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July 04, 2019 Thursday 04:09:14 PM IST

Teenage Love May be Driven by Desire, Infatuation and Lust Not Love


First love is only a little foolishness and a lot of curiosity” George Bernard Shaw

Young love is a flame; very pretty, often very hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. The love of the older and disciplined heart is as coals, deep-burning, unquenchable”.     Henry Ward Beecher

How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?”    Albert Einstein


Romeo and Juliet's story is centuries old, but at least two very different views of adolescent romance live on, often simultaneously, in the minds of bemused parents. When they fell in love, she was barely into her teens, and he wasn't much older. Some saw a star-crossed couple who found understanding, joy and maturity in each other's arms. Others saw impulsive kids whose reckless passion cut them off from family, friends and more appropriate interests, provoked mood swings, delinquent behaviour and experimentation with drugs, and ended in tragedy.

Teenagers start a crush mostly to be able to say “I have a boy- or girlfriend,'' and to start to know the opposite sex. In fact, they are not falling in love as they never experience the sense of caring, commitment, and completeness in the relationship. They lack social skills and control over their emotions which can all make the relationship difficult.

Teenage body matures at a much faster rate than before. There is a change in appearance from child to adult, growth spurt occurs and secondary sexual characteristics develop. The young with unrealistic body ideals may feel embarrassed and self-conscious about the sexualisation and the perceived inadequacies.The adolescent brain with certain areas of its still maturing (like the prefrontal cortex) leaves them with heightened possibility of risk-taking and poor judgement, especially in ‘reward-sensitive’ environments such as in romantic and sexual situations. Hormonal changes are also implicated in the intense feelings of sexual attraction and falling in love. During puberty, the volume of these circulating sex hormones in the body rises dramatically.

Hormonal effect

Both sexes have male and female hormones circulating in the bloodstream, the concentrations of which are significantly high in the appropriate sexes especially during the adolescent period. These hormones have strong effects on mood and libido. Young people are hormonally ‘primed’ toward being sexually attracted to others. High concentrations of certain hormones for one’s age, or rapid fluctuations of hormone levels may trigger more negative moods and greater mood variability (Buchanan et al., 1992). Emotions associated with being ‘in love’ or ‘in lust’ are likely to be confused and confusing, even overwhelming for some. Adrenaline (the stress hormone), dopamine (the pleasure hormone) and serotonin are also involved in the complex process of falling in love by evoking bodily responses on glimpses of the first love, by giving a feel-good experience and by giving constant thoughts about the loved one respectively.Erik Erikson, the developmental theorist, considered teenagers falling in love as a form of self-development rather than as engaging in an intimate relationship, which helps in identity formation.

Romantic relationships can have very unhealthy outcomes. By cutting themselves off from friendship and other supportive networks, they can compromise the identity formation. Adolescents can be exposed to abusive and violent interactions or unwanted or coerced sexual activity within their romantic relationships. Aggression between romantic partners is common and when it occurs online, the ex-partners may share private photos or information on social media, causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some have been surprisingly seen to accept these situations by interpreting them as reflections of love, jealousy and overly possessive behaviours. 

Other challenges of teenage romantic relationships include unrequited love and breaking up. In the case of unrequited love, fantasy thoughts about the ‘lover’ can be so intense and obsessional, that it sometimes leads to misinterpretations that the feelings are reciprocated. In extreme cases this may result in problematic acting-out behaviours, such as aggression and stalking, but more common is the distress turned inwards leading to diminished self-esteem and depression, sometimes with the risk of self-harm.

Love or Lust?

Many young people ask, “How can I tell I'm in love?". It is a difficult question to answer.  What feels like love to one person may be nothing more than attraction to another. Some people fall in and out of love quickly and often while others are never really in love as much as they are in lust. For many teens, romantic love is a new feeling and often confusing as they do not know what to expect. There are many questions which provide no easy answers. What is love? What makes you want a romantic relationship with one person and not another? How does your heart choose a partner? Why does love end?

One of the most confusing quasi-love feelings is lust. Lust is a very powerful, very intense feeling of physical attraction towards another person. Lust is mainly sexual in nature - the attraction is superficial based on instant chemistry rather than genuine caring. Lust is often about feelings towards a person they do not know well, yet they feel fantasizing about it. It is very common for people to confuse lust for love. What is it about lust and love that make them so easy to mix up? If lust is all about sex, how can a relationship without sex be about lust? Many teens struggle with these questions. We can broadly say; lust is about physical attraction and the behaviour is guided mostly by it. Love is much more than that.

Many teens confuse an intense attraction to someone as some sort of divine love. For teens, lust and love often get mixed up because feelings of attraction are still new and because many of our films and TV shows sell sex and love as a single package!Lust is clearly not love. Love is based on more than just physical attraction. Physical appearance is a factor, but love goes deeper than that. Love is based on caring, friendship, commitment and trust. When you are in love, it is as if you have your best most trusted friend at your side and you feel physically attracted to them. Love is a shared feeling between two people who understand each other. Love should make you feel good. Love should make you want to be a better person.

Some of the signs of true love:

Your feelings are returned.

Your lover makes you feel special and good about yourself.

You trust, you will not be betrayed and your relationship will not be hurt.

There is happiness and joy in this relationship.

Quarrels or fights are settled within the shortest time, even when there is a conflict.

Neither you or your partner feel the need to test the other's loyalties or feelings.

You can be yourself in your partner’s presence.

Parental disapproval

Dealing with this is very important. Parental disapproval is very common, for a variety of reasons. Parents may be anxious about the character of the other person and whether he or she will be a good influence. Teens should discuss their feelings calmly with their parents. They should listen to them patiently and be ready to follow some rules about the relationship. If parents forbid the teen from seeing a person, they should abide by their wishes. They may continue to maintain the friendship and if found emotionally rewarding, may take an appropriate decision after completing education and gaining employment.


These are a very common in adolescent romantic relationships, some of which last only a few weeks. The impact of separation may not be severe or long-lasting, especially in the case of short-term liaisons. But among vulnerable people, especially those with history of mood disorders, this can precipitate a depressive episode. Analysis on the reasons for break-up showed that they were just ‘moving on’ when their expectations are not met or whenever they felt their relationship was not fulfilling; time healed and experience taught them.


For a teenager, the relationship is often just an infatuation based on haphazard attraction and it will take time for them to understand that it is an entity on which two people with compatible personalities work together. Meantime, parents should give children enough time, attention and consideration so that they will not search outside to find support. They should also be taught about the differences between healthy relationships (that are supportive) and those which are controlling or dependent and to identify the quality of their relationships.

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Prof Roy Abraham Kallivayalil & Dr Soumya P Thomas

*Prof. Roy Abraham Kallivayalil MD,DPM
Secretary General, World Psychiatric Association   
Professor & Head, Dept of Psychiatry

Pushpagiri Institute of Medical Sciences,  

Tiruvalla, Kerala- 689 101, India


**Dr Soumya P Thomas MD

Senior Resident

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