Sexuality Resource Center for Parents: Tools, Tips, and Tricks for Teaching Children about Human Sexuality

The Differences between Love and Infatuation

(For Parents of Children with Developmental Disabilities)

The distinction is not just lost on youth. So many adults get this one wrong that we thought we’d better tell you the differences between love and infatuation before your child gets their first crush.

And be prepared. Most children and teens experience infatuation and mistake it for love, so you’re probably not going to escape dealing with this one.

Love is when you care very strongly and very deeply about another person. When you love someone, you are there to support them, you work together to solve problems, you’re willing to stand by this person in good times and bad, and you wish nothing more than to watch and help this person grow.

Infatuation (also referred to as “lust”) has a few great things going for it too. Infatuation gives you goosebumps. It puts that silly smile on your face that you can't seem to shake. It fills your mind with wonderful daydreams. And, of course, many love relationships start out as infatuation.

It all sounds so wonderful that we may not see the problem when infatuation is mistaken for love. But it's a big problem, and that's why it’s so important to understand the differences between love and infatuation. Here they are:

    • Love develops gradually over time. Infatuation occurs almost instantaneously.
    • Love can last a long time. It becomes deeper and more powerful over time. Infatuation is powerful, but short-lived.
    • Love accepts the whole person, imperfections and all. Infatuation flourishes on perfection – you have an idealized image of your partner and you only show your partner your good side.
    • Love is more than physical attraction. Infatuation focuses on the physical.
    • Love is energizing. Infatuation is draining.
    • Love improves your overall disposition. Infatuation brings out jealousy and obsessiveness. It causes you to neglect other relationships.
    • Loves survives arguments. Infatuation glosses over arguments.
    • Love considers the other person. Infatuation is selfish.
    • Love is being in love with a person. Infatuation is being in love with love.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with two people being infatuated with each other, just as long as both people recognize the relationship for what it is. Teens often use failed “lust” relationships to assess the undesirable aspects of such relationships.

If you’ve seen enough TV and movies, you may have already figured out one reason why so many people get confused about love and infatuation. When you’re watching romantic shows or movies, most of what you see is infatuation – people meeting and having a strong, immediate physical attraction. Unfortunately, they almost always call it love. It isn’t, and we should never try to base our own relationships on such nonsense. Sorry, but there’s no such thing as “love at first sight.” There’s “infatuation at first sight” – which can be amazingly fun and thrilling – and someday it may even lead to love.

Here’s one script for talking with your child about the differences between love and infatuation. Notice that we substitute the word crush for infatuation.

One of the biggest problems for just about everyone who finds themselves interested in someone else is trying to figure out if you really, really like them, maybe even love them, or if you just have a crush on that person. What do I mean by a “crush”?

Many people start out by having a crush on someone and then they fall in love with that person. But sometimes people get crushes and stay with someone even though they never fall in love with them. That can cause big problems.

Let’s compare love and crushes. [Write “Love” and “Crushes” at the top of a piece of paper. Draw a dividing line between the two.]

What does it mean to love someone?

[Listen to your child’s responses and write appropriate ones under the word “Love.” On the other side of the line, write the “crush” comparisons (see below). Add additional “love” and “crush” comparisons, if necessary. Your final list should look something like this:]

Love     Crushes
Love takes a long time to develop.   Crushes occur right away.
Love can last a long time.   Crushes don’t last very long.
Love is powerful.   Crushes are powerful.
Love lets you be yourself.   Crushes are all about being perfect.
Love accepts the other person’s flaws.   Crushes hide the other person’s flaws.
Love is more than physical attraction.   Crushes are all about physical attraction.
Love gives you energy.   Crushes tire you out.
Love makes you happy.   Crushes make you jealous.

Don’t get me wrong… crushes can be a lot of fun. It’s only a problem when you mistake a crush for love.

So when you first meet someone whom you like, don’t worry if it’s true love or just a crush. It’s too soon to tell. But if you’ve been with someone for quite a while and you feel jealous and you feel like you lose all of your energy when you’re around them, then maybe it’s time to figure out if you really like the person or if it was just a crush.

What would you do if it were just a crush?


Adapted from Lesson 24 in Sexual Violence in Teenage Lives: A Prevention Curriculum by Judy Cyprian, Katherine McLaughlin, and Glenn Quint, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, 1995.

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