The Difference Between Being In Love And Just Being Attached

Photo: - Yuri A / Shutterstock
woman with arms around boyfriend

I once dated a guy without being in love with him. I did it for months, in fact, and when we broke up, I was angrier over the thought that I'd lost my earrings than that I'd been dumped. I was panicked. But I wasn't sad. That's because I wasn't in love with K — I was only attached.

There's a big difference between the two, though we often mistake them for each other. I needed K to get me through a particularly rough time in my life. I needed a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, and a warm body in bed. I told myself I loved him. I even pulled his V-card. But I was attached to K, in this case by need.

The difference between being in love and being attached.

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You see these couples all the time — the ones that are attached, not in love. This happens all the time when the girl is insecure, like I was, and needs reassurance. She's the one who hangs off her man, who insists on PDA even when he seems uncomfortable. That girl will do anything for him: dress the way he dictates, act the way he demands, and take up his interests like they're her own.

When I dated K, I developed an overwhelming fondness for movies. I'm ADHD and can barely sit through the latest episode of Kimmy Schmit. I hate films. But I was emotionally needy and he... well, I don't know what his emotional motivation was for our attachment.

He had also just been through a rough time; maybe he also needed reassurance that he was the type of guy who could attract a hot girl. Mostly, though, he was like so many guys who date an emotionally needy girl: he wanted to get laid.

Guys form attachments all the time to get laid. Sometimes they do it intentionally; sometimes, like K, they do it subconsciously. But sex is probably the leading cause of men forming attachments instead of falling in love. Love requires commitment. Love requires your heart, and that can be scary. Easier to attach yourself to a girl instead of loving one. It's like your grandmother always said: Why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free? In this case, they aren't paying the cost of giving their heart.

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There's another category of people who find themselves attached instead of in love. These are couples who used to be in love, but who through habit and circumstance, and time, have fallen instead into attachment. These couples probably aren't even aware of it.

They'd say they were in love if you asked. But he's busy using porn and she's formed a serious attachment to the showerhead. Maybe they think about other people during sex. But they go through all the motions of a real relationship. They have date nights; they have couples nights. They help each other. But they aren't in love; they're attached.

That's because their relationship is based on habit and need. He brews the coffee in the morning. He needs her to do the cooking. She washes all his laundry (and probably finds herself more disgusted by his dirty socks than she used to be); she needs him to rub her back and tell her she's special.

They both need to be told they're loved. They both need to think they're loved. But they aren't. They're only attached to each other — by years and memories and habits and need.

Other couples can find themselves attached instead of in love. I once lived with a guy who I wasn't in love with but to whom I found myself attached. I was dependent on him for a place to live, so I couldn't leave him.

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People who have dogs together can find themselves in the same situation as can, most commonly, people who have children. The kids are the attachment between them. These parents may tell themselves that they're in love with each other but really, they're doing the proverbial staying-together-for-the-kids.

They aren't bad people, these are people who form attachments instead of falling in love. They're afraid. They're scared of giving their whole heart to someone or are incapable of it for any number of reasons: trauma, past heartbreak, abuse. They may be too emotionally immature to fall in love. Or, currently, too emotionally damaged too.

These people aren't bad. They're just not able or willing to fall in love.

It's different, falling in love and being attached. The difference is as simple and as profound as giving your heart to someone. You don't take it back when love becomes routine. You don't withhold it just because you want sex. When you fall in love, you give your whole self. When you're attached, you remain your own person. And that, perhaps, is the chief difference between the two.

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Alissa Scully is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom. She got her degree in English and spends much of her time teaching freshmen, political activism, and media work.