Chapter 9 Infatuation, Friendship, and Love

Chapter 9 Learning Objectives

Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:

  • Compare and contrast the similarities and differences among infatuation, friendship, and love.


Watch this video or scan the QR code to understand more about the difference between love and infatuation.

Love and infatuation

Some would hold that the difference between love and infatuation is that love lasts but infatuation does not. This is incorrect, I think, for a number of reasons. First, if there were no other difference between love and infatuation, it would make it impossible to tell whether any given relationship was a love relationship or an infatuation relationship until sometime in the future when people could look back and say whether the relationship lasted or not. Hence, no one could ever accurately say something like “those newly-weds certainly love each other” no matter how wonderful or fulfilling their relationship at the time; it could only be said on their 25th or 50th anniversary that “well, no one knew at the time, but those two certainly were in love when they married.” And if either or both died young, no one could tell whether they were in love or just infatuated or not — or by unamended definition, since the state did not last, though involuntarily, it was not love. But none of this really is in keeping with common usage. We do make distinctions between love relationships and infatuation relationships that are new or that exist now without feeling the need to wait for the passage of (more) time.

It seems to me that the best way to look at the difference between love and infatuation is that infatuation is simply the attraction aspect of love without significant or much, if any, satisfaction aspect and/or goodness aspect. The attraction is generally romantic attraction, also perhaps sexual, and/or physical, and/or emotional, and/or intellectual. Infatuation is the feeling of love without necessarily (much of) the beneficial value or satisfactions of love. It is the attraction to another person accompanied by too little else. Probably in many cases, infatuation does not last simply because the relationship offers little good or satisfaction (and sometimes does offer distinct harm and dissatisfaction) along with the attraction, and so the attraction dies. But there are many cases where attraction or infatuation endures in spite of unreasonable hardships and dissatisfactions in the relationship. This endurance does not make the feelings ones of love, just ones of enduring infatuation.

The word infatuation generally is used to describe relationships that are new, and often it is applied to younger couples rather than older, though if an older man takes a fancy to, or is attracted to, a younger girl, he may be said to be infatuated. But I think the term, or at least my description of it, could be equally well applied to longer term relationships and those between mature, reasonable people. In the movie The Way We Were, the characters portrayed by Streisand and Redford had genuine feelings of attraction for each other throughout the course of their long, tempestuous relationship, which included various separations and reconciliations. The separations were caused because the two simply were neither good enough nor satisfying enough for each other to be able to live, or even be, together for very long at a stretch. Both were good people but they had conflicting political, social, and moral views and conflicting career goals that they were not able to ignore, compromise, or work around sufficiently to be able to keep from hurting each others’ feelings.

Yet none of that put an end to the feelings and the attraction they had for each other.

Sometimes lack of satisfaction and/or lack of goodness in a relationship will kill the feeling aspect too, but often it does not. Quite often, feelings are simply independent of other qualities or aspects in the relationship. The sad part of the movie The Way We Were was, it seems to me, that we often believe that any feelings, such as theirs, that can last so long and be so strong between two good people, should enable them to also be able to live together and to enjoy and satisfy and be good for each other. But this is simply often not so, and the relationship in that movie was just one instance of it. It would not have been nearly so sad or so tragic, I think, if they had simply realized that no amount of romantic (or any sort of) attraction(s) is sufficient by itself for a relationship to be also enjoyable and satisfactory or good.   Even with regard to something as strong and as potentially satisfying as sexual attraction (assuming, what is not always true, that a partner you strongly desire sexually will be satisfactory actually to be with sexually), as Zsa Zsa Gabor once remarked on television, there must be something else in the relationship because you cannot be having sex every waking moment you are together.

It is the relying solely on feeling or attraction that causes so much grief so often. Feelings can be an impetus but cannot, without luck, be a guide, and certainly not necessarily a good guide to a good and satisfactory relationship. Youth, or at least the naive, are those who often meet obstacles because they follow feelings alone so often.

