The Difference Between Like and Love According to Science

The Difference Between Like and Love According to Science

Last update: 12 January, 2022

What’s the difference between ‘like’ and ‘love’? For the vast majority, this is a no-brainer. On the other hand, for others, it’s not so easy to answer. That’s because, sometimes, it’s not easy to clarify if what you feel is mere attraction and desire or if there are deeper feelings present.

For some people, there are many gray areas when it comes to trying to disentangle their emotional feelings. Indeed, it’s not always easy to determine if what you feel for another is significant enough to launch into a serious relationship. Will it be worth it? Should you take the first step? Or, will the feeling fade in a few weeks?

For this reason, when you first meet someone who attracts you, it’s easier to say “I like you”. It’s safer, not so serious, and it tends to go along with the process of simple flirting. On the other hand, an “I love you” mobilizes much deeper emotions as well as transcendent ones.

However, what happens when things aren’t entirely clear? How can you clarify matters?

Love is a deeper, permanent, and unconditional emotion. On the other hand, when you simply like someone, it’s a more superficial feeling and, above all, fleeting.

couple representing the difference between "I like" and "being in love"

The difference between like and love

“The truth is that I’m still not sure what I feel about you. I just know that I like you.” Maybe at some point in your life, someone has said this to you. Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself. It suggests the kind of doubt that you may feel when you’re young and love is still made up of multiple insecurities and can even be somewhat chaotic.

Like, attract, want… Don’t these terms all mean the same thing? Isn’t falling in love a mixture of all these dimensions? The truth is yes. Love is made up of many processes: desire, sexual attraction, complicity, wanting to share your time, life, and commitments together. However, you may feel sexual desire yet not love.

Sooner or later, you learn to understand the difference between like and love. Nevertheless, in order to understand it clearly, let’s listen to what science has to say on the subject.

The look of love

In order to differentiate sincere affection from sexual desire, scientists recommend paying attention to how you look at another or how they look at you. We often say that the gaze is the reflection of the soul. Nevertheless, in reality, it’s more a case of a mirror image of your intentions, needs, and emotional universe. In fact, this type of non-verbal language doesn’t lie and is extremely revealing.

The University of Geneva (Switzerland) conducted research that claimed a person’s gaze changes depending on whether their goal is love or just sexual desire. In the latter, the feeling of desire is accompanied by sexual fantasies. It’s a more cognitive and instinctive process as desire is accompanied by erotic ideas and thoughts.

However, the eyes that look at another through a filter of infatuation do so in a more tender way and an increased emotional component is also present. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t sexual desire as well, but there’s a warmer and deeper feeling that’s oriented toward bonding and not so much toward sex.

The study also revealed that when we feel the need to look at the other’s face, to seek their eye contact and not focus so much on their body, both the romantic component and falling in love are present.

The need to be with each other

Voltaire said that love is the strongest of passions and that this feeling attacks the mind, body and heart. Somehow, this is the key. Indeed, love is an emotional depth that’s accompanied by the constant need for closeness. You feel like you can’t live without the other person, even though you really can.

It’s impossible for you to spend even one day without talking to them. They occupy every space in your mind. They’re the object of your thoughts, desires, and obsessions. Yes, love has an obsessive component. Dopamine, oxytocin, and adrenaline are the neurochemicals that inject you with a feeling of euphoria and the need for closeness that orchestrates falling in love.

However, love transcends desire to form a deeper and more committed knot. Therefore, the difference between like and love is found in the authentic and unconditional need for commitment and bonding. However, there are other dimensions:

  • When you like someone, you have a good time with that person, but there’s no constant ‘need’ to be with them.
  • Love implies daily concern for the other person, a need to take care of them, to know their thoughts, dreams, and way of being.
  • Someone you like can generate desire and butterflies in your stomach, but there’s not always that deep feeling that ultimately turns them into someone essential in your life.
Couple lying on a bench looking at each other representing the difference between "I like" and "being in love"

The prisms of love

Loving, falling in love, desiring, liking, wanting, attracting, needing. Affection has many prisms, many faces that can often get mixed up. What’s worse is that, in your confusion, you can sometimes hurt others. Indeed, it’s not always easy to understand the difference between like and love, and sometimes you make mistakes and start relationships that very quickly end in failure.

Love also requires meticulous learning. Nobody comes into the world knowing everything about what’s perhaps the most complex process of being human. However, let’s face it, the adventure is usually worth it.

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  • Bolmont M, Cacioppo JT, Cacioppo S. Love is in the gaze: an eye-tracking study of love and sexual desire. Psychol Sci. 2014 Sep;25(9):1748-56. doi: 10.1177/0956797614539706. Epub 2014 Jul 16. PMID: 25031302; PMCID: PMC4273641.
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