How Do You Know If You Like Someone, Or If It’s Something Else?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated May 7, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Sometimes, it can be challenging to determine whether you truly like someone, or if you like the attention they give you, your idea of who they are, or the concept of being in a relationship. Successful, long-term relationships are usually built on a foundation of kindness, respect, trust, and commitment. For further insight into your feelings, it can be helpful to speak to a licensed therapist. You can find a suitable therapist through an online therapy platform or in your local area.

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How do you know if you like someone or just the attention they give you?

For some people, especially young people, a relationship can be more about their own feelings than the other person. For these people, getting into a relationship can be an escape from loneliness or feeling uncomfortable about being alone. However, getting involved for these reasons can create trouble for long-term relationship stability.

If you choose to be in a relationship with someone only because they like you, but you have not explored your feelings for them, then you may end up with a resentful partner down the road. For example, they may feel uncared for if you’re mainly involved for your own benefit without truly caring about them. You may also experience wandering thoughts or regrets over lost opportunities for a more fitting match. 

Having a partner's attention can be an exciting feeling. However, it is often a good idea to ask yourself if you genuinely like the person or if you simply enjoy the fact that they like you and pay attention to you. When feelings go both ways, the connection will likely last longer and be stronger.

Consider whether you display any of these signs that you may just be in a relationship for attention and not genuine interest in the feelings, thoughts, or time spent with the other person.

  • You never initiate conversations or texts. Instead, they are always the one to contact you.
  • You often feel like responding to them is an obligation, not something you’re excited about.
  • They always make plans for the two of you. You don’t initiate time spent together or offer date ideas.
  • You rarely think of them when they aren't around.

On the other hand, if you're displaying the opposite of these behaviors, it might be a sign you are infatuated with your partner. You may like someone for more than just their attention if you constantly think about them. If you ask them to make plans together and initiate conversations because you are thinking about them, you’re likely developing strong feelings for them.

How do you know if you like the person, or the idea of the person?

Occasionally, we may project our desires onto others, whether we mean to or not. We may meet someone to whom we are initially attracted, and we may want them to be the person who fulfills all our desires. Therefore, we may ignore any indicators that they are not who we want them to be. We may also place expectations on them that we don’t communicate and then feel disappointed when they don’t live up to our dreams. 

In other words, we may not get to know who they truly are. Unconscious projections are likely to leave both people feeling confused and hurt.

This situation may happen more easily if a lot of your relationship has taken place online. Whether you’re in a long-distance relationship or met on a dating app, filling in the blanks with your perfect partner can be tempting. It can also happen for those who are getting over a past breakup. You may project ideal qualities onto this new partner based on the strengths or shortcomings of the last relationship, perhaps never seeing this entirely new person in front of you. Getting caught up in your imagination can make a situation overwhelming or scary as you leave reality and come back feeling disappointed, confused, or hurt.

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They may say love is blind, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to actively blind yourself to what kind of person your partner is and how you genuinely feel about them. They may be kind, generous, and funny, but not right for you. That can be okay; the best thing is generally to admit that to yourself and the other person. Saying no can be hard at the beginning of a new relationship, but it is usually better to be true to yourself. 

In 1938, the Harvard Medical School began a long-term study to discover what makes a relationship work for the long haul. This study can reveal intriguing clues about what to look for in an intimate relationship, including the following:
  • You and your partner feel respect for each other, and you both accept and respect any differences you have. 
  • You both feel a strong sense of trust in one another.
  • You have equal levels of commitment to the relationship. 
  • Kindness between you is abundant. 
  • You genuinely enjoy the other person’s company, and they feel the same about you.  
  • You are supportive of one another’s life goals.
  • You work well when making decisions, like when deciding where to go out to eat or what to do together for the weekend. 
  • Your friends and family also like the person and support your relationship. 

How do you know if you like the person or the idea of being in love?

When you try to make a relationship work with someone you don’t click with just because they have feelings for you, you may be wasting your time and theirs. They generally deserve someone who cares about and loves them, rather than someone who is just using them for their attention.

If you find yourself on the other side of the situation, you may deserve a partner who will actively make time to spend with you and listen to you. On the other hand, if you find yourself acting outside of your usual behaviors or trying to pick up a new hobby you don't enjoy just to impress the other person, then you may be hanging on to hope for a relationship and not actually hoping for a relationship with this particular person. You usually do not need to drastically change yourself or your life to find the right person.

Finding the right person

Low self-esteem can make it difficult to wait for the right person. It can feel more immediately comforting to find someone who fulfills some of your needs now if you can’t find someone who can fulfill all of them. Instead, you may feel inclined to stay with the first person who pays attention to you. 

The attention may feel good at first, but it can also lead to an unsatisfying relationship where you receive little of what you need. If you fall into this behavior pattern, it could be time to talk with a therapist and clarify your goals for a relationship. A therapist can also help you learn skillful ways of declining relationships that are not what you want and coping with other uncomfortable feelings and situations.

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How therapy can help you pick the right partner

You can improve your self-esteem and learn to have patience in finding a compatible partner with the help of a licensed therapist. 

Online therapy can make it convenient to fit professional treatment into your life. There are often session times available outside of typical office hours, and you can customize your therapy experience by choosing between video calls, phone calls, and online chat options. 

Although there isn’t currently much research specifically investigating the efficacy of online therapy for improved self-esteem and patience in finding the right partner, a growing body of evidence suggests that online therapy is generally just as effective as traditional face-to-face therapy.

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Romance can be confusing, and it can be tempting to get involved for the wrong reasons. For example, some people start a relationship because the other person likes them and gives them the attention they crave. However, research suggests that the strongest and most long-lasting relationships usually involve a high level of mutual respect, compatible goals, plenty of kindness, and an equal level of commitment to the relationship. Finding the right person can take time, but it’s usually worth the wait. While waiting to find the right person, talking to a therapist in person or online can assist you in building your self-esteem and clarifying your goals so you don’t settle for less than you deserve.
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