One of the first signs of maturity is that you no longer confuse love with infatuation. But learning to distinguish one from the other can take time. And even those in later life can still be caught out!
How Do You Feel?
Every relationship is unique because every individual is unique, and there is probably no such thing as a typical infatuation. That said, if you are confused about your feelings, or worried about someone else’s, certain warning signs should be looked for.
First, and most obviously, consider how you feel. Are you happy? Of course, love brings its share of pain and fear, but in general those in love are happy. And they are happy in a calm, mellow way. The infatuated, on the other hand, will alternate between ecstatic joy and frantic pain. Anxiety, insomnia, and obsession are not signs of love. Neither should you feel constantly exhausted. If your relationship leaves you drained, that is another sign of infatuation. Those in love feel energized by their relationship. And their sense of self-worth also improves; the infatuated, however, will often feel a sense of doubt, even humiliation.
Friends and Family
Another sure sign of infatuation is that your friends and family are worried. If you are truly in love, they will probably smile and say “wow, just look at you!” or “I’ve never seen you so happy/beautiful/confident.” If you are infatuated, however, they are more likely to take you quietly to one side and ask “are you OK, only we’ve been worried about you?”
When someone is in love (and is loved in return), people want to be in their company. Just as the depressed are depressing, those in love tend to radiate that love. The infatuated, however, are usually irritating, and friends will say things like “what the heck is wrong with you – why are you acting so weird?”
Consider the way you are behaving towards your friends and family. If you are truly in love, you will want to see more of them, not less. You will want to share the way you feel, to draw them into your cosy, warm bubble. The infatuated tend to do the opposite, drifting away instead. To the obsessive, family and friends are now mere distractions – obstacles in the way of the only thing that matters.
Realism and Authenticity
Love is authentic. When someone is in love, they are in love with the real person “out there,” not infatuated with a fantasy constructed “in here.” Psychoanalysts call this “projection,” by which they mean seeing not what is actually there but what you wish was there. The young do this a great deal. The classic example would be a romantic teenage girl who loves Jane Austen and convinces herself that her casual relationship with a dull and shallow work colleague is in fact a deep and profound romance.
And this explains another crucial difference: infatuated people veer from one extreme to another – obsessed one minute and disillusioned the next. People in love may have problems, but they tend not to be taken by surprise when things go wrong.
The infatuated often begin in a bad place. To love truly and deeply, and to be loved in return, you need a certain amount of strength and stability. The infatuated, however, are often frightened, lonely, and insecure. Then, along comes someone beautiful and kind, someone who understands them, makes them laugh, and brings a little light into their life. Soon they are fantasizing that this stranger has been sent by “fate” or “destiny” to save them. Such people then find the inevitable arguments unbearable. As soon as there is discord, their old insecurities resurface and they once again feel like a depressed loner or neglected child.
Those in love feel able to be themselves. They understand their lover, and they know that their lover understands them. There is thus a warm, natural, free-flowing of emotion. This is why people in love often laugh and joke a great deal: they are relaxed in one another’s company. Not only are they aware of the other person’s faults, they know that their own faults are recognized and accepted. Few relationships are so strong as those in which both partners treat the other’s flaws with good-humoured affection.
And this stability sees them through the bad times. People in love still irritate one another and still argue, but their love survives these arguments because the arguments are honest and sincere. They do not touch that deep inner bond any more than waves on the surface of an ocean disturb the seabed.
Romance, especially when it is sickly and mawkish, is often a substitute for real love. The candlelit dinners and red roses can be part of the fantasy world. When there is real love, however, people know that such gestures are usually empty and meaningless. The infatuated will lavish money on foreign trips or expensive weddings. But love is revealed in simple, mundane acts: going out of your way to buy their favorite sandwich, for example, or making them a hot chocolate when they have a cold.
The infatuated often feel unable to reveal their true self. Or, rather, they are scared to. And this may be in part because they do not really know who this other person is or how they will react. How can you when you are obsessed with a fantasy? Since they don’t really know them, the infatuated will often imagine they are “perfect” or “angelic” and consider themselves unworthy in comparison.
Obviously those in love want to please, but there is no frantic desperation. If you love someone, you want them to be happy, and it hurts you to see them sad or in pain. But this is because you have established such intimacy that you feel their pain as your own. To the infatuated, the object of their infatuation often remains a mystery. They desperately want to please and satisfy them, but they fail because they don’t know how. Indeed, they may even end up irritating them instead.
When you are infatuated, it’s all about you. Love, on the other hand, is selfless. The infatuated seem to be focussed on somebody else, but in fact they are really focussed on how the other person makes them feel. When you are infatuated rather than in love, you separate yourself from the object of your infatuation. He or she is perfect, wonderful, ideal, and here you are, in the gutter, devoted but unworthy. Couples in love form a strong, unbreakable unit. And they do so because they are equals.
So, if you are unsure whether you are in love or merely infatuated, consider the following. First, how do you feel? Do you feel a lovely, warm, inner glow? Or do you feel agitated, frightened, and jealous? Infatuated people will constantly check up on the other person, stalking their social media accounts, trying to catch them out etc. And take note of the comments made by those you love and respect. If they seem happy for you, that is a good sign; if they seem worried or irritated, that isn’t! And consider how you behave around this new lover. If you feel calm and relaxed and, crucially, feel able to be yourself, that is also a good sign. If you are always trying to please them and be someone you think they will like, then you are clearly detached and uncomfortable.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, love usually takes time. Obviously there is such a thing as instant attraction, and people will often say “I just knew that he/she was the one.” But real, authentic love grows and evolves.