Three words. Eight letters.
On the surface, saying ‘I love you’ to someone seems simple. However, when it comes to loving someone vs. being in love, understanding these feelings can be harder than it seems.
So if you’re currently on this emotional rollercoaster, it can be helpful to understand the key differences between feelings of love and true love. Especially if you’re worried about saying something you don’t really mean because you confused love with infatuation.
With something as serious as true love at stake, we’ve brought in relationship experts to help. So take a deep breath, we’ve got you covered.
Love comes in many different forms.
Yet, within love’s spectrum, distinctions exist. There is much thought about the difference between being in love vs loving someone.
While we may love Taylor Swift, or love the cute neighbor next door — we’re not in love with them. On the surface, we may recognize this difference, but what do these types of love really mean? And is one kind of love less significant than the other?
It may seem contradictory, but loving someone is a choice. Founded through deep admiration, familial ties, or even shared experiences, loving someone is the decision to see the good in someone and to stick by their side through thick and thin.
“In a couples therapy session or even to my own brother, I will remind them that love is an action,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.
“The feeling inside our body becomes real when we do something with it, from showing a parson or writing poetry, or even just dancing it out.”
This kind of love is steady and long-lasting. While some may believe it doesn’t equate to the intense emotions of being in love, loving someone actually grows stronger in its longevity — built on mutual respect, trust, and shared memories.
Rather than being head over heels for someone, this kind of love is rooted in reality. In a long-term relationship, or through spending time with someone, you can recognize all their flaws but choose to love the person anyway.
“As a couples therapist being obsessed and in love with love is what I passionately made a career out of, it matters that much,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“I deeply believe in practicing love every day – it’s a necessity like air or water. Sometimes learning what love is, and how to love someone, is also a process of learning to love yourself. This is why in healthy relationships we grow so much.”
Importantly, this love isn’t isolated to your romantic relationship but can be shared amongst all your relationships — from your family to your best friends. Often you don’t have to share this kind of love through words, with your actions doing all the talking for you.
Writers, poets, lyricists, artists, and even scientists have tried to put words together to encapsulate the feeling of being in love.
Being in love doesn’t fit limitations or restrictions, but is an entirely involuntary feeling. When you’re falling in love with someone, you feel on top of the world. It’s that euphoric sensation that makes you feel alive, sending butterflies to your stomach, and a rush of warmth through your veins.
Romantics might like to leave this feeling to lyrical sentiment and fantasy, but researchers have whittled love down to three categories — lust, attraction, and attachment. While there are subtleties to each, the rush of emotion we feel when we’re in the honeymoon phase is actually hormonal, contributing to the release of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin that comes from being around your loved one.
Therefore, being in love with someone is a complicated chemical formula, with our emotional state dictated by these strong feelings. While some people believe in the passionate combustion of love at first sight, others attribute their love life to something far more philosophical than just sexual attraction or attachment styles.
Whatever you want to believe, love is a completely personal and altering emotion for anyone who is lucky enough to experience it. Even though love is complicated, it’s all worth it when that special someone says those magic words, “I’m in love with you”, and everything seems to fall into place.
At Paired, we love hearing about personal love stories, and we thought it would be the perfect moment to ask our team to describe the moment they knew they were in love.
In response, we got an influx of incredible stories that we just had to share. Grab the tissues, because these moments are better than your favorite rom-com.
1. “We were in that uncertain phase, not officially a couple yet, still exploring where our connection might lead. It was my first time at his place, and while he asked me if I wanted a coffee, he casually offered me gluten-free oat milk. He neither has a gluten sensitivity nor did he drink milk alternatives back at the time. This small act of buying gluten-free oat milk, just in case I might visit and crave a cup of coffee, might have made my heart skip a bit. This gesture went beyond accommodating my dietary needs; it was a clear demonstration of his thoughtfulness, affection, and care.”
2. “When I first met my partner, I was still healing from being treated badly in the past, so it took a little bit longer for me to open up. When he told me he was in love with me, I knew it was right to say ‘I love you’ back and that I did love him.
However, maybe it was me overthinking, but I wasn’t sure was I completely in love with him the way I should be. But instead of freaking out, I gave myself some time because I knew what a wonderful person I was with and how much they meant to me.
