Is It Love? Are You Sure? Here's How You'll Know

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couple in infatuation not real love

What is it when someone shakes the ground you stand on the moment you cast your eyes upon him? Is what you're experiencing the attraction of real love? ...Or infatuation?

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's a big difference when it comes to these emotions, and one can spell doom for the relationship.

RELATED: 6 Ways Infatuation Is Different From Real Love (And How To Make Sure You Always Know The Difference)

With infatuation versus real love, brain chemistry can be deceiving — is it love? 

There may be a hundred or more men in the room, but you seem to have a laser-sharp focus on this one individual.

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. This is a 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 exceptions.

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.

RELATED: What I Learned About 'Real Love' After Being Proposed To By 9 Different Men

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 more shallow, like the so-called "honeymoon phase."

Why does the 'honeymoon phase' affect your attraction or infatuation levels?

The honeymoon phase is the preliminary phase of falling in love. It's 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 ice cream, movies, and music. Maybe you share the same beliefs about politics.

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 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.

Infatuation is a lot like an addiction

Chemistry can fool you because that’s where the love/addict gene is stored.

When it hooks onto a person who ignites the charge in your brain, it’s not too different than a drug addict whose receptors in the brain fire off when they snort cocaine or when an alcoholic gulps down 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 making that choice. In codependency, it tricks you into believing you're in love.

Infatuation is a side-effect of codependency — not love

It’s an addiction — plain and simple!

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'

Some like tall, dark, muscular men; others prefer a guy who’s rough around the edges, while others go for a more preppy guy, and still some are into sophisticated, but not necessarily the “drop-dead gorgeous" type.

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 doornail.

He may have a gorgeous body but is dishonest as the day is long. He may be worth a fortune, but spiritually bankrupt.

RELATED: The Reason You're So Obsessed With Him Isn't Love, It's Limerence

What’s most important: What do you want in a partner?

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 at 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 marriages fail after the honeymoon phase is over because it was infatuation and not love.

Real love takes time to evolve

Love is a living feeling and needs to be nurtured and cared for.

Most couples lose their authenticity before they marry. They bring in unresolved conflicts from their childhood and use the relationship to solve them. Unwittingly, you "hire" a partner that will bring you nightmares, and then "fire" them for the very reason you hired them.

The relational space in which you live becomes polluted over time. Real love can find ways to cleanse the space and reconnect, making the space sacred once more.

Relationships based on infatuation are unsustainable

Real love requires maturity, communication, compromise, collaboration, and the art of "presencing." It also requires kindness, rigorous honesty, self-examination, mindfulness, and getting your ego out of the way.

To achieve this, it's often necessary to find a therapist to help navigate the course. Infatuation doesn’t have the life expectancy real love has.

Real love nourished outlives infatuation

What do you want in a partner? Most will say a best friend, someone who has my back, honesty, integrity, exclusivity, and more character traits of worthiness.

But how will you know he has these traits? What will you need in order to know you're 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're not feeling well. When you have to work late on a project.

See how he responds when things go awry. Is he cranky, angry, or 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 from beneath the sheets long enough to test the waters. Learn to know him first, then decide if he's worthy of your love.

RELATED: You Won't Find True Love Until You Accept These 10 Things

Infatuation only covers the first stage 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 you 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 the third stage — independence, where each has 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.

The fourth stage is interdependency, where you're now capable of being connected to others, and others to you. 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.

Attraction: not as deep as real love

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 parent 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.

RELATED: There Are 5 Stages Of Love & Intimacy In Relationships — Here's How To Know Which You're In

Joan E. Childs, LCSW, is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker, and author of "I Hate the Man I Love: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success." 

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