Authenticity, Bad Ideas, Delusion, Emotions, Erotic Love, Friends, Infatuation, Life, Love, Lust, New Love, People, Relationships, Romantic Love, TJ

The Difference Between Loving Someone and Loving an Idea of Them

Like most of us, I’ve now and then had the peculiar experience of discovering I was loved by someone — not for who I am — but for who that person thought I should be.

It can be an interesting position to find yourself in.  For one thing, you get to observe first hand how a person can have intense feelings towards you despite they have, in effect, mistaken you for someone else.

You are yourself, and yet perhaps they want you to be much more like their father than you could ever be while remaining true to your nature.  Some times, they might even want you to be like Brad Pitt, or some other famous person.  The fact you are not — fundamentally are not — the person they want you to be seems to have little or no effect on the intensity of their feelings for you.

In my life, I’ve been on both sides of that coin.   For instance: There was a girl in high school I was immensely attracted to — not for who she was — but for who I thought she should be.  Poor Janet wisely resisted all my efforts to turn her into an intellectual.  Nevertheless, my feelings towards her were as intense as they were blind.  I only stopped short of calling those feelings “love”.  That is, I had the insight to realize I was only infatuated with her, but I lacked the deeper insight to grasp how little I understood her, how different she was from who I thought she was, and how foolish it was to try to change her to fit my mistaken image of her.

Lately, TJ and I have been exploring this issue together in our chats over the net.  We’ve asked, “Are we in love with each other, or in love with our ideas of each other?” We’ve agreed the question is a good one, and that providing an honest answer to it is at least as important to us as making the best possible choice of which beers to drink.

Of course, the intensity of our feelings for each other are by no means a sure footed sign we love each other.  Nor is the fact our feelings developed suddenly.  And neither is the fact our feelings seem mutual.  Those are signs TJ and I recognize cannot be relied on to accurately tell us whether we are in love with each other, or just in love with our ideas of each other.   An infatuation with our ideas of each other could feel just as intense, develop just as suddenly, and be just as mutual.

What might be more telling is the fact that we’re not trying to change each other.  It seems to me when people love their ideas of each other more than each other they almost always indulge themselves in trying to change the other person to fit their ideas.  Yet, TJ and I haven’t attempted any such thing, and my intuition tells me it doesn’t seem likely we will. Of course, only time will tell whether my intuition is accurate.

By the way, I do not mean to imply here that any attempt to change another person bespeaks a lack of love.  That is absurd.  But there is a distinction between trying to change another person in a way that is in accord with their nature, and trying to change them in a way that is against or opposed to their nature.  The former can be an affirmation of that person.  The latter is always a denial of them.

Years ago, when I tried so hard to turn Janet into an intellectual, I was in effect trying to change her fundamental nature, because she simply wasn’t that kind of person. I wasn’t affirming her as a person, I was denying her as a person. Had I realized back then what I was doing, I would not have tried doing it.  But I was blind to what I was doing because I was infatuated with my idea of Janet, rather than in love with the true her.

It can be an interesting question whether we love someone or merely love our idea of them. No doubt there is much more that could be said here about the differences between loving someone and loving an idea of them.  But I’m pretty tired at the moment and not even coffee is working to keep me awake.   So I’m going shut up now and turn the conversation over to you.

Readers who enjoyed this post or thought it was useful to them are invited to check out my other posts on the topics of love, romance, and relationships by clicking here to get to a list of them.

This post was updated on April 9, 2017 to improve the quality of the writing.

39 thoughts on “The Difference Between Loving Someone and Loving an Idea of Them”

  1. The blog post was beautiful. It captures the exact feeling many experience but never stop to question. Many relationships many never have begun (or then ended so soon or in an ugly manner) had someone stopped to question themselves, just to keep it all in perspective. I will be sending this link to some friends who would also appreciate your view on this matter. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Becoming a parent exposed this part of my relationship with my parents. I’m still not sure what it is they loved me for being, but I clearly stopped being that person in their minds after my daughter was born. It’s taken a few years, but we all worked through it and I think have a better appreciation of one another because of it.

