Your heart’s pounding. You have butterflies in your stomach. Your palms are sweaty. No, it’s not an illness—it’s infatuation, a romantic feeling toward someone powerful enough to produce physical effects.
But while true love supposedly is forever, how long does infatuation last? And what exactly distinguishes the two?
What is infatuation?
Infatuation, said Marisa T. Cohen, a New York-based relationship researcher, is the “intense feeling you are totally absorbed with the relationship and by the other person.”
“Many people discuss infatuation as it relates to the ‘honeymoon phase’ of a relationship. This is also a time in which the relationship is exciting, new and viewed through rose-tinted glasses.”
That means you’re consumed by thoughts of the other person, how much you like them, how happy they make you and so forth. According to Cohen, it’s similar to the idea of limerence, where a person’s moods and thoughts are centered on their object of affection. “For example, you are elated when the object of your limerence is nearby and upset when you are not with them or if you feel as if your feelings are unrequited,” said Cohen.
The biggest difference, however, is that infatuation tends to be shorter-lived, while limerence can last for years without necessarily waning.
How long does infatuation last?
Though short-lived, infatuation may last for different lengths of time depending on the person. Because of the sheer intensity, it may not last long in many cases—people will essentially burn out on the experience of having these feelings after a while—but under certain circumstances, long-term infatuation could continue for years.
On average, infatuation can be compared to the honeymoon phase in a marriage. “Research has shown that the honeymoon phase typically lasts 18 months—plus or minus six months,” Cohen said, “which is when … you view your partner and the relationship through rose-tinted glasses.”
What causes infatuation?
When experiencing infatuation, “Your brain chemistry is … affected,” Cohen said. “For example, there is an increase in dopamine (reward) and norepinephrine (arousal). Serotonin actually drops,… which can explain the thought preoccupation with the other person.”
In short, feelings of infatuation can trigger a chemical response in the brain that associates the other person with powerful feelings of happiness. When people talk about feeling like they’re overwhelmed by feelings of love, they’re often talking about this chemical aspect of infatuation.
Infatuation vs. love
Part of the problem when it comes to infatuation is that, culturally speaking, people have long confused the two. Great art often focuses on the infatuation stage of relationships while neglecting everything else—such as the trope that fairy tales end when the couple marries and then lives happily ever after.
“This time can be very exciting,as you are learning about your partner and experiencing a great deal of attraction to them and the newness of the relationship,” said Cohen. However, without a strong base of companionate love, the relationship may not be likely to last once this phase ends. “Passionate love, which people equate to infatuation, is intense and, when reciprocated, is an exciting and wonderful experience. If unrequited, it can lead to devastation,” she said.
On the other hand, Cohen said companionate love is “not as intense but involves a sense of commitment and intimacy—think total self-disclosure, not necessarily sex.”
Can infatuation turn into love?
While infatuation and love may not be the same thing, can these early, intense feelings deepen and solidify into genuine love?
Yes, they can.
“That’s where the strong foundation would come in,” Cohen said. “By learning about one another over time, which requires vulnerability and self-disclosure as well as building trust and a sense of security, it can certainly become love.”
Signs of infatuation
If you’re not sure whether what you’re experiencing is infatuation, here are nine signs to look out for.
You can’t stop thinking about them
As Cohen put it, you’re “constantly thinking about the other person.” You relate nearly everything you see or hear or feel back to them and often think about them.
It’s a one-sided thing, not a connection
If true love is a deep, genuine bond between people that strengthens over time as you share experiences, build memories and learn about each other, infatuation is a much lonelier experience.
For all the highs, you don’t yet know the person very well, and you might not yet be ready to express the full depths of your feelings, good or bad, to them.
They have an outsized impact on your happiness
In a state of infatuation with someone else, Cohen said “your mood is dependent on them.”
If they change plans at the last minute and can’t see you one night, it could leave you in shock.
As much as this person’s attention and affections positively impact your feelings, an unkind word or gesture from them can have a serious emotional impact.
You’re too ready to change for them
When you’re infatuated with someone, you might perceive their happiness as more important than your own and want to drop everything to give them what they want or merely what you think they want.
That could mean you start watching a different genre of movies to impress them, or you quit an art class so you can spend more time with them, or you start drinking in order to fit in with their friends.
You feel desperate or possessive
Because infatuation can be a lonely experience outside of the emotional highs, it can also lead to feelings of jealousy, possessiveness and desperation. When you’re apart, you might be hyper-aware of what they’re up to, trying to decipher whether they have feelings for other people they’re spending time with and so forth.
You put them on a pedestal
Infatuation might make it harder to see the other person’s faults and flaws, leading you to imagine they’re perfect.
That is understandable and a common aspect of relationships in the early stages, but it can also mean you miss out on red flags and/or have unrealistically high expectations of them that can’t live up to reality.
You can’t stop talking about them
In the throes of infatuation, it can be hard to be chill about your feelings for the other person.
You might find yourself talking nonstop to your friends about every little aspect of your interactions with this person and how they make you feel in an effort to get to read into the most minute exchanges between you and the object of your affections—which could get old after a while.
You’re obsessed with their social media
In today’s digital-focused culture, so many of our interactions are mediated through technology. If your connection started or developed online—through a dating app or on social media—it’s only natural that you’d feel a connection to their online identity.
But in an infatuated stage, you might find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time stalking or thinking about their online presence, including snooping around their friends’ or exes’ profiles, seeing what they’ve liked and so on.
Other aspects of your life fade into the background
If the most exciting aspect of your life is your interaction with this one other person, other parts of your schedule might start to feel unimportant.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a break from certain activities for a while as you pursue a new relationship, but if you’re underperforming at work or in school as a result, it could have consequences on your life that outlast the infatuation.
Does everyone experience infatuation?
Infatuation is a common phenomenon, one that has likely been experienced by people of all ages, genders and sexual orientations for as long as there have been people. Many people will experience it many times in the course of their lives, but is it a prerequisite for a strong, loving relationship?
While it is possible for infatuation to deepen into romantic love, Cohen said infatuation isn’t “a requirement for relationships or love.”
“Great relationships can slowly build and/or come from friendships,” Cohen said. “This doesn’t make the relationship any less successful or satisfying.”