10 Things That Aren't Love (And 4 Things It Really Is)

What love should and shouldn't feel like.

Last updated on Oct 21, 2023

Couple camping outdoors Dean Drobot | Canva

Ask most people, "What is love?" and we’ll describe one of a few things, most of them unhealthy and incorrect.

A lot of our perception of love comes from television and movies, and those are almost never healthy relations. Real, mature love doesn't make for good entertainment.

Here are 10 things that aren't love:

1. Attachment or “Feeling”

We confuse this for love all the time, and the media doesn’t help. Everywhere we look, we’re encouraged to accept attachment (or infatuation or enmeshment) as love — but it’s not.


Attachment is motivated by insecurity. Love never is.

Wanting (or “needing”) constant reassurance is not love. Jealousy is not love. Poor boundaries are not love. Fear is not love.

Calling your partner your “everything” is not love.

RELATED: 5 Fascinating Psychological Reasons Why Human Beings Crave Commitment

2. Hurtfulness

Even if we “give it right back” in an argument or chalk it up as “passion.” Love does not hurt. That is all ego and fear, and in the moment we do this to another person, we are never operating from a position of love.

3. Our wants

When I broke up with my boyfriend of five years, his immediate reply was: “But I want to be with you!”


As though that was an appropriate response. As though his interests were the most important topic of conversation in that instant. As though what he wanted would somehow cancel out what I wanted, or make me forget my own dissatisfaction. As though that was an appropriate, loving response.

The appropriate, loving response is something more like, “What’s wrong?” i.e., “What do you want that you’re not getting?” Because only one of us wasn’t getting our wants met and, given that he wasn’t the one doing the dumping, it was clearly me, not him.

The dude was pretty successful at his job, and after we broke up he said, “I can persuade anyone — except you.” I stared at him. And then I said, “Well, I bet you don’t try to persuade anyone by talking about what you want.”

I’d bet exactly zero of his multi-million dollar deals were won by him whining like, “But I really want this commission check!” And yet he wanted this to somehow be okay with me.


Now, to be clear, we should want to be with our partner, and we should absolutely tell them! But there’s a time and place to do so, and it isn’t when it comes off as running over what they want — especially if they aren’t getting it.

In the words of Dale Carnegie, “Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.” And don’t just talk that way — think and love that way, too. If you want them to stick around, don’t isolate your interests and dismiss theirs.

4. Beauty

After my boyfriend argued “But I want to be with you!”, I sighed and asked, “Why do you want to be with me?” And he looked me in the eye and actually said, “I want you because you’re beautiful!”

Full stop.


And that’s how he both broke my heart and finalized my decision in about one second flat.

Emma Lindsay addressed this best in her essay "Fish Love", saying: “Whenever someone tells me I’m beautiful, they’re telling me they love themselves. They’re telling me that they want to be around people and things that give them pleasure and that my physical appearance gives them pleasure. But, they’re not telling me that they care about me.”

So many women are ready and willing to accept “beautiful” as the highest compliment; and embrace it as the pinnacle of their person. But it’s not. That comment really says nothing about you.

“Finding someone beautiful is not love, it is self-love. Because finding someone extremely pleasurable is not love, it is self-love.”


We romanticize this culturally, but we’re wrong.

“If you spend your life looking for love by trying to find someone who thinks you’re crazy beautiful, you won’t find love. If you spend your life trying to find someone you think is beautiful, you won’t find love.”

If someone cares that you’re beautiful but doesn’t care about your feelings or reality, they do not love you.

“If you believe you can be nourished by this kind of love, you will be disappointed.”

The same goes for anything superficial — money, status, etc.

RELATED: 4 Commitment Conversation Starters That Won't Scare Him Away

5. Expectations + projection

Every time I break up with a boyfriend, I break my mother’s heart a little too. She’ll say she “just wants me to be with someone” and that that’s a normal thing to want — for ourselves, and our daughters.


We’re quick to chalk this up as “love,” but it isn’t when it directly usurps the other person’s own decisions.

The real reason my mother wants this is not for my benefit, but hers. Because the woman just can’t deal with change. She wants everything in a box and wants it to stay there, regardless of her own daughter’s happiness being a part of it. She thinks I owe her my partner’s permanence. When I break up with them, she piles more emotion onto my breakup than I do, clinging to my exes, staying in touch with them (sometimes for years), as though to tell me: “You made a mistake.” Even if it wasn’t what I wanted.

