Best-selling author and sociology professor Morrie Schwartz once wrote, "The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in." Unfortunately, when it comes to our romantic relationships, many people have difficulty recognizing real love and often confuse it with infatuation, the intense feelings associated with "falling in love." Being able to tell the difference between infatuation and real love can help you make better choices in your romantic relationships -- and ultimately have a richer, more satisfying life.
Love Takes Time
Infatuation starts and ends quickly, according to sociology professor Ray Short. "Love at first sight," where you instantly fall in love with someone you know nothing about, is infatuation. Relationships based on infatuation deteriorate quickly from the stress of conflict or realizing your partner isn't what you expected. When the relationship ends, it doesn't take long for you to get over the loss and move on to someone else. In contrast, real love grows slowly as you get to know your partner. Feelings of love increase with more time spent together, and when the relationship ends, it takes a very long time to recover -- if you ever do.
Love Is Realistic
Infatuation is irrational. Relationship coach Chana Leviton describes infatuation as a powerful connection to someone that leaves you feeling out of control and possessed by your feelings. It strikes you without warning and may happen with someone you have nothing in common with or even dislike. Much of your relationship is fantasy; you idealize your partner and can't recognize any flaws. Love, however, is grounded in reality. You feel in control of your feelings, can give some explanation for why you love your partner and can acknowledge flaws.
Love is Supported by Others
Infatuation is based largely on physical attraction, and you may have little in common with your partner beyond sexual chemistry. Because of this, your friends and family -- who likely share your values --- will tend to disapprove of your partner. In real love, though, you and your partner are compatible in many ways. You share many of the same attitudes, morals and interests. Since your family and friends share many of these same beliefs and preferences, they will likely approve of your partner.
Love Has a Positive Effect
Infatuation has a disorganizing, negative effect on your personality. It leaves you unable to sleep, eat or concentrate. You feel possessive and are prone to bouts of jealousy. You are also self-centered. In infatuation you focus on how the relationship benefits you, such as by enhancing your image. When you really love someone, though, your relationship enhances your personality. You become more focused on giving to your partner. You trust your partner and feel secure. You feel more energetic, creative and purposeful.