What’s the Difference Between Love and Being in a Relationship?

At first glance, love and a relationship might be our golden ticket to our own version of a “happily ever after.”

We yearn for both, but they do not always coincide. Love can be a wild, untamed emotion that knows no bounds. On the other hand, being in a relationship involves two people coming together in a mutual agreement that typically includes specific commitments and expectations.

Is it possible to love someone without the desire to enter into a formal relationship with them? Equally, is it possible to be in a relationship yet feel no real love for your partner?

Many questions here deserve a closer look, don’t you think?

What Is Love?

Love, in an emotional sense, is a feeling of strong attachment, affection, and care towards another person. That warm glow fills you when you’re with someone who means the world to you. This emotion is complex and can be both elating and painful.

In its truest form, love is without condition and self-sacrificing. Here are some key characteristics of love:

  • Deep Affection: An unwavering fondness and care for another person that feels almost boundless.
  • Unconditional: It doesn’t keep score, judge, or demand. True love doesn’t come with a list of conditions or expectations.
  • Sacrifice: Love often involves putting another’s needs before your own, willingly.
  • Joy and Pain: It’s the source of our greatest happiness and, sometimes, our deepest sorrows.

Types of Love

The ancient Greeks categorized love into several distinct types, each representing different aspects of love that one might experience throughout life. 

1. Eros (ἔρως): Romantic, Passionate Love

  • Eros is passionate, intense love that arouses romantic and sexual feelings. It’s named after the Greek god of love and fertility, and it represents the idea of being in love or having a romantic relationship with someone.

2. Philia (φιλία): Affectionate, Friendly Love

  • Philia is concerned with the love between friends. This love is based on mutual respect, shared interests, and a genuine liking of each other’s characters. It is a platonic love unfettered by romantic or sexual attachments.

3. Storge (στοργή): Familial Love

  • Storge is the love that exists between family members. It is based on deep emotional connections formed from familiarity and dependency, not necessarily from personal choice or attributes.

4. Agape (ἀγάπη): Universal, Selfless Love

  • Agape is selfless love, similar to what some may call spiritual or universal love. It is love that is given without expecting anything in return. It’s a compassionate love that extends beyond personal connections to all people, even strangers.

5. Ludus (λύδος): Playful, Flirtatious Love

  • Ludus describes flirtatious and playful affection, the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling often linked with new relationships or youthful romance. It’s casual, exciting, and often non-committal.

6. Pragma (πράγμα): Enduring, Married Love

  • Pragma is a mature, realistic love that is more about making a relationship work over time than about the intensity of instant attraction. It’s built on commitment, understanding, and long-term best interests.

7. Philautia (φιλαυτία): Self-Love

  • Philautia can be healthy or unhealthy. Healthy self-love is akin to self-esteem, whereby you recognize your self-worth and have self-assurance. In contrast, unhealthy self-love can lead to narcissism, where the individual places themselves above all else.

What Does “Being in a Relationship” Mean?

Entering into a relationship often begins with love but sometimes evolves out of mutual interest, convenience, or a personal decision to join lives.

When we talk about ‘being in a relationship’ in the romantic sense, it involves explicitly deciding to be together with someone else in a partnership that typically includes certain agreements and expectations.

Relationships are usually characterized by:

  • Mutual Agreement: It begins with two individuals making a decision to enter into a partnership, whether labeled as dating, being exclusive, or saying “I do.”
  • Commitment: Each person in a relationship agrees to maintain that bond through life’s ups and downs.
  • Roles and Responsibilities: Depending on the relationship, partners may share various duties, from household chores to supporting each other emotionally.

Forms of Relationship

1. Casual Dating

  • This is a light-hearted relationship where individuals may go on dates and enjoy each other’s company but do not necessarily see a long-term future together. There is usually no formal commitment, and it allows people to get to know each other in a low-pressure context.

2. Exclusive Dating

  • Both partners agree to date only each other. This formality introduces a level of seriousness where the couple might be considering a deeper commitment. They begin to build the foundations for their future interactions and assess compatibility.