“If thou remember’st not the slightest folly That ever love did make thee run into, Thou has not loved.” (Shakespeare, As You Like It 2. 4. 34-36)

I would think “love” in these lines is best understood in the sense of attraction or infatuation. I remember one time one of the boys I used to caddy with was so smitten by a girl we all saw walk by carrying her own golf clubs that he immediately left us to run to her to beg to carry her clubs for her. She said she could manage all right on her own, but he insisted, and took them from her shoulder — only in his excitement and nervousness (we were all watching this episode, which added to his difficulties) he accidentally turned the bag upside down while looking at her and dumped her clubs out onto the ground. Our taunting laughter was deafening.

Sometimes, of course, as in undesirable pregnancy or undesirable marriage, an error of the heart can be far more serious or devastating than a youthful folly or embarrassment. Plautus’ “He who falls in love meets a worse fate than he who leaps from a rock” need not be true, but so often is when passions cloud reason or are considered alone as a proper guide to action in pursuing a relationship.

Had Streisand’s and Redford’s characters recognized their relationship as one only or basically of infatuation or, if that sounds like too frivolous a description for mature people, enduring strong attraction, they may not have so futilely kept trying to have a fuller relationship that could not be and that made them so disheartened each time they realized they had to part. Had they simply accepted the attraction for what it was, and enjoyed what they rightfully could from it without demanding more — such as expecting their strong feelings alone to let them be able to live happily (and beneficially) ever after — it would hardly have seemed or been a tragic situation at all. If they could have recognized what they had and been happy for that instead of being sad for what they did not have, they would have been better off. Of course, mutual infatuation or attraction is not always easy to find, nor is love, so one sometimes unfortunately and unrealistically hopes that any attraction they do find is part of love instead of just infatuation; but neither is so impossible to find that infatuation cannot provide its particular benefit and delight without thereby just being a sad reminder of what is missing from a fuller relationship. Infatuation, being only part of love — the attraction part, certainly offers less than love, but it provides more than no relationship or feelings at all. It is exciting and it stirs the soul and the blood; it takes one outside of one’s self and can make one feel “alive” and invigorated, renewed and young.   Infatuation or attraction is quite a nice thing in itself, as long as it is not expected or required to be more and as long as one does not expect it to carry aspects of a relationship that it cannot or should not. Neither love nor infatuation are so difficult to find that the discovery of either at any given time should seem such a miracle that all action is predicated on the belief it will never happen again and so one had better make the most of this singular (or latest) occurrence. The most may be too much.

People who expect feelings alone to solve or prevent all problems are just expecting far too much from feelings. This is not just in regard to relationships but in all kinds of areas, such as spending more money than one earns with the feeling everything will turn out all right anyway, gambling on a “hunch” more money than one can afford to lose, behaving irresponsibly in front of others, etc. Those who think of love as just a feeling or attraction may do so, ignoring my definition, but they should not then expect love as they think of it to be or to cause very good, full relationships. Feelings alone just cannot do that. At least they often do not do it.

In thinking of marriage or living together, it is important to consider, not just feelings, but present, and probable future, satisfactions and good things in the relationship, since living together on a day-to-day basis tends to highlight (in ways just dating does not) bad habits, bad manners, bad moods, and boredom. Few, if any, can be exciting, new, and wonderful all the time. More than just strong feelings are usually needed to keep a relationship running smoothly. One of my friends one time said he did not see why people who were in love “just wanted to live together” since it was the living together on a daily basis that was the toughest part of a relationship or marriage. Living apart, even though seeing each other most or much of the time, at least allows for some privacy, along with preparation for, and recuperation from, time together. And that concerns just the social aspect of marriage or living together. There are other aspects as well which I will discuss later.

And there is a tendency not only to put too much emphasis on feelings but also perhaps to believe that only the young legitimately have such feelings or have them often or deeply — that older people somehow know better (or, depending on your point of view, are not so lucky) unless one is like a “dirty old man” or some fellow in his “second childhood” or off his rocker who becomes “infatuated” with a young girl. In a sense, these two beliefs go hand in hand, for people who expect feelings to be the main factor or bond in relationships, if they try to remain monogamous, must suppress or ignore or try not to have strong or loving or romantic feelings for other people. One can get good at that with practice, and therefore, many older people do not get feelings of attraction they might otherwise. Further, if one has had some relationships that did not work out very satisfactorily, even though there were strong feelings of attraction involved, and if one still thinks attraction should be enough for relationships to work out satisfactorily, then it would be easy to see that, having been burned once or more, one might find it harder to have feelings of attraction for others. But my answer in both cases would be not to give up having feelings of attraction, but to give up expecting so much from them and to give up behaving solely upon one’s feelings if and when they do occur. Feelings are, and should be, an important influence to action but not the sole guide. To expand on a comment by Antoine Bret, the first sign of passion need not be the last of wisdom; and the birth of wisdom need not signal the death of passion.

