Loving someone vs being in love is an age-old conundrum, one that lovers, poets, philosophers and psychologists have always mulled over and debated. Since love is a factor in both cases, it’s often tough to answer the question of ‘is loving someone different from being in love?’
Being in love is often seen as the first stage of love, where you’re infatuated, bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked at all times and ready to do anything in the world for your lover. The fire’s burning hot and high and you can’t bear to be apart.
On the other hand, loving someone or having love for someone is usually a slower simmer, but stronger and more durable. Here is where you really get to know one another, battle ups and downs in your relationship and create a bond that can weather the storms of real life.
Loving someone vs being in love is no easy comparison, but there are honest and difficult differences between them. Kavita Panyam holds a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and a diploma in Community Mental Health. With her help, we’ve come up with 15 true differences between loving someone vs being in love.
15 Brutally Honest Differences Between Loving Someone And Being In Love With Someone
You could be sitting there wondering what could possibly be the difference between ‘I love you’ vs ‘I am in love with you’. Really, when love is clear and present in both, why should there be a difference at all?
Well, pull up a chair and lend us your attention. We’re about to get into the depth and breadth of how loving someone vs being in love can be vastly, essentially different, and how you should be able to tell them apart.
“Loving someone has a specificity to it. It is grounded in reality, in what they actually bring to the table, and is not merely a perception or born out of imagination,” says Kavita. “You’re conscious when you love someone, while being in love is more sub-conscious.
“These relationships usually cannot weather turbulent times because you were never really in love with them, it was mostly in your imagination. This way, you could end up having a series of failed relationships before realizing that being in love is not same as loving someone. Loving someone is loving their values, beliefs, respecting them, seeing them for who they are and knowing you’re a good fit.”
1. Overcoming obstacles together vs going it solo
Sure, love is an obstacle course no matter what form it takes, but to answer the question ‘is loving someone different from being in love’, take a look at how you manage those obstacles. Do you always have each other’s backs when problems arise, or is it more of a ‘you do you, I do me’ scenario?
Marcia and John had been dating for three months and if asked, would have honestly said they were deeply in love. But their love faltered every time John’s mother tried to make mischief between them, or Marcia’s friends told her they thought John wasn’t the right one for her.
Doubts and issues come up in every relationship, but when you love someone rather than being in love, you talk it over together and try and come up with a solution as a team. Marcia and John were unable even to discuss these relationship problems without bitter clashes and blame shifting.
John would shrug off his mother’s barbs, while Marcia simply took her friends’ advice at face value. But real doubts were planted in their minds, and they were unable to face and surmount them together.
“When you love someone, you make a conscious choice to grow together, wait for each other, and you’re always secure in the connection. It’s not a flighty feeling, you’re there for each other, not necessarily on the same line of the same page, but in the same book. And thus, you know that whatever obstacles come your way, you’re equipped to deal with them together,” Kavita observes.
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2. Compassion vs only passion
The importance of sex, attraction and passion cannot be overstated in a relationship. However, it’s just, if not more, important to be nice to each other outside the bedroom.
When you’re debating loving someone vs being in love, check out how you feel and behave towards them when you’re not in the throes of passion. Do you rub their back when they’re tired? Hear them out with sympathy when they’ve had a bad day? Do you laugh at their bad jokes even if they’re not that funny?
That’s compassion, and while it doesn’t sound as sexy as passion, it’s a huge, huge component when loving someone unconditionally and could be a deciding factor when you’re wondering about ‘I love you’ vs ‘I am in love with you.’
When you’re in love and the hormones are dictating your every move and endorphins are flowing all over the place, it’s easy to get swept away with the passion and excitement.
But if you’re giving each other the silent treatment outside the bedroom, or if you can’t agree on anything important outside of physical intimacy, ask yourself if this is love or being in love.
“When you love someone, you offer compassion, alongside passion, joy and harmony. You know where you’re heading and have no illusions about them. You know the real person you love and they inspire compassion in you, the best part of you,” says Kavita.
