“When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one’s self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance.” — Oscar Wilde
It’s said that the opposite of love isn’t hate, but indifference.
If we think about it, there’s truth to this. Both love and hate have passion. Both stir up intense feelings. Both expend emotional and mental energy. And, both show vulnerabilities.
If you’ve ever watched any 90’s romcom where introverted girl hates annoying boy, then boy proves his worth, and poof!…they’re in love — you get the gist of how thin the line is between love and hate.
Even science has argued that both love and hate trigger similar neural responses within our brain. These findings add more validity that love and hate are like polar opposites along the same spectrum rather than separate experiences altogether.
By researching the similarities and differences between love and hate, Robert Sternberg, a psychologist and professor at Cornell University, created his Triangular Theory of Love. In his theory, he discusses love as having three necessary parts: passion, intimacy, and commitment. These three components can be combined to create eight different types of love.
Indifference, on the other hand, doesn’t qualify as love or hate. Indifference is just that: it’s non-emotional investment, driving the point home that it’s the opposite of love.
In Sternberg’s theory, indifference would probably be most closely related to what he coined as Empty Love, where there’s commitment, but no passion or intimacy.
Infatuation, however, is a totally different beast, rarely — if ever — would it be confused with Empty Love, but it somehow manages to get confused with love all the time.
So, where do we draw the line between love and infatuation?
5 Signs It’s Infatuation
According to Sternberg, infatuation only has passion, without intimacy or commitment. While this seems like it should be a slam-dunk in deciphering between infatuation and love, it’s not.
On the flipside, love is a mix of the three elements of passion, intimacy and commitment with two types of love we can’t seem to get enough of: Romantic Love and the granddaddy of love, Consummate Love.
Whereas Romantic Love is based on intimacy and passion, Consummate Love nails all three elements.
Understandably, we probably all want Consummate Love, which is a tough sell. If you’re among the lucky ones to experience it, my only advice is to hold on tight and cherish it.
Deciphering between infatuation and love:
Excitement vs. Safety. All relationships start out intense and exciting. There are varying degrees of what we consider passion that’s seen infatuation, but what commonly identifies it are things like incredible sex, good times, or travel — which can become intoxicating.
Here’s where we can get hooked on wanting to see them, or we may find ourselves thinking about them or wanting to spend every waking moment with them. In essence, passion is often the proverbial honeymoon phase of a healthy relationship.
Love on the other hand, is based on safety and security. While there’s passion and good times, these aren’t the foundation of the relationship, or that foundation will eventually collapse.
When it’s love, being wrapped in their arms is a win-win over kink because it brings a sense of calm, intimacy and security with it. You’re falling asleep holding their hand because it makes you feel protected. And, there’s nothing more comforting than sharing a homemade meal together and settling in for the night on clean sheets because it offers consistency.
Awkward vs. At Peace. When it’s based on infatuation, it’s like you’re constantly in high gear and heightened alert. You’re looking for agendas or questioning their investment to you. Or, maybe you’re questioning your investment to them.
You’re focused on looking good around them or cashing in on more good times. Superficiality runs high and there’s a shortage of intimacy. You find yourself always wanting to have shallow chitchat to keep the conversation going and the awkward silence at bay.
Common with the awkwardness seen in infatuation is when you find yourself overthinking your next move or your next topic of conversation.
When it’s based on infatuation, silence is seen as uncomfortable, which can trigger insecurities and doubts. You may start questioning your choice of them as a partner, or you may start overthinking that they aren’t that in to you. Sex, kink or more good times become go-to distractions to numb any awkward feelings.
Love on the other hand, embraces silence. Intimacy is identified by the couple’s ability to be together without the need for constant stimulation. You’re enjoying each other’s energy, you’re finding the quiet moments comforting and your S.O.’s presence as stability.
When it’s based on love, you intuitively understand each other and are embracing each other’s needs whether it’s offering space or quiet time without feeling the urgency of having to busy yourselves.
Superficial vs. Depth. The biggest red flag of infatuation is that emotions are shallow. There’s an underlying fear to want to maintain the status quo and not rock the apple cart. Bad days may be downplayed, anger or sadness gets smoothed over, or deeper insecurities are brushed off.