3. Cohabitation

  • Couples who cohabit take their relationship to a live-in status, sharing domestic life without being married. Cohabitation often involves a higher level of intimacy and practical day-to-day commitment as daily tasks and responsibilities are shared.

4. Marriage

  • It establishes rights and obligations recognized by society and often includes ceremonies and vows. Marriage is typically associated with a higher level of commitment and a public pledge to a life-long partnership.

5. Civil Partnerships

  • Civil partnerships offer a legal status similar to marriage, providing legal recognition to a relationship without the traditional cultural or religious connotations. They often grant similar rights to married couples, like joint finances and next-of-kin status.

Love vs. Being in a Relationship: What Sets Them Apart?

AspectLoveBeing in a Relationship
NatureEmotional, deep, and unconditional.Structured, formal, and mutual agreement-based.
TypesRomantic, familial, platonic, self-love.Dating, cohabitation, marriage, civil unions.
ChoiceOften spontaneous and uncontrollable.Involves conscious choice and mutual agreement.
CommitmentDoes not require commitment.Implies a level of mutual commitment.
DurationCan fluctuate and does not guarantee permanence.Signifies a steady and ongoing connection.

Nature of Feelings

  • Love: This is about deep emotions and affection towards someone. It’s driven by the heart and isn’t always controlled by our choice. You can feel love even if the person doesn’t know or love you back.
  • Being in a Relationship: This is an agreement between two people to be together. It can include love, but it’s possible to be in a relationship for other reasons like companionship, security, or social expectations.

Commitment Level

  • Love: Love itself doesn’t require a commitment. You can love someone from afar without the promise to stay together or plans for the future.
  • Being in a Relationship: A relationship often involves a promise or a formal commitment to be together and support each other, which can be as serious as a marriage vow or as casual as a decision to be exclusive.

Choice and Decision-Making

  • Love: It often just happens and isn’t necessarily a choice. You might find yourself in love without deciding to feel this way.
  • Being in a Relationship: Deciding to start and stay in a relationship involves conscious choices and decisions – from defining the relationship to everyday interactions and long-term plans.

Expression and Action

  • Love: This feeling can be shown in many different ways, like words, gifts, acts of kindness, or even sacrifices.
  • Being in a Relationship: A relationship requires certain actions and behaviors that follow the agreed principles and arrangements both individuals have consented to, like staying faithful and maintaining communication.

Independence vs. Interdependence

  • Love: You can love someone and still live an independent life. Your feelings don’t always change how you operate on a day-to-day basis.
  • Being in a Relationship: Being in a partnership often means your lives are intertwined. You make decisions together, share responsibilities, and support one another in daily life.

Duration and Stability

  • Love: Love can change over time. It might grow stronger or fade. It’s not always stable and doesn’t have a set timeline.
  • Being in a Relationship: Relationships tend to have a more defined duration and a desire for stability. People in a relationship work through challenges together with the aim of maintaining their bond.

Social and Legal Recognition

  • Love: The feeling of love doesn’t need any outside approval to be real. It is a personal and private experience.
  • Being in a Relationship: Relationships can receive social recognition and have legal implications. Examples include being listed as an emergency contact or beneficiary or holding a marriage certificate.

Moving Forward to Being in a Relationship

Once individuals understand the distinction between love and being in a relationship and have assessed their current status, the question often arises: “What next?”

Moving forward involves actionable steps and strategies that are informed by the insights gained through reflection and analysis.