    Before I met my husband, I had numerous experiences of thinking I loved different guys, only to discover that I was infatuated with the idea of being in love with them, rather than actually loving them. I realized a marriage was in my future when I found this guy who was way more interesting than my concept of what a life partner should be.

    So much of our experience in life is a matter of perspective, so I think we don’t always examine our habitual perspectives as much as we could. Or maybe should. Our relationships with other people are the most dramatic example, but I can think of other areas in my life where I love my idea of something rather than the thing itself.

    Such a thought provoking post-thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sometimes I catch myself falling into this trap with my children. I imagine great things for them, and it bothers me when they end up being something different. That’s not fair to them, and I may just miss the chance to watch them become who they are if I fret and worry that they aren’t who I think they should be.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well written, Paul!

    I’ve found this in some of my relationships, including in the intelligence department. Wanting someone to be an intellectual when they are not denied my belief in multiple intelligences, and I was ignoring hers.


  5. Now I know why I love this blog so much. Sometimes I struggle with some relationships with people which seem so complicated and then you write a post sorting it all out in such a seemingly simple manner and then I go “ah, that is it!’ This is my problem in this and that relationship.
    And what is more I don’t even have to pay you for this consultancy!!!
    Every time I have thought I have been in love with a person it has been only the idea of the person – what they could be had they found someone to give them love or understanding or companionship etc etc… And then I get hurt in the process because they are just what they are and will never be what I though they could be.
    And in the rare cases where I have loved someone for what they actually are, they change over a period of time .. tell me about being lucky in love!
    It works the other way too – I have felt suffocated in relationships where people have an idea of me and I am sick of living up to it.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I think many people are in love with the idea of love itself and they make up an imaginary ideal in their mind and when they find a superficial fit they transfer their love on to that person. I have been a victim of this once myself!


  7. Very wise reflections.

    I know from my own experience that it’s very possible to fall in love with a false image of someone – because they are presenting themselves that way.

    Some people seem to have chameleon-like abilities to present themselves as the other person’s ideal… the result is a delirious seduction that can be blissful at first but, in the end, must be destructive.

    I remember that feeling of our personalities zipping perfectly, the delight and growth that came as we learnt more about each other, the way he opened my horizons to new things. And I remember how devastated I felt to realise that person had either ceased to exist or never really existed.

    And after that experience, I find myself questioning what I would count as a sign that a relationship is really going to work. If something so blissful, that felt so beneficial and good, can turn out so wrong, how do you tell when a relationship is right for you?

    I’m particularly cautious not to assume that, if that bliss is absent, or slower to develop, it means the relationship won’t work. And yet if that’s not how you tell, how do you tell?


    1. Wow. I seem to be an example of your chameleon, but I really don’t mean to be. I am currently divorcing my husband and have been dating on and off since then. I’m now in a proper relationship but am questioning if I love him or just the idea of him and vice versa, as it turns out my ex loved the idea of me, not me in my own right.

      I seem to have had a very strong effect on the people I have dated – with a few declaring their love, or seemingly on the verge of doing so, very quickly. I also work in healthcare and find that my patients also seem to open up to me rather quickly, especially those with dementia, which leads me to believe that I am very good at somehow making people feel at ease (people with dementia know how they feel, but aren’t aware they don’t know why they feel that way, and so attribute that feeling to a memory or thought that becomes their reality. Helping them feel consistently more at ease totally changes their experience and compliability to treatment).

      So what makes a good chameleon and are they being true to themselves? Obviously in some ways it is good to be one if you work with people, but confusing at best when making romantic connections.


  8. I can not even believe how much I relate to your post..I can not tell you how many times when my husband said he loved me..I replied..”no you love an idea of me “..

    I always got the sense he had a “vision” of the ‘perfect” wife..I do believe he loved me..But I also suspect that he had this “idea” of how I would behave and how I would “think” once we were married..And he based that on how he thought and how he behaved…And when wasnt that person he tried to convince me I was “wrong”….

