When I was in high school, I was fascinated by the “four types of love” in Greek. There is phileo (friendship), storge (affection), eros (romance), and agape— selfless love that reflects God’s love for humanity. Agape love is the love that explains the Gospel and that powers Christian relationships of any kind.
In the context of dating, these types of love bring up some important questions– how do you know if a relationship is founded on agape love rather than superficial infatuation? What are the differences between the two? Answering these questions is fundamental building lasting, God-honoring relationship, and as I’ve thought about it, four main differences come to mind:
Love values deeper qualities whereas infatuation is fixed on superficial qualities or external actions.
I’ve never been a believer in “love at first sight.” Why? Because real, agape love isn’t rooted in qualities you can perceive in a glance. Instead, it’s based on a person’s character, especially in regards to their faith life. A godly man will love the Lord above all else— even you. This will cause an outgrowth qualities like grace, humility, selflessness, and steadfastness. Real, lasting love involves trust in another person’s real, lasting qualities and their pursuit of Christlikeness.
In contrast, infatuation is fixed on the external and superficial. This could be anything from how a guy looks to his taste in music or books. Not only do such qualities have the potential to change with time, but they also aren’t substantive enough to sustain a relationship through disagreements, trials, and brokenness.
Yet here’s where things get tricky. Infatuation could also be based on actions or preferences that appear to be godly— like playing in the worship band or an interest in theology. Both of these things are great, but don’t guarantee a heart that truly loves God above all else. At the end of the day, what matters is not the actions but the motivation behind them, the state of the person’s heart. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul addresses this difference between external actions and internal motivation. He writes that without a posture of love, spiritual gifts and acts of service are empty despite their appearance of spirituality. These qualities are more external and may be rooted in a Christlike heart, but they also may not; motivations lie far beneath the surface.
For sure, there’s nothing wrong with having a shared appreciation for classic rock or sci-fi novels. There’s nothing wrong with serving in church or a passion for missions. But at the end of the day, agape love is built on trust in a man’s Christlikeness and the heart behind his actions.
Love takes time whereas infatuation is borne of urgency.
If love is focused on character and the posture of another’s heart, then it requires time and patience to develop. People are always more complex than they seem, and behind every person is a multitude of experiences, influences, and stories. It takes time, patience, prayer, and wisdom to see the whole individual and to know how they pursue God on the daily, amidst both difficulty and abundance.
On the other hand, infatuation is entangled with urgency. Infatuation rushes to make things official, to reach milestones, and to make commitments— all potentially without sufficient knowledge of the other person’s character. Sisters, let me tell you something— in dating, urgency is a lie. If we truly trust that God is sovereign over our relationships, then we can rest in the knowledge that He will lend wisdom in His timing (Proverbs 3:5-6). If we really believe that His way is best (Romans 8:28), we will wait on Him and follow Him regardless of how we feel. God is never late in His plans and actions toward us.
Love is a choice whereas infatuation is passive.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is the infamous “Love” passage. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud…” Displaying these characteristics requires active and continual choice. In any relationship, there will come a time when it’s hard to love the other person, when his habits irk you, and when he does something hurtful. Therefore love involves the continual choice to honor him even when he is unlovable, to embody kindness, patience, humility, and more even when he’s at his worst. This choice isn’t easy, but if God is at the center of the relationship and if you value the other person’s character, it is worthwhile.
Unlike love, infatuation is based primarily on feelings and is more passive. It may relish the emotional high of reciprocated affections and cute dates, but it crashes to a halt when those feelings fade. It doesn’t choose to embody virtue when the going gets tough because its foundation is unstable and changing. Jeremiah 17:9 says that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Feelings are not reliable and can change in an instant; when a relationship is built passively on emotions alone, it is most likely one of infatuation.
Love is selfless whereas infatuation is about the self.
Genuine, agape love is undergirded by selflessness. All of the qualities in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 are natural outgrowths of a desire to honor another above yourself. If you care about the other person more than you care for your own interests, then being patient, humble, and kind will follow.
Yet selflessness is difficult because it requires that we extend ourselves without requiring anything in return. In agape love, there is no sense of “this for that,” or keeping record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5). It is completely no strings attached.
In order to be truly selfless, agape love requires that both individuals be fully satisfied by God. God is the only giver of love that is unending and satisfying, love not tainted by sin nature. If your heart is a bucket and the Lord is the one filling that bucket with a never-ending stream of His love, you will never have to worry about pouring and running out. You won’t require the input of others in order to stay full and keep giving.
Truly, in order to properly love another person– in order to choose to honor them and to give selflessly– you must first be in love with God, the God who loved you before you even existed (1 John 4:19). A quote that has stuck with me is that “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking together the same direction.”* When two people are committed to looking at and pursuing Christ over one another, the product is a relationship that has the potential for real, lasting, God-honoring love.
*For more on this topic, check out Phylicia Masonheimer’s post (where I first found this quote!): https://phyliciamasonheimer.com/is-it-love-or-infatuation/