldn't have to think about it. My experiences suggest that you're in love if you know you are in love. This is true of both romantic and platonic love. Do you love your parents? Of course you do. How do you know? You just do. It's the same when you love your partner. How do you know you love your husband, wife, or life partner? You just do. No question.

So should you ever question if you love a person or if you are merely in lust with them, simply remember; you should just know. Of course, if you don't instinctively know, do not despair. I am positive love can grow. And it is a beautiful thing; you may even say I Believe In A Thing Called Love. Just listen to the rhythm of m... erm... where was I? Oh yes. AskMe. Nevermind.

Anyways, I'm tired and I want to go spend some time with the woman I love. I hope I've helped here. Peace out.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:12 AM on August 7, 2006 [36 favorites]

If she/he gained 200 pounds and lost 3 limbs and couldn't use the bathroom by his/herself, would you still want to be around him/her as much as possible? That would be love... and commitment.
posted by k8t at 4:28 AM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

My short answer:

Infatuation is when you want something from the person.

Love is when you want to do something for the person.
posted by milarepa at 4:31 AM on August 7, 2006 [8 favorites]

I think you'll find you want to do lots of stuff for someone you're infatuated with. Effigy2000's is good advice; it helps to learn from experience.

If you understand that a person screws up sometimes and farts and it smells bad and they're human and you still like them, it might be love!
posted by thirteenkiller at 5:19 AM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Love and infatuation aren't mutually exclusive.
posted by footnote at 5:38 AM on August 7, 2006

Infatuation is what you feel. Love is what you do.
posted by klarck at 5:50 AM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Wait a few years then ask the question again: the answer will be much more clear.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:51 AM on August 7, 2006

thirteenkiller,, you're right, but I find when you do something for someone who you are infatuated with, it's usually because you want a particular feeling from doing it, or for them to feel a certain way about it.

I guess the point I was trying to make was:
Infatuation is self-centered and about what you can get and how you can feel, and love is about what you can give and how you can make the other person feel.

I agree with footnote that they aren't always mutually exclusive.
posted by milarepa at 5:52 AM on August 7, 2006

I don't think there's much you can do to differentiate if you're already with the person 'cept wait for time to tell (and why should you worry, it's all good). If however, you're on the outside looking in, then all you can do is make a move. Then if you get accepted, wonderful, and again, time will tell (and change things). If you get rejected, you'll feel gutted, obviously, but if you loved the person, then your feelings will remain. If you were infatuated though, those feelings will quickly evaporate.
posted by einekleine at 5:53 AM on August 7, 2006

This stuff can be pretty development and situation-specific. You're going to get a lot of anecdotal pontification if you don't give us more details. And the fact is, depending on your development and situation, you may NOT be able to tell the difference alone while you're embroiled in it. Even with a bunch of strangers' personal philosophies and experiences to arm you.
posted by Marnie at 6:18 AM on August 7, 2006

Love... Love is a funny thing. I thought I was in love with my last girlfriend. I would do just about anything for her, and anything to be with her. I ended up going with the wrong crowd ( her friends ) and doing many things I would never have thought I would have done ( like smoking ), just for her. Looking back, I was 'in lust', not in love. In all reality, she was a royal b****. My new girlfriend, I love. How do I know I love her? I just do. There is no question in my mind. I just know. Even after I've been away from her and not seen her for 2 months and the 'lust' has started to fade, I still love her. My ex, I thought I loved her, but there was doubt. There is no doubt now.

On preview, what Effigy2000 said.
posted by tdreyer1 at 6:50 AM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Different neurotransmitters.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:53 AM on August 7, 2006

I learned in my senior year "life" class that "love is a verb". Googling that brings up religious things, but I still kinda believe it.

The evolutionary psychologist in me says that "love" for a child is just valuing their sucess over yours (due to better chances for their genes) and romantic love is there to create and raise those 50% clones we call kids.

I have no way to tie these two things together, although there probably is one. I'd erase this but I think I've offered two ideas not previously expressed.
posted by Brainy at 7:03 AM on August 7, 2006

Infatuation is generally the first stage of love. (That is, love usually starts with infatuation -- not that infatuation necessarily leads to love)

Infatuation is more of an impulsive response to someone. It does not last.

Love is based on your relationship and what you have done together and for each other.

Infatuation is (often) the initial motivator for doing the things which begin to build a relationship. Infatuation fades over time and love (in the right circumstances) grows over time. If you're talking about someone you've recently "fallen in love" with, that's infatuation -- but that's not a bad thing because that's all any relationship is at the beginning.
posted by winston at 7:50 AM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

"I love you, but I don't like you very much right now."

I have found that if I can say that, it is probably love.

Infatuation, not so much.

Works for me romantic or otherwise.
posted by Chickenjack at 10:09 AM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

well to answer the question one would have to start by defining love, which is something humanity has been trying to do for some time and despite Effigy2000's best efforts is going to be an ongoing problem.