    Little things mostly are how I became aware of this.Example if I was upset about something..his response would be “well things like that don’t upset me”..In other words I was “wrong” for my own feelings ..he “envisioned” I should feel more how he would in that situation.

    A bigger one…sexually..he “envisioned” that as a wife I would want to have sex as frequently as him..and when I didnt..he considered me “abnormal”..He had envisioned that I would want to have sex every single day(as he did)..That was overwhelming for me..And I dont have any idea where he got that idea about ME in the first place….Because that wasnt who I was..So he told me “normal married couples our age have sex every day”…So he had an “idea” of what was normal for me..That just wasnt so.

    I could go on..Including just in general a need for well as time spent together.

    I just continually felt that everything about me..our differences put me in the position of being in the “wrong” or somehow defective because I wasnt a female version..a female mirror image of him..

    Becasue that was the idea..he had in mind of who I was supposed to be.

    Thats why after years..When he said he loved me…I would ask him ..”exactly what about ME do you love”?




  9. But what is really gonna bake your noodles later on is: would you still have broken it if i hadn’t said anything?

    Or, in other words: are you “the same person” when dealing with someone you are infatuated with or dealing with anyone else? In fact, are you the same person for at least two persons that know you, since each has one experience of you and to each you react differently?

    I mean, do i myself deal with me or with the idea i have of me?

    Is there a “safe reference”?


  10. I think I am “mostly” the same person myself with “mostly” everyone..Thats why I get in trouble..LOL!!

    Rejection is quite different than being in a relationship where someone is trying to mold you to an idea they have planned for you though.




  11. wow, funny to come across this blog at this particular time. I’m currently reading Awareness by Anthony DeMello and your blog correlates with what DeMello has to say, albeit yours is nowhere near as cynical.

    It made me realize that anyone I’ve ever had a
    crush on was a projection of what I wanted. It was the girl fitting an archetype I had constructed, and the rest was projection. So really, whatever it is I’m loving, it’s not who I think it is. I’m loving it because it’s conveniently what I called for in the first place.

    Anywho, awesome blog, Paul!


  12. Sorry to get “too engineer” on you, but this self vs idea-about-self business is so ethereal, I think it matters not and is irrelevant. In relationships, things work or don’t work; things change and things remain consistent. It’s not possible to control all, not enough to assess deeply, and certain not enough to predict.

    It’s enough for me that there’s a Person on the other side of the long, dark tunnel that’s Connecting Consistently. I’m grateful for that. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that it isn’t permanent, even if I wish I could erect a world on top of it.


  13. From ekzept:

    “Sorry to get “too engineer” on you, but this self vs idea-about-self business is so ethereal, I think it matters not and is irrelevant. In relationships, things work or don’t work; things change and things remain consistent. It’s not possible to control all, not enough to assess deeply, and certain not enough to predict.”

    This actually is an excellent example of social-construction theory of Self; that a person is constructed in part by others’ models of her. A person is not just what she thinks she is, but what others think she is.

    So the “idea-about-self” is a practical way of looking at our relationships with each other and the world around us.


  14. This is one of my favorite posts of yours. I understood very well what you were saying here and made me think of things. I’ve never been in a relationship before – too many “close ones” and “could have beens” – so I guess I could say I got a little more prepared.

    I seriously hope that teenagers like me realize that there is a difference between loving someone for who he really is and loving someone for what you really think he is. I feel sorry for a few friends who got into relationships, ended up pregnant, and were left by their boyfriends. And I think this really applies to every type of love: parent-child love, etc.

    Very thoughtful post and well-written. 🙂


  15. Thanks for writing this post! I came across it after a google search and it is exactly what I have been thinking about lately.

