Do you remember the first time it happened? You caught one another’s eyes, and then you looked a second time. Something inside you wanted to glance a third time, followed quickly by a fourth lingering look.
You didn’t want to stare, but something irresistibly drew you to that other person. When you were introduced, your palms were sweaty and you hoped no one noticed the increased perspiration under your arms. Your heart began to race as an exhilarating but unfamiliar feeling swept over you.
You were suddenly afraid to say anything because you knew that if you opened your mouth, out would flow incomprehensible babble. The experience was exciting and terrifying at the same time.
As the other person began to speak, you felt drawn like a magnet to a steel ingot. You didn’t know her or where she came from, but something about the way she looked and the aura that she projected triggered an unexplainable feeling of euphoria and excitement. Her smile or a tiny gesture became instantly engraved in your mind. You knew you would never forget her. For an instant you wondered how you would describe this moment to a friend. Then a phrase came to mind, as if by magic, provided by countless hours of exposure to the Hollywood formula—“I think I’m falling in love.”
You’ve been there. I’ve been there. No doubt we all agree that those are thrilling moments, especially if we sense a similar response from the other person. But is it really love?
How do you know whether what I just described is the beginning of the greatest relationship you will ever experience on earth or simply an episode of infatuation?
How do you know if you’re really in love or simply physically attracted to a member of the opposite sex?
The following 12 tests will help you understand if you are truly in love. But this is not just for single people who are dating or those who are engaged. If you’re married and you are tempted to say, “I’ve been married for 27 years, so what’s this got to do with me?” please think again. Failure to understand the difference between love and infatuation goes well beyond finding the right person. Unless you understand the radical difference between love and infatuation, you may set yourself up for devastation in your future years of marriage.
If you believe that what we will call infatuation is the real test of love, you may be in a very good relationship but feel unloved. Your skewed expectations may be robbing you of a rich, warm, and deep relationship. Furthermore, if you are unclear about the difference between love and infatuation, you may find yourself getting unintentionally connected to a member of the opposite sex who is not your spouse, naively concluding that you’ve now found “true love.”
Each of the following tests is designed to help you discern and distinguish between love and infatuation. After you read each statement, apply it to your present relationship, or to your expectations of what a love relationship should include. Ask yourself: Is my current relationship or my view of relationships more in alignment with love or with infatuation in this particular area?
1. The test of time. Love benefits and grows through time; infatuation ebbs and diminishes with time. Are you in a rush to label certain feelings “love,” or do you have other words to describe these feelings? Do you save the word love for something better than feelings? If you find yourself “falling in love” often and early, only to be later disappointed, perhaps remembering this first test of real love will save you future heartache.
2. The test of knowledge. Love grows out of an appraisal of all the known characteristics of the other person. How well do you expect to know the person you marry? Or how well do you know your spouse? Infatuation quickly decides it knows everything it needs to know. Genuine love creates an atmosphere of such interest that the other person opens like a flower.
3. The test of focus. Genuine love is other-person centered. Infatuation is self-centered. In your most important relationships, to what degree is your attention focused on what you are receiving from them and to what degree is your attention focused on meeting the other’s needs?
4. The test of singularity. Genuine love is focused on only one person. An infatuated individual may be “in love” with two or more persons simultaneously. In what ways have you realized that it’s much easier to work on problems in an existing relationship where singularity and faithfulness are maintained than to create a whole new set of problems with another person?
5. The test of security. Genuine love requires and fosters a sense of security and feelings of trust. An infatuated individual seems to have a blind sense of security, based upon wishful thinking rather than careful consideration; infatuation is blind to problems. Security grows and flows out of deep awareness of the other person’s character, values, and track record.
6. The test of work. An individual in love works for the other person, for his or her mutual benefit. People in infatuation only think of their own misery. They often daydream of unrealistic objectives and ideals that neither they nor their partner could ever actually attain.
7. The test of problem solving. A couple in love faces problems frankly and tries to solve them. Infatuated people tend to disregard or try to ignore problems. How good are you and your partner at seeing problems and working on them? Do you find that you gloss over hard issues in your relationship or face them squarely?
8. The test of distance. Love knows the importance of distance. Infatuation imagines love to be intense closeness, 24/7, all the time. If circumstances require you to be temporarily separated from the one you love, that will teach you a lot about the quality of your relationship. If there is not a sense of separateness, a distinct life, relationships with other people, and healthy balance, then the relationship is probably a lot more infatuation than love.
9. The test of physical attraction. Physical attraction is a relatively small part of genuine love, but it is the center focus of infatuation. Now don’t read “small part” to mean “not a part” in what I just stated. If your heart doesn’t skip a beat now and then and you don’t feel real attraction for your mate or the person you plan to marry, I’d call that a problem.
10. The test of affection. In love, affection is expressed later in the relationship, involving the external expression of the physical attraction we just described. In infatuation affection is expressed earlier, sometimes at the very beginning. Affection tends to push toward greater physical intimacy. Without the control of the other aspects of genuine love, affection spends itself quickly. It gives the appearance of making the relationship “close,” but the closeness is artificial and fragile.
11. The test of stability. Love tends to endure. Infatuation may change suddenly and unpredictably. In infatuation the wind blows here and you’re in love. The wind blows there and you’re in love. Not so with real love. Real love is stable. There is a commitment. The test of stability can hardly be applied to a relationship measured in days or weeks.
12. The test of delayed gratification. A couple in genuine love is not indifferent to the timing of their wedding, but they do not feel an irresistible drive toward it. An infatuated couple tends to feel an urge to get married—instantly. Postponement for the infatuated is intolerable.
Isn’t it amazing how much Hollywood has influenced your thinking and mine? I hope these tests helped you see more clearly the differences between love and infatuation. They will continue to offer you help in your present relationships, your future ones, and your marriage.
One of the amazing things about my relationship with my wife is that I keep falling in love with her. In fact, the longer and the better I learn to love her, the more I discover that the brain chemicals work in ways I never could have predicted even 10 years ago. It’s not that we’re pitting love against infatuation—it’s simply that we want to understand the difference so we can enjoy each one in its special place in a relationship.
You see, love in a lasting relationship is not a long, gradual decline from the peak of our heady initial romance. Lasting love is more like standing where the ocean meets the shore—the waves keep coming in. Not every wave of emotion is the same, and that turns out to be very interesting and exciting. But it takes time and commitment to discover the wonder of a lasting relationship.
Yes, the waves and tides ebb and flow. But when we know what love really is, we also know that the waves and the tide will return. So stay at the beach! Learn to “read the waves.” Work through the relational issues and enjoy the varied sounds and passion of the crashing or softly lapping surf. Too many people walk away from relationships without ever getting their feet wet!
Taken from Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships by Chip Ingram. Used by permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, www.bakerpublishing group.com, copyright © 2003. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group. Website visitors may not copy, transfer, or download the material.