I think it is not that difficult for most of us to become very attracted, romantically or in other ways, to other people; but we need not expect a relationship to ensue or flourish just because of those feelings. One can relish the feelings without telling anyone, even the person who is the focus of the feelings. [Goethe, Wilhelm Meister: “Wenn ich dich lieb habe, was geht’s dich an.” (“If I love you, what business is it of yours.”) (cited in Roberts, 1940, p. 469).] Or one might tell that person they are attracted to them (intellectually, sexually, romantically, however) or smitten by them without thereby seeking or needing to become lovers or have a fuller relationship in case that is not feasible for some reason or other. The other person might be very pleased just to know you care about them — as long as neither of you behave unreasonably or have unreasonable expectations or demands just because of the attraction. (One or both may be married or there may be aspects of the relationship, other than feelings, that might make it not such a good one.) There is no tragedy in liking someone very much whom you may rarely see or whom you simply worship from afar or to whom you try to be good in whatever small ways you can. In fact, that can be a very moving and heartwarming feeling. It is simply nice to have caring feelings about someone else, even if they are not returned or if nothing “further” can be involved in the relationship. The trouble only begins if one suspends one’s life or lets it be ruined because one wants to act inappropriately on those feelings and/or have them returned in order to be appreciated.

In the July 1974 Ms. magazine, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, in her article “Is Romance Dead?” (her answer is it is not, or at least it does not have to be) describes quite poignantly her “emotional backlash” against romance (either sense fits — exciting or general) after experiencing the crashing, stultifying blows when falling from the heights of romances that did not end well. She and other women like her were the “pallbearers”; romance was dead. Or, echoing Philip James Bailey in Festus:

“I cannot love as I have loved, And I know not why.

It is the one great woe of life

To feel all feeling die.” (cited in Roberts, 1940, p. 464)

Her article vividly deals with the problem (or evil) of a woman’s giving up her own identity because of her romantic feelings for a man through whom she may live vicariously. “I know a woman, an artist who married an artist (and immediately put her paintbrushes away and became her husband’s model — so much for self- fulfillment), who daydreamed, when her marriage went flat, about how wonderful it would be to be married to a photographer- writer she knew; in her fantasy, the sum of her joy was always to be at some airport, waiting for him to return from a glamorous, exciting trip; she basked in his reflected glory.”

Harrison then goes to point out that romance need not suffer for some women simply because in the past these women have mistakenly let it consume their identities to work ill on both themselves and their relationships. Correct; but this is just one area in which people tend to give their all to the feelings in the belief that the feelings will also give rise to joys and goodness. Feelings just don’t always do that. And one need not just look at the Harrison kind of case, that of abandonment of the woman’s self-identity and self-fulfillment. One can look at the Streisand- Redford case, where they each did or tried to fulfill their own goals in life, but that course too caused conflict and wreaked havoc in the relationship. And you can look at relationships in which one or both parties are selfish, with perceived different self-interests, and so things cannot work out. And this can be serious even over such mundane problems or disagreements as which television programs to watch or how to spend an evening or a few dollars. Or it can be over one’s being an early riser who wants conversational company with the other who is — a slow, late, or meditating riser, who likes their first words in the morning to be “goodbye, dear, see you later.” We do not have to have personally shattering problems, such as loss of identity, in order to get into severe problems in a relationship. That is why having sensitivity and a knowledge of ethics and understanding of fairness, as well as some important shared joys and satisfactions along the way, are so important in working out a full, lasting, and loving relationship. Feelings of attraction or romance alone just won’t do the job, at least not also without luck.