I quite like Slavoj Žižek's explanation of love which he expounds in the first few minutes of the film Žižek! which can be downloaded here.

Then again we could turn to The Edge who I believe once said that the difference between love and sex (infatuation) is that love involves two people, sex involves one
posted by juniorbonner at 10:57 AM on August 7, 2006

Infatuation is idealizing the object of your affection. Love is realizing they're not perfect, and preferring it that way.
posted by Space Kitty at 12:11 PM on August 7, 2006 [2 favorites]

Ann Landers said it best:

Love or Infatuation?

Infatuation is instant desire. It is one set of glands calling to another. Love is friendship that has caught fire. It takes root and grows — one day at a time.

Infatuation is marked by a feeling of insecurity. You are excited and eager but not genuinely happy. There are nagging doubts, unanswered questions, little bits and pieces about your beloved that you would just as soon not examine too closely. It might spoil the dream. Love is quiet understanding and the mature acceptance of imperfection. It is real. It gives you strength and grows beyond you — to bolster your beloved. You are warmed by his presence, even when he is away. Miles do not separate you. You want him nearer. But near or far, you know he is yours and you can wait.

Infatuation says, “We must get married right away. I can’t risk losing him.” Love says, “Be patient. Don’t panic. Plan your future with confidence.”

Infatuation has an element of sexual excitement. If you are honest, you will admit it is difficult to be in one another’s company unless you are sure it will end in intimacy. Love is the maturation of friendship. You must be friends before you can be lovers.

Infatuation lacks confidence. When he’s away, you wonder if he’s cheating. Sometimes you check.

Love means trust. You are calm, secure and unthreatened. He feels that trust, and it makes him even more trustworthy. Infatuation might lead you to do things you’ll regret later, but love never will.

Love is an upper. It makes you look up. It makes you think up. It makes you a better person than you were before.
posted by Serena at 3:36 PM on August 7, 2006 [10 favorites]

"While I agree with you all ways from Sunday, Effigy2000, I wonder what is the problem in taking an interest in what your partner likes as you mention you did in your relationship with 'J'? (Or did that sarcasm fly over my head?)"

posted by liquorice at 11:22 PM AEST on August 7

No, it wasn't sarcasm. It was just an observation on my relationship with 'J' that probably needed more context than that which I provided. I'll try to explain.

As I mentioned, 'J' was an aspiring model who was also vapid and shallow. I, on the other hand, tend to be classified as the kind of guy who likes refined and intelligent things. So it stands to reason that normally the things that she liked would have been things I would have had no interest in whatsoever. But because of my infatuation with her (and indeed, arguably being quite shallow myself), I took interest in things like clothes and pop music and all that other kind of shit. Thankfully she (and her influence on my interests) are far, far behind me now.

Sorry. I guess I should have explained that better.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:02 PM on August 7, 2006

I think romantic love is a little bit of a sham of an idea. I think there's actually one kind of true love and that's probably like what you had when you were young with your parents. A deep, deep bond and care for someone else. Except this person is not related to you, yet you care deeply and are loyal to them.

Then again, I love my mom so much but I pretty much can't stand her and so I've estranged myself from her so we won't yell at each other anymore or say hurtful things. Yet I love her and I think of her all the time and send her presents.
posted by onepapertiger at 2:05 PM on August 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

years ago, i wrote this down in my blog, and i still think this way about it most of the time: "when it stops being about what you can acquire--that's the love i refer to, for better or for worse."
posted by ifjuly at 11:10 AM on August 10, 2006

Great thread.

I think I can speak pretty well about love versus infatuation.

I'm a 30-year-old female with something called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a hormonal issue that causes, amongst other things, hair loss. When my long, thick curls began thinning around the crown, I lopped off the rest of my hair and bought a wig; with it on, I look like any other young woman. You'd never know.

Shortly after getting my wig, I met a guy named Steve. Almost instantly, he developed an infatuation with me, doing everything he could to win my affection: he bought me gifts, wrote me poetry, and, being an artist, used me as inspiration for countless works of art. We became close friends, but I kept him at arm's length, afraid that his infatuation for me would fade the moment he found out about the "real" me. The problem was, I had developed feelings for him, as well. I hated that it could never go beyond a mutual crush simply because I was too scared to tell him the truth.

Then one day, after some prodding by friends and family, I decided that I had to risk it; if I didn't, I'd always wonder what could've been. I wrote him a long email explaining my situation (because I was too scared to actually speak the words), sat with him while he read it, and waited for an answer. Do you know what he did? He told me that I was still the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, and then he took off my wig and kissed my head.

That was four years ago. Sure, he doesn't sketch me as often now, and I can't remember the last time he wrote me a poem -- but those gestures have been replaced with things that are so much more meaningful. Now, he combs my thinning hair when I'm fresh from a shower, makes me coffee every morning, and, when I have a headache, warms a heatpack without being asked. And that's only the beginning.

Infatuation is about perceived perfection; love is about being real.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 6:18 PM on August 11, 2006 [6 favorites]

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