Decoding Love: How To Recognize And Understand Romantic Attraction

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Grasping romantic attraction and deciphering what it feels like can be a complex endeavor. Romance is frequently discussed in society, but many may struggle with expressing it or identifying whether their feelings are typical. Real life might differ from expected experiences.

Regardless of age or background, determining if you're experiencing romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or platonic feelings for someone in your life can be challenging. The concept of love further complicates matters, making it difficult for some to communicate or comprehend their emotions. Recognizing the difference between types of attraction and love may help you navigate your thoughts and feelings, reflect on past relationships, and develop strategies for healthy connections, such as acknowledging when you are not experiencing attraction toward anyone. Understanding romantic orientations and the experiences of aromantic individuals can also provide a broader perspective on the spectrum of human connections.

Rawpixel
I don't know if I'm romantically attracted them

What is romantic attraction?

Romantic attraction is often described as a desire for romantic contact or interaction with another person. Romance may encompass kissing, hugging, discussing love, commitment, passion, and other elements. While you may have close connections with many people, such as a best friend, romantic attraction transcends platonic feelings.

You might forge a deep emotional connection with the person through meaningful conversations or experience a longing to be close to them. Feelings of adoration, infatuation, or fondness for them may arise. Some individuals might desire a long-term commitment or assign labels to the relationship that indicate a romantic bond, such as a partner or significant other.

Although sexual intimacy can contain romantic aspects, sexual attraction differs from romantic attraction. People may mistake aesthetic attraction or sexual attraction for romantic attraction. Crushes can develop when you begin experiencing sexual or romantic attraction to someone else and feel intrigued to know them better.

Romantic attraction can occur with any gender. If you identify as lesbian or gay, you might only feel romantically attracted to the same gender. As a bisexual person, you may experience romantic attraction toward both binary genders. Pansexual individuals might feel romantically attracted to binary and non-binary identifying individuals, while heterosexual people typically experience romantic attraction toward those of a different gender. Meanwhile, some individuals identifying as aromantic, do not experience romantic attraction at all.

What is sexual attraction?

Sexual attraction is an attraction based on sexual desires. Sexual attraction typically involves desiring a variety of sexual activities, from kissing to intercourse. A sexual orientation defines your sexuality or the gender or genders you are attracted to sexually. Sexual attraction does not always coincide with romantic attraction and vice versa. You might experience sexual attraction toward a stranger or a friend.

Many people confuse romantic and sexual attraction. Although they can be similar, and you may experience both simultaneously, understanding the difference may help you better comprehend your relationships. For example, if you have a close sexual connection with someone but don't feel that you love them, you may be only sexually attracted to that person. Sexual relationships, or those based purely on sexual attraction can be healthy when experienced by consenting adults practicing safe sex.

Some individuals may identify as asexual, which means they tend not to feel sexually attracted to others. This is typically different from experiencing a temporarily low sex drive. There is nothing wrong with identifying as asexual, and sexual desire can exist on a spectrum.

Also, some people identify as aromantic, which means they tend not to experience romantic attraction. However, this can also exist on a spectrum. Also, people can be asexual and aromantic simultaneously, one or the other, or neither. Some asexual and aromantic people may still engage in romantic or sexual relationships.

When deciding whether you feel sexually or romantically attracted to someone, consider the following questions: 

  • Do I want to have sex with this person? 
  • Would I prefer a purely sexual relationship with them? 
  • Would I feel comfortable in a purely romantic relationship with this person? 
  • Do I want to commit myself to this person long-term? 
  • Do I want an exclusive relationship with them? 
  • Do I care about their feelings, experiences, and thoughts? 
  • Do I feel emotionally attracted to this person?
  • Do I feel "in love" with this person?
  • Do I like our current dynamic or want it to change?
AGUSTÍN FARIAS

A brief history of romance

Romance has evolved in the last few thousand years. The ancient Greeks created different concepts to describe love. Eros was romantic love, while storge was family love. Philia was brotherly love or friendship, and agape was an all-encompassing, unconditional love for a partner, God, or someone important to you. 

Marriage may not have always been based on love. While there might have been sexual and romantic attraction within the marriage, it wasn't necessarily the primary focus. Many couples had arranged marriages, and some cultures still practice these marriages today. Historically, individuals may not have had the option to pursue romantic relationships with the same gender or a different race than themselves. In many societies, that is now a possibility. There is no single, unchanging depiction of romance. It can evolve and depend on the individuals involved in a specific relationship. 

