Have you ever met someone that you were instantly attracted to as if an irresistible magnetic force were pulling you into a relationship? This person has captivated you with good looks, charm and a witty personality. Or maybe something even harder to put your finger on. You may believe this person is the best thing that has ever happened to you. You think about him or her constantly and have a difficult time concentrating on anything else. You smile and laugh more. You feel breathless and exhilarated and don’t ever want to come down from the glorious high.
What is that? Are you falling head over heels or do you have an infection? I’m only partly kidding. The very physical symptoms of such strong emotions sometimes do feel like illness—usually a delightful, pleasant illness, but nonetheless, can you trust what you are feeling?
Is what you are experiencing going to burn out as quickly as a virus can succumb to the heat of your fever? Remember that Peggy Lee song, “Fever!” She knew what I’m talking about.
When you meet someone to whom you are attracted, it’s tough to know the difference between that flash-in-the pan infatuation and a deep and abiding love in its incipient stages. The feelings can be very similar.
In order to figure out if it is love or infatuation we need to slow the love train down, define our terms, and, as always, examine what you want and need in a relationship.
Infatuation: a strong, temporary sudden burst of emotion; the feeling of being carried away by unreasoned passion; a condition of being deprived of sound judgment while being inspired by foolish or extravagant love or admiration. These definitions, pulled from various dictionaries, all emphasize words like “temporary,” “unreasoned,” and “foolish.” Not that you should feel like a fool to feel infatuated. Such a joyful plunge is part of what makes you a human being who is alive and feels things deeply.
But infatuation is often based on an idealized vision of what a person is like. Your vision may or may not be accurate. Infatuation comes quickly, and only time can reveal if what you think you see is what is true. The early passionate fascination of infatuation usually begins with a physical attraction (aka lust), but not always. You can also be infatuated with personality, social status and other qualities a person can offer. Sometimes your concepts of love and romance jibe with what someone seems to offer you, and infatuation can be based on that. For example, if you have long had a fantasy of coming home to a house filled by a devoted lover with roses, and one day your new love interest fills your house with roses, well… it must be love, right? At least that is how it feels in the moment.
Check out these possible warning signs that it may be infatuation:
- You want to be close to the object of your desire at any cost.
- You are making high risk choices with a reckless abandonment of what you once valued, e.g. family, friends, or productivity at work.
- You believe your new relationship is infallible.
- You go out of your way to try to impress your love interest while feeling insecure about whether s/he likes you too.
- You are jealous and possessive and don’t want to let this person out of your sight for fear that s/he will leave you.
- You have unanswered questions but are unwilling to examine them too closely… if at all.
- You are in love with the idea of being in love.
Okay, what about love? How is it different? Although, I’m not sure that anyone understands love in its totality, let’s try to look at it here. Like infatuation, love is also a strong emotion, but it has significant qualitative differences. It is a powerful emotion based on affection between two people. One theory of love states that it is a combination of intimacy, commitment, and passion; intimacy based on trust, commitment to one another, and emotional and physical passion. While physical attraction or chemistry can spark the beginning of a love relationship it is also one of many considerations for a solid partnership.
How do you know it’s love? Consider the following:
- You both show up for each other in the same place at the same time.
- You both realize that love is a choice and encompasses more than a feeling.
- You accept that your partner is a fallible, imperfect human, just as you are.
- You feel a deep affection, contentment and confidence about your relationship.
- You support each other and your individuality and freedom.
- You communicate and negotiate appropriate expectations.
- You are both willing to risk your hearts to form a bond of true intimacy.
Love and infatuation are intense emotions that can be difficult to sort out in a new relationship. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of being attracted to someone and all that comes with it, but balancing your head with your heart will put you on the right path for true love. Take a moment and check in with yourself. Know yourself inside and out. If a new relationship is making you do things that contravene your knowledge of yourself, take note. Sure, maybe this new love is simply helping you stretch beyond your limitations. But maybe it is causing you to engage in risky behavior because you “have the fever.” Don’t sell the house, quit your job or shave your head to accommodate the new relationship until you’ve figured out if it’s fever, or love. (And if it is love, why would shaving your head be so important? A good question.) Finally, identify your requirements, needs and wants for your best relationship. Does the new relationship demand that you set those aside? That’s a recipe for trouble. To keep yourself on course, set emotional and physical boundaries and stick to them.
As time goes by and your emotions reach an equilibrium you may find yourself wondering what happened to the passion. You may decide that you fell out of love, when in reality you were never truly in love.