Love, Infatuation, Obsession - What’s the Difference

What is LoveAsk ten people what “love” is and you’ll get ten answers.  Anywhere, in any culture, the same thing will happen.  But, give people a set of feelings and behaviors and ask what they represent, and you may find some common responses.

We recognize certain feelings as being associated with different ways we define love.  Here we will look at some of those feelings to get a better idea of what they represent.

The front row of musical concerts are full of people jumping and screaming to attract the attention of performers on the stage.  These fans may have posters of the group or individual on their walls at home and use their music as ring tones.  Their conversations frequently revolve around the performers including fantasies between the person and their object of affection.

These feelings and behaviors are a good sign of infatuation.  The basis of these feelings is often the desire to have something that we can never attain.  This dilemma, that we can never have it gives us a certain pleasure to fantasize actually making the fantasy come true.

Some common things we see in this type of “love” are:

1. The person with the infatuation never considers the other person’s feelings or includes them in their fantasy: “If I could just meet him I know he’ll fall in love with me!”

2. Infatuations are fickle.  A person will be focused on one person for days or weeks then suddenly, their attention will be put on someone else and have the same intensity.

3. Infatuations tend to be short-lived.  The mind can only hold onto a fantasy life so long then has to give it up. Days or weeks is the norm, but some people may have an infatuation that lasts for months.

The next set of feelings we’ll look at also pertain to other areas of life than love.  When an infatuation starts to include unhealthy behaviors, then we have an obsession.  An obsession is a persistent focus on an individual with thoughts and actions that could be unhealthy or even dangerous to the person, the target of the affection and complete strangers.

Stalking, repeated attempts to make contact through mail, email, phone or in person, and threatening others who might “get in the way” are signs of obsessive behavior.  The goal of the person is to make their fantasy happen at any cost.

Other actions we might see in a person obsessed with someone else include:

1. Not eating, sleeping or doing any of the other normal daily activities expected of a healthy person.
2. Pulling back from friends and family and isolating themselves in order to focus even more of their energy on their object of obsession.
3. Having thoughts of hurting themselves or the target of their feelings in order to coerce something to happen.

Sometimes a person obsessed with another person can move themselves out of those feelings but often it requires someone from outside of the situation to step in and offer help. Hopefully this will happen before someone gets hurt!

From these two extremes we look at what constitutes a healthy form of “love”.

It begins by recognizing that the relationship is two-way.  Each person gets something from the relationship and each person gives something. What we get from this kind of relationship might be something that we want or prefer.  Both people have input into the relationship. 

The healthy love relationship respects the goals of each individual while creating a joint life that both share and enjoy.  There are times when people agree to an imbalance (for instance, one person works while the other goes to school), but this is usually for a fixed length of time and agreed upon by both people. Even then, the long-term outcome is of benefit to both.

This is the key to a healthy love relationship. Two people come together, agree to work together on the relationship, accept the give and take, and find ways to achieve balance that allow both to share the pleasure and burdens of the love connection!

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