Yet, mistakenly letting romance suffer or making yourself unreceptive to romantic feelings as you grow older and more experienced is to throw out the baby with the bathwater. It is not the having of romantic feelings that causes trouble in relationships, but the lack of other necessary ingredients with them — lack of areas of satisfaction and goodness, and/or lack of ability to resolve conflicts that cause or reflect areas of dissatisfaction or harm. The solution to having romantic feelings that result in bad relationships is not to kill romance but to cultivate goodness and satisfaction in relationships that are romantic, and to recognize, and respond or behave appropriately in those romantic relationships that cannot be good enough or joyful enough to pursue beyond a certain, non-harming involvement.

I agree with Harrison’s conclusions that romance is not dead. I also think that for people who like people, who are open to them, and who are open to their own feelings, romance or some sorts of attraction are not very difficult to experience. The problems arise when we make moral or behavioral errors about how to act toward others when we have some feelings toward them. And problems arise when we develop irrational and harmful expectations about how others should feel or behave toward us because of our feelings toward them. Just as it would be absurd to hit people just because you might not like them, so it is equally absurd to sleep with someone or to marry someone or to try to seduce someone just on the basis of your having some feeling of attraction toward them, without considering any other (satisfaction or ethical) aspect of the relationship. We should learn to understand our feelings and to put them into perspective or into context in a relationship so that we can make more enlightened decisions about what they, and other aspects of the relationship, dictate or recommend as proper actions. Even in cases where feelings are necessary requirements for an action (such as attraction or passion might be for good sex), they seldom are sufficient reasons for it.

So I think it is proper, and not altogether far from normal usage, to think of infatuation as a relationship involving feelings of loving attraction without very much satisfaction or goodness existing or likely to continue to exist. Where I depart perhaps from normal usages is in my belief that this can happen at any age and designate a relationship that has endured — perhaps one that in common usage would be described as strong and lasting bonds of affection rather than as infatuation. Nevertheless, what keeps the relationship from being a full, loving one is that there are important other ingredients (satisfactions and goods) missing.

If one thinks of a relationship’s further pursuit and enlargement as being justified not only by the feelings involved but also by the amount of good and joy or satisfaction that it brings to the people involved, then one might call love, not just attraction or infatuation, but “justified attraction” or “justified infatuation”. Attraction alone would be just infatuation; to be love, there must be attraction along with goodness and satisfaction for (and from) each other; love is justified infatuation.

Who Receives the Enjoyment and Benefit

I have said that for A to love B, it must be B that satisfies A and is good for A, rather than A that satisfies B or is good for B. In short, the loved one must be good for the loving one, rather than, as most people seem to think of it, the other way around (though, of course, in a mutually loving relationship both, on my definition, will be good for each other). Part of the reason for that is that it seems to me we would want to say A is infatuated with B (rather than in love with B) if A were the one with strong feelings who was also doing all the good things for B and not deriving much good from B. The lament that “you can’t be in love with him (her) because he (she) isn’t any good for you,” seems to me to have a point beyond just that you cannot or should not have strong feelings of attraction toward him (her), because of the way he (she) treats you. Obviously people do sometimes have strong feelings for those they should not — that is, even when having such feelings is unreasonable. We justifiably say then such feelings are not a sign of love but of folly, loneliness, self-deception, senility in second childhood, or hormonal imbalance. We may say A is not in love but in lust or in heat. We would reasonably say such feelings are blind or crazy or only infatuation, not love — whether they last or not. Some people are inexplicably attracted for a long time to someone who is bad for (and often, to) them.

Take the soppy-dependent housewife case — where she is attracted to her husband, does good for him in some ways at least, and gets satisfaction out of it. I don’t want to say that she loves him, though we might want to say she is certainly crazy for him, or self-sacrificing for him, or addicted to him, or dependent upon him. I want to say her attraction is not one of love, but one of naive sacrifice or dependence. It is like that of naive young people who are romantically attracted to the first person who shows any interest in them at all and who then think that they are in love and who think the other person is good for them, regardless of how good or ill the other person actually is for them. Regardless of intentions, this is not love, however romantic it might be; it is only infatuation or loving feelings, perhaps accompanied by some amount of joy or satisfaction, particularly at having those feelings, but accompanied by no, little, or insufficient goodness. Love is beneficial for a lover, not sacrificial — at least not continuously, unnecessarily, wastefully, and wrongfully sacrificial. Sacrifice is sometimes necessary in a (love) relationship, but not this kind of sacrifice. Needless, pointless sacrifice is not love.