    My partner and I are at a crossroads and when we last spoke he said he feels that I may be more in love with the idea of him as opposed to him as a person. It’s been all I’ve been able to think about for the past few days, as I weigh the possibility of this actually being the case. I love that he is a gardener. I love the kind of music he listens too (which is actually the same music I listen to). I love that he’s strong and artistic. I love his aesthetic. I love his style. All of these things, however, are merely things that he is and not how his is as a person in interactions and behaviours. There is definitely an idea of him that I am in love with that is composed of all these things. As a person, though, I love that he is considerate, that he listens to me so well, that he enjoys conversation, and so on.

    I like what you say about the desire to change a person’s nature because it helps me to see that I do not do this. Although there are things that I am unhappy with in my partner (such as his lack of affection, warmth, and intimacy at times) I do not feel that I try to change who he is as a person. I know that he can be caring and affectionate, especially when things are good in the relationship. We’ve been having some hard times lately, though, and when stress enters the relationship a lot of the warmth and caring that we might normally have are not there. So it’s not so much that I try to make him be someone who he’s not, it’s just that I want him to be more cognizant of the fact that he can be quite cold and distant, which in turn makes me unhappy and makes me try to obtain these things from him.

    Wow, I needed that. Hope I could provide some insight for someone else as you all have done for me. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!



  16. I’m facing a similar dilemma. Well. my best friend is insisting that I need the idea of him, and not him. I firmly disagree with this. I do not feel the need to go out and find someone else that does the things he does. It’s him who I need. He is everything I could ask for in a friend, and more, because he is who he is. I don’t know how to explain this to him.


  17. Thank you so much for this post. I have been married 22 years and have been more unhappy than happy. Being that we have been at our worst of our marriage the past 3 years, with a separation in those 3 years. As he has come back into my life i have realized i have been trying to change who he is for the past 22 years. How unfair is that! I have had this idea of who i thought he should be in my mind. And struggle with why he isnt changing to my ways. Why am i not changing to his ways, inwhich i would not ever want to change into his ways. His values are different than mine, his way of thinking is different. If he is happy with who he is why would he want to change or why would i want to change him. Why would i want to change who i am? Its just sad to think it has been 22 years of just realizing this, I love the idea of ‘loving him” and being in love with him, but reality is, i have never loved him for him, i have loved him for who i wish he could be. A lot of insight in this post and it has definatly opened my eyes, whether it works out with my husband or i move on and eventually into another realtionship. Alot to think about! Thank you!


    1. Wow, sometimes we just need some time apart to really see things for how they are. Obviously there were some things in your relationship that really worked, otherwise you never would have been together for that long. I can understand how much it must suck to realize that it took you that long to come to that conclusion. The important thing is that you did realize it and have hopefully acted to correct it. Hope you are well!


  18. “There is a distinction between trying to change another person in a way that is in accord with their nature, and trying to change them in a way that is against or opposed to their nature. The former can be an affirmation of that person. The latter is always a denial of them.”

    Thank you for sharing. I am clearly in denial about a past relationship. The person I am still not over, or rather the idea I am trying to change in my head continues to baffle me.

    I was brought up in a very conservative household. However, I am an artist and free thinker. I am infatuated with a man who is covered in tattoos and piercings. He has the best heart when he has a clear mind; he’s a drug addict. I am now committed to living a sober lifestyle and hold myself to high standards; he no longer fits into my life because of his poor choices. Sadly, I cannot control him.

    Sickly enough, he’s all I can think of when we’re not together. It’s almost been a year since we were last together. It seems so insane, but deep in my soul I pray for him daily. I pray for him to have everything I could ever want and imagine for myself, only more; especially if I’m never a part of his life again & he completely forgets I exist. I pray daily not just for him, but for his entire bloodline & I feel like a nut job to be so obsessed with my own conception of a person which is completely misconstrued. Maybe it means I don’t know who I am yet? How can I figure it out any faster as an almost 22_year old woman? I have a life. I’m in college. This disarming infatuation with a sicko is making me psycho!

