Loyola University Psychologist Explains Differences Between Love and Attraction

Loyola University Psychologist Explains Differences Between Love and Attraction

love and attractionLifestyle

You’ve probably felt it before – that moment where sparks fly between you and someone special. It’s a thrilling moment when you experience your first feelings of affection, even feelings as strong as love. Perhaps you’re getting these feelings from an instant attraction that you share when you meet someone’s eyes across a room. Sometimes the draw can be so strong that it confuses you.

If you’ve ever been confused about your feelings for someone, you’re not alone. It can be hard to tell the difference when you’re feeling attracted to someone, or you’re in the cupcake phase of a relationship. Luckily, this article contains information that can help you sort out your feelings.

Is It Attraction or Attachment?

instant attractionMany people aren’t aware that attraction is a part of love. Scientists have divided love into three parts: lust, attraction, and attachment.


Lust is self-explanatory, and it’s not hard to figure out when you’re feeling that way as some particular reactions happen to your body. The attraction is just that – being attracted to the person, which can quickly lead to lust. However, attachment is what people are referring to when they say, love.

Attraction and attachment can feel the same, leaving you confused about what you’re feeling. It’s a confusion that is common and just about everyone experiences this at least once in their life.

Trying to figure out the difference between attraction and attachment was a subject of an article written by psychologist Theresa E. DiDonato Ph.D., assistant professor at Loyola University Maryland. She explored the idea that people sometimes have trouble telling the difference between true love and instant attraction. According to her, the two are both powerful emotions and can be intertwined in ways that can get confusing. However, some subtle differences can help you figure out which emotion you’re genuinely feeling.

Goals Make the Difference

One of the most significant differences, according to Dr. DiDonato, is the goal of your emotions. For example, when you’re feeling the need for attachment, your goal is to get close to the object of your affections. You’ll want to feel a connection and possibly share your life with that person. If you feel a desire to have the person around often, you might feel true love.

On the other hand, attraction can be more temporary. You have a desire to fill and once it’s done, your desires are gone. You won’t feel like sharing your life with the person although the attraction may occur again in the future.

While these two goals are specific and different, it is still sometimes difficult to tell the difference between your emotions. Emotions can cause your thinking to be clouded so you need to look for other clues.

Other Differences Between Attraction and Attachment

Goals are not the only way to tell what you’re feeling. It’s not even the best way. You may need to consider more than one point to work out your emotions.

Dr. DiDonato pointed out some other differences that can help you distinguish which emotion you are truly feeling. Here are some of the points she made.

  • If you would be willing to sacrifice for the person, that’s attachment. It’s attraction if not.
  • If this person fulfills your need for support (emotionally, mentally), there could be a desire for attachment involved. If not, it’s merely attraction.
  • The desire for attachment gives you the confidence to be honest, and authentic. If you feel the need to deceive the person for any reason, you are feeling attraction.
  • If intimacy has become something more important than lust satisfaction, that is a clear indicator that you may be attached to the person.

The last point is not always as clear cut as the other points. Dr. DiDonato said that sometimes intimacy or intimate attraction could launch attachments or the desire for it. Therefore, even if you are only feeling an instant attraction, further exploration of that attraction can make you crave a close relationship with that person.

All the points that Dr. DiDonato wrote make a lot of sense. Think about how relationships are started. It’s doubtful that people form relationships with someone they are not attracted to. However, people start relationships before they fall in love all the time. That is a clear indicator that instant attraction can lead to love.

There are also those who wait a while before becoming intimate while others may wait until marriage. Sure, they are attracted to each other, but they choose to develop an attachment before exploring close bonds. This is not to say that falling in love is always a choice – sometimes it just happens unexpectedly. However, in this case it is easy to see the difference between love and instant attraction.

Love: A Chemical Reaction?

For a long time, scientists have explored attachment and attraction on a chemical level. However, neither emotion comes from any reactions in your heart (although both may cause your heart to beat a little faster). It has been proven that these emotions either happen or are enhanced by chemical reactions in your brain.

Since both emotions can stem from reactions in your brain, this could be a reason that people get the two confused. However, they occur from different chemical reactions in different areas of the brain. That is one reason you can experience both emotions at the same time.

According to researchers at Harvard University, the chemicals responsible for attraction are dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. The ones responsible for attachment are oxytocin and vasopressin. While there can be some slight overlap, these sets of chemicals cause quite different reactions in your body.

pop memeBehavior from Attraction Chemicals

It may surprise you that the chemicals responsible for your feelings of attraction are the same chemicals responsible for drug addiction sentiments. That may be scary to think about, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to be addicted to the person you’re dating. It merely means that dating an attractive person gives you the same euphoric feeling you’d get from being high (no matter how you phrase that, it sounds strange).

These chemicals can cause you to feel giddy and excited. They can also cause you to eat and sleepless. It seems dating an attractive person keeps you alert and may help you lose weight! It seems like a win-win situation.


If you notice that any of these feelings or behaviors are happening to you, there is a good chance you’re feeling the pull of attraction. If you experience them enough, you could bounce over to attachment.

Behavior from Attachment Chemicals

The behavior you get from attachment chemicals may not be as exciting as the behavior you get from the attraction, but the actions could be more stable. These chemicals cause bonding behaviors. The researchers at Harvard said that these bonding behaviors could include activities like breastfeeding and childbirth.

Before you start thinking that your partner’s bond is the same as the bond with your baby, don’t forget that the difference is that you’ve had the attraction phase and likely the lust phase with your partner that you didn’t have with your baby. That’s what makes the attachment a romantic attachment. However, the bond is just as strong in both situations.

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