It seems to me that if someone to whom you are attracted makes you very happy, but you recognize they are not otherwise very good for you — no matter how attracted to you they are, how happy you make them, and how good you are for them — it would be foolish for you to say you love them. It would be better to say you really care for them and about their well- being, and that they make you happy in many ways, but that you cannot say you love them, since you do not feel the relationship is good for you — even though they love you, and even though they may try or want to do what is right for you.

Love’s growing (or diminishing)

Though I wrote earlier that love could increase through an increase in attraction, goodness, and/or joy in the relationship (without some equal or greater decrease in one or two of the other areas), there is a difference between when the increase is in attraction and when it is in goodness and/or joy.

First, though an increase in any area may accompany or even cause an increase in another (that is, more joy or goodness may cause greater attraction or vice versa), it need not. So what I mean by love’s growing through an increase in goodness or satisfaction for one or both in the relationship is not necessarily that there is an increase in feelings of attraction, but that the existing feelings of attraction are more worthy of being called loving ones — the feelings are more ones of love than of just infatuation.

I point this out because it is easy to understand how love increases when the feelings of attraction for the partner increase; but it is not so easy to see how love has increased when the feelings perhaps remain the same and just the other dimensions improve or increase. In such a case, the relationship has improved and (both by my definition and, I think, by intuition or common usage) is a more loving one, though the feelings of attraction are not by themselves more loving. I would think it entirely reasonable in ordinary usage, as well as by my definition, for a woman, who has matured from being a soppy-dependent housewife into being a wife who has a more equal and more equitably beneficial relationship with her husband, to be described as more in love and less infatuated and dependent than she was before, even if the amount and kind of attraction she feels for her husband may not have changed substantially.

Love and friendship

The other side of the coin then is a relationship in which there are joys and goods to some (even large) extent, but little if any feelings of attraction (other than perhaps just “liking”), particularly, little, if any, romantic or loving feelings. This seems to me to characterize friendship. (Or if friendship has a feeling of attraction, it is simply a different feeling from feelings of love or romance. How it feels to be a friend is different from how it feels to love — regardless of how much else in terms of enjoyment and benefit is similar in the relationship.)

Many of us know people with whom we get along perfectly well, with whom we perhaps enjoy being or doing some or many things, people we respect and like, and people about whose well- being we care, but people for whom we feel no particular (romantic) attraction. There may be no particular reason for the attraction’s being missing; it just simply is not there. Or maybe the other person reminds us of a sister or brother for whom the thought of romantic attraction is unthinkable. People who have no homosexual interests find no romantic or sexual attraction for others of their gender no matter how satisfactory or enjoyable or good the relationship is; hence, they will simply be friends with whomever they share such good relationships.

This in no way belittles friendship. To find another who is good for you and a joy to you (and for whom you reciprocate these qualities) is no small achievement in this world, and no small treasure. And since one has little control over what or whom one finds attracting, there is no reason to feel shame at not finding another alluring nor to feel hurt at not being found alluring to another. Romantic feelings are often very capricious and very elusive. They often come where there is no other good in the relationship (hence, infatuation) and they just as often do not arise where there is some (even great) value (hence, friendship).

Now some adolescent, immature, or insecure people might often acquire romantic feelings for someone just because that person has been friendly or good to them, even in just a somewhat superficial or normally polite way; but many times people simply accept these good things as friendship or as normally polite behavior without thereby feeling attraction or feeling the need for there to be attraction. I said earlier that attraction can be independent of the amount of joy or other good in a relationship; and I think friendship is one case in which it is, a case in which attraction does not exist though joys or other goods do.

I have a friend who once wrote me a troubled letter about no longer being able to find the magic in relationships. She wondered whether she should “settle” for a fellow that she was dating whom she liked and with whom she got along well. He loved her. But she did not feel the “magic”. Yet her previous marriage to a fellow she had felt the enthralling magic of enchantment with, and for whom she still felt some magic, had not been good for her at all; and her ex-husband still caused her grief when he was around, even though she still cared, in the way of feelings, for him. Perhaps magic was not the answer. Yet she hated to think love had to be dispassionate and just logical and simply nice.