    Sorry to vent. I just am so thrilled by your post because it makes a lot of sense to me. (DENIAL is an acronym for Don’t Even kNow I”m A Liar.) All this time, I am continuing to fall like Narcissus in love with not my own reflection, but that of another human being which is a completely different mirror image than the person himself.

    I just can’t seem to fall out of love with this idea.
    Any suggestions?


    1. In my experience, Anon, the process of disassociating yourself — or falling out of love with — an idea of someone can be painful and sometimes protracted. But doing so is probably worth it because it will end the pain your going through already. You’ve already taken the first step by acknowledging the nature of the problem. Now, it’s a matter of seeing with increasing clarity that you are in love with an idea rather than a person. When you think of him, try to see how it’s an idea of him and not him that you’re thinking of. Doing that over and over, time and again, has brought results for me. I hope it works for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. You’re not quite Narcissus, but you sound like Echo. She fell in love with Narcissus while he was utterly fixated on himself. An addict is similarly unable to focus on other people. But Echo lost everything of herself but her voice, and that only could repeat others. It’s not a very fulfilling life.

    You’re in college, I recommend going and seeing a counselor. They’re typically free on campus, and if you don’t get along with one, find another. There isn’t anything wrong with caring about a past love, but there is something wrong with making an unhealthy person who you aren’t in a relationship with the center of your every waking moment.

    You’re an adult, but you’re also young, and you won’t have life all figured out in five years, ten years, twenty or thirty years, so don’t beat yourself up over not having this figured out. But you deserve better than to pine away for Narcissus.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Hi All,

    Thought I would offer an update to my situation. My partner and I have recently broken up, which was a decision that was mutually arrived at. We are both so much happier knowing that happier times lay ahead. After almost a year of trying to give it a go (and going over and over in my head whether or not I am in love with him or just the idea of him) I had really thought that I knew the answer. I have finally come to realize, though, that I was indeed just infatuated with the idea of who he was. I still love him very much, but I definitely see how I have really been in love with my idea of him as opposed to the reality of who he really is. There are some very important differences between us regarding how we give and receive love and that difference has really been at the root of our unhappiness together; I was constantly wanting something more from him, never quite being happy with what he could give me. I kept saying to myself, that he will come around…or that I will learn to accept that level of love. In the end, it was not enough and I need to be happy and have my needs met. This page was so helpful for me at the time and I really hope that it is helpful for others going through a similar experience. Peace and love.


    Liked by 1 person

  21. Paul, how did things end up with this relationship? I apologize if it’s somewhere in this conversation and I’ve missed it…I looked…I’m currently falling for a man a little too quickly but we have these deep conversation, we discuss our flaws, all of them…the darkest of the dark…and I’ve already misbehaved and acted not-so-classy when I’ve been drunk…but I related to the part of your blog where you said

    “What might be more telling are the effects we’re having on each other. We’re discovering that just chatting over the net is an extraordinarily positive experience. My guess is those effects wouldn’t be there — or at least they would not be so positive — if she and I were merely in love with our ideas of each other. I would not, for instance, expect to feel so light-hearted and liberated to be with her if I was only in love with my idea or image of her.

    I think the most important thing, though, might be we’re not trying to change each other. It seems to me when people love their ideas of each other more than each other they almost always indulge themselves in trying to change the other person to fit their ideas. ”

    We have these amazing conversations and I’m learning his flaws and he’s learning mine but neither of us are backing down…

    So I was curious how yours ended up?

    Thanks 🙂



  22. I don’t really love my boyfriend but I love the idea of being in love with him and if he says he love me I say I love him too, because then I feel like the feeling is mutual.


  23. Maybe being in love with the idea of someone is how we feel when we’re in the giddy beginning stages of a relationship, while truly being in love with them happens later, when the kinks and stinks have been exposed but we still love that person anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great insight, Sharon! I think there’s quite a bit to it. Romantic love tends to be characterized by an idealized view of the beloved. What I call, “attached love”, on the other hand, can reach a stage when one sees them as close to as they really are as we ever get to seeing another person. Thank you so much for commenting!

      Liked by 2 people

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