Understanding True Love - a Bible-based lesson series for teens

Lesson 15: Identifying Real Love

No theme is more popular in television and movies than LOVE. Soap operas are filled with “romantic love.” The subject of love is likewise the theme of most popular songs. We are bombarded with the idea, “Love is all that matters.”

In a secular magazine, a writer describes what most people think about romantic love:

Love is a mysterious visitation which comes out of nowhere and into the here and now and takes hold of you—just like the measles…. It is recognized intuitively…. If it’s the real thing, you won’t have to be told. You will know without asking.

Love is so important that you must give up everything else for it. A man is justified in giving up his wife for it, a woman is justified in abandoning her home and children for it, a king is justified in giving up his throne for it.

It may go as unexpectedly as it came, and there is nothing you can do about that either. It is not, in any way, subject to human control.”

           (Paul Popenoe, “The Romantic Complex,” Family Life Magazine.)

This is NOT real love! This is an infatuation. Real love does not act that way. An infatuation does indeed go as unexpectedly as it comes and there is little you can do about it. But real love is unselfish, committed love. It hangs in there!

You may wonder why it is so important that you know the difference between real love and infatuation. The reason is this: Knowing the difference can keep you from making a lifelong mistake.

wedding couple

Each year millions of starry-eyed couples walk down the aisle and solemnly commit themselves to love each other for the rest of their lives. For some of these couples, marriage will turn out to be a beautiful experience. For others, it will be something to be endured. But for half of them, it will be a disaster. In a few short years, they will discover that they simply cannot stand living together.

What makes the difference? Some couples are basing their marriage on real love. Others are basing theirs on infatuation, which is false love. A marriage based on infatuation will not last.

Follow the clues

prospector thinking he has found real gold

During the time of the Gold Rush, many prospectors thought they had “struck it rich.” But they found out later to their dismay, that what they had discovered was not real gold at all, but a worthless mineral named pyrite. Pyrite looks like gold, but it has no value at all. It is called “fool’s gold.”

It is NOT easy to tell the difference between infatuation and real love. In his book, Sex, Love or Infatuation: How can I Know?, Dr. Ray Short gives some valuable clues which enable a person to test his romance and determine if it is the real gold of true love or the “fool’s gold” of infatuation.

We are going to consider twelve of these clues, but first let us note two things: (1) The order of the clues is not important. One clue is just as important as the others. (2) No one clue can stand alone. You must take into account all twelve clues.

Clue #1: What is the major attraction?

Infatuation: If you are infatuated, the main interest is likely to be the physical equipment of the other person. A pretty face and a lovely figure are powerful attractions, but looks can be deceiving. They are like the wrappings around a gift box—they do not tell you anything about what is inside. And physical beauty does not last forever.

Dr. Short says, “Out of the dozens of high school assemblies I went to as a young man, I recall only one. ‘Guys,’ the speaker said solemnly, ‘before you marry a girl for her pretty face and sexy form, ask yourself: What’s she going to look like in 30 years?’ That stopped me.”

Real love: If your love is real, your interest is in the total personality of the one you love. There is the thrilling element of physical attraction, but it is only one of many things about the person that attract you.

Clue #2: How many things about that person attract you?

Infatuation: In infatuation, the things that attract you are usually few in number, but they can be very appealing to you. A guy may be smitten by the way his girl smiles or the sexy way she walks.

Real love: If it is real love, most of the qualities of the other person attract you. Each of us has a multitude of character traits, attitudes and interests. How many of these have you observed in the other person and how many do you find attractive?

This is important because, when the initial excitement of being married wears off, you need a lot of common interests to keep your marriage alive and well.

Clue #3: How did it start?

Infatuation: Infatuations start fast. There is no such thing as real love at first sight, but there can be infatuation at first sight. The love songs say, “The eyes of the lovers meet across a crowded room, lights flash, and they just know that they are meant for each other.” Actually, they do not know anything except they have made a good first impression on each other.

