There are definite differences between having a crush and being in love.
By Larry Michel — Last updated on Jun 10, 2023
What’s the difference between a crush and love? This question is so much fun — and more important than most people realize.
When you really understand the difference between a crush and being in love, I mean truly get it, you’re going to have more fun than you’ve ever had, and you’re going to experience more love than you knew possible. But, you really do need to understand how the chemistry of romance and attraction works, and why it can play tricks on your mind.
Don’t worry, this is all fun. Even if what you’re feeling is a crush and not love, you may still fall in love — and may even have your “happily ever after” real-life love story. However, there are a few things you need to know so you don’t get caught off-guard.
Let’s sort out your feelings and tease apart your crush vs love situation so you know exactly what to do next.
What is a crush, and why does it feel so good?
Some call this chemistry, and indeed chemistry is a major part of it.
What do I mean by “chemistry”? It’s a delicious mix of six brain chemicals that raise your temperature for engagement, companionship and physical connection to extreme highs.
I chose the word “extreme” to describe how it feels to have a crush, because you are literally on intense drugs that impact your ability to make rational decisions.
Sandee LaMotte, writing for CNN, explains the initial sparks of a crush like this:
“That first spark of attraction ignites a region buried deep inside the brain called the ventral tegmental area, or VTA. Recognizing a potential reward in the making, the VTA begins producing a chemical called dopamine, often called the “feel-good” neurotransmitter.”
She goes on to explain how dopamine is not only associated with the feeling of “romance” but also with addiction. Here’s what she says it does in your brain next:
“Jumping from neuron to neuron, dopamine travels an ancient avenue called the mesolimbic pathway, priming the brain to pay attention and react to expected rewards from food, drugs, hugs, sex or other equally pleasant actions.”
And boy-oh-boy does the chemical high of a crush feel awesome. It brings with it a level of infatuation and desire that has little to do with who the person actually is, or if they are a healthy person to be in your life.
So, you can think of a “crush” as crushing all sensibilities out of you. Or you can think of a “crush” as something you will feel when your sensibilities return and you discover you ventured into a relationship with a totally wrong person. You are crushed!
Due to the dopamine rush, you will want more-more-more-more of that feeling.
“I don’t care, I’m going for it anyhow,” is something you might say when you’re in the midst of a crush. In fact, these words were recently spoken to me by my daughter about the newest guy in her life.
She’s not the first, and she won’t be the last person in the throes of a crush to say this. Either you have said the same thing or you have heard it from a friend — and there is no changing their mind. Our only option is to be there for them and help them ride it through.
This is when the wackiest reasoning comes to the surface. I call it wacky because the decision is usually made before we have given ourselves a chance to really discover who the person is we are crushing on.
It is totally possible a crush can also lead us to someone who could become the greatest love of our life. Of course it is!
Keep in mind, when things happen super fast and you are not in full control of your faculties, it’s a good idea to take time away from your infatuation and administer some self-love. Let those dopamine levels settle a little, so you can see through what’s happening.
How can you tell the difference between a crush and love?
As described above, a crush can lead you all sorts of wild places and make you feel like someone other than yourself. Sure, this feels good, but it’s not always a recipe for love. Sometimes it can even be dangerous. You have to get back to yourself for a moment so you can assess things.
My client, Cynthia, is a perfect example of how to do this. She called me because she couldn’t seem to get herself untangled from a magnetically smart, super attractive new man. She sounded distraught and exhausted.
She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t get much accomplished at work and she couldn’t get him off her mind. At the time, it didn’t matter if he was a good thing for her or not.
We needed to get her back to her authentic self, fully empowered and grounded and separate her from her crush chemistry for a little while so she could determine if what she felt was a crush or love.
She loved getting into nature and long hikes. She also loved to surf. So we decided to get her back to nature for a big breath of fresh air.
First, she drove to her favorite mountain and spent the next 4 hours hiking. Then she came back and hit the beach before sunset. The hike got her back into her own body (a chemistry reprieve) and the surfing helped her drop into the power of the ocean and the cycles of the waves.
Her mind found the strength and determination she used for surfing. When we talked she had come back into better control of her own faculties and she was able to clearly reassess what she liked about this man, and there was a lot to like.
The good news is that they’re still together, but it was a very close call. He had decided to back off because he felt like she was more infatuated with him than anything else. He didn’t feel seen.
When she came back around, the first thing she asked him was if they could slow things down a bit, which was exactly what they both needed.
You don’t have to hike or surf. There are many other options: a spa day, a massage, reading a great book, or writing a gratitude letter to your best friend. Most importantly, get grounded and love yourself!
How is love at first sight different from a crush, and is it really love?
First, we have to understand what love is.
Notice, I did not say “define” love. This might be the most important thing you ever read: True love is not definable. In fact, as soon as you define it, it is no longer that.
Most people want love to be something specific. They had a great love affair, so they want that same thing again. Or they have never felt loved, or adored or cherished, so they get an idea of what they think that love will look like and they fixate on it.
The challenge is that you will never have the same exact experience of anything that has happened before this very moment. And nothing that happens to you is ever exactly as you thought it would be.There are always subtle and sometimes major differences between what you wished for and what you get.
This is important because if you are waiting for that exact thing to re-occur or appear, it will never happen. Those that are stuck on this will attempt to create their desires and dreams and literally distort what is so. Your expectations can actually ruin a relationship, when not founded in reality.
It is only a matter of time before the bubble bursts and you discover you still don’t have what you need to feel totally loved, adored, and cherished. This means love is only happening right now.
“Love at first sight” is exactly what happens when we allow ourselves to show up and fully see someone without projecting our needs or desires on them.
Have you ever seen a puppy or a kitten and immediately loved them? We all have. In that moment, this wonderful fluff ball of pure yum grabbed your heart. Love at first sight. The same can happen and does happen all the time with people.
You have no expectations and suddenly, someone wonderful shows up. You allow yourself to fall into a space of deep inquiry and the next thing you know, you love that person.
There’s always someone who says it’s not love, it’s just a crush. But you do — you truly love them. Maybe romantically or maybe not. But one thing is for certain: you have met someone who you think is amazing, who touched your heart and allowed you to love.
Out of your mouth, you hear the words, “I love that person.” This is true unadulterated and pure love.
And like chemistry, you are powerfully pulled to want more.
The sensation of “love at first sight” and the infatuation of a “crush” can feel very similar, but they are uniquely different.
A true “love at first sight” occurrence happens when you are totally present to discover who and what someone is.
You may love what you discover, but decide this is not my next romance. Like the puppy or the kitten, it is totally possible to do that without taking them home with you.
With a crush, the person is with you all the time, either in your head as a desire or infatuation, or in person as a chemical addiction.
This is why it’s so critically important to understand what’s at the heart of the crush vs love debate.
Yes, it is possible to have a crush on someone who also is the recipient of your love.
The moral of this story is…well, there are a couple of them…
When the decisions of humankind are based on the past or the future, love is lost. We must be present to experience love. It exists nowhere else. When we are truly in the here and now, love comes in gushes. Be ready for the time of your life.
The waves of our desires will lead us to mysterious and wondrous places. Some we will like and some not. That’s living! If we hold onto the joy of discovery, like or dislike matters less than the growth from the experience.
When you’re in the middle of the crush vs love debate in your own live, be sure to honor yourself always and take the ride with your eyes open. It’s sure to be exciting and surpass your wildest dreams.
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Larry Michel is the father of Genetic Energetics, a typology to help us love more fully and connect more deeply. He is also a world-renowned relationship coach who works with people across the globe to find the greatest joy, inspiration, growth, abundance, and excitement in their relationships.