Understandably, when a relationship is brand new, most partners have temporarily pushed away their old pain by numbing themselves with the newness of the relationship. And, because it’s new, they probably aren’t at a place of true vulnerability.
However, relationships aren’t maintained by shallow investment. They require depth and breadth of emotion to weather the storm and to grow.
When it’s love, you’re both emotionally invested and emotionally available for each other. Both partners have taken necessary steps in learning their attachment style and how it influences their emotional availability.
Emotions may run high, fears of abandonment or engulfment may come out, and along with them, a deeper understanding and connection can be formed.
Wanes vs. Growth. The main problem with infatuation is that it wears off. She won’t always look as hot as the first date, and his hair may start to thin.
Yet, when we jump into a relationship with guns blazing, we may not realize that the passion has faded until there’s nothing (like commitment or intimacy) to turn to in order to keep the relationship going. When it’s based on infatuation, relationship highs start to wane when true personalities come out, when a partner gains a few pounds or when relationship stressors rear their head.
Love on the other hand, grows. Because it’s not based solely on image or shallow investment, partners are supportive, encouraging and unconditionally accepting. They’re not shaming each other or looking outside the relationship to fill a void.
Commitment is what identifies love. This shouldn’t be confused with being exclusive, or even living together for that matter, because a couple can live together while living separate lives, apart.
When it’s based on love, commitment is an agreement between both partners, sometimes spoken and often unspoken, that represents the bond between you. You’re not only praising them to their face, you’re talking highly of them behind their back, where it counts. You’re invested in the other person’s growth, and you’re tending to your own emotional growth in the process.
Masks vs. True-Self. When it’s infatuation, everyone’s on their best behavior. This charade can last years as long as partners continue keeping each other at arms’ distance, smoothing over any issues and acting the part.
When masks are secured, image is everything, and status becomes the overarching theme. How you look becomes more important than how you feel. And, when masks are in place, how you feel often turns to contempt and resentment towards your S.O.
One of the bravest acts seen in love, is in choosing vulnerability. When it’s about love, not only are you all-in, you’re growing. You evolve. You’re patient with them, and you’re giving them time and room for their own growth.
You’re wanting to face your fears, and you’re choosing to be a better person, both for yourself and the relationship. You’re taking a chance at showing your S.O. your True Self, you’re chipping away walls while choosing to build intimacy.
If you notice, there’s a pattern here. I’ve tried referencing examples of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, along with a couple other theories in recognizing whether it’s love or infatuation.
When our needs are unmet, our relationships are a reflection of this. Until we learn to recognize and meet our own needs, our relationships will be based on our own unresolved pain.
We need to be aware of where our most basic needs may be lacking before choosing to get involved in a relationship.
It’s not our job to “fix” or “save” our S.O., and no matter how much we try to lie or deny facts — they can’t save us, either.
When we’re out of touch with our own unmet needs, our attachment style or our early conditioning, we often turn to relationships to try and patch up the emotional holes caused by those deficits. All this does is bandaids the hole, where another bandaid has to be added to slow the emotional blood loss.
…So, why does infatuation get so easily confused with love?
The easy answer is because most of us don’t have a clue about matters of the heart. We’re looking towards our friends' relationships as our guide, or we’re basing it on what was served in childhood, even if that proved toxic as fuck to our own sense of inner peace.
We have it backwards.
Maybe we see relationships as transactional — you scratch my back, and I’ll do the same.
Maybe we haven’t experienced real love before and so our gauge is biased, or stuck on shallow investment.
Maybe we’re so hyper-focused on not being alone that we’re settling for less than we deserve or we’re numb to what love really is.
Maybe we weren’t taught what it is, so we’re only aware of what it isn’t.
Or, maybe we have felt it and it scared the hell out of us because with authentic love, comes the risk of rejection.
So…it’s just easier being infatuated.
…or is it?
Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper.
Sternberg, R. J., & Sternberg, K. (2008). The nature of hate. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sternberg, R. J. (1988). The triangle of love. New York: Basic.
Zeki, S., & Romaya, J.P. (2008). Neural correlates of hate. PLoS ONE, 3.