Everyday Grace

thoughts and inspiration on emotional health by colleen p. arnold

How Do You Know it’s Love?

In my office, seeing as many 20-somethings as I do, I see a LOT of infatuation disguised as love. Most of the time, clients think they’re in love with someone with whom they’re actually infatuated.

I find it very difficult to tell someone, client or friend, that what they’re feeling is infatuation rather than love. First of all, they don’t believe me. Second, they tend to feel offended, as if being infatuated with someone is something to be ashamed of. But mostly, I think they’re disappointed. Infatuation sounds so shallow and temporary. They really WANT to be in love, and what they’re feeling is so strong, they figure it must be love.

How do you tell the difference? It’s not easy, especially since true love often starts out with infatuation. That’s the fun part – you think about this person all the time, you might fantasize about a future with them, you get all wiggly inside when you’re near them. You’d like to spend all your time with them. Your desire is strong, and your hands (among other body parts) want to be touching them all the time. You’re feeling giddy and happy – life is great.

Infatuation is quick and easy. It doesn’t take much work. Hopefully, the other person is infatuated with you, too. (If they’re not, what you have is a crush). You enjoy how much you have in common and are fascinated by the differences. Infatuation is awesome, fun and short-lived. You can prolong it by not having much contact with the other person (i.e. some long distance romances can never get beyond the infatuation stage).

True love is reciprocal. You can’t really “love” someone from afar, it has to be a dynamic interplay between two people to count as love.* (Again, if you do love someone from afar, what you probably have is a crush).

True love means you know the other person well and intimately. You know their faults, their lives and their histories. You know what makes your partner difficult to live with as well as what makes it worthwhile to be with them. You know what sets them off, and you know what makes them feel loved.

True love lasts through struggles. You’ve been through tough times with this person and know you can make it out the other side together. You know how to talk about your inner life, and you care about your partner’s inner life.  You trust this person, and you do your best to be trustworthy for them.

True love takes time. It’s a deeper connection than infatuation. You both care deeply about how the other feels. You are entwined in all aspects of each other’s lives, and you’ve met his/her family and friends. You face the world together, as partners. Everything else orbits around the two of you in the center.

Infatuation is fun. True love isn’t always fun, but it’s always worthwhile. And once you’ve had it, it will be easier to tell the difference. I’m interested in your opinion – what are other ways you can tell the difference between infatuation and love?


*or the three of you…etc. Yes, I think you can be in love with more than one person at once. As long as it’s consensual on everyone’s part and there’s no secrecy, who am I to judge? But that’s probably a whole different post…. 

Image credit: nyoin on Flickr


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4 thoughts on “How Do You Know it’s Love?

  1. Hi Colleen, This is a really lovely post detailing of how true love works. I especially like that you note that true love endures through struggles. It is all a good reminder that the infatuation part of love is really just the beginning but when you get to know someone on a deeper level and still love them, well then you might have the real thing. I really like your blog and look forward to reading more.
    Best, Allison

  2. Hi Colleen,
    I like this a lot. I hope that it is helpful to people. You’re right that infatuation feels great, and often people are disappointed when it doesn’t last. I like the way you explain that you have to get past that to get to love–the long lasting stuff.

  3. Hi Colleen –
    Hey this is a great post explaining in simple short concrete terms wassup with luv, sex, crush etc!
    It IS very difficult to ‘splain and you did a wonderful therapeutic job!

  4. Colleen,

    I think you did a lovely job of explaining in much more detail the axiom that “love is a verb.” I knew that I could marry my husband when we had been through several large arguments and family crises–and could still be happy together. Those “less-than-lovely” moments showed me that the relationship had staying power.


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