3. Idealization vs seeing someone for who they are
We’ve got news for you. That lovely, delicate flower-like woman you’re in love with? She’s probably got daddy issues, credit card debt and dreams of having a house all to herself in Tuscany where she can lie around in her nightshirt and drink wine without sharing.
That guy you’ve been seeing? The one who’s been charming you with flowers and wit? It’s entirely possible he’s fantasizing about going home to his couch and watching football for most of the night before falling asleep and snoring so loud it would wake the dead!
“When you love someone, you see the complete package, and you love them for who they are,” says Kavita.
She also points out that people are complex, people are boring, strange and even gross. In other words, people are human, and having love for someone is to see them in all their messy, sweaty humanity without flinching.
Related Reading: True Love Means Eating Gooey Upma Silently
Often, being in love, even deeply in love with someone, could mean you put them up on a pedestal and see them as perfect beings. And we all know that imperfection is the most human of all qualities.
When you’re thinking of the differences between loving someone vs being in love, it’s all about seeing them as flawed, imperfect people rather than pushing a false façade of perfection onto them, and then being disappointed when they fail to live up to it.
4. Commitment vs casualness
Listen, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with a casual relationship; it’s just that when you’re talking about loving someone vs being in love, commitment is a major factor to contend with.
“I’d been dating this guy, Andrew, for a few months,” says Jessie. “The sparks were amazing. We had good conversation, great sex, and really got along. All the signs were auspicious.”
But Jessie soon realized that when it came to planning the next date, or going away on a weekend together, her heart wasn’t in it. “I was vague about plans, I didn’t want to commit to anything with him. Also, I went on a few dates with other guys, though I really liked Andrew best. I realized that I was in love, but I didn’t love him,” she says.
Of course, it’s not always so black and white, and casual relationships can blossom into commitment. But largely, a reluctance to commit to future plans, or even commit to really getting to know each other in detail, is a sign that you’re in love, but you don’t necessarily love them.
“When you love someone, it’s not a mirage – you know exactly who they are and the commitment is from both sides. You’re growing mutually and overcoming turbulence together. You’re not in a hurry to seal the connection, you’re willing to let it unfold on its own. But when you’re being in love, you’re unsure and insecure,” Kavita elaborates.
5. Spending all your time with them vs making room for others
Balance is key in a healthy relationship and loving someone will never mean excluding everyone else from your life. When you’re deeply in love with someone, you might find yourself spending time only with them and cutting out friends and family.
This is an unhealthy relationship characteristic even if you’re in love, and it also means you’re expecting one person to fulfil all your needs. That’s not only impractical, but also a lot of pressure to put on someone you claim to love.
When you love someone, you won’t expect them to be available to you all the time, and neither will they. You’ll feel perfectly comfortable having your own friends and social circles, going out on your own and acknowledging that you have other people in your life whom you love and who are equally important to you.
“When you love someone, you’re secure and you’re growing together and individually. You’re always connected, you feel a warm glow when thinking of them, you know you belong to each other. But you can be in love with multiple people and be confused, because it’s a general perception of love, not specific and has less to do with commitment,” says Kavita.
She adds, “When you love someone, there is dependability, because you know you’re connected. You know you can talk and connect when you want and you’re content in the connection. Spending all your time with them is not loving someone, it’s more of an infatuation, because it’s based on insecurity. Loving someone is a more mature, real feeling.”
Related Reading: 21 Key Differences Between Love And Infatuation
6. Security vs insecurity
Relationship insecurity comes up in the best of love affairs, but when you’re talking love vs being in love, you’re also talking about a basic, inner calm and security as opposed to a constant fear of being left, or questioning their every move.
When you’re in love and it’s all about strong feelings, relationship insecurity is possibly one of those feelings. Maybe it’s because things are still new and you’re unsure, maybe you know this isn’t meant to last, or maybe they just haven’t given you the assurance you long for. You’ll need and expect constant attention and grand gestures just to reassure you that this is love.
When you love someone, you are also secure in their affection and you know that you are loved. You recognize small, quiet gestures and have a strong sense of belonging to each other, even if you’re not constantly together or they’re not telling you they love you 10 times a day.
