What’s The Difference Between Love and Being in Love?

Amber and David watching fireworks from the roof of his apartment building on the night they were engaged.
Amber and David watching fireworks from the roof of his apartment building on the night they were engaged.

My husband David told me that he was in love with me two days after our first date. We were sitting at Starbucks and he leaned across the table and reached his hand across close to mine, and said, “Getting to know you is like discovering another universe. It’s so awesome, and I’m just so in love with you!”

Needless to say, I was a little freaked out. But I was also intrigued. What exactly did he mean by that? How could he know that he was in love with me so soon?

After several months of dating, I eventually discovered that David and I had very different ideas of what “being in love” means. As Elizabeth wrote, there are a lot of different kinds of love but only one English word for love, which can make things really confusing. Understanding how David defined “love” and “being in love” helped me to understand why he had felt comfortable saying that he was in love with me so soon—and also helped me to understand what love really is.

To David, saying “I’m in love with you” was similar to saying “I have feelings for you” or “I have a crush on you.” He explains further:

“[I]n my vocabulary to be “in love” meant that I was experiencing an hysterical overload of fuzzy feelings for her…. To me, my state of fuzzy feeling was an obvious fact, not a dramatic revelation…. It’s what you do with the feelings of love that really matters. There’s a big difference between love and being in love, I had always thought. The question, in my mind, was whether my fuzzy-feeling love could mature into an authentic, full-blown lasting love.”

So for David, it made perfect sense to say “I’m in love with you” as a way of telling me that he liked me romantically—even if he was not yet ready to make the commitment of saying, “I love you” (something he didn’t say to me until months into our relationship). But in my vocabulary “I’m in love with you” and “I love you” basically meant the same thing.

I liked David’s way of understanding the words, though, because it seemed more true to life. Usually in any relationship there is an initial stage of strong feelings—the “falling in love” stage. And then usually there comes a time when the couple doesn’t feel as in love anymore—there are no longer butterflies or the same kind of passionate intensity. That can be scary and make you doubt the relationship if you don’t understand the difference between being in love and love.

But it doesn’t have to be scary, because even if the feelings of being in love have changed, there can still be a deep love. As C.S. Lewis put it: “[C]easing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense—love as distinct from ‘being in love’—is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit.”

He goes on to say that a couple can have this love “even at those moments when they do not like each other,” since it is a love not based on feelings but on desiring what is best for the other person. “It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”

Falling in love certainly is a wonderful explosion—as thrilling as discovering another universe, as David would say. But equally wonderful is the quiet and committed love that has grown between David and me over the past eight years.

David and Amber with their boys.
David and Amber with their boys.

We may not feel in love every day, but we do know that we are loved every day. We no longer make out for hours at a time, but we do share the joy of making a life together. In the ordinariness of that life we show our love by doing dishes, taking out the trash, giving a much-needed backrub, brewing cups of coffee for each other when the morning comes too soon, reading books together, planning a date night in, snuggling up together in bed when the day is done. We don’t often spend time staring into each other’s eyes like we did when we were dating, but we do stare into the eyes of our children and wonder at the miracle of love—that our love helped to create these new little people.

Feelings of being in love will come and go, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Love can still last, love can still grow.


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