Written by Writer’s Corps member Jenna Danneberger
Who can deny the joy of a new crush? And if the crush turns into a new fling? Fireworks.🎆 It’s terrifying and thrilling to make yourself vulnerable to someone new, and far too easy to jump in deep when you’re infatuated with everything about your partner. Whether you are falling fast or somewhere under the umbrella of romantic obsession, infatuation can feel overwhelmingly intense, to say the least.
On a physiological level, infatuation puts your brain into overdrive, opening the floodgates of feel-good chemicals. Rushes of dopamine can change the wiring of your brain, giving you intense highs followed by extreme lows; talk about disorientating!
Experts say prolonged infatuation eventually turns into limerance, an involuntary obsession with a partner that is usually marked by excessive thoughts, feelings, and a desire to have your those feelings reciprocated. Don’t freak out just yet! A healthy dose of infatuation is a normal start to any relationship. So, how do we distinguish fantasy from reality, in other words, how do we know when it’s love or infatuation?
If you’ve ever so much as flipped through the TV or watched the latest rom-com, you’ve seen countless examples of infatuation, whether or not it’s labeled as such (and it never is). Infatuation often presents itself as two people falling “madly in love” with each other from the very beginning of a relationship. Intense relationships like these are usually characterized by grandiose gestures (think: The Notebook), intense physical attraction and undeniable passion. Sorry to disappoint you, romantics, out there but, this notion of “love at first sight” just doesn’t exist the way it’s portrayed in movies. In reality, to experience this level of intensity is to feel completely consumed by it. The desire to give all of your attention to another person is so overwhelming, you may find it difficult to concentrate on anything else. This can hurt your relationship if it crosses the line from “we are excited to spend time together” to “I need you to spend all of your time with me.” In a healthy relationship, your partner will be excited to hang out with you without feeling like they have to give up a part of their independence.
Knowing the difference between infatuation and love
It can be confusing to understand the difference between infatuation and love, as many relationships begin with a generous sprinkling of infatuation. In healthy relationships, however, the fiery initial phase of infatuation is fleeting, soon giving way to a true partnership based on genuine trust and respect instead of an obsessive attachment to the other person. When relationships cool-off from infatuation, it doesn’t mean that couples care about each other less, it just means the relationship has evolved (and will continue to evolve) to a more sustainable, mutual bond. When infatuation is fueled by insecurity, the relationship either ends as quickly as it starts, or drags on as the infatuation morphs into a harmful addiction to the other person. If you feel yourself or a romantic partner becoming too intense, obsessive or controlling, take a step back and check-in with your gut. Being mindful of how a relationship or person makes you feel can be super beneficial whether you’re in a relationship or not.
Still unsure whether or not your relationship is based on mutual interest or infatuation? Ask yourself these questions:
1. Are These Intense Feelings Mutual?
This might seem obvious but, the lens of infatuation has a funny way of shaping signs and signals from your S.O. into whatever color best feeds your current narrative. If you’re feeling high, a like on facebook or a vague response to a text could mean the world. When you’re low, that same response could ruin your day. While learning how to communicate your feelings is tricky, unhealthy infatuation can spiral mixed signals out of control. Being straightforward and understanding where each other stands, even if you don’t always agree, is a sign of a healthy relationship.
2. Are You Letting Responsibilities Slip?
Infatuation throws your priorities out of whack because there’s a feeling of urgency as if your relationship will vanish into thin air if you turn away. You might blow off friends, family, and school responsibilities, feeling that time with the object of your infatuation is more valuable. You might even find yourself putting your life on hold to remain available for your S.O. all the time. When you love somebody you are inspired by the way they live their life. You don’t need to be with them every moment of every day! Love respects boundaries and makes space for people to have fulfilling lives of their own.
3. Does Your Mood Almost Entirely Depend on the Status of Your Relationship?
If a text goes unanswered for too long, do you start to imagine the worst? Infatuation keeps you on the edge of your seat. You are high as a kite when you get the attention you desire, and anywhere from devastated and convinced you’re not good enough to furious and suspecting infidelity when you don’t hear from them. All of your eggs are in one basket, so to say, and this one person has the ability to make or break your entire mindset. Healthy love lacks this white-knuckled grip on a relationship. You should be able to live your life without constantly checking in with your partner.
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4. Are You Acting Like Your Usual Self?
Think about the things you usually do to make yourself happy, and notice if you have shifted any of your interests to mirror the object of your infatuation. It’s always exciting to open up and learn new things from someone special, but you should never feel like you have to hide or change who you are to please your partner.
5. Has Your New Fixation Affected Your Self-esteem?
The extreme highs and lows of an infatuation can leave you feeling insecure and vulnerable. You might find yourself preoccupied with your partner’s experience of the relationship and opinion of you without pausing to check-in with your own feelings of comfort, safety, and self-worth. While not always perfect, in a healthy relationship you should generally feel like you bring out the best in each other. You learn from your differences and you celebrate each other’s strengths.
6. How large of a role does jealousy play?
Do you find yourself monitoring your S.O.’s actions on social media? Are you feeling hurt or panicked if they like someone’s posts too often? Or worse, are you searching for their ex on social media and comparing yourself? Jealousy is ugly and possessive and comes from feeling threatened and insecure. It’s hard not to fixate on the things that make us jealous, but what is most useful is asking yourself what the jealousy really says about your relationship. What is it that makes you feel so insecure? While jealousy can creep up in just about any relationship, the more you address it when it comes up and remain honest with your partner about how you’re feeling, the more you will build trust and true intimacy in your relationship.
Is it Love, or Infatuation?
If any of these questions strike a chord, it’s absolutely crucial not to feel ashamed. Society encourages us to lose ourselves in this superficial idea of love and then makes us feel like failures when it inevitably falls apart. Understanding how easy it is to fall into these patterns can not only help you steer clear of unhealthy relationships, it can really help you be kind to yourself as you recover from an unhealthy relationship or obsession.
Always remember that while infatuation can have its fun moments, it is ultimately superficial and unsustainable. You can become so caught up in the whirlwind that you can’t, or don’t want to, see who the person really is. As Carolyn Perla, Ph.D. told Glamour, “You need to differentiate between being in love with the mythology you’ve built around a person and loving the actual person. Once you’ve dropped the initial fantasy, you’re a step closer to having an authentic relationship.”
Enjoy the excitement of a new love, but don’t forget to take a breather and check in with gut. Always try to stay grounded, be kind to yourself when you fall off course, and remember that while feelings are fleeting, true compassionate love is not.