Attachment vs Love: What’s the Difference?

Can you be in love with someone you are not attached to?
on April 08, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

Human emotions are notoriously complex, especially when you’re weighing up attachment vs love — and how that affects how you feel about your partner. 

Even though you might feel safe, secure, and comforted around your partner, does that mean that you are in love with them or that you’re simply attached to them? And if you’re just attached and aren’t ‘in love’ with them, does that affect the strength or purity of your relationship? 

With so many complicated (and potentially impactful) questions floating around, we dove deep into the research to put your mind at ease!

Key Takeaways
  • Understanding the nuanced differences between love and attachment is essential, as these emotions deeply influence our relationships and how we perceive our partners. Emotions are complex, often intertwined, and can be challenging to decipher without introspection and awareness.
  • Attachment may stem from a need for security, comfort, or fear of being alone, often rooted in childhood experiences and attachment styles developed early in life. Love, in contrast, is characterized by deep, genuine care and respect for another’s well-being, transcending mere emotional dependency or neediness.
  • Attachment theory plays a significant role in shaping our adult relationships, suggesting that early bonding experiences with caregivers influence our attachment patterns in romantic relationships.
  • It is possible to be both in love with and attached to someone, yet one can also be attached without feeling romantic love.
  • Some view attachment as inherently selfish, as it can manifest in wanting someone around to fulfill personal needs, leading to potential feelings of codependency. Love, however, seeks the happiness and well-being of the other person, often above one’s own needs.

How do you know if it's love or attachment?

The differences between love and attachment are very complex, with their distinctions made even more blurry by the misuse of their terms and meanings. 

For example, many people use the term attachment colloquially to refer to a connection with a loved one that is distinct or different from the feelings of real love or a romantic connection. People can use this term to describe their positive feelings for a variety of different types of relationships, such as friends or family members. 

This is where the confusion between love vs attachment originates, as while it does refer to an emotional bond — most definitions of attachment revolve around attachment theory and how this affects loving relationships.

If this doesn’t feel complicated enough, then you have the forever complex feelings and definitions that swarm around the feelings of genuine love. Since there are so many different kinds of emotional connections, it can be difficult to tell if you’re simply attached to someone in the simpler sense (and want them to stick around) or that you’re in love with someone. 

What are the differences between love and attachment? 

According to a recent study, where participants said they were ‘in love’, there are key differences between love, attachment, and infatuation.  

Infatuation is the all-consuming feeling people experience at the beginning stages of romantic love. New relationships are full of strong emotions and while they’re often exciting, they can often feature negative feelings such as anxiety and those infamous butterflies. 

Emotional attachment is even more complicated, with attachment theory suggesting that your childhood experiences with your caregivers directly impact your adult attachment patterns in romantic relationships. There is only one secure attachment style and three more unhealthy attachment styles, known as avoidantdisorganized, and anxious attachment. 

Research defines attachment as originating in this bond between babies and their caregivers, and this is carried over into adulthood — where you continue to seek out your emotional needs in your partner. This lends a certain selfishness to attachment, as your partner provides the validation and self-esteem boosts that your attachment issues may demand. 

Due to the complicated nature of both secure and insecure attachments, true love is considered more pure than attachment. When you’re in love with someone, fulfilling the emotional needs of your significant other is your main priority. 

According to the official definition, love evokes pure feelings of deep fondness, happiness, and commitment to the other’s wellbeing. This kind of love can come in many forms, with romantic love occurring at all stages of life and fueling the development of deeply committed relationships. 

Can you be attached and not in love?

Simply put, you can become emotionally attached to someone without possessing feelings of romantic attraction or love for them. On the reverse, you can also be both in love with someone and attached to them. 

So that may not feel super helpful! 

This can complicate how you feel about your soulmate, as you try to find the distinction between these two concepts — and if they should affect how you feel. 

While studies show that secure attachment is considered necessary for a healthy relationship, it’s not considered necessary for love. Therefore, it’s possible to be in love with someone, regardless of your attachment style. 

Some people regard attachment as selfish or self-centered, as you want someone around to satisfy your own needs in some way. If you’re attached to someone, you may develop feelings of codependency, as you don’t want to let them go because of how it will affect you. 

Therefore, even if you don’t love someone, you may want to keep them around! 

Should I break up with him because I am more attached than I am in love?

Since attachment can sometimes be mistaken for love or may coexist with love in complex ways, this is a deeply personal decision that involves a lot of self-reflection and thought. 

According to their definitions, attachment often stems from a need for security, familiarity, or fear of being alone, whereas love is characterized by deep affection, care, and respect for the other person. Reflect on whether your feelings are rooted in a genuine appreciation and care for your partner or a fear of change and the unknown.

It's important to note that love can evolve, and feelings of deep attachment could potentially transform into a more profound love, depending on the nature of the relationship and individual growth. So you may not need to jump ship as you try to figure out these tangle of feelings!

If you’re finding this whole mess of feelings too difficult to comprehend, speaking to a therapist or counselor could provide valuable insights and clarity that you need to move forward. 

Ultimately, your decision should prioritize your emotional well-being and long-term happiness. If staying in the relationship feels more like settling out of fear or comfort rather than a genuine desire to be with the person, then you might have your answer. 

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