Real Love Versus Infatuation — How to Tell The Difference

As of late I’ve found physical attraction is no longer enough. I need genuine connection. I need to undress the layers of a soul before I feel a desire to tear away any clothes. Passion remains the fire, but now intimacy strikes the match, and friendship has become the fuel.
– Beau Taplin

What is it when someone shakes the ground you stand on the moment you cast your eyes upon him? What is that feeling that makes your heart race even from a distance? What is the magnet that pulls you towards him, wanting him to notice you? What’s that feeling that hurts so good inside?

There may be a hundred or more men in the room, but you seem to have laser sharp eyes that say, “Oh my God! I have to meet him!”

Be careful ladies! It’s your brain playing tricks on you. It’s the chemistry in your brain receptors that’s making that choice; not the wise woman within. That’s the guy you might want to walk away from before your heart is broken.

That is not to say infatuation can’t develop into long term relationships, however, it’s the chemistry that ignites those feelings in the beginning of all relationships, with some exception. Some people fall in love after long term friendships, not unlike When Sally Met Harry and some folks can “fall in love at first sight” and withstand all the trials and tribulations that are inherent in every relationship. However, many relationships that begin with a bang, usually end with a bang!

Why is That?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions of love and infatuation are pretty distinct: love is “a warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion to another person,” while infatuation is “a feeling of foolish or obsessively strong love for, admiration for, or interest in someone or something.” Basically, love is a deep, committed attachment to someone, while infatuation is shallower—think of it as the so-called “honeymoon phase.”

So, let me speak to the “honeymoon phase.”

The honeymoon phase is the preliminary phase of falling in love. It is actually the “infatuation phase”, that part in which all your boundaries collapse and you feel like you’ve known each other all your life. But remember—you haven’t.
You take pleasure in knowing you both love the same flavored ice-cream. You both love Cat Stevens and Elton John. You love the same movies and best of all, you are both Republicans, etc., etc., etc

It takes time to know the person you feel infatuated with. Not unlike buying a new car, you need to know what you want. If you want a German made car, you don’t go to a Cadillac dealer. If you want a Japanese car, you don’t go to a Jaguar dealer. It’s paramount to know what you want in a mate and not just let your chemistry make the choice. Chemistry can fool you. Your brain can fool you, because that’s where the love/addict gene is stored. When it hooks on to a person who ignites the charge in your brain, it’s not too different than a drug addict who’s receptors in the brain fire off when they snort cocaine or when an alcoholic gulps the first shot of alcohol. Every neuron in your brain has hard-working receptors on its surface that send and receive messages using molecules called neurotransmitters. Receptors are involved in tolerance, codependency, and addiction. So, it’s not really you falling in love; it’s your receptors that are making that choice. In codependency it tricks us into believing we are in love. Codependency has nothing to do with love. It’s an addiction—plain and simple!
Once you get between the sheets, projections fly all over the place.

Mama Ashley says, “Intimacy is not just experienced through sex. It’s crying together. It’s whispering late at night. It’s talking about growing up and what used to scare you. It’s going places that remind you of your childhood. It’s feeling each other without touching. It’s exchanging energy.”

We all have a “type” that appeals to us. Some like tall, dark muscular men; others prefer a guy who’s rough around the edges, others, a more preppy guy, and some, sophisticated, not necessarily the “drop dead gorgeous type”, but with very deep pockets. Whatever your type might be, don’t let the cover be the judge of his character. He might be very handsome, but dumb as a door nail. He may have a gorgeous body, but dishonest as the day is long. He may be worth a fortune, but spiritually bankrupt. What’s most important, is what do YOU want in a partner.

Let’s begin with love vs infatuation.

In his book, Scott Peck defines love as “the willingness to extend yourself for the sake of nurturing another person’s spiritual growth as well as your own.” Everyone puts their best foot forward in the beginning of a relationship, but soon after, you turn the corner and out comes Hyde.

Extending yourself for the sake of your partner’s spiritual growth takes time, effort and commitment. Most relationships and marriage fail after the honeymoon phase is over. The reason: it was infatuation and not love. Love takes time to evolve. Love is a living feeling and needs to be nurtured, cared for and most of all, the essence of each person’s soul must emerge.

Most couples lose their authenticity before they marry. They bring in unresolved conflicts from their childhood and use the relationship to solve them. Unwittingly we hire a partner that will bring us the worst nightmare and then fire them for the very reason we hired them. The relational space in which they live along with their children and pets becomes polluted over time.

