Admiration and Love: What’s the Difference?

· October 13, 2018

The line that separates admiration from love is very subtle. So subtle, in fact, that it’s pretty common to confuse these feelings for one another. This is relatively common because these feelings consist of a complex dynamic. We can admire someone without loving them. However, we can’t love someone when we don’t admire them at the same time.

It becomes even more complicated if we think about how falling in love produces a certain idealization of the person we love. In that first stage of the relationship, admiration and love are almost one in the same. With time, however, one emotion begins to prevail. Eventually, our mind and heart decide how we’ll feel about that person.

Physical beauty, for example, is something that can arouse admiration and desire. These feelings can be really intense. So intense, in fact, that sometimes we confuse these emotions with love. The same goes for other circumstantial virtues such as fame or power. They generate so much admiration that sometimes we end up mixing these feelings with love.

“To love is to admire with the heart; to admire is to love with the mind.”

-Alfredo La Mont-


Admiration and love

In one way or another, whenever there’s love there’s also admiration. In this way, love and admiration go hand in hand. However, the same doesn’t happen when we reverse the two. That’s to say, you don’t have to love someone in order to admire them.

The complexity of this logic comes because people are very capable of idealizing others, especially when they respond in some way to our expectations or needs. The relationship between admiration and love also becomes more complex because sometimes the desire to be loved takes control. 

Admiration and love.

When we’re talking about idealization, we’re talking about how we assign virtues to people that they don’t have. This also occurs when we exaggerate the qualities that they do have. This happens a lot in the infatuation stage. We don’t know the other person very well and we look at them through a filter. We want them to be someone wonderful. In cases like these, there’s both love and admiration. However, both have weak foundations because a lot of that love is based on expectations and fantasies.

On the other hand, many want to “be loved” by the most popular, the most attractive, or the most powerful person in the room. The love that these figures receive increases with their social “status”. Therefore, love from someone like this is something that we can deeply desire and easily confuse with love.

Admiration and self-esteem

It’s common for people with low self-esteem to idealize love. They “fall in love” with people they see as above average. In this way, the supposed feeling of love comes from admiration. Ultimately, what they seek is to recover that self-love they’re lacking. They want approval and to be loved by someone they consider powerful or important.

In our culture, there’s also a certain number of stereotypes about what we should and shouldn’t admire. In “commercial” terms, someone admirable is someone who fits the ideals that our society has put into play. This is a person who fits society’s standards. They may be beautiful, athletic, wealthy, and self-determined.

Therefore, many people eager for acceptance will look for those qualities in a potential partner. Doing so is a way for them to feel included and thus cast away the ghost of rejection. However, there’s neither admiration nor love in these relationships. The only thing that’s present is very low self-love and self-esteem.

A couple together.

Healthy admiration and healthy love

True love isn’t as focused on awakening love in the other person as on giving oneself for the good of the other person. It’s not a “blinding feeling” and it doesn’t just appear overnight. It includes knowing the other person and accepting and admiring them. In this case, admiration comes from knowledge and familiarity.

Admiration exists when it comes to love because it’s possible to deepen it inside the relationship. We become more invested in our partner as we discover their multiple traits and talents, many of which we didn’t see or understand at first. Discovering positive things about our partner makes us happy and allows us to see them in a new way. We don’t have an interest in using their abilities for our gain. Rather, we simply love them because they embody those traits.

Meanwhile, admiration without love is the fruit of reflection. Admiration implies how we appreciate different values, abilities, or qualities that we consider to be valuable. We admire an artist for their talent or a leader for their tenacity or a teacher for their wisdom. None of this implies love in the romantic sense of the word. Therefore, it’s very possible to admire someone without loving them, but not the opposite.