Is it Okay to Love Someone But Not Be “In Love”?


My girlfriend of 2 1/2 years just put all our plans on hold, including buying a house together and getting married later this year. She says she loves me but she’s not “in love” with me. What is the difference?


Dear Fernando,

It all depends on how much value you put on labels.

Being”in love” is a pretty cool feeling. But it can also be an illusion.

Being “in love” is the most commonly used phrase to describe the feeling of “chemistry”. People who are “in love” have obsessive thoughts about their partners – huge highs when things are good, deep lows when things are bad. People “in love” say things like, “you just know when it’s right”, and believe that they found their true soulmates.

Being “in love” is a pretty cool feeling. But it can also be an illusion. What people who are “in love” often forget is that the passion that brings them together is often the very thing that drives them apart. This isn’t always the case. Some people, like the ones in Helen Fisher’s brain chemistry studies, stay “in love” for an entire lifetime. And because of those few people, we all think that the only way to find happiness is to hold out for being “in love”.

That’s what it sounds like your girlfriend is doing to you, my friend.

She’s chasing a higher high, a greater feeling, something that you can’t provide for her, no matter how much you try. You can’t blame her, exactly. She wants what she wants. But she quite likely might be throwing away an amazing partner in pursuit of that “in love” feeling. Governor Mark Sanford just did the same thing. Just read the transcripts!

I recently read a thought-provoking book called “The Post-Birthday World” by Lionel Shriver. The novel consists of two parallel stories – one is what happens if the protagonist, Irina, stayed with her solid and steady boyfriend of nine years; the other is what happens if Irina cheated on him and left him for a more passionate affair that turned into a marriage. Without giving away all that much, her passionate marriage doesn’t provide her nearly as much comfort as the safe relationship she left. She just traded in one set of problems for another.

When it comes to love, I might sit here and give advice every day, but there’s not a “right” and “wrong”. All I know is that the majority of people who have been “in love” and “just knew” that they were meant to be have since broken up. That tells me all I need to know about the clarity of passion.

I feel for you, Fernando, but you can’t hold on to your girlfriend. You should probably have a heart-to-heart with her, find out if she thinks she needs to be “in love” to get married, and reevaluate your life. Because if she’s always going to be longing for a more passionate relationship, you’re never going to feel safe.

That’s too bad, because relationships should be safe. Not just for her, but for you as well. If she needs to be “in love”, wish her the best of luck finding it, and go invest your energy in a woman who loves you unconditionally – no matter what label she puts on it.

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  1. 21

    Curly Girl – you are so right. You are so, so right. You’re awesome!

    Just this morning I was thinking the same thing (but not as articulately as you) that in sexual relationships, society emphasizes much more that the man should get what he wants, rather than the woman. Your point about women thinking they’re compensated through material gains is logical; I think your unspoken statement is that now that we can provide for ourselves, we no longer just want to make sure a man is pleased, and want to make sure we get something out of a relationship (including sexual pleasure) as well.

    This isn’t meant to be a man-hating comment, because I love men. But it is true, and society is changing, and we should change our expectations along with it.

  2. 22

    While it’s typical for the “not in love” comment to signify that the “intense” passion and initially strong attraction are no longer there, assuming they were to begin with, the only real way to truly know what her statement means is to ask her.

    I believe passion in a relationship can continue to thrive for countless years beyond the stage of intense fireworks, if it is continually cared for and tended to, like seeking out new experiences in life, and growing as individuals. I have experienced this. It’s also incredible when the passion of one person ignites the passion of another, such as fulfilling a life-long dream. It makes you incredibly irresistible to each other.

    It is only natural for the infatuation stage of relationships to subside, typically between 18 – 24 months, and either real love will bloom or it doesn’t.

  3. 23

    Comment by FrogPrincess
    2009-07-17 02:47:18

    “I do believe that love, and being in love, is a choice.”

    I believe this is bullshit.