I wrote to her that, of course, one often got into difficulty by letting only one’s feelings be his or her guide. (The song “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” said it well enough:

“They asked me how I knew my true love was true.

I simply replied something here inside cannot be denied.

Now laughing friends deride tears I cannot hide.” (Harbach, 1933)

But that did not mean one should then repress or ignore all feelings, nor that one should not expect them to be in some relationships. Love without the “magic” for her1 is not love but friendship. And friendship, no matter how rare nor how valuable it is, is simply not the same thing as love. If she was looking for love and magic, then she should keep on looking. I advised she not settle for anything, since from knowing her it seemed she would be unhappy if she did, but I told her that magic alone was not enough, as she should well know from past experience, and that perhaps in time it would even arise in this relationship she had written about that was otherwise so good. After all, romantic passion sometimes does occur even in the best of relationships.

Further, I suggested she not worry too much about not being able to seem to find romance so easily any more, since after all, now that she was older and wiser, and had been so badly burned one time, she did not simply any longer fall head over heels for the first good looking body attached to a smile that said hello in her direction, as she may once have. Youth may more easily find romance, may more easily find the magic, but that is often only because youth is often so much less discriminating. It is so much less difficult to find romance than it is to find romance with the right person in a good and satisfying relationship. And the latter is what one seeks as one gets older, or after one has had bad experiences. That is what she sought now; that is more difficult to find. She should not despair then that magic was less available than when she was younger, more naive, and more easily impressed.

A Little Bit of Love — Combining Some Infatuation and Some Friendship

Sometimes one will have attraction for a friend or get along well with (enjoy and benefit from) someone one is attracted to, yet one will feel like they are not “in love” or will feel that something is missing. I think what is occurring in these cases is that though there are some attraction(s), some benefit(s), and some satisfaction(s), there are not enough or enough of the right (or important or desired) kinds for one to want to marry or live with the other one, devote a lot of time and energy to the relationship, and/or pursue the other person monogamously, excluding pursuing other potential, and potentially more fulfilling, relationships.

In some cases, the balance in these relationships is weighted more on the side of the friendship aspects (enjoyment and goods) then on the infatuation or attraction part, in which case one seems to feel some attraction, affection, or desire for a friend. In some cases, the balance may be more weighted toward the attraction, in which case one feels somewhat more than just infatuation. In some cases, the balance may be fairly equal, and both aspects — friendship and infatuation — combining attraction, joy, and benefit may even be fairly strong. In all such cases, then, by my definition, there is a little bit or even a considerable bit of love, just not enough to make one want to commit to, or desire, an exclusive or more fully involved or more fully active relationship.

Just as there can be degrees of attraction, enjoyment, and satisfaction, there can be degrees of love; and there can be love that is weighted more strongly toward one or two of the three aspects instead of being equally divided among all three. In some cases, one might even be able to more or less measure the degree and/or kind of commitment, involvement, exclusivity, time and energy one wants to devote to the other person.

1I need to emphasize this “for her”, since many people have loving feelings or feelings of attraction without feeling (or needing to feel) excitement or a “tingle” or the “magic”. They can have romance in the general sense without requiring it in the sense of aroused, exciting, passion. (Return to text.)

Key Takeaways

  • Love involves attraction (particularly ‘romantic’ attraction in romantic love, as distinguished from brotherly, sisterly, maternal, paternal, friendly feelings or love) but it also involves more.
  • The difference between infatuation and love is not about their duration but about whether there is more valuable substance to the relationship than just the attraction.

Key Terms

  • Infatuation is a romantic attraction without sufficient goodness or satisfaction in the relationship to qualify as being love.

Chapter Review Questions

  • Question: What is a significance for the analysis of love in this book of Antoine Bret’s statement: “The first sign of passion need not be the last of wisdom; and the birth of wisdom need not signal the death of passion”?
  • Question What are some typical causes of trouble in relationships that have merely attraction for each other?

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Chapter 9 Infatuation, Friendship, and Love Copyright © 2017 by Richard Garlikov. All Rights Reserved.

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