Love Vs In Love — What’s The Difference?

Love and Romance | | , Counseling Psychologist
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Love Vs In Love

Gazing at her partner fondly, Jenna confesses to them one day, “You make me feel on top of the world and I am so grateful to have you in my life. I’m so thrilled and so in love with you.” So, what kind of love do we see here? Is it the deep love we crave or the passionate one that we want but sometimes can’t sustain? What is love vs. in love?

Well, we’ve got you covered on that front. With insights from counseling psychologist and certified life skills trainer Deepak Kashyap (Masters in Psychology of Education), who specializes in a range of mental health issues, including LGBTQ and closeted counseling, we decode the difference between being in love and simply loving someone.

What Is Love? The Psychology Behind It

What does being in love feel like? Ask a poet and they would write you a poem about this. Ask a mathematician and they will probably come up with a complicated equation to explain the feeling. But what is the psychology behind love and how do you know when you truly love someone?

Deepak says, “It is challenging to define feelings of love between two people. As a psychologist, all I can say is that real love is not a single feeling but a cluster of feelings, in which there is a deep understanding of who the person you love is, and the expectation of who you want to be with them.”

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When you love someone, it’s not all emotional; the chemical balance in your body is also affected. Take, for instance, the role of oxytocin in love. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter and a hormone that is produced in the hypothalamus. In 2012, researchers reported that people in the first stages of romantic attachment had higher levels of oxytocin, compared with non-attached single individuals, suggesting that being deeply in love helps one bond with other humans.

Dr. Daniel G. Amen, a double board-certified psychiatrist in his book, The Brain in Love: 12 Lessons to Enhance Your Love Life, says that long-term love is a motivational drive that is a part of the brain’s reward system.

The psychology behind love can be summed up as:

  • Love is an action, it’s more of a verb than a noun
  • Love is a strong physiological response that one can feel in many different ways
  • It makes us alert, excited, and want to bond

Now that we are aware of what the psychology behind love is, let’s dig into the differences between loving someone and being in love with someone.

Love Vs. In Love — 8 Main Differences

What does being in love mean? What’s the difference between love and in love in terms of our behavior? Deepak says, “There’s one major difference. Being in love in a romantic way means being slightly irrational and leading to promises of commitment. When you say you are in love with someone, it means you want to stay attached to this person come what may.”

The love vs. in love conundrum boils down to the difference in the overall intensity of feelings. While we tend to use both these terms interchangeably, there is a marked difference between loving someone and being in love with them. But remember, love evolves and shifts from one phase into the other. Let’s explore these differences in depth for greater clarity about our feelings and love life:

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

1. Love can get stale, being in love is passionate

While discussing love vs. in love, let’s look at Jenna’s case. Jenna met her partner around six months ago and they hit it off instantly. They felt energized, excited, and thrilled to be with each other and their dynamic was characterized by a lot of passion. They made extra effort to care for and be around each other. If you’re wondering how to explain being in love, Jenna’s feelings are typically what it means. But here’s what a trajectory for these feelings can look like in the future:

  • Passion grows stronger: This passion can act as a catalyst for long-term bonding or a long-term relationship and attachment. However, the excitement can’t last forever and that’s where love comes in
  • A deep love emerges: Being in love eventually paves the way to a deeper, more composed form of love that Jenna would explore as time passes by. It is more mature, more drama-free and something for the long haul. This is the difference between love and in love

A Reddit user expresses their thoughts on love: “They’ve tried to describe what it feels like being in love for centuries in all kinds of ways from literature, music, art, etc. Nothing has ever scratched the surface though because there’s nothing to compare it to. It’s an all-consuming experience that never ends and has no equal.”

2. Love vs. in love: You can love anything, but you can be in love only romantically

Here is the real difference between these two confusing terms. What does in love mean? Well, being in love with someone usually suggests that there is a romantic and intensely emotional attraction, something that you may even feel at first sight. There’s something indescribable about the way you crave intimacy with the person you are in love with. You might even see them through rose-colored glasses and ignore all the other things about them which may bother you.

Deepak says, “There’s an intense desire to be with them and not apart from them.” Jenna wants to be close to her partner all the time and they occupy her thoughts all through the day. On the other hand, loving someone isn’t this intense or necessarily romantic in nature. Actual love can be platonic too. This is one important difference between being in love vs. loving someone.

stories on falling in love and more

3. True love keeps you grounded; being in love triggers an emotional high

The intensity of the feelings associated with being in love is like a roller coaster. You are up in the clouds, ecstatic and unstoppable. Everything in life starts to feel clearer. But when the chemical high and strong emotions subside, the energy drains right along with it. While being in love is about a strong sense of not wanting to let go, love is what holds and cradles you when you fall.

How to explain being in love? We turn to Reddit. Fetishiste, a Reddit user writes, “I actually think ‘in love’ turns into a particularly attached form of love over time, and then flutters up occasionally to remind you why you love your SO (partner) so much. In love is infatuation; love is attachment.”

So how do you know when you love someone in the first place? Love runs deeper than that high and is more than just good times together. It is rather steady and consistent. When you love someone, you care about their emotional state and well-being. Your love grounds you when the high of being in love ebbs.