    For one, love starts with attraction and I believe we have zero choice in to whom we are attracted. We have choice on how we ACT on that attraction however. We may find ourselves attracted to someone inappropriate, or at an inappropriate time in our lives. Perhaps we are in a committed relationship and become attracted to someone else. Or we are single, but become attracted to someone who is married. Maybe we are attracted to an alcoholic. Or a player. We can choose NOT to fall in love with any of these people by practicing prudent avoidance.

    Being “in love” is not the fluttery, sexual excitement of “newness” with a partner. That’s infatuation. Delightfully, sometimes infatuation leads to falling in love. Sometimes not. Being in love means feeling an emotional connection so deeply with another person, you can’t envision life without them. THAT apparently, is what Fernando’s gf is finding lacking. Doesn’t make her fickle, chasing a “high”, or some kind of heartless whore. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t love Fernando, or is *choosing* not to love him. Just means she realized she might not love him enough to sustain a lifetime partnership. Should she be stoned for that?

    If love were a choice, then we all could be happily partnered to anyone – logically. But we find it’s not possible. You don’t have to look very deeply into yourself to see this is true.

    Comment by FrogPrincess
    2009-07-17 02:47:18

    I do believe that love, and being in love, is a choice

    1. 23.1

      Selena…you are so right..period..nailed my thoughts.

    2. 23.2

      Humans  follow their primal instincts of  intersexual selection,  which is in my opinion falling in love.  It’s a choice for us to  search for it. Because otherwise, a hard  fact to take in is that we are not monogamous by nature. Not being able to envision life without a partner would also take a lot of work to create  a relationship in the first place.  Learning to love  someone does take time and is up to said person to decide if they are content of being with a specific someone.  It took a friend of mine over a year, who originally said they would never date me, to say they now love me and in doing so  decide to sabotage my recent relationship. Love is  a loose term because you can have it for many people in your life, it’s just that for your partner you would also want to be intimate with them. When you know someone too well and you live the future that you envisioned with them, there’s nothing to fantasize about. And then  youuu  grow bored. That may be why people choose to divorce and start over chasing that in love feeling bullshit. Or they realize that it is bullshit and choose to remain single.  It  is something I feel people shouldn’t constantly chasing.  It has become  a narcissistic phenomenon in our society to think that we constantly need it to exist, but  reality is not a movie.  If it was needed,  the divorce rate would be much  higher than 50%. If you’re happy enough with what you have then why ruin it.

  4. 24
    Evan Marc Katz


    Sustaining a lifetime partnership IS a choice and it’s unfair of you to criticize FrogPrincess because she disagrees with you.

    I’d recommend you check out Reva Seth’s “First Comes Marriage”, an amazing book which discusses the virtues of Indian arranged marriage. You would never want to forgo Western-style choice, but I’m pretty sure that there are hundreds of men you could be married to – if you made the choice.

    Really, it ain’t that tricky. Find someone who treats you like gold. Treat them like gold in return. Somehow that gets lost in all this gauzy talk about being “in love”. Building a life together is not about that feeling, which invariably fades. It’s about your ability to be there for each other through thick and thin for 40 years.

    Our inability to see past the first two exciting years to the rest of our lives is a perfect example of short-term thinking.

    Married couples always make the choice. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard. But that’s what keeps them together.

    1. 24.1
      Curly Girl

      40 years? That’s all? Way the actuarial tables are looking we’re all gonna be hitting 100. You and your wife might make it beyond 60 years, EMK!!

      Hmm…wonder what your blog would read like 60 years from now? “I’ve written a new book–First Comes Online Dating–which discusses the virtues of a more traditional approach to love and marriage, an approach that has worked for decades but has now fallen out of favor. There are hundreds of people you could be married to–if you are willing to make the choice…” 🙂

  5. 25

    All due respect Evan, re-read my post; I don’t confuse that gauzy feeling for being in love. I wrote being in love means not being able to envision a life without your partner. Which if you think about Evan, IS what couples do in building a life together, in sticking with each other through thick and thin for 40 years. I’m fortunate to have examples of this in my own family.

    And I don’t doubt that in all the world there are hundreds of men I could be married to – if I so chose. But could I LOVE each of those hundreds of men just by “deciding” to? Highly doubtful. And just because they treated me like gold, it doesn’t automatically follow I could love them so much as to not be able to envision my life without them. I might love some of them less, “as a friend” for example, rather than lover and partner.

