The Difference Between Love And “In Love”: Is There One?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 29, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Romance and romantic relationships play a big part in our society. But what is the difference between love and being “in love?” Love can come in all shapes and sizes; knowing the difference between the types of love can help you understand and appreciate it more fully.

Love and romance can be confusing

The ancient Greeks explain the difference between love and in love

The ancient Greeks were some of the first philosophers to study and explore the various types of love. They defined love by putting it into eight categories:

  1. Eros or Erotic Love: Named after the Greek god of fertility; this is love with passion and sexual attraction
  2. Philia or Affectionate Love: The type of love that is equal, as in love between friends
  3. Storge: A familiar type of love; the type of love that parents and children feel for each other or love that couples in long-term relationships have
  4. Ludus: Playful love that flirts, teases, and has fun
  5. Mania or Obsessive Love: An unequal love where one person is obsessed with the other; it is characterized by an imbalance between Ludus and Eros love
  6. Pragma or Enduring Love: Love that stands the test of time; this love moves beyond the physical to a soulful relationship that is harmonious, trusted, and resilient
  7. Philautia or Self-Love: Healthy self-love and self-acceptance
  8. Agape or Selfless Love: Love that is unconditional and spiritual; the “highest” form of love

Being in love is physiological

It's easy enough to detect classic outward signs of people who are in love: the dreamy gaze, the sweet smile, the gentle touch, the inability to take their eyes off each other, and their constant attention to the other. But did you know that being in love causes physiological responses as well?

Being in love causes the body to release dopamine which is responsible for those feelings of euphoria and sex appeal. Adrenaline and norepinephrine levels in the body also increase when someone is in love. These changes explain why a person who is in love has a rapid heartbeat and can't keep their mind off someone that they are romantically involved with.

Romantic love begins with an attraction that seems to be a combination of mental, emotional, and physical. Attraction involves a complex combination of characteristics, chemistry, and attitudes, which tends to be quite unique. We are each drawn to certain characteristics in a potential significant other while being turned off by others. For instance, a sarcastic sense of humor may be mandatory for some while kindness or financial prudence will be more important to others. 

Another factor is chemistry. We are drawn to specific persons as a function of biology, at least to some extent. There are three neurochemicals that are involved in initial attraction and what we commonly refer to as "falling in love" or being "in love". Two others guide the later stages of longer-lasting relationships -- you should know the difference between being in love vs love. The combination of the first three neurochemicals: phenylethylamine, norepinephrine, and dopamine, produces the real "chemistry" of love. 

Despite that connectedness and chemistry sparking between the two of you in that early stage, which precipitated your love relationship, there may come a time when the spark seems to have died down. The reality is that it is virtually impossible to sustain the initial stages of "falling in love" forever. Therefore, if we want to remain in any love relationship, we need to have reasonable, healthy, and appropriate expectations for how a long-term love relationship looks and feels. In other words, what creates an intimate relationship is not necessarily what sustains it. 

Getty/MoMo Productions

Loving someone by wanting what is best for them

Being in love with someone is usually a short-term experience, although it can resurface from time to time. Love takes time to grow. Often, we start by being in love and after spending long periods of time with each other, those initial in-love feelings can turn to lasting, deep-rooted love. Loving someone means that you cast your own feelings and desires aside and truly focus on what is best for the other person.

That doesn’t mean that keeping the spark alive is impossible. It just means that it requires awareness, understanding, and intentionality. After "surviving" the early stage of falling in love, we enter a stage of romantic love that is less dramatic, but also somewhat less volatile. The hormones that surged in the earlier phase are also closer to normal. The result of these shifts in brain chemistry is a feeling of serenity. You are more likely to be in a good mood most of the time, and you are once again able to inhibit the more "negative" behaviors associated with falling in love like checking your phone constantly for messages or being hypervigilant about your loved ones' whereabouts at all hours of the day and night. Those activities that cannot be sustained forever.

As you move into a long-term love relationship, the kind that lasts for years or even for a lifetime, there are also brain chemicals involved, which help keep you emotionally attached and interested in each other. Studies have long indicated that being in a committed relationship has a long list of health and psychological benefits for both parties.

More lasting love is also perhaps as much an intention, choice, and commitment, as it is a feeling. Some say that love is an action. There is some truth to all those points. While we rarely choose with whom we fall in love, we can make choices to keep love alive in our relationships. We can also choose to dwell more on those characteristics of the other we admire, find attractive, and respect. We can intentionally treat the other in ways that give evidence of our love, care, respect, and admiration. 

Applying the love principle to seasoned love

Let's revisit the elderly couple on the beach. Early in their relationship, they were in love. After the initial exhilaration of the relationship wore off, they probably discovered the underlying qualities in each other that truly made them love one another. They worked on their relationship, and they began to care deeply about what made the other person happy. They most likely understand that being in love, while wonderful, is not meant to last forever. This understanding allowed them to value the other stages of their love as being equally important for their life together.

Getty/Halfpoint Images
Love and romance can be confusing

The fact that they are still holding hands many years later likely means that during special moments, a spark reignites, and they do experience the resurgence of being in love once again.

Therapy for couples

Contrary to popular belief, all types of couples can benefit from therapy, even those who are happy and in love. Still, there is a stigma attached to couples counseling that can be detrimental to those involved. Many times, the perception is that if a couple is in therapy, then their relationship must be in trouble. This can be a barrier for couples who want to improve their relationship through counseling. In these cases, online therapy may be a good option. Plus, this type of counseling can be conveniently done from your home. 

When considering internet-based couples counseling, you may have doubts regarding its effectiveness. Rest assured, though, that research into this type of treatment indicates that it is associated with a comparable quality standard compared to in-person therapy. In fact, couples have reported that they often forget they are speaking to their therapist via videoconferencing as opposed to in a more traditional office setting. 


An online therapist like those at BetterHelp can help you navigate the different stages of love in your relationship. In the meantime, if you want a love that lasts a lifetime, enjoy the intensity of falling "in love," for sure. Then, nurture the relationship so that it grows into a deeper connection.  That kind of love can stand the test of time and the uncertainties of life.
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