Do I Have A Crush, Or Is It Real Love?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated July 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

A crush or infatuation generally refers to short-term romantic feelings that may center around the desire for a physical relationship. In many cases, infatuation with a person can mean that the idea of the person is more appealing to you than who they truly are. Meanwhile, real love is often characterized by longevity, commitment, and a deep sense of compassion between two people. In real love, you’re likely aware of your partner’s strengths and weaknesses and accept them for who they are. However, sometimes it can be challenging to differentiate between real love and something that is just a crush; and if that’s the case for you, speaking with a licensed therapist may offer clarity and professional insight.

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Crush vs. love: is it just a crush or love?

It may be difficult to define whether an intense feeling for someone indicates real love or infatuation without first considering these three questions:

  • How does this relationship make you feel?
  • How does the other person feel about you?
  • How likely is it that the two of you can sustain this relationship over the long term?

Infatuation is often characterized as romantic feelings that are not necessarily rooted in a desire for a deep, connection or long-term relationship. For example, if you’re infatuated with or “crushing” on someone, it’s possible you’re primarily interested in a physical relationship with them. While you may have felt it was “love at first sight” initially, you may eventually realize that you have nothing in common, or that the attraction is one-sided.

Infatuation generally has less to do with the actual person you’re interested in and more to do with your ideal version of that person. You may find that when you develop feelings of infatuation, you seek attention and contact with your crush to meet unmet emotional needs. Talking to a therapist can help you build self-awareness so that you can more readily recognize your own emotional needs. This may empower you to meet a potential partner in healthy ways and form a more significant emotional connection.

The tendency to idealize people

When you get to know someone new, you may discover that they’re not the person you first thought they were. We tend to idealize people according to what we want and what we crave in our lives. It can be safe to say that most people who develop crushes, regardless of their age, may be projecting to some extent. Sometimes, we may find ourselves “in love” with an idea rather than the reality of who a person is or their authentic self.

When we have a crush on someone, we may be more focused on what the person or relationship can do for us and put less emphasis on the balanced give-and-take that usually makes for a strong relationship. Someone who is infatuated with another person may see an image of that person rather than the totality of all that they are, a person with both strengths and weaknesses.

What is love?

True romantic love tends to be characterized by deep affection and care for another person. This is usually an unselfish type of love. You may make the other person happy, support them, work together to solve problems, and stand by each other in good times as well as bad. When love is involved, you will likely see the positive qualities your partner possesses, as well as their weaknesses. Instead of seeing a one-sided image of them, you can see all of who they are.

Love may not only be a feeling but also a behavior. True love typically doesn’t happen instantly, and these relationships often require patience and sacrifice. Even in the happiest and healthiest relationships, the exciting and exhilarating feelings that accompany the crush stage may not always be present. What typically remains present, however, is the commitment, care, and dedication needed to nurture the relationship.


From intense feelings of infatuation to love

It can be possible for true love to start as infatuation and grow into love. For instance, you may begin to realize that, separate from physical attraction and sexual urges, you still feel drawn to your crush, are supportive of them, and even desire to be with them for a lifetime. You may get to know who they really are and decide that their best qualities outweigh any flaws they may have.

Many relationships can begin with crush-like feelings or be based on physical attraction while you are getting to know someone. Remember, too, that there is generally nothing wrong with having a crush on someone or having a temporary feeling of intense infatuation. Still, it can be helpful to recognize the differences between a crush and real love so you can assess the relationship effectively.

There can also be many kinds of love. If love “lasts,” then it’s likely a form of real love. On the other hand, just because love ends doesn’t always mean it wasn’t love to begin with. However, if the loving emotions you feel at the start of a relationship fade quickly and you find yourself crushing on someone else, it was likely infatuation all along.

Why do we develop intense infatuation and crushes in the first place?

Research in the field of psychology has probed why human beings develop crushes in the first place. 

One explanation has to do with the limbic brain, which may constantly crave dopamine. Since sex typically involves a dopamine rush, part of us may desire sex with anyone we see who’s vaguely attractive. The cortex part of the brain, on the other hand, usually gives us a filter for our own survival.

Sometimes, we can develop a crush on someone for a specific and evolutionary reason—namely, survival. We tend to be attracted to people who, in theory, could provide resources valuable to our descendants. Crushes built on sexual attraction aren’t always sustainable when it comes to building a lasting, loving relationship, however. It can be important that we create a sense of self-awareness and possess the ability to separate sexual desires and attractiveness from the characteristics of true love.

The process of developing a crush and falling in love can bring up intense emotions. Those emotions can often feel exciting and positive, but sometimes, they may cloud our judgment. This can make it difficult to decide what is best for our well-being. In times like these, talking with close friends or relatives can be helpful in navigating challenging waters, but having the unbiased perspective of an outside party may also be something to consider. A therapist, for example, can help you take a step back from the intensity of your feelings to evaluate the situation and help you define your emotions. You may consider speaking with a therapist individually or with your partner.

How online therapy can help with relationship concerns

When experiencing intense emotions like infatuation and love, seeking out therapy in person may prove difficult. Sometimes, people feel more comfortable opening up in an online setting. It may also be more convenient to attend therapy sessions online from a location of your choice since appointments are often available outside of typical office hours. 

Research shows that online therapy can be just as effective as traditional face-to-face therapy. When it comes to couples, one study found that video-based therapy allowed many couples to feel a greater sense of control and comfort through the use of technology. These couples generally formed strong therapeutic alliances with their therapists and found the online therapy experience to be beneficial and positive.

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Need help distinguishing a crush from real love?

If you are interested in having the support of a therapist, consider working with a BetterHelp counselor. The therapists on BetterHelp help people just like you work through relationship issues. They can help you develop personalized strategies to boost self-esteem and improve self-awareness you can apply to your love life. You can find comfort in knowing that every BetterHelp provider is fully licensed, in good standing, and has gone through an intensive review process by another licensed clinician. 

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When you’re experiencing real love, you’re generally familiar with your partner’s strengths and flaws and accept them for who they are. There will usually be a mutual sense of commitment and compassion between yourself and your partner. Conversely, if you’re experiencing infatuation or a crush, you may be more interested in your idea of who the other person is than who they really are. A crush tends to be a short-term feeling that often has more to do with an attraction to someone's physical appearance or the desire for a sexual relationship than a lasting commitment. Still, the difference between crushes and love may not always be clear-cut. Speaking with a licensed therapist about the situation and your feelings can offer helpful insight and clarity.
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