    If it were possible to “choose to love” someone then it should be possible for a heterosexual to choose a homosexual as a partner. After all, if you find someone who’s smart, kind, funny, financially responsible and treats you like gold, why not? But it doesn’t work that way, does it? It doesn’t work because there is that “something is missing” factor. Something that also happens in both hetero and homosexual relationships sometimes.

    Believing you can convince yourself into loving someone is as much an illusion as mistaking the gauzy feeling of new lust for love.

  6. 26

    Let me add:

    How far off is the belief “Love is a choice”, from “I can make him love me if I try hard enough – be patient – don’t give up”?

    Isn’t a premise of HJNTIY philosophy really that it isn’t about him “choosing” not to love you, it’s accepting that he just doesn’t and moving on?

    Now if you want to talk about people who are missing out on potential loves because they set their parameters so narrow…..I’m right with you.

  7. 27

    Selena wrote How far off is the belief Love is a choice, from I can make him love me if I try hard enough – be patient – don’t give up?

    When Evan’s talking about First Comes Marriage and people are talking about love being a choice, it has to be a choice that BOTH people make. If both people aren’t committed to it, then it’s more of a HJNTIY phenomenon. But if both people are intent on making a relationship work, that’s the “love is a choice” idea playing out.

  8. 28


    If there was a referrence to something called “First Comes Marriage” anywhere in this thread I missed it. In any case, I haven’t read it.

  9. 29

    To me, the “choice” is the action that one takes in the relationship, based on the love they feel. I don’t agree with the wording that love is a choice. It implies that you choose who you love and that is not true. But what you do to act upon that feeling is definitely a choice.

  10. 30

    Ah yes, Evan did mention that book in a later post. Did not know that was what FrogPrincess was referring to by saying she believed love was a choice.

  11. 31

    The discussions on this forum made me think of this quote

    “Marry the person that you love, then love the person that you married.”

    So love is both a choice and also not a choice. You don’t choose who you develop feelings for, but you can choose to stick with a person through thick and thin. Both of these are love, the latter, a deeper love.

  12. 32

    I disagree

    I could have been that girlfriend – and I NEVER EVER will put myself into that situation again.

    I had a boyfriend 7 years ago, whom I “loved”, but I NEVER was “in love” with = I cared for him, but no I never lusted after him, he lusted after me… and I believed people like Evan – “that it comes with time, you don’t know”

    No it doesn’t – and he got over his lust, and made me regret for not falling for him.

    I find it irresponsible of you all to say that woman should settle. What it leads to is that there will be 2 unhappy persons in the end.

    Sex is a primal thing.. it has to work FOR BOTH partners. I may love a man – it means unsexual thing, then he is like a brother – That love will never be like I would love a man, even if he lusts after my body.

    I have been single for 7 years after my ex. I have also fallen in love after that, but it didn’t work. But I learned the difference and I will continue to looking, until someone whom I actually am IN LOVE with comes to my life, HE is IN LOVE with ME, and wants to build up a life with me. I have fun looking though, and meeting new men =).
    If that “falling in love” won’t happen, then I die “an old maid”, since I don’t sell my principles, or my sexuality to a man, just to get companionship.

    1. 32.1

      Good for you.Never compromise yourself; in the end it’s all you’ve got! Evan will disagree with me, but let the compromisers, the settlers and the “satisficer”s convince themselves they’re better off with half a loaf:   I’ve tried that too, and it left me empty. NEVER compromise, never settle, ever! Go for broke, cause if you really want to live, it’s an all or nothing game! Understand what that means; it means being willing to suffer a thousand disappointments and a thousand failures, for every moment of complete fulfillment. It means watching others seem to have what you think you want, while you may be alone; and in the end it may mean complete failure. If you cannot endure that, settle for what the rest of the herd does; they claim to be happy and maybe they are. All I know, in the twilight of my life, is that I have a thousand regrets for every time I settled, and not one, for the times I refused to. If it helps any, when all seems lost, I think of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena”, “…who if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

  13. 33

    Hey Fernando, count your blessings at least you aren’t on the hook for alimony or child support yet!