My mother also hates it when I change jobs. She hated when I dropped my startup — because she just “liked telling people” I had my own business. (Never mind it wasn’t what I wanted.)

And here’s our recurring conversation on the topic of me marrying my current partner:


Mom: “He’s not going to ask you until you say you want to get married.”
Me: “I’m not sure I want to get married. I’m definitely not in a hurry.”
Mom: “Well, you gotta put the pressure on him or he’ll never ask.”

We think this sort of stuff is okay — endearing even; “motherly” — simply because “all moms” think and act this way. And maybe that’s true. But that doesn’t make it okay, and it sure doesn’t make it love.

I care for her, but I tolerate this mostly because I choose to honor my social obligation too. In the words of Shakespeare:

I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love you 
According to my bond, no more nor less.


— Cordelia, King Lear

But how we fail to see that this “motherly” behavior is far from “love” astounds me.

6. Sameness

When I asked one boyfriend why he loved me, he said, “Because you agree with me on everything!”

Which is grammatically interesting. He didn’t say he liked that we agreed with each other on everything or shared viewpoints, but rather that I was merely a flesh-and-blood mirror in which he saw his favorite things bounced back to him.

7. Contrast

When people like partners who are what they’re not, to make their own favorite features stand out in contrast.

Men who base their identity on conventional masculinity, and only feel secure in their masculinity (and thus their own skin) with “tiny” or “motherly” or otherwise hyper-“feminine” women. Women who base their identity on conventional femininity, and only feel secure in their femininity (and thus their own skin) with “big” or “fatherly” or otherwise hyper-“masculine” men.


Being attracted to characteristics that you don’t uphold is always rooted in insecurity, not love.

We are complete people on our own — our partners are not the “other half,” and it is not the job of the opposite sex to bring a set of characteristics to the table. Whatever you are attracted to or think you want or need in a partner is actually what you should first provide for yourself.

RELATED: 11 Ways To Make Your Relationship Stronger So You Can Fall In Love All Over Again

8. “Completeness”

Love is not addition, it’s multiplication.

When you put two half-people together, with both expecting the other to fill in the gaps and “complete” them, you don’t get 1/2 + 1/2 = 1. You get 1/2 x 1/2… 1/4.


On the contrary, when you put two healthy, whole people together, with each operating with emotional self-sufficiency, you get 1 x 1… still 1. An entire unit, complete whether in “parts” or as a whole.

9. Their wants (“selflessness” i.e., martyrdom)

There’s a huge difference between generosity and martyrdom, and the fact that so many of us struggle to discern the difference is alarming.

Genuine love requires you to first love and serve yourself and your needs. Often people interpret this as “selfishness,” and it’s a sad disservice that we’ve done to ourselves by confusing the two.


Selfish people are not self-loving. (On the contrary, they are overcompensating for their lack of self-love.)

We do not win love by frantically scrambling to deny our needs and meet someone else’s — even if we hope that we’ll get ours met if they only do the same back.

10. “Ownership” or entitlement

Sometimes we forget that other people do not belong to us. We are not entitled to them.

So often we want to mark them as our own, especially with some legal binding to make things more like “forever.” (Because God forbid they continue to roam the earth as an individual, with no legal obligation not to stray. God forbid we love them as their own person without a sense of ownership or agency over them.)


Sometimes our primary goal is to “get married,” and a person is simply the means.

Or we see a person as the object of our desire, and then see marriage as the vehicle through which to get that on lockdown.

Because it is not a feeling.

Here are 4 things love is:

1. Love is choice. It is deliberate

We have agency in who and how we love, and we are not at the mercy of how the wind blows. Love takes work.

2. Love is relaxed

Love is not anxious, but secure.

3. Love recognizes that our partner is their own person

Good love has nothing to do with what they are or what we harvest from them.

4. Love is action (and effort)

Good love is the way in which we love them — it’s us loving their very being, us loving their essence, us loving their ups and downs and imperfections and dumb complaints and irritations and shortcomings and differences and decisions — each day.


RELATED: 5 Proven Signs You're In Love, According To Psychology

Kris Gage is a freelance writer and blogger. She has been featured in Scary Mommy, The Startup, The Huffington Post, Insider Business, MamaMia, Thought Catalog, and more.