Do I Really Like Him? Decode Your Feelings and Find Clarity

“The trick is not to get hooked on the highs and lows and mistake an activated attachment system for passion or love.” – Dr. Amir Levine

By: Milena J. Wisniewska

He’s always on your mind. Your chest tightens every time you hear his name, you cannot sleep, you cannot eat, you do nothing but think of him. 

These are signs of a dysregulated nervous system, not love!

Culture feeds us a rip-your-heart-out image of love, and many believe that this is how it’s supposed to feel. But in reality, life isn’t like The Notebook (more’s the pity).

If your feelings are all in a jumble, this article can help you gain clarity and self-awareness, so you can answer the question, “Do I really like him?”  

Table of Contents:

Do I Like Him or the Attention?

Distinguishing genuine feelings for a guy from merely enjoying his attention is like deciding if you actually like avocado toast or just want to Instagram it. 

To figure out if you’re really into him or just in love with the fantasy, let’s play out three scenarios:

Scenario 1: You genuinely like him 

You like him because he’s a good person, you are inspired by his values and principles, you admire his hobbies, and he adds value to your already well-established life. 

Perfect! Well done. You can stop reading here and give yourself a high five. 

Otherwise . . . 

Scenario 2: You’re bored 

You are bored and have nothing interesting going on in your life, so you cling to any attention you can get just to keep yourself entertained.

If that made you go, “Uh-oh, that’s me!” you may want to hear what relationship coach Jillian Turecki has to say on her podcast Jillian on Love. 

In one of the episodes, she bluntly asked, “Maybe your life is just boring?” and it felt personal. 

She emphasized that to break free from the external validation loop that is chasing love, you need to fall in love with your own life first. Make your life so exciting and fascinating that you won’t have time to waste on crushes and dead-end situationships.[1

So, if you are not sure if you like him, see whether you’ll still be into him after you’ve filled up your schedule with girlfriend dates, Pilates classes, and volunteering work.

Scenario 3: You’re a love addict

You are scared of being on your own because you are addicted to love. 

It’s entirely possible that you are in love with the idea of being in love. There’s no shame in that. 

It’s not your fault that you’ve soaked in an unconstructive image of how love should look like, and in this case, you may want to speak to a specialist. 

In fact, love addiction exists, and you can read all about it in Pia Mellody’s book Facing Love Addiction

According to her, “Love addicts assign a disproportionate amount of time, attention, and ‘value above themselves’ to the person to whom they are addicted, and this focus has an obsessive quality about it.” 

She goes on to say that such addicts exhibit “unrealistic expectations for unconditional positive regard from the other person” and fail to care for or value themselves while they’re in the relationship.”[2]

In plain English, if you obsess over him, your self-worth depends entirely on what he thinks of you, and you make him the center of your world, you may want to read that book. 

Do I Like Him or the Idea of Him? How to know

In He’s Just Not That Into You the author, Greg Behrendt, appeals to women: “Please, if you can trust one thing I say in this book, let it be this: “When it comes to men, deal with us as we are, not how you’d like us to be.”[3]

“When it comes to men, deal with us as we are, not how you’d like us to be.”

– He’s Just Not That Into You

Knowing if you like the guy or just the idea of him is like deciding between Chris Hemsworth and a cardboard cutout — both may look good from a distance, but only one is truly satisfying. 

Hopefully, after reading this guide, you’ll quit dating cutouts and start finding real muscles, I mean connections, real connections.

Assess your level of infatuation

Contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton, in his wonderful book On Love, says “Perhaps the easiest people to fall in love with are those about whom we know nothing.”[4]

The truth is, in the beginning, we only have an idea of a person. So, the real question isn’t whether you like him or just the idea of him, but whether the intensity of your feelings matches how well you actually know each other.

Genuine attraction isn’t something that’s built in a day. True feelings are the culmination of small steps and mundane moments that add up over time to paint a picture of someone’s heart. Only then can you see if what you feel is true. 

The funny thing is that while the voice of reason tells us to hit the brakes, our hormones urge us to go all in as soon as we can. 

