Love Vs Attachment: Is It Real Love? Understanding The Difference

Love and Romance | | , Counseling Psychologist
Updated On: March 27, 2024
attachment style quiz

You sing along to every Taylor Swift song in the car and know the lyrics to almost all the love songs out there. You have a perfect version of what love is, and how sparkly and beautiful it is. You, however, tend to interchangeably use the terms ‘love’ and ‘attachment’. Well, you aren’t the only one. How do you assess love vs attachment, then?

Even when we are familiar with the words love and attachment, we aren’t very aware of the difference between them. Is loving someone the same as being attached to them? Are they similar or poles apart? If yes, then how? If you find yourself wondering about the same things, you are in the right place. Let’s explore together what attachment and love is.

Emotional Attachment Vs. Love

Attachments are a very important and natural part of any human relationship, be it with objects or people. Do you remember hanging on to your toys and caregivers as a kid? As we grow old, we get over the clinging to our toys bit but we still maintain the emotional attachments that we built during our childhood. This forms the basis for our attachment style in adult relationships.

Emotional attachment is a comfortable and positive feeling of bonding that develops over time. While love might seem like a similar concept, they are distantly apart. So, let’s get started. Let’s learn about both their meanings and explore emotional attachment vs love.

1. Love is characterized by variety while emotional attachment is not

Love is an umbrella of emotions, both easy and difficult. It helps you grow in different aspects of life and is full of different colors, like the rainbow. Emotional attachment, however, is single-colored. It is just about the bond that two people share with less room for variety and growth.

A crucial point to remember when discussing love vs attachment is that love gives you room to explore vulnerability, intimacy, forgiveness and care while emotional attachment is mostly limited to physical contact and approval.

Related Reading: 13 Signs You Are Deeply In Love With Someone

2. Love is about your partner while emotional attachment is about self

Love, like we have all heard, is mostly selfless. It involves giving and taking and caters to the needs of both partners. In terms of priorities and perspectives, both partners are considered. Emotional attachment usually is only about what you need. It’s about taking and not so much giving to your partner. Unlike love, it is self-serving.

A balance of both works wonders but attachment, without any altruistic feelings, can be a downhill slope that leads to an unhealthy relationship. This is a major difference between love and attachment.

3. Love is difficult while emotional attachment is hard only when not together

I know I said love has all the colors of the rainbow, but it has both the bright and the not-so-bright ones. It takes effort to make a relationship work and get through the ups and downs of life together. Love requires continuous effort and is, therefore, hard.

Emotional attachment, on the other hand, is single-colored. It’s difficult only in the absence of the other person. Emotional attachment is mostly about missing the other person because you are so accustomed to needing their presence in your life.

attachment style quiz

4. Love is expansive while emotional attachment is restrictive

An important point to note when it comes to attachment love vs romantic love is that the latter is full of opportunities while the former will confine you. Romantic love makes you feel both happy and sad. It makes you see the good and the bad. It’s wide and all-embracing. Everything is welcome right through the front door when it comes to love.

Emotional attachment is confining. It comprises just two people with very little room for embracing all the emotions and feelings that love allows in. It’s not so much about anything else other than physical touch, needs, and approval.

5. Love vs attachment – Love harbors growth while emotional attachment doesn’t

Like we’ve said before, love is like the rainbow. Each color represents a different aspect of your life and love helps you grow in each of those avenues. It helps both partners grow individually as well as a couple. Emotional attachment isn’t about growth as much as it’s about possession. It is single-colored and does not promote well-rounded growth.

A crucial point to keep in mind while talking about being attached vs being in love is that attachment can exist within love as well. But love is the bigger umbrella of which attachment is just a small fraction. Emotional attachments are necessary to facilitate a relationship but only the attachment doesn’t drive it, love does.

Love vs attachment can be a bit challenging to understand since they are both similar in the way they look but recognizing the difference is important in order to define your feelings and emotions. Understanding the difference between being attached vs being in love is imperative if you want to recognize and assess your feelings.

being attached vs being in love
Love is growth

Love Vs. Unhealthy Attachment

So far, we’ve spoken about healthy attachments, where trust is an underlying factor, attachments that nudge you to explore your support system. Similarly, there are a few unhealthy attachment styles as well that are recipes for mental health issues.

It is important to identify these unhealthy attachments so that we can be mindful of not letting ourselves fall into these patterns. Here are a few tell-tale signs of unhealthy attachments that you should keep in mind:

1. Their mood dictates your entire mood

To identify true love vs attachment, assess if your partner’s actions dictate your mood for the entire day or week or even month. If it does, then it’s most probably an unhealthy attachment. Of course, our partner’s mood affects our mood as well but when it happens in extremes, it is important to assess if it’s healthy for you or not.