Related Reading: Loving Someone Vs Being In Love – 15 Honest Differences

4. Being in love is possessive, while love focuses only on growth

What does being in love mean, you ask? Let’s go back to Jenna again to assess love vs. in love differences. She wants to announce her love for her partner to the whole wide world. She can’t stop thinking about how her partner makes her feel and how she gets to call them hers. And that is a little different from true love. Let’s trace Jenna’s feelings:

  • When you’re in love, you want them to be yours: You want to tell everyone that your significant other is yours, almost like claiming that person for yourself. You feel good knowing that they belong to you
  • Love comes at a later stage: When there is just love, you tend to simply focus on building something new and substantial with that person without any possessiveness. They are not your top priority even, but it does not make the love any less. This is what usually happens in the later stages of love or later stages of a relationship
Do i love him

5. Being in love is a powerful feeling while loving someone is a choice

Jenna didn’t choose to fall in love with her partner. It just happened and it swept her off her feet. She felt the attraction and all the magic that it brought with it. The energy and the excitement, a rip-roaring feeling, she is completely head over heels in that relationship. It is similar to the old fantasies around love she had heard about, growing up.

However, love is a bit different than that. You can love someone only if you choose to love them. It makes you feel safe and in control, rather than being in an all-consuming dynamic where you can’t think of anything but them. There’s no sweeping off the feet involved, but there is a great commitment on a deeper level. It’s a step you take and a choice you make and keep making it, one day at a time.

LoveIn Love
1. Love might be intense and long-lasting, but it can feel boring after a point1. Being in love can be a very passionate and exciting experience, even if it’s temporary
2. Love can be for a dog, for an idea, a country, your family, or even platonic2. Being in love is the movie kind of love that we all grew up learning about. It’s always romantic
3. Love is an experience that makes you feel centred and grounded3. Being in love is characterized by having many emotions all over the place, and can feel like a roller coaster
4. When you love someone, you are not possessive and don’t always need them in your life romantically. You can love them from a distance4. When you are in love with someone, you want them to love you and be yours. You feel possessive about them
5. Love is a choice5. Being in love is a kind of attraction that you cannot shake off
6. Love allows for space and self-growth6. Being in love is a more collaborative experience and allows for less individual space and time
7. To love means to keep your sense of self intact. You can have feelings independent of the person you love7. When you are in love, your feelings and emotions are often guided by them
8. Love lasts forever, it can never end8. The phase of being in love might end when the other person stops reciprocating
Table on differences between love vs. in love

6. Love can give you space while being in love can make you clingy

Being in love vs. loving someone — How is it different? To love or to be loved is a beautiful thing that gives you all the pleasures of life, but it also allows you to be your own person. That is one of the key differences between real love and just being in love.

  • You are clingy while being in love: Well, the feeling of being in love can often make you want to cling to your partner. It is like the honeymoon phase of a relationship. You always want to be around them and want to spend as much time together as you can
  • True love allows for more space: On the other hand, love gives you the power to give the person some space without it affecting your relationship. You want to still spend time with them but, at the same time, you are secure enough to not feel the need to invade their space or feel threatened by it

Related Reading: How To Nurture Space In A Relationship

7. Being in love means you’re guided by how they make you feel

In the ‘having love for someone vs. loving someone’ conundrum, this is perhaps the difference one can feel the most. So if you’re completely puzzled by your feelings for someone in a new relationship, look deep down and evaluate to what extent your emotions are governed by this special someone. Here are some questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Does their mood often affect my own?
  • Am I emotionally dependent on them?
  • Am I happier when they love me more?

If you answered most of these questions in the affirmative, there is a good chance you are in love with your partner and haven’t quite arrived at the later stage where things start to feel more settled and easy. You may even need to know the difference between love and infatuation, as this could be the latter. If your entire being and your feelings depend on them, you are in a state of extreme attachment which is often different from true love as the latter is more freeing.

8. Love is eternal

You don’t need a social psychologist to tell you that actual love is something that will never fade down the line. To love someone else is a long-lasting feeling as compared to being in love. Being in love is still selfish in a way, where you only care for them till the time that they care for you. The moment they stop, you feel like stopping as well as you try to move on and love other, different people. However, real love continues even if you’re with others, it goes on even when you love others.

Key Pointers

  • Love is not a single feeling but a cluster of feelings
  • Love keeps you grounded while the emotional high of being in love fades
  • Passion is the hallmark of being in love while stability and consistency are the hallmarks of love

Here are some final thoughts for you to understand the actual differences between real love vs. movie love or the kind of intense love one feels initially. If you’ve ever found yourself in a place where you say “I am in love with him but I don’t love him yet” or “I love her but I’m not attracted to her anymore,” know that you can love someone and not be in love with them. And vice versa. When the element of passion, desire, and physical attraction is missing, but you enjoy spending time with your partner, then it’s just pure love. You’re not in love with them. And that is another real difference to think about.

When you first heard Jenna say that she is in love, you might have thought, “Well, that’s just good old love.” We hope you now understand where she currently stands in her relationship. After having talked about the differences between these concepts, it needs to be said love vs. in love is not a competition. No one kind of love is superior, and one is not better than the other. There’s room for different types of love in this world and the most important thing is that your love should bring joy to you.

This article was updated in September 2023.

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