Love Vs. In Love: Which Is Better?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant
Updated February 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

"To give and not expect in return. That is what lies at the heart of love."—Oscar Wilde

You may have heard the phrase, "love makes the world go 'round." However, you might be confused about what constitutes love and the difference between loving someone and feeling love as an emotion. Although love is a chemical process in the brain, it is also an emotion, an experience, a choice, and an action. Learning how love functions may help you understand emotions, interpersonal connections, and desire.

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Do I just love them or am I in love?

What is the difference between love and being in love?

The chemistry behind love is a fascinating topic that social psychologists have found affects individuals cognitively and behaviorally. Love, in its purest form, may refer to the feeling of love and the chemical reaction in the brain. You can love many people, items, and experiences. However, being "in love" with someone may constitute intense passion, loving actions, and desire. It is often referred to in a romantic sense. 

Many people describe being in love as an intense, profound, and passionate experience. It may feel like an obsession with your partner or a desire to spend time together. You might be craving their presence, even if you’re frequently spending time with them, and you might find joy in watching and listening to them as you go about your daily lives. Some people describe feeling in love as a chemical or emotional dependency on another person. 

Feeling in love might last through several stages of love. You might experience it in an enchanted sense or the sense of safety and peace you feel at your partner's side through the years. What being "in love" looks like to you might also differ from what someone else considers love. 

The role of oxytocin and other hormones in falling in love

General love can be physically different than intense, passionate love. When you love someone deeply, the chemical balance in your body may be affected. Oxytocin may be released when you see them, prompting you to form and develop your bond. Oxytocin is the cuddle hormone that can help you bond with other humans and animals. The long-term bond is strengthened by a hormone called vasopressin.

Falling in love can also include lust and sexual attraction. Often, in sexual attraction, dopamine is activated. Dopamine is a brain chemical that causes a euphoric feeling. Norepinephrine can make you feel nervous, your hands sweaty, and your heartbeat faster. Serotonin can make you feel euphoria and happiness. 

Falling in love may be an overwhelming experience. Consider the decisions you make and the actions you take when you begin a connection with a partner. You might find that a flood of love chemicals makes it hard to focus on other areas of life and logic.  

Benefits of falling in love

Falling in love can feel energizing, exciting, and thrilling. Your deep feelings may prep you for long-term emotional attachment and bonding with the person you love. Although these chemical releases can be more significant upon falling in love for the first time, they may lessen in the later stages of a relationship. 

Some couples find themselves in committed relationships without ever having experienced a phase of being in love. Couples might struggle with intimacy if they do not feel love. Being in love might build a platform for long-term connection.

While chemistry and profound feelings may not drive all aspects of a relationship, they can be beneficial during conflict or when committing to someone. Suppose you are considering committing to your partner and are not attracted to or in love with them. In that case, it may be beneficial to consider the reasoning behind your choices and discuss your feelings with your partner to ensure you're on the same page. 

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Benefits of loving someone

Love can differ from being in love. However, you may still experience benefits. Love could cause the release of oxytocin, prompting you to form and develop a bond. Oxytocin may be referred to as the cuddle hormone, as it is often released when hugging or cuddling. 

Drawbacks of falling in love

Feeling the initial spark of falling "in love" might be temporary. Often, attraction and infatuation may not be sustained in long-term relationships, as you could have other responsibilities to focus on. Being in love can feel all-consuming. It might make you feel out of control. 

When you fall in love often or only crave the initial falling-in-love feeling, you might go from relationship to relationship and not experience a long-term connection.

Some individuals experience love addiction, a mental dependency on the chemical release and the emotion of falling in love or having relationships. These feelings may make you feel attached to an ex only when they are not in your life or when you can only have short-term connections.

Drawbacks of loving someone

Feeling love may not feel as exciting, passionate, or intense as falling in love. You might not experience as much passion. Genuine love might take work, sacrifice, and time. Often, individuals commit a lot of energy to put in the effort that a long-term relationship may require for its future and health. 

Additionally, navigating a relationship without intense love might feel tiring or confusing for those involved. There may be periods of disappointment and restlessness in the relationship. Communication and commitment can be essential in these cases. 

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Do I just love them or am I in love?

Counseling options 

At times, couples may face challenges in love. Or, individuals might feel confused about what love means or how to find it. In these cases, speaking to a counselor or relationship expert could be beneficial. Many forms of therapy are available, and some couples choose online couples counseling due to its flexibility and modern format.  

Online counseling can allow you and your partner to attend a session whenever it works for you, even from two different locations. You can also choose between live chat, phone, or video sessions with a licensed therapist. Studies show that online couples therapy is as effective as in-person treatment for many couples. If you're interested in trying online counseling, consider signing up through a platform like BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples. 


You may read the full study here: A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Web-Based OurRelationship Program: Effects on Relationship and Individual Functioning

Takeaway

Whether you feel love for a partner or believe you may be in love, relationships can take work, effort, and patience. If you're struggling with your emotions or experiencing conflict with a partner, consider reaching out for support. You can talk to a counselor for further guidance and resources.

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