How To Recognize And Understand Romantic Attraction

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated March 21, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Romantic attraction and understanding what it feels like can be complicated. Romance is often a popular topic in society, yet many may not understand how to demonstrate it or whether the feelings they feel are normal.  However, real life could differ from that experience. 

No matter your age or background, it could be challenging to understand whether you're experiencing romantic, sexual, or platonic feelings for someone in your life. Additionally, love can add another layer that makes it challenging for some to communicate or understand their feelings. Knowing the difference between each type of attraction and love may help you navigate your thoughts and feelings, analyze what past relationships meant, and develop strategies for healthy relationships, such as admitting that you are not attracted to anyone.

I Don't Know If I'm Romantically Attracted Them

What Is Romantic Attraction?

Romantic attraction is often defined as a desire to have romantic contact or interaction with an individual. Romance may involve kissing, hugging, talking about love, commitment, passion, and other factors. You may have a close connection with many people, such as a best friend, but romantic attraction involves an urge that goes past platonic. 

You might connect with the person through deep conversations or feel a yearning to be close to them. You might experience a sense of adoration, infatuation, or fondness for them. Some individuals might feel the urge to commit for an extended period or put labels on the relationship that specify a romantic bond, such as a partner or significant other. 

Although sexual intimacy can have romantic components, sexual attraction differs from romantic attraction. Some people might think they're romantically attracted to someone when experiencing sexual or aesthetic attraction. You might also experience a crush. Crushes can happen when you start feeling romantic or sexual attraction to someone else and potentially feel curious about getting to know them further. 

Romantic attraction can happen with any gender. If you identify as a lesbian or gay person, you might only feel romantic attraction toward the same gender as yourself. If you are bisexual, you might experience romantic attraction toward both binary genders. If you are pansexual, you might experience romantic attraction to binary and non-binary identifying individuals. If you are heterosexual, you might only experience romantic attraction toward those of a different gender than your own. Some people do not experience romantic attraction and identify as aromantic.

What Is Sexual Attraction?

Sexual attraction is an attraction based on sexual desires, often called lust.

You might desire sexual activities like kissing, making out, or intercourse with another person. A sexual orientation defines your sexuality or the gender or genders you are attracted to sexually. Sexual attraction does not always follow romantic attraction and vice versa. You might feel sexual attraction toward a stranger or friend. 

Many people confuse romantic and sexual attraction with one another. Although they can be similar, and you may experience both simultaneously, understanding the difference may pave the path to understanding 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. Relationships purely based on sexual attraction can be healthy when experienced by consenting adults practicing safe sex. 

Some people may identify as asexual, which is the absence of sexual attraction. People can be asexual and aromantic simultaneously, one or the other, or neither. Some asexual and aromantic people will still partake in romantic or sexual relationships without attraction.

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 "in love" with this person? 

  • Are they "in love" with me? 

  • Do I like our current dynamic or want it to change?

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. There may have been a sexual and romantic attraction in the marriage, but it wasn't necessarily the focus. Many couples had arranged marriages, and some cultures still practice these marriages today. In the past, individuals may not have had the option to pursue relationships with the same gender or a different race than themselves. In many societies, that is now a possibility. There may not be one straight depiction of romance. It can evolve and depend on the individuals in a specific relationship. 

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 want to continue having in-depth 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? 

Some people do not 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 feel love in other ways. You may also feel that you are asexual as well. If you identify as both, many people use the term "aro-ace" to explain the dynamic. 

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 face 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 visit 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. 

If you're interested in trying an internet-based treatment modality, consider a platform like BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples. 

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