  • Define the Relationship: Have an open and honest discussion about what you both want from the relationship. Are you both looking for something casual or are you ready to take things to the next level?
  • Evaluate Compatibility: Take a step back to objectively assess your compatibility in key life areas: values, lifestyle, ambitions, and conflict resolution styles. Identifying areas of harmony and discord can provide a roadmap for the areas in your relationship that may need attention or compromise.
  • Set Realistic Expectations: It’s important to align your expectations with reality. Talk about what you can realistically offer to each other and negotiate where necessary. Realistic expectations can lead to fewer disappointments and a stronger partnership.
  • Build Trust: Trust is built through consistent actions over time. Be dependable, keep your promises, and show that you can be counted on. Trust enhances intimacy and deepens connections, which is essential for any progressing relationship.
  • Address Conflict Constructively: Conflicts are a natural part of any relationship. When they arise, address them constructively. Approach disagreements with the aim of finding solutions rather than assigning blame.

Expectations vs. Reality in Relationships

People often enter relationships with the expectation of perpetual romance and affection. However, the reality is that sustaining romance requires effort, and feelings can ebb and flow over time.

Instead of constant sparks, real relationships nurture a steady flame that must be tended to with care and intention.

  • Communication: Good communication may be expected to come naturally. In reality, partners often have different communication styles, and misunderstandings can arise. Actively working on communication, such as learning to listen and express oneself effectively, is crucial for bridging this gap.
  • Support Systems: There’s an expectation that a partner will always know how to provide perfect support. Reality, however, shows that understanding each other’s needs is a learning process. Partners must openly discuss their needs and be willing to grow together in their supportive roles.
  • Handling Conflicts: The expectation might be that love conquers all, meaning any conflicts can be easily resolved. The reality can be messier, with conflicts sometimes persisting and requiring compromise and patience from both sides. Accepting that disagreements are normal can help couples approach conflicts constructively.
  • Life’s Challenges: Couples may expect to face life’s challenges together seamlessly, but the reality is that stress can strain a relationship. Acknowledging that facing hardships may require extra effort and sometimes outside help can maintain relationship health during tough times.
  • Changes Over Time: Initial expectations often ignore the fact that people change over time. The reality is that both you and your partner will evolve, and the relationship must adapt to these changes rather than seek to preserve an outdated version of either person.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know if you’re in love or just comfortable in a relationship?

Distinguishing between love and comfort can be challenging. Being in love generally involves an emotional depth, passion, and longing for the other person. Comfort in a relationship might feel more like contentment and routine without intense emotional highs.

Can a relationship last without love?

Yes, relationships can last without romantic love, often built on foundations such as friendship, mutual respect, shared interests, or practical arrangements.

However, the quality and depth of such a relationship may differ from one that includes the emotional intensity of love.

Is it normal for feelings of love to change over time in a relationship?

It is entirely normal for feelings of love to evolve as a relationship matures. Love can shift from passionate, intense emotions to a deeper, more stable affection characterized by a strong bond and commitment.

Can you be in love with someone and not want a relationship with them?

Yes, it’s possible to love someone but not want a relationship due to various reasons such as timing, personal goals, or recognizing that a romantic relationship may not be sustainable or healthy for either party.

How do relationships change when love fades?

When love fades, relationships might experience a shift in dynamics. Partners may need to reassess their connection, address underlying issues, or work together to rekindle the emotional bond.


Remember, it’s perfectly normal for these concepts to overlap, blend, or even stand distinctly apart in your life. Whether it’s love that you feel, the comfort of a relationship, or a harmonious blend of both, what matters most is that you find happiness and contentment in your connections.

Let your experiences be your guide, but don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions and be willing to listen to the answers.

Cherish the love that fills you, respect the relationships that shape you, and always strive for the harmony that exists when both are in balance. It’s this delicate balance that enables us to experience the fullest and most genuine expressions of relationship and love.

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Clariza is a passionate writer and editor who firmly believes that words have great power. She has a degree in BS Psychology, which gives her an in-depth understanding of the complexities of human behavior. As a woman of science and art, she fused her love for both fields in crafting insightful articles on lifestyle, mental health, and social justice to inspire others and advocate for change. In her leisure time, you can find her sitting in the corner of her favorite coffee shop downtown, deeply immersed in her bubble of thoughts. Being an art enthusiast that she is, she finds bliss in exploring the rich world of fiction writing and diverse art forms.