Real love: Real love always starts slowly. It cannot be any other way. You have to know a person before you can truly love that person and that takes time—lots of time—to really know someone.

A long courtship is far better than a short one. One year is better than six months, two years better than one, three years better than two, and four better than three.

The statistics are absolutely clear on this subject. But most young people will not wait even one year. Many who rush into marriage learn by sad experience the truth of the old saying: Marry in haste, repent in leisure. If you make the mistake of rushing into marriage, you will have plenty of time to be sorry afterward.

Clue #4: How consistent is your interest?

Infatuation: In an infatuation, your interest in each other blows hot and cold. One reason for this is that your interest grew so fast that the roots are shallow. Your whole relationship is shallow.

Real love: In real love your feelings are likely to be warm and tender instead of hot and cold, and they are more consistent. Real love grows slowly, but the roots grow deep.

Clue #5: How does it affect your personality?

Infatuation: An infatuation has a disorganizing effect upon your personality. It makes you less efficient and less responsible. Your romantic feelings are in control and you walk around in a daydream. The girl who says, “I know he has his faults, but nothing really matters except the love which we have for each other,” is infatuated…PERIOD! If she marries him, she will find out in time that those “other things” do matter very much.

Real love: If your love is real, the one you love will bring out your best qualities and make you want to be a better person. A fellow who was really in love said of his girl, “I love her, not only because she is so wonderful, but because she is such an encouragement to me to be the right kind of person.” In real love, you plan and prepare yourself for a successful future marriage.

Clue #6: How do you see each other?

Infatuation: In infatuation, your whole “universe” revolves around that other person. Other relationships do not seem very important to you. You tend to neglect your family and friends.

Your romantic infatuation becomes the most important thing in your life. It can become the only thing that really matters to you. You think you are justified in doing anything for this wonderful “love” that has come into your life. Most infatuations do not last long, but the wrong things you do when you are infatuated often have lifetime consequences.

Real love: In real love, your beloved is the most important person in the world to you, but your relationships with your family and friends continue to be important to you, and you do not neglect them.

Clue #7: How do others view your relationship?

Infatuation: What other people think of your “beloved” is an important test. If you are infatuated, the chances are that your parents and many of your friends will not approve of the relationship.

One of the dangerous things about an infatuation is that you tend to idolize the other person. You do not see any faults, because you are “blindly in love.” Your friends try to point out danger signals to you, but you ignore them. Your parents may lovingly warn you that you are about to make a big mistake, but you will not listen to them.

In real love, chances are that your parents and most of your friends will approve of the relationship.

A young person may say, “So what? We are marrying each other—not each other’s families and friends.” It is absolutely foolish to ignore the advice of people who love you.

Over the years both you and your beloved have acquired your own circles of friends. We all tend to become like those we choose as our friends and they tend to become like us. So your friends are, in a sense, a “mirror” of what you are like. You may be infatuated with the other person, but your friends are not. When they see danger signals, you should listen to them.

Real love: In real love, chances are that your parents and most of your friends will approve of the relationship. To have God’s blessing on your marriage, it is very important that you have the consent and approval of both sets of parents.

Clue #8: What does distance do?

Infatuation: One of the best tests of a romance is the test of separation. If you are infatuated, time and distance will kill the relationship. This is particularly true if the couple has been mainly interested in each other’s physical equipment. After a while, a real, live somebody close by becomes more appealing than a photograph of a far away sweetheart.

Real love: In real love, absence makes your heart grow fonder of the one you love. Real love can and will survive the test of time and distance.

Real love is rooted in the other person’s total personality, not just their physical equipment. The time you spent together caused your personalities to “grow together.”

When you are separated, a part of you seems to be missing. Another person, however attractive, cannot fill the void in your heart. When you are separated, you may feel anxious as well as sad. The thought may come, “What if he or she meets somebody else?” That may happen, but if the one you love can be happier with someone else, it is better to find it out now and not after marriage. So if separation does come, accept it and don’t worry about it. If your relationship is an infatuation and does not survive, it is good that you found out about it before it was too late.

