Why You Might Feel Like Love Is Not Real

Medically reviewed by Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC
Updated May 2, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Humans have the ability to experience a wide range of emotions. Though we have the capacity to feel the exhilaration of falling in love, the downside is having to deal with heartbreak at times. If you’ve only had negative experiences with love, you may feel like it isn't real, that love is an illusion, or that you won’t ever find a healthy, fulfilling version of it. Let’s explore the potential causes of or contributors to this state of mind and discuss how you may be able to move past it.

Types of love

Love is a complex emotion that can be experienced in many different ways, so there’s no one definition of what it is. In general, people often characterize it as warm, deep feelings of care and affection toward another person.

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
Is your love life being affected by your past heartbreaks?

While many people instinctively think of romantic love when this term comes to mind, there are many different types of it. Love can also be platonic or familial, or even directed at the self. The fact that love of varying kinds can exist between all different types of people—parents, children, siblings, cousins, grandparents, friends, lovers, partners, neighbors, community, and even coworkers—is a testament to the reality of this concept and emotion. So what might make someone feel like love isn’t real?

Why it can feel like love isn’t real

The feeling that love isn't real can stem from any number of factors that shape our feelings, experiences, or expectations surrounding love and relationships. 

This could be due to disillusionment, past traumas, or misunderstandings about what healthy love looks like. 

Here are some reasons that can contribute to such feelings:

Disappointment and heartbreak

Experiencing repeated disappointments or heartbreaks can lead to a protective skepticism about love. When people get hurt, they may start to question the authenticity of love to guard against further pain. This self-defense mechanism, while understandable, can close off pathways to genuine connection and healing.

Self-esteem issues

Just as self-esteem issues can affect your relationship with yourself, it can also impact your relationships. Low self-esteem may make it challenging to accept the love of others, and may create a situation where one person projects their insecurities onto their partner. In contrast, high self-esteem has been found to be beneficial for romantic relationships, as it creates a more hospitable environment for partners to recognize positivity within themselves and their partners.

Lack of healthy relationships models

Growing up without witnessing healthy, loving relationships can impact one's belief in the existence or feasibility of love. If one's early environment was filled with dysfunctional or loveless relationships, it can set a precedent for disbelief in love. This lack of positive models may lead individuals to accept less than they deserve or to repeat unhealthy patterns.

Unrealistic expectations

Without a firm grounding in the realities of love and commitment, it’s possible to harbor unrealistic expectations shaped by popular culture, social media, or even couples you know in real life. If your relationship doesn't match these fairy-tale narratives, it can lead to disillusionment and skepticism. Adjusting expectations to embrace imperfection can foster a more authentic and satisfying love.

Fear of vulnerability

Love requires vulnerability, which can be daunting. For some, the fear of being vulnerable and potentially getting hurt or rejected can be so overwhelming that they convince themselves that love isn’t real, as a way to avoid these risks. Embracing vulnerability, however, is often the key to experiencing deep, meaningful connections.

Confusing love with other emotions

Sometimes, people confuse love with infatuation, lust, limerence, dependency, or other emotions. When these feelings wane or lead to negative outcomes, it can make one doubt the existence of true love. Understanding the distinction between these emotions and love is crucial for building lasting relationships.

Existential or philosophical doubts

Some may engage in philosophical or existential questioning about the nature of love, wondering if it's merely a biological drive or a socially constructed concept, rather than a profound emotional truth. Such reflections, while intellectually stimulating, can sometimes detach individuals from experiencing love's emotional richness.

Emotional numbness

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can lead to emotional numbness, where a person might find it hard to feel anything deeply, including love. This can create a sense of disconnection from the concept of love. Seeking support and treatment for these conditions can help reopen the heart to love's possibilities.

The impact of depression

Depression is a common mental illness that’s estimated to affect around 5% of the world’s population. Common symptoms include persistent sadness, hopelessness, mood swings, apathy, and a loss of pleasure in activities once enjoyed, among others. Someone who is experiencing depression may be inclined to feel that love is not real, in part or mainly because of the effects of this mental illness.