“Security in love means you give each other space to expand and grow as individuals, and as a couple,” says Kavita. “And when you’re in love, you’ll want to know their every move because you haven’t developed a sense of trust yet.”
7. Authenticity vs façade
For me, if I can’t be around you in my sleep shorts and topknot, I don’t love you one bit and I don’t want to! When we’re in love, we tend to want to show the best, bravest, strongest, prettiest versions of ourselves.
Our vulnerabilities, our scars and controversial opinions tend to be smothered under a thick layer of ‘must make a good impression.’ When in love, it’s hard to be our real, authentic selves and show the one we love when we mess up and ugly cry.
Look at your authenticity as your emotional sleep shorts and topknot. The self you are most relaxed and comfortable with. Then, see if you’re that self when you’re around the person you love or are in love with. If they’ve seen you in the morning, grumpy and with no makeup on, chances are you love each other.
“My fiancé nursed me through the worst flu ever,” remembers Maya. “I was throwing up and couldn’t stop sneezing – my nose was swollen, my eyes were watering. We’d only been dating a few months, I don’t think he’d ever seen without mascara until then. But he stayed and saw me through it. And I knew it was love.”
If you’re wondering, ‘can you love someone without being in love with them,’ just take a look at how real you can be around each other and you should have your answer.
Kavita says, “You are real in front of someone you love. The element of mystery is there, but that’s to do with romance, not infatuation. You know even if it doesn’t work out, it was real and authentic. You’re in no hurry to take it in any particular direction.
“You will even be able to wish them well and move on because you can love someone without being in a relationship with them. That’s the beauty of love. Attachment is not bad but it must be functional and not become a toxic relationship.”
8. Space vs clinginess
Claiming your own space and offering it to your beloved is the bedrock of a healthy relationship. But when you’re in love, you may find it tough to let your loved one have space or even be fearful to ask for your space. Constant togetherness will spell security for you, and you’ll be hard-pressed to let it go.
When you love someone, though, you’ll appreciate that they need physical, emotional and psychological space of their own, and it won’t scare you to let them be. In fact, you’ll probably ensure you love someone who’s also secure enough to let you have your own space when needed.
One of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves and our partners is to create and claim our own space where we recharge and come back to being our best selves. Having your own corner in a shared living space, traveling solo after you’re married, making sure you take time out for yourself – doing all of this, and offering the same to your partner is one of the hallmarks of loving them over being in love with them.
9. Uphill battle vs constant ease
Listen, we’re not saying that love has to be constant, sobering labor. At all! But the truth is that loving someone is a lot of learning and navigation and compromise. Even if you’re soulmates and fit together perfectly, the path to romantic happiness can be rocky.
When you’re in love and the mush factor is high, things will seem so easy, so simple. You’ll seem to be in agreement over everything, even if you’re really not! The world will be suffused in a rosy glow where nothing can go wrong.
When you love someone, however, it’s going to be a good deal of work to sustain the relationship. People change and grow and you have to get to know your loved one all over again several times over. Your own expectations from love change, too and those need to be navigated as well.
Love is rarely ever a level playing field – there will be relationship power dynamics, jealousy, hard times (financial, emotional, health) and plenty of other things that will need effort and attention. Being in love is effortless, but loving someone is a whole other story.
10. Shared future vs individual goals
In corporate jargon, they’re always talking about ‘shared vision’. And even if you detest corporates as much as I do, it’s a good way to look at your relationship, especially if you’re wondering ‘can you love someone without being in love with them.’
“Diana and I dated for a year and were very much in love,” says Steve. “But it seemed near impossible to envision a future together. I wanted to stay in Boston, close to my family. She wanted to travel the world, go where her job and her whim took her. Our individual goals mattered to us more than being together.”
This isn’t an unusual situation, nor does it mean the love shared here wasn’t real. But the priority on their individual needs and desires took precedence to the extend that they were all right with dissolving their relationship.
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Being in love feels great, until the big gesture, the major sacrifice comes into play. Then, as your love and your relationship hangs in the balance, you have to take a decision. Do you choose for yourself, or do you choose with your relationship foremost on your mind. Therein lies the difference between loving someone vs being in love with them.
