True Love VS Infatuation (Crush) – What’s The Difference?

It started as something innocent, a laugh or some small talk. But, over time and after a few minimal conversations, you start falling for that person. Maybe it was their smile or the way their eyes light up when they talk about their dreams or aspirations, but you’ve started to feel butterflies in your stomach whenever you see them. But, how can you tell if what you are feeling is love or infatuation?

It’s a difficult question to answer, especially since falling in love and developing a crush on someone activate similar biochemical responses. 

When you develop a crush and when you fall in love the same region of your brain lights up. The difference is which side. studies from 2005 and 2009 were able to find a subtle difference in neural activity when it came to liking or being attracted to someone versus wanting or being in love with some. They found that the left region of the ventral tegmental (VTA) light up when someone was attracted to another person, but the right VTA region light up when they had romantic feelings for a person. 

Over time and after a few more conversations, a simple crush always can develop into new territory–something between a crush but not yet a lover. As you begin to talk and know more about that person, you may start to feel calmer around them and more secure. 

This phase is considered the bonding or attachment period. The primary cause for these feelings is oxytocin. Oxytocin, also appropriately coined the cuddle hormone, makes it so that you can bond better with that person. It makes you enjoy their company and seek it whenever possible. Additionally, the caudate nucleus (the reward center) and the ventral tegmental (associated with pleasure and focus) light up. All these chemical reactions usually continue once you start dating, but they rarely carry on. 

All of the chemical reactions you initially experience are part of the attraction phase. The butterflies, racing hearts, and sweaty palms are just part of the whole process of falling in love with someone. As you slowly get to know that person, you move into a bonding phase. The increase of oxytocin makes you still be interested in them. You treasure every word and gesture that your crush makes, but you are a little less frantic and nervous around them. In this phase, you feel calmer and more secure. But, I would hesitate to call this love. 

So, why is it that some crushes never develop into true love romances? 

Well, many factors come into play. 

  • How long did it take you to develop feelings?

Typically, crushes start and end quickly. In the initial stage, you go through a period of idealization where your crush seems perfect.

When you develop a crush on someone, your brain involuntarily releases dopamine and norepinephrine–two neurochemicals designed to create bonds. These two chemicals are responsible for the sweaty palms, fast heart rate, and giddy feeling you experience whenever your crush texts you back. It makes you simp over someone. 

However, this period does not last very long. So, if after some time those feeling mature, then there is a chance that it could develop into love.

  • Do you idealize the person?

Another way to differentiate between a crush and love is to ask yourself whether you idealize that person or not. Idealizing your prospective partner is not uncommon during the initial stages. But, when you fall in love with someone, you look beyond those qualities, and you no longer think in terms of perfect or flawless. You learn to love and appreciate your partner for who they are. 

  • Is your attraction just physical?

It is rare to crush on someone you know well because you typically develop feelings based on what you see– the way they act around others or their physical appearance. The relationship that grows will mainly be a physical one since you both hardly know each other. You might find yourself fussing over your appearance. 

However, when you are in love, you feel comfortable in your skin because your partner knows and accepts you. 

  • Do your feelings change?

Hence, your feelings that wax and wane over time. However, when you are in love with someone, your feelings for them don’t disappear. They grow.  

  • Is your relationship focused on desire or friendship?

Because crushes are rooted in physical appearance, the relationship might only focus on attraction or desire. You may have completely different personalities, values, or tastes, but you are attracted to each other. 

While attraction is necessary to fall in love, it is not the foundation that builds lasting relationships. What creates a lasting relationship are common values, goals, and interests. It takes time to be in love with someone. 

Love begins when all the frantic chemical reactions have subsided. It comes after you know some. Like really know them. 

Along with the points mentioned above, the most important indicator between crushing on someone and falling in love with them is time. While you will still feel butterflies during the initial stages of your relationship, crushes can mature and blossom into true love over time. 

Hope you enjoyed this article! Feel free to share some of your crushes to true love experiences in the comments below.  

Take care! 


Aron, A., Fisher, H., Mashek, D. J., Strong, G., Li, H., & Brown, L. L. (2005). Reward, motivation, and emotion systems associated with early-stage intense romantic love. Journal of neurophysiology94(1), 327–337.

Berridge, K. C., Robinson, T. E., & Aldridge, J. W. (2009). Dissecting components of reward: ‘liking’, ‘wanting’, and learning. Current opinion in pharmacology9(1), 65–73.

Fisher, H. E., Xu, X., Aron, A., & Brown, L. L. (2016). Intense, Passionate, Romantic Love: A Natural Addiction? How the Fields That Investigate Romance and Substance Abuse Can Inform Each Other. Frontiers in psychology7, 687.

Gram, C. (2020, March 28). 10 Fundamental Differences Between Having a Crush and Love. Poler Stuff. 

Hasa, H. (2020, October 21). What is the Difference Between Crush and Love. Pediaa.Com. 

Kaushik, N. (2011, April 18). Difference Between Crush and Love. Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects. 

Naftulin, J. (2018, December 4). Here’s why you develop crushes, according to science. Insider. 

Rubin, E. (2018, May 23). This Is The Scientific Reason Why It’s So Fun To Have A Crush On Someone. Elite Daily. 

Steber, C. (2020, February 24). How Your Brain Reacts When You Have A Crush On Someone. Bustle. 

Wu, K., & Adhikary, T. (2020, June 19). Love, Actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship. Science in the News. 

Xu, X. (2017, July 19). What Goes On in Our Brains When We Are in Love? Scientific American. 

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