In addition, cognitive distortions—which are common in those experiencing depression—can warp a person’s view of love and other parts of life. For example, the distortion known as overgeneralization can cause a person to apply the outcome of one situation to all future, similar situations. As a result, someone who went through a breakup might assume that all love ends in pain and that dating isn’t worth it. Someone who is lacking in romantic experience might assume that things will always be this way and that they’ll never have the opportunity to pursue the opportunities they’d like to.


The impact of past experiences

Our opinions and deeply held beliefs about love are often shaped by our past experiences with and observations of it. If you’ve had experiences that have made you associate love with something that’s negative, abusive, or hurtful, it’s understandable that you might have trouble believing in its goodness. Maybe you grew up with parents who yelled at one another or even engaged in physical violence. Perhaps you were in a past relationship yourself that became abusive. When someone who was supposed to love you turns into a negative, hurtful part of your life, it can be hard not to associate future experiences with that one.

Things to keep in mind if you feel like love isn’t real

If you’re experiencing doubtful or pessimistic feelings about love, reminding yourself of the following points might help you shift your perspective.

It can’t be forced

Unrequited love can feel painful. If you love someone and find that they don’t feel the same way, you might think love doesn’t exist at all. In reality, it just means that this person or the timing simply isn’t right for you. It can be challenging to come to terms with, but working toward moving past the heartbreak can open you up for loving opportunities in the future. Some research even suggests that reflecting on a breakup with the intention of learning from it can eventually lead to positive outcomes like increased self-confidence and may even correlate with increased romantic competence and satisfaction later in life.

Social support can help

Reminding yourself that love comes in many forms can help when you’re overcome by the feeling that love isn’t real. Platonic and familial love are just as real and valid as romantic love. Surrounding yourself with people you love in these ways can help you reconnect to the experience of love overall. Plus, studies show that social support is a critical component of wellbeing. If you don’t have as strong a social support network as you’d like, research also shows that close virtual friendships may be able to serve a similar need.

Self-love can be the foundation

A 2016 study suggests that self-esteem in individuals is beneficial for romantic relationships, and self-esteem is generally built on a foundation of self-love. The ability to accept and hold yourself in regard can translate into so many other areas of your life: how you carry yourself, the decisions you make, the people you choose to spend time with, and the way you approach relationships. Developing a sense of self-love can prove to you that love is real, and it can better set you up for success in the arena of romance if that’s your goal.

Is your love life being affected by your past heartbreaks?

A therapist can help

Feeling like love isn’t real can be painful. In many cases, however, it’s brought about by some underlying cause such as past trauma, a mental health condition, or distorted beliefs. A therapist can be a valuable resource in uncovering and moving through these obstacles. They may be able to work with you on addressing previous traumatic experiences, shifting unhelpful thought patterns, building self-esteem, or managing symptoms of a mental health condition you may be experiencing, if applicable.

Omega Hatchett, LMSW
I initially started therapy because I'm dating again after a long period of being alone and closing myself off. I want to break old patterns and grow from past traumas and relationships. Omega has been so supportive and genuine in our interactions… I feel as if we are talking human to human, and I'm not just a patient under a microscope, or someone who isn't being understood. I'm a complicated person, and Omega can string all of my musings into a singular vision, bringing me back to reality. I appreciate this so much. Thank you.”

Some people prefer to do therapy sessions from the comfort of their own home, in part because it’s generally more convenient and cost-effective than most in-person sessions. One study reports that participants found online therapy to be more personal and that it’s an effective treatment for depression and other mental health challenges. A virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed therapist who you can speak with via phone call, video call, and/or chat. In general, it’s best to choose the therapy method or format that is most convenient and comfortable for you.


If you’re feeling like love isn’t real, it’s likely that there’s an underlying cause. Shifting your perspective may help you become aware of the love and possibilities for love in your own life. A trained therapist may be able to provide helpful guidance in this process.

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