The Difference Between Infatuation And Love, According A Relationship Expert

When you first meet someone and you're really smitten, it can be hard to tell if you're in love, falling in love, or if you're merely infatuated. For some, especially in the beginning, love and infatuation can look fairly similar, but it's time that reveals what's a legitimate feeling for someone, as opposed to something fleeting which infatuation often is.

Infatuation isn't unlike lust; in fact, they're similar in many ways. Each one can catch us off guard, throw our life into a bit of chaos and, just when we're trying to wrap our brains around what's happening, it's gone. Infatuation has a short shelf life. Love, on the other hand, does not; love weathers the shit and grows. Love is forgiving and understanding in ways that infatuation is not.

“Infatuation lives in illusion,” says bestselling author and relationship expert, Susan Winter, tells Bustle. “Love can survive reality.”

While it's not unheard of that infatuation can evolve into love, as lust is often an initial step toward attachment, sometimes infatuation just stays infatuation. If you're cool with that, then great! If not; if you want something that has more stability and a chance to grow, then love should be your goal. Here's the difference between infatuation and love.

1Infatuation Is Immediate And Steeped In Fantasy

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The handful of times I've found myself infatuated it was like a smack upside the head. My feelings of lust didn't waste any time and my feelings of denying that I was infatuated while attesting to the "fact" that I was in love to anyone who asked, also didn't waste any time.

"Infatuation happens quickly," says Winter. "It's sparked by fantasy, illusion, and great sex. It's the realm of dreams — we imagine a future with our lover that's tailor-made to our wishes. Though our new lover is a blank canvas, we steadily fill in all the colors and our own design."

2Love Takes Time And Is Grounded In Reality

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Although you don't need to be an expert in the workings of the human heart to realize this, love takes time. Granted, how long it takes varies, but it still isn't instantaneous like infatuation.

"Love happens well into knowing our partner," says Winter. "It's the result of seeing their humanity; their negative as well as positive traits, their good days and bad days, their weaknesses and their strengths."

3Infatuation Craves Perfection

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All the times I was infatuated, and of course those times outnumbered the times I've been in love, the object of my lust was perfect — at least in my eyes. It was if they were carved from marble, the perfect Adonis and, according to Winter, this was exactly how I needed to see these people.

"Infatuation needs 'perfection' in order to survive," says Winter. "We must see our partner as exalted and larger than life. Any hint of reality will destroy the illusion. Therefore, they can never be 'real.' They must be courageous and never show fear. They must be beautiful, and never have a blemish or bad breath."

4Love It About Evolving Together

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"Love is the outgrowth of facing reality with our partner," says Winter, "and both choosing to continue to hold hands and walk forward, together." Infatuation, however, has a hard time seeing past the weekend.

5Infatuation Is A Sea Of Illusions

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As Winter points out, infatuation lives in illusion. It's only in illusion that infatuation makes sense. Love isn't just grounded in reality, but forces you to accept, even adore, imperfections as well as wade through the malarkey and fight to keep the relationship intact.

"[In love there] are no illusions," says Winter. "You've awakened to their morning breath, seen them sick, and witnessed their weakness and fear. You've lived through them disappointing you. You've disappointed them. You've fought, and found resolution."

6Love Makes Us Real

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"Love is the 360 degree view of a person that creates love," says Winter. "Not the angles we like best."

Revealing your true self, even all the crappy stuff, is never easy. But love, in many ways, makes us real; it makes us expose the less than pretty aspects of our humanity. As Margery Williams so eloquently put it in The Velveteen Rabbit, “Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”

7Infatuation Makes Us Seek Perfection In Ourselves

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By simple deduction, if love makes us real and infatuation makes us want perfection in our partner, then infatuation makes us seek perfection in ourselves, too. When that happens, we build a wall around us and don't really let our guard down. Instead, we let that illusion take over and put forward only the parts of us we want the person with whom we're infatuated to see. It's smoke and mirrors, it's superficial, and it's also exhausting AF.

While there's nothing wrong with infatuation, as it can serve its purpose at different points in our lives, at the end of the day — or at the end of an infatuation phase — you're likely to find that love holds more water and it's with that water that you can grow with a partner where the love is equal. "You know [your partner is] not perfect, and that's OK," says Winter. "Better than that, it's love."