Clue #9: How do quarrels affect the romance?

Infatuation: In an infatuation, you quarrel often. You may do a lot of kissing and making up, but as time goes on, the quarrels become more frequent and more severe. Your relationship is like that of the two porcupines in freezing weather. When they were apart, they shivered from the cold and when they huddled together, they pricked each other.

Phil and Alice dated for over two years. During that time they broke up and made up at least once a month. They quarreled over silly things and imaginary grievances. Both pretended great jealousy. It was Alice’s best friend, Mary, who dealt the eye-opening blow. Alice confided the details of their latest disagreement. “Just wait till he tries to get me back,” she threatened, “I’ll never speak to him again!”

“Yes, you will, Alice,” Mary told her kindly, “but I hope it will be to say a firm ‘Goodbye, Phil, it’s over.’” To Alice’s surprised reaction, Mary explained, “You bring out the worst in each other. You quarrel because you have nothing left to talk about. A fight, and a tearful, romantic ‘making-up’ is your escape from boredom.”

Real love: In real love, there will be disagreements, but real love will live through them. Quarrels will become less frequent and less severe. Every couple should learn how to handle conflicts. It is far better to discuss differences openly and frankly than to allow them to smolder under the surface.

Clue #10: How do you refer to your relationship?

Infatuation: In an infatuation, you tend to think of your relationship in terms of two people—you and the one you love. When talking about your activities, the words commonly used are: I, me, my, he, his, her, and hers. You are thinking of yourselves as two separate persons.

Real love: In real love, the words commonly used are: we, our, us. You are thinking of yourselves as a unit.

This clue may not seem very important while you are dating, but it has major importance in marriage.

In a marriage based on infatuation, the husband and wife may find more pleasure in pursuing separate interests than in doing things together. The husband may want to go out with the guys rather than be at home with his family. Or the wife may be more interested in her social contacts than her duties at home. In a marriage where there is real love, husband and wife find their pleasure doing things together. The response is often, “I do not want to go unless you can go too.”

Clue #11: Are you selfish or selfless?

Infatuation: In infatuation, your interest in the other person is primarily selfish. A fellow may date a girl who is pretty and popular just to boost his ego. She may be selfish and demanding, but if she is the “queen” of the school, that makes him the “king” when he dates her. Likewise, a girl may keep a fellow “on the string,” not because she has any real interest in him, but because he is devoted to her and that builds up her ego.

Real love: In real love, you love the person for what he or she is—not for what they can do to build your ego.

Clue #12: What is your overall response?

Infatuation: Is it your goal to find the person who will devote his or her life to making you happy? Is your main concern to look out for Number One—namely yourself? If so, you are infatuated. Your overall attitude is selfish—you are mainly concerned about what you can get out of the relationship.

Real love: Real love is unselfish, committed love. You want to do all you can to bring happiness to the other person. Your overall attitude is that of giving to the relationship and not that of getting what you can out of it.

Evaluating your romance

After reading these twelve clues, you probably have a good idea as to whether or not you are infatuated or really in love. However, you need to check it out more thoroughly.

Examine each clue carefully. Take all the time you need. You will want to find out not only if a clue indicates that your love is real, but to what degree it indicates that. In most cases, the clue may indicate a mixture of infatuation and real love. So rate each clue on a scale of zero to 10. Zero means completely infatuated and 10 stands for real love.

Scale for rating pure infatuation versus pure love

Relationship Scores sample paper

Get a sheet of paper and study the clues carefully, beginning with Number 1. Give each clue a rating as it applies to you. For example, on Clue #1, you may say, “To be perfectly honest, I have been primarily interested in the physical equipment of the other person, so I will give myself a score of two on this one.”

On Clue #7, you may find that about half of your friends approve of your relationship and half do not. In this case, give yourself a 5 on this one.

When you have scored yourself on all twelve clues, add up the score.