Love in general is more balanced and subtle. It doesn’t happen in extremes. The highs and lows aren’t as strong. Love promotes autonomy as well, which is the antidote to codependency. Love vs attachment is so contrasting, isn’t it?

Related Reading: Insecure Attachment Style In Relationships: Causes & How To Overcome

2. There’s a need for power and control

If you feel the need to dominate and take control of the relationship all the time, then this might be a sign of an unhealthy attachment. This behavior can leave the partner feeling lonely in the relationship. It can make them feel like their insecurities and vulnerabilities are being exploited.

Love isn’t about control or power, it’s about developing mutual feelings of affection and care where both of you feel heard, understood and secure in each other’s presence. This is a very important point to keep in mind whenever you assess attachment versus love.

3. It triggers feelings of anxiety

Love is supposed to make you feel secure but when all it gives you is anxiety, it’s a clear sign that there is an unhealthy attachment at play. While a certain level of it can be harmless and natural (like feeling butterflies in your stomach), it is largely a crippling feeling. If it spirals out of control, it can be harmful to your mental health.

In love vs attachment, feeling safe and secure is a big part of what love should feel like. If that sense of security and emotional safety is absent or replaced by anxiety, it might get very chaotic emotionally and mentally. Love isn’t about chaos. It is about calm.

4. Their approval means everything

If all that matters is their approval about every decision you make, whether it is what you wear, where you go, whom you talk to and the like, then it’s time to call it out for what it is – an unhealthy attachment style. If your own decisions don’t matter as much as your partner’s and if you, as an individual, are sidelined most of the time, it’s a textbook sign of an unhealthy attachment.

While a relationship means that your partner’s opinions matter, it shouldn’t be the ONLY thing that matters.

5. You can’t say no, ever.

Healthy attachments always have boundaries where there are already communicated lines of what is acceptable and what is not. When this is not created, saying no becomes a difficult task and that indicates that it is an unhealthy attachment pattern. Love is all about healthy boundaries where the negotiable and non-negotiable behaviors are communicated to each other and there are mutual respect lines that we call boundaries.

We form unhealthy attachment styles based on our unmet needs that are somehow getting met by following these patterns, consciously or subconsciously. If you resonate with any of these, it’s a good idea to address them with a support member or a counselor who can create a safe space for you to explore this at length.

Is It Really Love Or Are You Just Attracted?

Now that we have discussed love vs attachment, let’s also talk about the charisma of attraction and explore that in contrast to love. In a brand new relationship, we often find ourselves wondering if this is more than just attraction.

We all have been on such a boat at some point in our lives and, therefore, it’s important to take a look at the different ways in which you can distinguish between both these feelings. Here are a few questions you can answer to find out what you are looking for:

1. Are you infatuated or is the feeling deeper?

Wondering whether you’re in love or infatuated? If what you are feeling is more than just anxiety, euphoria and nervousness, if it is deeper than what exists on the surface, if it gives you warmth alongside the excitement, it most probably is a sign of love.

Attraction is mostly an intense feeling of infatuation without commitment. If you find that you are dedicating yourself to the relationship, it can be a clear sign that you feel more than just attraction.

2. Is it just physical or do you see what’s within?

Is the passion just lustful in nature or is there passion for the person who is beneath the skin? Is the build of the body the only thing that holds your attention or is it the little distinctive traits of the other person that attract you as well?

If the answer is the latter, then it suggests that you might be in love with this person. Physical attention mostly is just attraction while commitment and fidelity say that it’s more than that. This is an important difference between love and attachment.

Related Reading: 11 Powerful Intense Attraction Signs

3. Is it the storm or the calm after the storm?

Does it feel like the intense storm brewing out the window on a rainy day or is it more like the warmth the pillows give you on such a day? If the relationship is made up of only the intense moments where you burn for the other person, then it’s most probably just attraction.

Love brings with it comfort and security, which isn’t just the fire. It is the calmness that engulfs us after a heavy storm, it is solace accompanied by relief. There is a sense of freedom and individual security. This is another crucial difference between true love vs attachment.

4. How long has it been?

Has it been only a few days or months since you both have been together? A shorter duration, more often than not, suggests that the relationship is leveled at the attraction stage and it takes time to develop into love. But it all comes in stages, sometimes linear, sometimes not.

Love requires a longer duration to blossom and that’s okay. The wait is okay! It takes time because it’s complex, it’s full of variety.

