“What is the difference between love and infatuation, and how do you know you have one and not the other?”
This is a fantastic question, one very relevant to Christian singleness. The pressure of church relationship “culture”, combined with the unpredictability of our own emotions and desires can lead to a dangerous impulsiveness. So what is infatuation, and what is love?
I think the best way to identify with infatuation is to think about your very first crush. You probably thought about him constantly, imagined conversations with him, and behaved super awkwardly in his presence – meanwhile hoping he shared your feelings, and about ready to keel over dead at the thought of going out with him! Infatuation is to be consumed with a person or the idea of being in a relationship, usually without sufficient knowledge of the person himself.
Infatuation has several necessary components:
- Urgency: the need for the person’s presence, or for a relationship to be brought to fruition ASAP
- Lack of Self Control: the inability to refrain from texting, calling, or spending time with the person, sometimes resulting in a lack of physical self control
- Immaturity: infatuation is shortsighted and concentrates only on the short term pleasure of the relationship without thinking about long term consequences/convictions
Infatuation is at its very core a form of idolatry, where a person or relationship takes priority of our minds, behaviors, and choices.
But here’s the thing: as we get older, infatuation becomes much more sneaky. It doesn’t work like it did when we were 14 and ridiculous. It is much more subtle, often disguised by more mature (and reasonable) desires for companionship, the “next step” in your phase of life, or marriage. We justify infatuation because our desires are “normal”, but just like when we were 14, our minds are consumed with the potential of a relationship – and because our minds are there, our behaviors follow.
Infatuation is primarily feeling-based. It is an emotional high. And while we may try to be completely honest both with ourselves and in our view of the other person, the fact remains that it takes time to truly know someone’s character and love them by God’s definition of love.
I’m going to be frank with you: “falling in love” is infatuation. There is nothing more frustrating to me than to hear a pastor or read a blog that talks about humans “falling in love” with Jesus Christ. God doesn’t “fall in love” with us, and we don’t “fall in love” with God. This very concept is completely unbiblical. Love is a conscious choice that requires intentional action. The very verb “fall”, in the context of “falling in love”, indicates a lack of intentionality – it means we love by accident. True, lasting love is never an accident. It takes work.
To understand love in the context of relationships it is VITAL that we grasp the above concepts. If you have an unbiblical perception of God’s definition of love, your definition of love in human relationships will follow that pattern. And if love is something we stumble into, it’s something we can stumble out of as well.
God is not impulsive in His love. He is painstakingly intentional. The verse we all know so well says, “God SO LOVED the world THAT HE GAVE His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). It is because God loved the world that he took action and sent us a Savior. God is not infatuated with us, because infatuation is based on shallow knowledge and justification of flaws. God loves us, based on His deep knowledge of us – including our sinful character – and He makes the choice to overlook that sin because of Jesus. That’s why love is so powerful.
In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul gives us an outline of what this God-defined love looks like:
- Love is patient (v. 4)
- Love is secure (not envious, not rude) (v. 5)
- Love rejoices in righteousness (not in immorality) (v. 6)
- Love bears, believes, hopes, endures (all of which take time) (v.7)
You don’t “fall” into patience, kindness, security, or righteousness. These virtues are the product of a choice to choose love: love for God and love for the people around us. Love is consumed with doing what is BEST for the other person, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Because of this, love contains emotion, but it is not based on emotion.
One of my favorite quotes is: “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking together the same direction.” Love isn’t about how awesome the other person is or how you’ve finally achieved your #relationshipgoals. Love looks at a person’s character, chooses trust, and then chooses commitment. And it makes that choice over and over again, every day, for the rest of its life.
God’s kind of love necessitates commitment, work, and intentionality. This is one of the reasons why God isn’t going to waive His mandate on saving sex for marriage, because no matter how much you say you “love” someone, true love commits. True love covenants. And true love can wait. (Read more about why sex is designed for marriage in this post.)
So how do you know if your relationship is based on love or infatuation? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I feel a sense of urgency, guilt, or pressure to be in this relationship?
- Am I mentally and emotionally consumed with this person to the point my relationship with God has taken a back burner?
- Do I feel like this person is the best I can “get”? Am I acting on fear rather than faith?
- Am I and this person busy “gazing at each other” instead of “looking together the same direction”?
- Is our physical relationship out of control?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s time to pray about your intentions in that relationship, your goals, and the status of your heart. A healthy relationship based on mutual, maturing love, would say “yes” to most (if not all) of the following:
- Do I feel free to be myself in this relationship?
- Did I enter this relationship after careful consideration, prayer, and trust in this person’s character?
- Is my attraction to this person balanced by my commitment to show him love as God defines it?
- Am I at peace that if this relationship were to end, God would be faithful to me regardless of my relationship status?
- Am I and this person looking the same direction? Do we share the same values and goals?
- Is our physical relationship in submission to our spiritual relationship to God?
It is better to be in NO relationship than to be in an unhealthy one: I can promise you this. (And eventually I’ll be talking about break ups, but for now, this post discusses why you don’t want to lose him, but maybe you should).
To conclude, I’ll share with you a part of my own love story. It’s about the day I learned that I loved Mr. M.
I had gotten out of a not-so-great relationship a few months prior and was intentionally taking a break from dating. Josh (Mr. M) and I were friends, but in that awkward stage of “does he like me”/”is she interested”. He knew I didn’t want to date anyone, so we spent time in groups and with my roommates. I didn’t find him attractive. He wasn’t my “type”, but he was a good listener – a good “safe guy”. And due to my recent bad experience, my guard was up – I didn’t want to make any more dumb decisions that year, because I’d exceeded the limit already.
He had been there through my break up months before. He was there when my job became overwhelming. In fact, I began to notice that every time I needed something – encouragement or a friend or a phone call – he was there. But he didn’t expect anything in return, and he wasn’t leveraging his availability to get a relationship from me. This was something I had never seen before.
It was the Fourth of July and he had arranged for me and one of my best friends to attend the holiday ceremony at Monticello. He knew I loved history and planned it for that reason. But after the ceremony, as we were hunting for food amidst a row of closed restaurants, it began to downpour. We had walked over a mile to get to where we were and the car was parked far, far away.
“I’ll get it.” He said.
“But it’s pouring!” I objected.
“It’s okay – you girls can’t get wet. I’ll be back.”
And he ran through the city, in a downpour, to get the car. He pulled up about twenty minutes later and jumped out with an umbrella, struggling to get it open and walk us to the parking spot. By the time he arrived under the awning of the CVS where we were standing, the sun broke through the clouds, the rain stopped, and the now-open umbrella was unneeded. His frumpy college-boy outfit was drenched. Water was dripping off the end of his nose. If I wasn’t attracted to him before, you’d think that sentiment would’ve been confirmed in this moment. Instead, I just knew: this man loves me, and I love him.
I loved him not because of an intense mutual attraction, nor because I really wanted a relationship, nor because he was “perfect” and “everything I ever dreamed of”. I loved him because he chose to love me through his actions as a friend. He loved with no promise of return. He didn’t have to say it for me to see it, and neither of us said it for several more months. We didn’t start dating that day, that next week, or even that next month. But I had seen love acted out on my behalf, and it won my heart. And he’s still winning my heart to this day.
Love is the choice that keeps on choosing. Don’t settle for a pseudo-love that is an echo of the real thing. Look to God’s definition and allow Him to be your guide. You won’t regret it.