Then a few months later, I just looked at him when we were hanging out, and it was like the other shoe dropped. I was completely head over heels in love with him, even if it took me a little bit longer to realize it!”
3. “So I think I was probably actually already in love by this point or at least super aware that if gave myself an inch I would fall in love with him in a heartbeat. But the moment I knew I’d actually fallen, was when we’d been together about 7/8 months. I’d recently had a really bad, out-of-the-blue friendship break-up that had also meant I’d lost my job, on top of that, I’d had surgery a month before and was still recovering, so I was all over the place and really down on myself.
After recovering for a month, I started applying for loads of jobs that I never would have considered before and surprised myself by doing really well in the interviews. One day I came home and he handed me a wrapped present and said “I know this time has been really tough for you, but I wanted you to know I’m so proud of you for how you’ve been coping.”
He’d got me a little Harry Potter Lego set and we spent the next hour building it together — and that’s when I knew I was in love with him. Those Lego sets have now become a staple present he gets me every Christmas and Birthday.”
4. “I first knew I was in love with my boyfriend when I found myself buying a scrapbook to fill up with all the adventures we were talking about doing together. It got me so excited for our future and I knew he was the only person I wanted to do these things with!”
5. “Long after we’d told each other that we loved each other, we started chatting about the moment that we knew. My boyfriend said that he’d known very soon after meeting me, but was determined to keep it in as long as he could because he knew it might be seen as too soon. But when I asked him to tell me when it was, he told me the full story of when he realized he was in love with me.
“It was super early into dating, and you’d come around and we were making dinner together. I was prepping everything as you sat at the kitchen island, sipping wine and laughing at my stupid jokes. You had your hair thrown up in a bun, you were wearing my jumper, and it just sunk in that I was in love with you.’
When he told me the story, I found it so emotional because he literally took the time to capture every detail of the moment so he could tell me at the right time. It was a few months before he actually uttered the words, but it made it more special that he knew all along.”
6. “I had only been sexually intimate with one other person, and I highly cherished that kind of connection. I had believed that it would take a long time before I could feel comfortable enough to have that kind of bond with someone else. Surprisingly, it only took me a month or two before I felt ready. Looking back, I realize that I loved him and trusted him so deeply, which made it feel right.”
7. “Shortly after we started dating, I went to Florida for Thanksgiving. When I returned on Saturday, the dormitory was still closed, so I had to stay one night at a hotel. She traveled for hours to meet me there and spent the night with me, so I wouldn't be alone. That was the moment I realized I could rely on her in a way I never knew I craved.”
8. “I was in college when my mom called me to tell me that my parents were splitting up. It happened on my 21st birthday. I can still remember crying in the car, not because I was sad they broke up (they needed to, as they loved and hated each other), but because the way it happened hurt so much. It made me question what was true and what was not. At that moment, it felt like the world was spinning.
He was there for me, offering no judgment or attempts to fix things. He simply stayed, and hugged me, and I don't even recall what he said. But the feeling was that I still had a sense of belonging, even as my family felt like it was crumbling. That was the moment I knew, and I went ahead and built an entire family with him. Now, 15 years later, my favorite thing about him is still how steady he is.”
In short, you can absolutely love someone and not be in love with them.
For example, you can love so many different people in your life. This kind of love can be felt for children, siblings, or even close friends. This type of love is constant, consistent, and largely unconditional.
Being in love can be intoxicating, passionate, and all-encompassing. While this kind of romantic love is often felt in a new relationship, with such an intense combination of emotions, it’s natural for some of these feelings to fade over time. The ephemerality of love might be concerning for some couples, making them question what real love is about and if their partner is truly the one.
While some people fall out of love and separate, many find a rhythm in loving someone that can last a lifetime. So even if the intensity of your love may fade, peeling back these layers can reveal something even greater underneath.
While being in love is a fantastic journey of passion and intensity, loving someone is a testament to endurance, understanding, and deep connection.
“We can love someone who is not in a place to be in connection, community, or a relationship with us,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“With healthy boundaries, that love can stay present as you each focus on your own needs, and coming back together might happen, and with that, falling back in love. This can feel confusing, but love often has nothing to do with the moment-by-moment relationship but the way you feel connected to someone even when apart.”
The key to a true love story is harnessing the beauty of both, turning the electric charge of being in love into the long-lasting glow of a loving, healthy relationship.