Real love can find ways to cleanse the space and re-connect making the space sacred once more. Relationships based on infatuation will not be able to sustain what is required in real love. Real love requires maturity, communication, compromise, collaboration and the art of presencing. It also requires getting your ego out of the way, kindness, rigorous honesty, self-examination and mindfulness. To achieve this, it is often necessary to find a therapist to help couples in love navigate the course and learn tools and skills to cleanse the space.

Infatuation doesn’t have the life expectancy that real love has. Real love, if nourished will always outlive infatuation.

In my practice I ask my client to tell me what they want in a partner. Most will say a best friend, someone who has my back, honesty, integrity, exclusivity, and more character traits of worthiness. I ask, “how will you know he has these traits? What will you need in order to know you are getting what you want?” The answer comes easy—time. Time will tell. How will it tell? When you have to break a date to take care of your child. When you are not feeling well. When you have to work late on a project. See how he responds when things go awry. Is he cranky, angry, disgruntled? Or, does he understand and accept your reason? How will you know if he is faithful? Time will tell. How do you know if he is honest, has integrity, and has your back? Time will tell. So stay out between the sheets long enough to test the waters. Learn to know him first, and then decide if he is worthy of your love.

Stages of a relationship

Author, Susan Forward compares stages of a relationship to stages of human growth and development. The first stage is codependency. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Mom and baby are one. Baby needs mom for everything. It’s total dependency. In the first stage of a relationship, the couple feels very connected, as if they were one, what some might even consider enmeshed.

The second stage of life is counter-dependency. Baby begins to move away from mom and explore the world. In relationships it’s when the boundaries bounce back and we break the symbiotic stage. This is when the trouble begins for most couples if the relationship is based on infatuation. In real love, the couple can work through this stage and move along to third stage–independence, where each have their own life separate and apart, yet come together. Dad works as a lawyer, plumber, contractor, etc. and mom works as a teacher, physician, social worker, etc. They each have their own passion outside the relationship, but have their time alone and with family. In childhood, the child is now ready for school and learns to be autonomous, self-confident, self-sufficient, but still relies on mom and dad for support.

The fourth stage is interdependency, where the teen-ager is now capable of being connected to others, and others to them. Peer relationships often trump family activities. Relationships follow the same path. Each partner shares and supports the interests of each other and enjoys girls night out, guys night out, solitude, self-interests as well as the company of each other.

Although attraction is the driving force of infatuation, it is not as deep as real love, growing old together. Couples that can be separate and yet together with love, trust and commitment are happier as they grow older. They have their mate, their best friend, the father of their children and many shared memories.

There is no intimacy without autonomy. A healthy, mature loving relationship requires two healthy, mature adults, each separate and together—not an easy recipe, but worth the effort!

This article first appeared on

Joan E Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker, and author. For more information on how to create and maintain a conscious relationship, pre-order Joan’s new book, I Hate The Man I Love: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success


  • Joan E. Childs, LCSW

    Psychotherapist, Author and Inspirational Speaker

    Joan E. Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker and author. She has been in private practice in South Florida since 1978 specializing in both individual and couple’s therapy. Her books include I HATE THE MAN I LOVE: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success, WHY DID SHE JUMP? My Daughter’s Battle with Bipolar Disorder and THE MYTH OF THE MAIDEN: On Being a Woman. Joan specializes in couples therapy using many modalities including Encounter-centered Couples Therapy, Imago Relationship Therapy, PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills), as well as many others. She is also an expert in Codependency, Inner Child Work, Original Pain Work and Second Stage Recovery. After nearly 40 years in private practice healing the wounds of clients who’s lives had been fractured from personal traumas, she has taken her personal and professional knowledge, skills and experience to serve as an inspirational keynote speaker. As a professional speaker specializing in women’s issues, couple and family relationships, self-actualization and grief and loss, she has the qualifications and credibility to impact her audiences and effect positive change. Joan has appeared on many radio and television shows including Oprah and before live audiences. She produced her own television show, SOLUTIONS to provide education and resources to the community on mental health. Joan was chosen to be the first affiliate of the John Bradshaw Center in the United States and is a consultant to many corporations, hospitals, universities and academic institutions. In 2014 she completed a three year Master’s Class training with Hedy Schleifer and received her certification for ENCOUNTER-CENTERED COUPLE’S THERAPY. Learn more about Joan at