  14. 34

    The sad part is sooo many spend sooo much time “looking” for something that doesn’t exist or isn’t possible that they’ll look back and realize they’ve spent thier life alone most of the time chasing rainbows they can’t catch. Who in thier right mind would want to be in relationship with someone they’re not attracted to just because they’re a good “friend” ? That’s not romantic love,that’s FRIENDSHIP. I wish I could count the number of female profiles that say “I’m looking for my BEST FRIEND”. Huh ???

    1. 34.1

      The second part of that is assumed by the context and left unwritten.

      “Im looking for my BEST FRIEND[ and my romantic interest ]

      1. 34.1.1

        That’s it exactly Steve. I’d like for my significant other to be my best friend.

  15. 35

    Romantic love comes in many ways. Sometimes there’s immediate lust, sometimes it develops with a wonderful person or a “best friend” that you grow to love. But 2 1/2 years of dating is enough time to know. Sure the LW’s girlfriend may be throwing away an amazing partner, but then again, maybe the strong romantic feelings never really developed for her, or she hasn’t been able to sustain them.

    I say, give the girlfriend space. Maybe once she has to deal with the harsh reality outside of her comfortable relationship, she’ll realize she’s going to lose a good thing. Maybe.

  16. 36

    I disagree that being in love is an ‘illusion’ or a ‘sign of the times’ in this case. It sounds as if she gave him a chance but is really not romantically into him.

    I know many women in Fernando’s GF’s position who meet a great guy and are told by their friends & family to stick w him & wait for something to develop because a good guy is hard to find, and instill a fear of being single for the rest of your life.

    So these women end up marrying these guys and wake up in 5 years miserable because they’ve married for the wrong reasons. And the guy’s confused & feels cheated, wondering ‘wtf’ has gone on, I gave her everything/treated her well, etc.

    Fernando, as much as this hurts, take it as a good sign now and cut your losses. If she’s not feeling it by now she likely never will.

  17. 37

    What I believe – based on my OWN experience is, that it is the sex that doesn’t work – but how to say that to a man, when it just isn’t his fault as such (no chemistry).. or if it is, he just can’t change his ways. It is just one of those things, that is soul destroying for a man to hear, and therefore hard for a woman to say to a man. Then it is her fault again…

    But there is no way to fall in love with someone who gets his O, but I don’t.

    That is the settling you are trying to sell, and that is what I hear you say GF should do – (like 50% of women do, according to research, they never get an O with a man they are married with)
    Settle to get a “good man”, when men never ever would do that.

    That is most likely what is there in the background. Simply put you don’t leave a good man if physical side of relationship works
    – if it doesn’t then you love/care for someone, but you’ll never be “in love” with him.

    1. 37.1

      Yes NN you do have a point there. I have been in a relationship where the sex just wasn’t there for me and i do believe it is an important part of a relationship. I know it’s best to be honest with someone but how do you look someone you care about in the face and say “you just don’t turn me on”.

      This woman was obviously at a crossroads, getting serious enough to talk about combining finances, getting married and being together for ever, and she felt she had to do something. Yes you can love someone but not being “in love” enough to want to spend the rest of your life with them. And it is a good possibility that sex has a key role in that decision. I guess we can say that “in love” is code word for “sexual compatability”.

      1. 37.1.1
        Karl R

        Andy said:
        “I guess we can say that ‘in love’ is code word for ‘sexual compatability’.”

        That’s the way you and -NN- are using the term. That’s not the way EMK and several others are using the term. And we have no idea how Fernando’s ex-girlfriend was using the term.

        Our opinions of what she meant are biased by our own experiences. -NN- spent 7 years in a relationship with no sexual compatability, so she sees that circumstance reflected here. I bailed on a similar relationship after a few months, so to me it seems unlikely that they would have stayed together for 2 1/2 years if there was no sexual compatability.

        Regardless of what Fernando’s ex-girlfriend meant, she’s clearly telling him that she’s no longer interested in pursuing a romantic relationship.