A total score of 80 or above would indicate that you have a rather solid relationship. From your standpoint, you could be encouraged to think that your love could support a successful marriage.

But this is just your side. The other person should take the test and score high also. Love must be mutual. No matter how much you may love a person, one-sided love will not work. The other person must love you in return.

If your score is from 50 to 80, you need more time to see in which direction the relationship will go.

If your score is less than 50, you are infatuated. So take special care to guard your affections. Above all, do not get involved sexually, and do not rush into marriage.

Note this: Scoring high on the test does not necessarily mean that you are ready for marriage. You may be too young for marriage even though you scored high. Then again, you may be old enough, and yet you and the other person have not known each other long enough. As we have already said, you should know each other well for at least two years before considering marriage.

If you are in doubt...don't!

If you have the slightest doubt about a relationship, it is better to go slow or even back away from it. It is never easy to give up someone you love, but it can be the best thing that ever happened to you. Mrs. Catherine Marshall related this story:

I remember the agony of one attractive young girl, Sara B., who shared with me her doubts about her engagement. “I love Jeb,” she said, “and Jeb loves me. But the problem is, he drinks. Not that he is an alcoholic. But the drinking is a sort of symbol of a lot of ideas he has. It keeps bothering me—enough that I wonder if God is trying to tell me to give up Jeb.”

As we talked, Sara came to her own conclusion. It was that she would lose something infinitely precious if she did not follow the highest and the best that she knew. Tears glistened in her eyes as she said, “I’m going to break the engagement. If God wants me to marry Jeb, He will see that things change—about the drinking and all.”

Right then, simply and poignantly, she told God of her decision. She was putting her broken dreams and her now unknown future into God’s hands.

Jeb’s ideas and ideals did not change, and Sara did not marry him. A year later Sara wrote me an ecstatic letter. “It nearly killed me to give up Jeb. Yet God knew that he wasn’t the one for me. Recently I’ve met the man and we’re to be married. Today I really have something to say about the wisdom and the joy of trusting God….”

Take your time

Remember, time is your best friend in determining if your romance is real love or infatuation. So take time—plenty of time—before making the lifetime commitment of marriage.

Getting involved sexually is “cheating” on the test of time. It causes an infatuation to last longer than it normally would. It can deceive a couple into thinking that they have found real love when all they have is a satisfying sexual relationship.

You may say, “Well, if you have a satisfying sexual relationship, why not get married?” The answer is this: A marriage based on sexual attraction alone is doomed to failure from the very beginning. Such marriages rarely last over three to five years.

Again we say, take time—plenty of time. The test of time will work for you unless you cheat by getting involved sexually. Those who cheat on the test of time will find some day that they cheated themselves.

Why Not


Why I choose not to"Do it."

I'm 18 and just graduated from high school. I’m not writing to ask for advice or to tell you about a problem I have.

Maybe my story is not that exciting at all. I always read stories in books about teens who have made mistakes with sex or have tried it for the experience. I know there must be some people who are not “doing it.” I know that because I’m one of those people.

When some people find out I’m a virgin at 18 they are shocked. Maybe they are shocked because these days guys think girls who are virgins must be unattractive or unpopular or uninterested in sex.

Maybe I’m not the most beautiful girl in the world, but I am a normal person. I was a cheerleader and my high school’s Homecoming Queen.

I enjoy dating and plan to enjoy sex one day with the man I marry. Why did I choose to not “do it”? Well, I have three reasons.

  1. I have seen how sex before marriage can ruin a relationship.
  2. I think sex is a very intimate, personal thing that I’m not ready to share with just anyone.
  3. Having sex will mean giving myself totally to someone. It is a gift so valuable that I want to give it only to the person with whom I will share the rest of my life. Maybe my letter will help girls like me (and guys) to hang in there and not give in just because their friends do.


P.S. After graduating from college, I met a wonderful Christian man who respected me and my convictions. We are now married and have two beautiful sons. Now I truly understand why saving sex for marriage is part of God’s perfect plan.