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Love vs. Infatuation

Love vs. Infatuation

Greta Bailey, THRIVE Educator

Not even 24 hours after February 14th, stores will rapidly throw away their sparkly heart-shaped decorations, take down their romantic flower displays, and try to get rid of their chocolate boxes as fast as they can. Valentine’s Day will be a thing of the past, and any signs or sales reminiscent of the holiday will be completely outdated. In the blink of an eye, all the hype will disappear until next February, where it will materialize for yet another brief lifespan… 

For readers who do not know, Life’s Choices is a proud supporter/benefactor of THRIVE, a healthy relationship education program. THRIVE is dedicated to teaching middle/high school students how to build healthy relationships and avoid risky and harmful behaviors. I have been working with the THRIVE team as an educator for over 2 years. During that time, I have seen hundreds of students and have been able to have some great discussions with them about relationships and future goals, and how to make healthy decisions.

Thinking about the wildly intense-yet-temporary holiday that we know as Valentine’s Day, I am reminded of a lesson that I have had the joy of teaching with the THRIVE program: a simple lesson we call, “Love vs. Infatuation.”

Simple in nature, yet complex and valuable in application, this lesson is a favorite of mine to teach. Typically done in a middle school setting, “Love vs. Infatuation” goes a bit like this:

I will ask the class, “What does the word ‘infatuation’ mean?” Some hands pop up. I might get a few answers like,

 “being obsessed” or “REALLY liking somebody.” 

Then I ask the same thing about the word “love.” Here, the class will pause.

What does love mean? Answers usually come slower…

 “Does it mean to really care about someone?” “Maybe to think about someone a lot and want the best for them?”

I always help them out by giving them actual definitions after this little brainstorming exercise. 

Infatuation: extreme passion, without much thought, often leading to foolish behavior.

Love: tender and deep affection for someone. (thank you, Dictionary.com)

“In other words,” I tell the class, “infatuation is like getting a HUGE crush on someone…can anyone relate to that?”

*giggles all around the room*

I respond, “Oftentimes a crush can come and go pretty quickly, and we can act pretty silly when we’re infatuated with someone. Love, however, means really knowing someone, committing yourself to them, and having a connection that lasts.”

We then use these definitions as a springboard for the main activity of the class. Here, we will hand out laminated cards with descriptors written on them to each student. It is now the class’s task to figure out whether a card will go into the “Love” or “Infatuation” card pile. Simple, right? The reason that this is one of my favorite lessons to share with a class is that it gives us a chance to really get talking. 

A student will come to the front with her card. It has “Strong Friendship” written on it. With the help of her classmates, she places it in the “Love” pile. I ask her why she chose to put it there, and she responds that love means getting to know someone and connecting with them. Perfect!

Next student’s card: “Based on Physical Attraction.”

This one is placed in the “Infatuation” pile. To which I’ll agree.

“Physical attraction is important in a loving, romantic relationship. But basing your entire interaction with someone on their physical attractiveness is not a strong foundation that will last.”

We go on until all the cards have been placed. If a student struggles with one or gets one wrong, we talk about it a bit more, always showing understanding. By the end, the class seems confident that they can tell the difference between the two concepts. And here is the final question: why do you think it would be important to know the difference between love and infatuation?

Now, hands shoot up all over the room. And I hear answers like:

“Because infatuation doesn’t always last.”     “Love is a choice; infatuation is all about feelings.”

“Love is more selfless.”     “Relationships need love, not just infatuation.”

Music to my ears! Because so often I see young people acting on just infatuation, hopping from one crush to another. Wearing themselves out emotionally because their connections are intense-yet-temporary. In a day or two, something that seemed so big to them is simply gone. 

But I leave this class feeling hopeful. These students at least know what to look for now. They can enter back into their world knowing that infatuation is fun, but love is the goal. Perhaps this is something that adults need to be reminded of as well. It can be so easy to settle for the fast, rush of positive emotions that comes with infatuation. We enjoy the ease of it.

Then, sadly, when the infatuation stage wears thin, we are ready to move on. And just like the store shelves, we are left feeling empty again. This cycle does more harm than good. If we want healthy and lasting relationships, we have to remember that love takes effort, but it is so much more rewarding and fulfilling than infatuation.

As February winds down, and the infatuation with Valentine’s Day dwindles away, remember that love is a decision. We choose to love. Even when we don’t necessarily feel like it. Even when it isn’t the most fun thing.

Love lasts. It takes root slowly and is strengthened by time. Love can weather a storm and come out stronger than ever.

Don’t chase infatuation. Choose love.

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