  18. 38

    It seems unusual that she would have made plans, however I’ve read that the being in love stage fades after 2 years and then changes into a more stable love. So if someone is just chasing the feelings then they might have to change partners every couple years.

  19. 39

    How can you say that she has been talking, there are only his words of it – when it can be that HE has been talking about buying a place, getting married – by voicing those hopes, he has been pushing her forward towards something she feels would be a prison for her.

    You don’t realise how bad it is, when you are in the situation, because you have to live in it.. and you promised..

    My experience:

    My ex wanted to move in with me – since I was moving into a bigger place, he wanted to get rid of his flat, and move in at the same time.
    He decided it, because it would have been sensible (much lower rent) for him etc. That is how it ended, I couldn’t promise, because I didn’t want to, I felt there was something wrong.
    Then he decided that since he wouldn’t get anything out of it, there was no point for him to help me to move, and he ended the our relationship.

    In short: when I would have needed to go forward because he pushed me forwards living together, I realised that I couldn’t just let it happen.
    That is why it ended.
    Only then, I realised how suffocated I had felt – before that moment I was just not aware of it.
    I felt so relieved after he said we were over – like someone opened the prison door – the sentence I had got for my mistake, was over and I finally got out.

    And what happened in my lifecan be happening to her too. You can’t know what is in the background, and telling women “to settle” ..
    Do I really need to tell what I think of that idea?

    1. 39.1

      Then he decided that since he wouldn’t get anything out of it, there was no point for him to help me to move, and he ended the our relationship.
      Actually, you ended the relationship when you decided you didn’t want to move forward with it (by moving in together). After that, he was right there was no point in him helping you move.

  20. 40

    For the sake of argument, suppose you do decide that “the feeling” (chemistry, whatever you want to call it) IS over-rated, and fades out within 2 years anyway. So your new search is to find someone who treats you well and will stick around for 40 years, doesn’t matter if you’re super attracted to them. AND…you don’t come from a culture of arranged marriages.

    How easy do you think it would be to find someone who feels the same way? Seems to me, it’s hard enough to find Mutal chemistry. Let alone to find someone who would be willing to marry YOU without it feeling it themselves.

    1. 40.1
      Karl R

      Selena said:
      “Seems to me, it’s hard enough to find Mutal chemistry. Let alone to find someone who would be willing to marry YOU without it feeling it themselves.”

      You aren’t getting the point. By opening yourself up to more people, you increase your dating pool … even if those people don’t relax their standards at all. This is true regardless of the standard you’re opening up about.

      For example:
      I’m sure J. Howard Marshall felt lots of lust/chemistry toward Anna Nicole Smith. I’m fairly certain she didn’t feel the same amount of attraction toward him. There are plenty of women who would refuse to date someone like J. Howard Marshall due to lack of lust/attraction/chemistry. By being willing to forgo that, Anna Nicole Smith expanded her dating pool to include J. Howard Marshall.

      J. Howard Marshall just had to accept that she didn’t find him attractive (or delude himself into believing she did).

      Just because you decide to forgo chemistry in search of compatibility, it’s not a given that you need to find someone who has done the same.

      The trouble is, most people want to find a partner who has lower standards, without having to relax their own standards. (i.e. “I’m a three and she’s a ten, but I like what I like.”)

      1. 40.1.1
        Curly Girl

        You’re suggesting that Anna Nicole Smith was doing something that we should emulate? Hmm. I have to think on that one. For about a micro-second.

        Uh, no.

    2. 40.2

      In terms of the exact scenario you posted, I think Karl’s thinking is right.

      But also, I don’t think people on this board are saying to go for the person you’re not attracted to but treats you well and will be around for forty years. It’s saying that instead of waiting for the 10/A+ on the chemistry scale, you take the person with whom you have a B in terms of the physical aspect but who has all of the other important qualities. It’s better than average, it’s pretty good, but it’s just not a knock your socks off, house-shaking, fireworks exploding extravaganza. Sure it’d be nice to have the whole enchilada, but in this situation we’re willing to compromise, but not settle. (I’d say settling is a D or an F, or maybe even a C.)

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