A couple are sitting on a bed and smiling; the woman is leaning on the man’s shoulder, and he has his arm around her.
Getty
I don't know if I'm romantically attracted them

How to spot romantic attraction

Knowing whether you or someone you care about feels romantic attraction can be challenging. Everyone may experience different signs, depending on how they approach relationships. Below are a few common signs. 

Emotional connection 

When you feel romantically attracted, you might feel a profound emotional connection. You may feel love toward their personality, imperfections, opinions, mannerisms, and ideas. Although sexual attraction can accompany these feelings, it may not for everyone. 

You want to talk to them and be close 

If you feel happy talking to the person and experience a natural interest in your conversations, it could be a sign that you like them romantically. You might enjoy any questions they ask and also crave physical closeness. For example, you might be urged to hold their hand, kiss, or cuddle. 

You smile and laugh often 

If the person makes you smile and laugh often, you may appreciate their company. If smiling and laughter accompany feelings of "butterflies" in your stomach, nervousness, or excitement, it may signify romantic feelings. 

You feel complete

People who feel romantic attraction may feel "complete" when they are around someone they care about. They might feel they've met "their other half" or their "soulmate." In some cases, people might feel they do not need other romantic connections and crave exclusivity or labels to identify their connection with an individual. 

You want to partake in romantic activities 

Romantic attraction is often defined by a desire to participate in romantic activities with someone. These could include the following: 

  • Going on dates
  • Kissing 
  • Holding hands
  • Cuddling
  • Getting to know each other
  • Labeling the relationship 
  • Expressing love verbally
  • Giving gifts
  • Spending more time together
  • Doing kind tasks or services for each other
  • Being open and communicating with each other about feelings 

If you only experience the urge to have sex with a person, with the absence of other factors, it may be that you are only experiencing sexual attraction. 

How does love work in the brain? 

The feeling of love itself is a chemical process within the brain. Often, hormones such as adrenaline will increase in the body. You may also experience an increase in cortisol, the hormone often responsible for stress. You might feel highly focused on the person you're interested in or want to be around them all the time. You could also experience positive stress or a desire to do more than average. 

Love also causes a release of dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin. Oxytocin may be released during sex and make you and your partner feel closer to one another. You might also feel positive sensations while sending messages back and forth, going on a date, or holding hands. Some individuals refer to these chemicals as "new relationship energy."

You may have heard the phrase "love is blind." The phrase often communicates how chemicals in your brain can emotionally keep you from seeing difficulties, challenges, or stressors in the beginning stages of love. You might enter relationships without thinking, so going on several dates might be a positive step before committing to someone. 

Can someone not feel romantic attraction? 

As mentioned above, some people tend not to experience romantic attraction. They might have sexual or platonic relationships in their life, or they may go through several romantic relationships and wonder why they aren't connecting like others. The term "aromantic" applies to someone who experiences little to no attraction and romantic feelings for someone. 

If you feel this way, it can be normal. You might still experience sexual attraction or love in other, non sexual ways, such as intellectual attraction. You may also identify as asexual. Many people refer to those who identify as both aromantic and asexual as aro-ace.

Those who are aromantic or asexual might partake in long-term close relationships that differ from those who experience attraction. For example, they may form a queer-platonic relationship, a platonic connection with rules or boundaries outside a traditional friendship. For instance, individuals in a queer-platonic relationship might get married, live together, co-parent, or have anniversaries. However, they may not have sex, participate in romantic behaviors, or feel romantic love and attraction. Some people in queer-platonic relationships may only have sex and do not have a romantic dynamic. 

Counseling options 

Discovering your romantic orientation and sexuality can be challenging. Understanding what it feels like when you're in love may also feel complex. Consider therapy if you're navigating relationships and want to discuss your concerns with a professional. Therapy often offers a safe space to discuss your concerns. You can also consider online counseling if you can’t find a therapist in your community or if you face other barriers to common mental health treatment in person. 

Through online counseling, you may be able to choose between video, phone, or live chat sessions with a licensed therapist. Additionally, you can connect with your counselor from home or another location with an internet connection. Studies show that online therapy can also be effective for couples. One study found that online therapy for couples was as effective, if not more, than traditional in-person methods. 

Takeaway

Romantic attraction can be complex and difficult to describe, but it typically involves a strong emotional connection and a desire to be close to someone. If you have questions about sexual and romantic attractions or about your feelings for someone, you may benefit from speaking with a licensed counselor. This may help you identify if you’re feeling sexually and/or romantically attracted to someone. If you don’t feel comfortable with traditional in-office therapy at this time, you might consider online therapy. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience helping people explore their feelings of attraction. Take the first step toward getting support and gaining clarity about your feelings and reach out to BetterHelp today.

Build healthy relationship habits with a professional
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started