“A future together is easy to picture when you love someone,” says Kavita. “You’re not questioning the fact that this is someone you want to build something with, nor are you afraid of losing your individuality.”
11. Heady rush vs steady emotion
Don’t we all love the rush of new love! You can’t stop smiling, you’re texting and talking all night and you’re so full of feeling, it’s a wonder you don’t burst into stars like in a Disney movie.
But, what happens when the rush dies out, as fierce flames are wont to do? What replaces it? If you’re in love, it’s possible that once that giddy feeling is gone, you’ll realize there’s not much else in its place. When you love someone, however, you’ll have built up something strong and fine to take over.
Care, concern, tenderness – these are feelings that will be uppermost in your heart when you love someone, regardless of how high or low the passion burns. There’s a whole gamut of steady feeling that will endure between you and remain no matter tough things get. In fact, your love will grow stronger when difficulties arise.
12. Partnership vs ownership
A man I dated once told me, “The first word that comes to mind when I think of you is ‘mine.’” It seemed very intense and romantic to 22-year-old me, but looking back, I only think of how little he knew me, and how little I knew myself.
Belonging to each other is all very well and good, but never forget that you’re ultimately two separate people in a loving partnership. Romance and mutual attraction are important, but I’ve always found friendship to be the underlying strength in a relationship.
When in love, it’s easy to discount things like the idea of having partnership and agency and friendship, since you’re so wrapped up in each other. When you love someone, it’s possible you’re able to get a healthier perspective, and realize that you’re in a partnership, a friendship where there is less being ‘yours’ and ‘mine’ and more of ‘ours.’
13. Knowing each other’s family vs being strangers
Getting to know a loved one’s family, friends and social circle is so important. It gives you insight into the people who raised them, the people they surround themselves with and the kind of people who are important to them.
When you’re in love, it’s all about you two. You’re in an enchanted little love circle of two where you don’t need or want anyone else. But this would mean you’re seeing your lover in isolation, rather than being able to discern what they are like with their family, their friends, and just generally out in the world.
Also, when you love someone, rather than being in love, you want to introduce them to your wider circle, because you want the people you love to meet each other and get along. It’s nice to widen and enlarge and share your circle of love, rather than shutting yourselves in.
Related Reading: How Living In A Joint Family After Marriage Worked Out For Me
14. Comfy silence vs constant noise
Not to say that if you’ve been in love for a while, you run out of things to say to each other. It’s just that we think when you love someone, you’re all set to get over the need to talk constantly and impress them.
If you’re in love with someone, you probably feel the need to share your every thought and feeling, all day, all the time. Silences bother you because you think it means you’re boring, or that your lover isn’t sharing enough with you.
But maybe when you love someone, you’re so comfortable with them that sitting with them quietly is a boon, especially after a long, busy day. Maybe when you love someone, you don’t need noise all the time to feel loved and cherished and interesting.
After all the noise around us, all the voices in our heads telling us to do more and be more, maybe love is quiet, letting you know that this is enough, that you are enough.
15. Deep connection vs surface bond
When you know, you know. Isn’t that what every great love story tells us? There are connections that can’t be explained, bonds that often make no sense, but endure the tests of time anyway.
When you’re in love, maybe you have plenty in common and lots to talk about, but somewhere, you’re still unsure. You work in the same field, have similar hobbies and all seems to be hunky-dory. And yet…
When you love someone, it’s entirely possible these surface things won’t be there. You could be completely opposite beings, but you’ll feel entirely safe and complete when you’re with each other. You’ll know your hearts and bodies are in good hands, you’ll challenge each other, make each other laugh and teach each other all about love and new worlds you can explore together.
Loving someone vs being in love can be as easy as listening to your gut, or as difficult as having learn and unlearn a lifetime of love lessons and love language. You may even find yourself wondering, ‘is it better to love someone or be in love with them?’
Again, there’s no easy answer. You can, however, introspect deeply about what you want out of your love life. Are you happy with being in love, enjoying the passion, unworried about the future? Or would you prefer to build a strong, certain relationship that you know will last? Be true to yourself and do what makes you happy. That’s really all that love, in any form, is about.