Love versus infatuation
By Diane E. Lykes
Did you know that we form our first impressions of another’s attractiveness in a tenth of a second? And, that our sense of smell plays a very important role in determining our interest in a romantic partner? In the early stages of falling in love, distinct biochemical forces are at work to help us attract a partner in order to ensure the survival of the species. Although this sounds pretty unromantic, it can help us understand why we are drawn to certain individuals despite our differences.
Infatuation and the science of sexual chemistry
This month’s issue of Psychology Today boasts a nearly naked couple on the front cover with the caption: “The Big Turn On…9 Forces of Instant Attraction”. What they are referring to are the specific ways in which we become romantically interested in another person. Some of their findings are of no surprise. Things like: physical appearance, intelligence, a sense of humor and high earning potential all play a part in how we decide on our next love.
What is not obvious is that infatuation begins with a small molecule called plenylethylamine or PEA. This is the substance in the brain that is responsible for feelings of elation, exhilaration and euphoria. When we are crazy about someone, our limbic system becomes saturated with PEA and other brain chemicals such as norepinephrine and dopamine.
The feeling of falling in love is so powerful and pleasurable that most people agree it surpasses any other “high”.
As with most intensely pleasurable things, this feeling cannot last forever. In some ways, this is a good thing. At some point we have to come down from the clouds and focus on other activities, such as our careers, family/friends and even saving for retirement! As a result, couples either transcend into the next stage of love called “attachment” (real love) or they end the relationship because the intense euphoria has subsided.
You may know someone who consistently mistakes the infatuation phase for “true love”. Each time the euphoria fades, they believe their love has died and a breakup ensues. These individuals tend to have one to three year relationships their entire lives never recognizing that they have mistaken infatuation for deep, long lasting love.
While infatuation is limited in time and depth, deep love often grows stronger with each passing year and can last a lifetime.
In search of real love
Writer Frances Ford had this to say about love: “While there are many definitions of love, its’ essence, when used as a verb, can be captured in a few phrases: to care for, to cherish, to respect, to honor, to show interest in, to value or to treat with kindness.”
Whereas infatuation is marked by intensity, a strong sexual desire, possessiveness and insecurity, love is characterized by a gradual development, deep commitment, trust and security. In this stage of the relationship, couples feel a sense of deep love that is peaceful, comfortable and secure. There are new chemicals that saturate the brain called endorphins. These chemicals are similar to an opiate, therefore producing feelings of calm, serenity and relaxation.
In an environment that feels so safe and secure, couples can move into the next stage of the relationship—marriage. It can take one to three years for couples to move from infatuation into real love. Understanding and accepting each other’s imperfections is an important part of this transition.
Finally, after couples commit to a lasting relationship, they may decide to move into another distinct stage—having a family. And we know that having a happy and healthy family is best accomplished when you are in a loving and committed relationship.
Falling in love is truly a wondrous experience, and choosing a lifetime partner is one of the biggest decisions we will ever make. Understanding what it means to be infatuated as well as what it means to experience real love will help you choose that very special person. The one who will join you in life’s greatest fulfillment—love.
What does Ann Landers have to say about this?
Ann Landers, the syndicated columnist whose frank advice has reached millions of readers, printed this insightful essay titled “Is it Love or Infatuation?” It clearly explains the differences between the two in a way that only Ann Landers could.
Infatuation is fleeting desire—one set of glands calling to another. It is marked by a feeling of insecurity. You are excited and eager, but not genuinely happy. There are nagging doubts, unanswered questions, little bits of pieces about the relationship that you would just as soon not examine too closely. It might spoil the dream.
Love is friendship that has caught fire. It takes root and grows, one day at a time. It is quiet understanding and mature acceptance of imperfection. It gives you strength and grows beyond you to bolster your beloved. You are warmed by his presence, even when he is away. Miles do not separate you. But near or far, you know he is yours and you can wait.
Infatuation says, “We must get married right away. I can’t risk losing him.” Love says, “Be patient. Don’t panic. Plan your future with confidence.”
Infatuation has an element of sexual excitement. Whenever you are together, you hope it will end in intimacy.
Love is not based on sex. It is the maturation of friendship that makes sex so much sweeter. You must be friends before you can be lovers.
Infatuation lacks confidence. When he’s away, you wonder if he’s being unfaithful. Sometimes you check.
Love means trust. You are calm, secure, and unthreatened. He feels your trust, and it makes him even more trustworthy. Infatuation might lead you to do things you will regret, but love never steers you in the wrong direction.
Love is elevating. It lifts you up. It makes you look up. It makes you better than you were before.
Diane Lykes is a Principal of Synergy Counseling Associates in Albany where she specializes in individual and couples counseling, educational training and clinical consultation. Synergy is a unique counseling practice providing compassionate, solution-oriented treatment for adults, children, adolescents and families. She can be reached at 466-3100 or at firstname.lastname@example.org