Sexuality Resource Center for Parents: Tools, Tips, and Tricks for Teaching Children about Human Sexuality

The Differences between Love and Infatuation

(For Parents of Children with Typical Development)

The distinction is not just lost on youth. So many adults get this one wrong that we thought we’d better tell you the differences between love and infatuation before your child gets their first crush.

And be prepared. Most children and teens experience infatuation and mistake it for love, so you’re probably not going to escape dealing with this one.

Love is when you care very strongly and very deeply about another person. When you love someone, you are there to support them, you work together to solve problems, you’re willing to stand by this person in good times and bad, and you wish nothing more than to watch and help this person grow.

Infatuation (also referred to as “lust”) has a few great things going for it too. Infatuation gives you goosebumps. It puts that silly smile on your face that you can't seem to shake. It fills your mind with wonderful daydreams. And, of course, many love relationships start out as infatuation.

It all sounds so wonderful that we may not see the problem when infatuation is mistaken for love. But it's a big problem, and that's why it’s so important to understand the differences between love and infatuation. Here they are:

    • Love develops gradually over time. Infatuation occurs almost instantaneously.
    • Love can last a long time. It becomes deeper and more powerful over time. Infatuation is powerful, but short-lived.
    • Love accepts the whole person, imperfections and all. Infatuation flourishes on perfection – you have an idealized image of your partner and you only show your partner your good side.
    • Love is more than physical attraction. Infatuation focuses on the physical.
    • Love is energizing. Infatuation is draining.
    • Love improves your overall disposition. Infatuation brings out jealousy and obsessiveness. It causes you to neglect other relationships.
    • Loves survives arguments. Infatuation glosses over arguments.
    • Love considers the other person. Infatuation is selfish.
    • Love is being in love with a person. Infatuation is being in love with love.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with two people being infatuated with each other, just as long as both people recognize the relationship for what it is. Teens often use failed “lust” relationships to assess the undesirable aspects of such relationships.

If you’ve seen enough TV and movies, you may have already figured out one reason why so many people get confused about love and infatuation. When you’re watching romantic shows or movies, most of what you see is infatuation – people meeting and having a strong, immediate physical attraction. Unfortunately, they almost always call it love. It isn’t, and we should never try to base our own relationships on such nonsense. Sorry, but there’s no such thing as “love at first sight.” There’s “infatuation at first sight” – which can be amazingly fun and thrilling – and someday it may even lead to love.


Adapted from Lesson 24 in Sexual Violence in Teenage Lives: A Prevention Curriculum by Judy Cyprian, Katherine McLaughlin, and Glenn Quint, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, 1995.

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