5. Has it been difficult yet?

Love isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It takes hard work and effort, it takes finding common interests, consistency, and most importantly, commitment toward making a better present for both partners. If it has been all sunshine and rainbows all this while, then the chances of it being just an attraction are higher.

Let’s try this small thought experiment. Try to think of the reasons you are attracted to your partner or someone you know, I bet you can think of many of them. Now, try to think of the reasons you love your partner or someone you know. You, most probably, won’t be able to list as many. This is because we love without conscious reasons, we love them for who they are, not for what they possess.

signs he loves you

Difference Between Love And Attachment

We have spoken extensively about what emotional attachment vs love is, what attraction is and how to differentiate between them. We have established that being attached and being in love are two distinct feelings.

How about we dig a bit deeper? Let’s try to understand what true love vs attachment is, so that you can recognize where you stand and define what you feel for what it is.

1. Love is compassionate while attachment can be selfish

Love is compassionate, which means that there are feelings of mutual respect, empathy, trust, intimacy, commitment and affection while attachment isn’t so much about mutual growth as it is mostly egocentric.

Love is mostly selfless while attachment can be selfish at times. With attachment, the focus is only on one of the partners, the spotlight isn’t usually shared.

2. Love stays but attachment comes and goes

In love vs attachment, love is a rather permanent feeling while attachment stays for some time and then fades away. There are chances of it returning, making it very fluctuating in nature. And while attachment moves all around, goes away and comes back, love is something that stays.

Related Reading: How and why do people fall in love

3. Love paves way for freedom while attachment speaks of possession

Love isn’t just expansive, it also sets you free, like a bird in a blue sky. It isn’t just about the physical presence of your partner, it’s also the smell of them that lingers around even when they aren’t there.

Attachments, however, limit themselves to clinginess, and being clingy sabotages a relationship. Attachments hugely depend on the physical presence of your partner and it smells of possession. This is a major difference to keep in mind when it comes to attachment love vs romantic love.

4. Love is passionate while attachment is mundane

Colors, remember? Love is a spectrum of colors including red, which burns with passion and blue, which is comfort and contentment. It includes pink and violet that instantly spark joy. There’s brown too, meaning love also allows room to express sorrow.

Attachment isn’t as colorful. It gets boring after a while and mundane in the sense that it’s the same thing over and over again. Love vs attachment is a comparison between colors and paleness, one is fascinating to observe while the other loses its shine after a point.

love or lust quiz

5. Love is about giving while attachment mostly takes

Love is selfless and involves giving, taking and growing together as a couple. It’s about keeping your partner in mind before you make decisions about the relationship. Attachment, however, is taking from your partner for your benefit. For the most part, it is selfish and self-serving.

In attachment versus love, attachment is a healthy part of the umbrella that is love. We need to be mindful, however, when we confuse the two as one or start to fall into the pattern of attachment that is unhealthy for both the relationship and ourselves.

Love can be bewildering. Every relationship, be it attachment, attraction or love, is unique in its own way and brings out your personality traits distinctly as the relationship unfolds itself.

If you are confused about whether you are just attracted, attached or in love with your partner, talk to them. Have honest conversations about how you feel and where you see the relationship going. Discuss your physical and emotional needs in the relationship, how many of them are being met, and what to do about the unmet ones.

Love is out there and the world is full of opportunities. To grab yours, you just need to know what you are looking for. Like Rumi said: “What you seek is seeking you.”


1. Is attachment stronger than love?

Attachment is, more often than not, more intense than love. The highs and lows of a relationship based on only attachments can be far stronger. Attachments can seem more passionate as well but usually border on unhealthy levels. 

If you find yourself being attached to a relationship, pause and reflect on the needs that are being fulfilled or longing to be fulfilled. Be aware of what you feel, what thoughts occur to you and reach out to your support system to talk about it.

2. What’s the difference between attachment and connection?

It is a similar feeling but in a contrasting form. Attachment is when you put the onus on the other person to fulfill your needs and desires while a connection is finding a part of you in the other person. While attachment is need-based, connection helps a relationship grow and reach its potential.

Connection doesn’t fade because of physical distance while attachment to the person might. Connection gives you a sense of freedom while attachment places restrictions.

3. How do you know if you’re too attached to someone?

If you find your world revolving around the other person, if their mood affects your mood for days, and if you find yourself anxious every time you are without them, then you are most probably too attached to that person. 

When you are too attached to someone, you can’t imagine being away from them for even a small period of time and you get negative thoughts when you are apart. This is a sign of an unhealthy attachment style that can be detrimental to your mental health.

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