Love vs. Attachment: Can I Do One Without The Other?

Love and attachment are often thought of as synonymous. However, there are clear distinctions between the two. It is worthwhile to assess in which camp your own feelings reside to ensure that you are in or getting into a fulfilling and healthy relationship that will last.

By Ashley N. Johnson
Love vs. Attachment: Can I Do One Without The Other?

Love without attachment may actually mean something positive.

Love and attachment are often thought of as synonymous: you love someone and that bonding feeling makes you feel attached to them. To you, attachment might be akin to connectedness, and therefore a branch on the same tree as love. But, you might be surprised to know that in reality there are clear distinctions between love and attachment. 

We all know the story: boy meets girl.  Boy and girl fall madly in love thanks to an oxytocin jacuzzi bath for their brains (more on that later. In no time at all they become inseparable, two beings seemingly living as one heart-eyed, bliss-breathing organism, as new lovers often do. This is the "itch". 

If and when they do find themselves apart, they count down the agonizing moments until the separation ends.  they can at long last be together again.  Rinse and repeat.  That is until their hormone bathed brains settle into this new way of being and the novelty wears off.  

Oxytocin: The Love Drug

The brain on love, at least new love, is a brain on drugs.  No really, there are incredibily strong hormonal changes at play for both men and women when they are falling in love.  Oxytocin, also known as the "love hormone", is front row center in this production. 

Whenever we snuggle up next to another person, pet, or even a super soft cuddly blanket, our brains release oxytocin into our systems.  Oxytocin makes us feel elated the way you do being incessantly licked by a cute puppy or lying in the comfort of your lover's arms.  Perhaps huffing the sweetness of a baby's head is more your brand? Or, perhaps all of the above?  Good for you! 

In turn, the sense of elation that comes with oxytocin leaves us seeking additional experiences that will boost levels.  This cycle is amplified during the early days in a relationship, and the higher voltage, over time, establishes a very strong chemical bond between two people. 

An Oxytocin Molecule

Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for mother and infant bonding. It is also the hormone responsible for the initial experience of falling in love. Source:

There is expiration to this phase of love, however.  Eventually, the frenzied state of jonesing for oxytocin like you would an illicit substance levels out.  Oxytocin does not go away completely over time, it is just that the brain does not crave it as much.  This leads to a feeling of contentment for some couples, but for some, not getting their preferred doses of oxytocin leads to withdrawals, and even finding someone knew to start the craze all over again. 


It is reasonable to say that from a physical perspective, oxytocin is responsible for the experience of love. However, it is more than the sum of its parts. The word has inspired poetry, music, movies, plays, acts of bravery, war, and peace.  It is a powerful thing as evident by all it inspires us to do.

From a biblical perspective, according to I Corinthians 13, "Love is patient, love is kind...", among other specific things.  "Love never fails" is a quotation that comes from this commonly referenced bible verse.  Other religious texts have described spiritual love in similar ways. 

All the things that Love is according to popular 1 Corinthians 13:4-8


Spiritiual leader and yogi Sadhguru describes love as a selfless, and "the way", particularly self-love.  He speaks about how you have to love yourself before you can love another person, and how love and hate are two sides of the same coin.  He says, "If you don't manage your love properly it will turn into hatred." (video). 


Indian author and yogi Sadhguru discusses the topic of love vs. attachment though his writing and YouTube videos. Photo credit:

We know for certain love is a force of nature. Deborah Anapol Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today, "...much we may want to, we can not command, demand, or take away love, any more than we can command the moon and the stars and the wind and the rain to come and go according to our whims". 


Our Yogi, Sadhguru, describes attachment as fear, anxiety, or madness.  He explains, when comparing it against love, that attachment is selfish, as it is based on your need for sustaining your own happiness through the presence or energy of others.  

Remember oxytocin?  Well, once the brain has had it's glory days feeling fantastic all of the time, the levels of oxytocin in the body level out. For many people, this creates a feeling of contentment that replaces a sex-crazed fiend. But, for other people, this leaves people feeling frustrated they are no longer getting the rewards of brain chemicals like they were in the early days of a relationship.  This could explain the difference between love and attachment. 

Sadhguru would consider the need for a feel-good fix a selfish motivation, which is in his view attachment instead of love. Inversely, the continued commitment to another person once romantic homeostasis causes the highs to plateau would be in line with how he describes love.


There is a special sort of attachment scenario you may have heard of that is particularly unhealthy: co-dependency. Many experts describe co-dependency as feeling like something is missing within oneself that creates the need to be completed by another. Classic indicators of co-dependency are insecurity, not wanting to be alone or away from your significant other, and doing things in the interest of one's self. 

What are similarities between love and attachment?

Love and attachment look nearly indistinguishable on the surface.  If you go to a restaurant and look around at all of the different couples dining nearby, the couples who are in love aren't branded with a scarlet "L", and inversely there are no scarlet "As" on the attached couples.  Love and attachment look very similar because they have a common origin: feelings. Our behaviors around our feelings of love and attachment are the same across the board.  Candlelight, romance, looking our best, intimacy, and future planning are things you see in both scenarios. 

What are the differences?

Although love and attachment look the same on the surface, once you slice them and look inside you see that they are actually quite different. Like comparing apples to oranges, you will find they have more dissimilarities than commonalities. The most notable difference between love and attachment is the motivation behind the feeling. 

To love is is to selflessly put feelings for another person out there.  Love is felt and acted upon because it is pure and selfless.  It is not interested in what can be gained.

Attachment is based in self-interest and the role another person can fulfill in your life.  You may feel loving feels for someone but care more about what the relationship can do for you than the other person.  In a co-dependent situation, a deep and anxious feeling of needing that person to be happy or fulfilled might be the motivation. 

Maybe you are with someone with whom you enjoy spending time and have similar interests.  Maybe you have a fantastic intimate bond, and you think you would not be able to find a person better, or that your family approves of more.  The nature of this relationship is attachment because the motivation for committing to this person is because you don't want to end up with someone less desirable, or end up alone.  This is rather selfish if you think about it.  Neither person has the opportunity to find true love if the relationship operates under a self-serving pretense. 

Can I love without being attached?

Not only is it possible to love someone without feelings of attachment, according to many experts including Sadhguru, it is also the preferred path to a spiritually fulfilled life.  In this view, love is inherently fulfilling as it is a stroke of truth in an inscrutable world, and comes from a place of security. 

Can I be attached without loving the person?

Knowing what we now know about love vs. attachment, it should go without saying that you can be attached without actually loving someone.  Why?  Because love is a selfless act, and attachment is selfish.  You are manipulating a person into being what you want them to be for you when you are attached, rather than loving them as they are for the sake of, well, loving. 

If not love nor attachment, what other feeling could I probably be experiencing?

Not all feelings, romantic or otherwise, fall into the categories of either love or attachment.  There are many other feelings you may be having. Outside influences, such as substance use and past relationships, can affect your feelings as well. 




  • Avoidance

  • Lust

  • Intoxication

  • Confusion

  • Infatuation



I want to leave you with a statement from our Yogi, Sadhguru, "Love is like a flower in your hands. You must be constantly aware how you move your must move gently."  


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