Young Love Can Be Confusing: Here’s How To Maximize Your Experience

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated February 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Romantic love occurring during adolescence and young adulthood can be confusing. For example, you may be experiencing love that seems to be unreciprocated, or you might be unsure whether you are feeling true love or something more surface-level. 

Exploring why your love is confusing can enable you to take steps towards healthier relationships with yourself and future partners. If you are concerned that your relationship is harming your mental health, or you are having trouble managing your feelings on your own, a licensed therapist can help. Read on to learn more about how you can maximize your experience as you begin to explore intimate and romantic relationships.

It can be hard to understand love

Understanding love 

Did you know? Experts estimate that by the age of 15, more than half of young people have dated. Though many young people might find healthy and supportive partners, relationship concerns can remain one of the major reasons that adolescents seek help from therapy. 

The concept of love can be different for each person, and it can be even more confusing when it's young love. Love can weave a profound thread that connects individuals and influences multi-generational dynamics. Young families, often led by millennial parents, may want to get an honest look at love so they can create a better life for themselves and their loved ones, or simply to understand their inner landscape. 

From getting a pet cat in an attempt to bring your family members closer together to exploring social issues related to love, one could spend a lifetime seeking to understand the experience and exploring the concept as a whole. 

Like most intangible experiences, though, young love is often easiest to grasp when looked at from a technical standpoint first. 

Young love can be associated with intense emotions. According to psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz, strong emotions can be a central component of adolescent relationships, because emotional control skills may not be fully developed until 25. This can make young relationships more volatile and unpredictable.

Why is love confusing?

Aside from the general lack of maturation of the pre-frontal cortex, there are many reasons why young love can be confusing and surprising. These can include the following:

  • Misunderstanding around the many types of love

Many may find that there is not only one type of love. For example, you can experience compassionate love, parental love, infatuation, attachment or sexual desire. Many people may associate young relationship love with infatuation, which can be defined as a type of intense, passionate love that may be a hallmark of love early on in relationships. As relationships mature, many people in love might begin to experience compassionate love, which can be characterized by emotional bonding. 

While short-term infatuation may not require sustained effort, long-term relationships generally require respect, focus, compassion and generosity to develop maturely into compassionate love. When infatuation ends or becomes less intense, differences in personality or desire to work on committed love may become evident—possibly leading to confusing and abrupt changes in feelings. 

Sometimes, young people may confuse other emotions, such as obsession, idolization and boosted self-esteem with love. To help you determine whether this is the case, you can take an honest look at the relationship and ask yourself whether you feel love because you find someone to be a kind and generous person, or if you feel love because you find this person mysterious, complicated, unattainable or challenging. Having a discussion with an older person or therapist can help you consider whether your attraction to someone is, indeed, love. 

iStock/SDI Productions
  • Lack of information-sharing from older adults

Young relationships are often portrayed inaccurately in movies and media—and adults who impact the lives of teens may not be sharing their relationship experiences in an adequate or understandable way.

For example, young people in media may be frequently shown falling into dramatic love that is unmistakable, perfect and long-lasting. This can be unrepresentative of real love in youth, possibly leading to discomfort or feelings of inadequacy if one’s relationship experience is different. 

Experts estimate that more than 70% of young people want their parents to teach them more about how to have mature relationships, how to handle relationship breakups, and how to avoid getting hurt by relationships. 

  • Unhealthy relationships 

Many young people may find their first romantic relationships and experiences of love both confusing and challenging. While no relationship is generally perfect; some signs, such as physical violence, possessiveness, jealousy, gaslighting, and anger, can be signs that a relationship is not okay. 

If you are in a relationship that shows these signs, you should consider prioritizing your safety and seek professional help.

If you are experiencing any sort of crisis or believe that you are in danger, please connect with the Crisis Text Line for 24/7 support. You can do so by texting “HOME” to 741741. You can also connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE for additional help. 
  • Engaging in self-discovery

During the early stages of love and infatuation, some people may be willing to overlook or comprise on the things that they do not have in common with their love interest. However, incompatibility can make it difficult to maintain healthy relationships in the long term. The confusion of learning about who your partner can be compounded by the confusion of self-discovery that can happen during teenage and young adult years. 

Though it can be easy to immerse yourself in an exciting relationship, your youth can be a valuable time to learn about yourself and practice self-love. Recognizing your value as a human, the importance of experiencing and using your emotions for good and connecting with people outside of yourself and your relationship can all be powerful ways to practice self-love.  

Additionally, romantic relationships in young people can negatively impact academic performance and the growth of interpersonal skills, possibly making the development of self outside of romantic relationships particularly important. 

  • Overwhelm

As of 2016, 62% of young people report experiencing overwhelming nervousness due to excessive commitments—such as schoolwork, work, sports, and social engagements. Romantic relationships during periods of stress can contribute to worsening academic and athletic performance as well.

  • One-sided love

Unrequited love (UL), generally also called one-sided or unreciprocated love, can be a more frequent occurrence than equal emotional love. UL may result from the love that grows out of friendship, from afar or in secret. If you’ve ever experienced romantic love for someone who is unavailable, someone who does not have feelings for you or from a sustained romantic interest after the end of your relationship, you may have experienced one-sided love. 

Experiences of unrequited love can lead to rejection, nervousness, jealousy, embarrassment or shame, as well as other intense emotions that can be difficult to navigate. If you find that you are unable to move on from someone who is not interested in pursuing a relationship, or your thoughts about this person disrupt your daily life, you may consider reaching out to a licensed therapist. 

  • Peer pressure and stereotypes

According to the American Psychological Association, stereotypes can be particularly harmful and confusing for young love. For example, some young men may believe that they should be tough and unapproachable or may feel as if they have to treat women poorly to appeal to peer pressure from male friends. There can also be pressure and external expectations for relationships to move at a certain pace, or to become physically intimate quickly (before all members of the relationship feel ready). 

Finding healthy love

iStock/Elena Perova
It can be hard to understand love

Relationship anxiety and mental health concerns can be common during experiences of young love. A particular type of therapy, called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help many people reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders. 

CBT typically involves group or one-on-one psychotherapy sessions where therapists can help you to identify unhealthy thought patterns, develop awareness of these patterns, identify unhealthy thoughts in action, and then reframe your thinking. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is commonly referred to as the “gold standard” of psychological treatment and is frequently used to address anxiety disorders and depression.

How can online therapy help those working through young love?

Online therapy platforms, like TeenCounseling, can make getting help more convenient because you don’t have to commute to sessions—you can engage with the therapist anywhere with a reliable internet connection. Additionally, many people find that it’s easier to open up in online therapy because of the physical distance they have from their therapist.

Is online therapy effective? 

Recent studies have found details that suggest that online CBT can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression—and help with reframing negative thoughts. For example: A study published in World Psychiatry detailed the evaluation of the potential effectiveness of online therapy, finding facts that support the hypothesis that online therapy is just as effective as face-to-face therapy. 


It can be possible to reduce some of the confusion that may come with young love by working to understand the type of love (and other emotions) you may be feeling, soliciting input on forming healthy relationships from older adults, engaging in self-love and self-discovery, learning to recognize the signs of unhealthy relationships and managing un-reciprocated feelings of love. 

Online therapy can be a helpful resource to reference if you believe that your love is harming your mental health, if you’re having difficulty deciding how you feel about your relationship or if you’re looking for general support. Online therapy has been clinically suggested to be just as effective as in-person therapy at addressing these confusing feelings. TeenCounseling can connect you with a therapist in your area of need.

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