A study published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass describes how “ancient biological mechanisms that facilitate the formation of mother-infant bonds were co-opted to facilitate monogamous pair bonds between adult partners . . . . Neuroendocrine systems are thought to have been recalibrated to facilitate approach to novel partners.”[5]

Thanks, neuroendocrine systems, thanks. 

To put that in layperson terms, if you’ve known him for two weeks and are already imagining your wedding and naming your future kids, you’re probably infatuated. 

But if you’ve been dating for six months, he’s consistently shown you who he is in various situations, and you’ve seen him interact with others, and you still like what you see, then yes, you genuinely like him.

Evaluate your knowledge of him

In a surprisingly scientific book with the cheesy title How to Avoid Falling in Love With a Jerk, author John Van Epp reminds us that “communication is the key to opening doors of intimacy and closing doors of misunderstanding and hurt. But it requires joint effort.”[6]

“Communication is the key to opening doors of intimacy and closing doors of misunderstanding and hurt. But it requires joint effort.”

– John Van Epp

This quote highlights the crucial difference between real attraction and an imagined one: True intimacy is built through communication and mutual effort.

Now, I’m not saying you need to know everything about him, like his social security number or his mother’s family name — that’s just creepy. 

What I want you to consider is how much of your information about him comes from social media stalking versus real-life conversations. And in those real-life conversations, how much is actually said versus what you’ve read between the lines? 

If he’s a newcomer in your life, think about how well you truly know him. Are you aware of his family background, his inspirations, and his everyday preferences? 

Evaluate whether your connection is based on surface-level interactions and fantasies or on deep, personal understanding.

Examine your compatibility

Considering that a partner is someone you’ll share countless meals with, you may want to ensure that you don’t get involved with someone whose poor lifestyle choices jeopardize your healthy routines. 

A speed-dating study published in PNAS “found that impressions based on a potential mate’s consensual desirability and on unique compatibility were the strongest predictors of romantic outcomes.”[7]

So, to know if you really like him, check whether your values, goals, and lifestyles align. 

If he’s an outdoorsy adventurer, but you just have a lumberjack fantasy and, in reality, cannot imagine yourself sleeping in a tent, then you’re not compatible. Or if he dreams about building a house in his hometown while you want to move to Europe. 

You see what I mean. 

A strong attraction to someone incompatible might mean you’re more into the idea of them than a genuine connection.

A strong attraction can make you try to bend over backward to fit his way of living, but if you need to do that for him, your potential relationship is fanfiction. 

If you really like someone, that’s because of their values and lifestyle, not despite it. 

Reflect on your emotional investment

Your emotional investment should match his investment and the stage of your connection. 

If, after some soul-searching, you come to the conclusion that you wouldn’t lose sleep if he dropped off the face of the earth or joined a monastery, you’re probably crushing on the fantasy version of him. In your dreams you’re dating Mr. Darcy, but in reality, he’s more of a Mr. Collins. 

A lack of bond, deep emotional connection, or willingness to be vulnerable shows that you’re not actually willing to invest in that guy and treat him as a casual pastime. Especially if you’ve been hanging out for a while. 

If the thought of him getting away feels like losing a Tamagotchi, not a beloved childhood pet, it might be time to reassess.

Consider your attraction to their status or image

Guilty as charged! 

I’ve spent way too long falling for guys who look good and have cool jobs, totally blind to glaring incompatibilities.

When the attraction is all about social status, reputation, or the perfect Instagram image rather than actual character, you know it’s not right. 

Suddenly, you’re abandoning your interests and values because, hey, dating a guy in finance with a trust fund and blue eyes is cool, right? Spoiler alert: He’s probably on coke. 

What’s cool is dating someone who’s self-aware, kind, and emotionally available. And let’s face it, blue eyes often scream “emotionally unavailable” . . . or maybe that’s just the trauma from my last breakup talking.

So, take a moment to consider whether you like the guy or just the idea of cute kids with him. Do you like him, or is it just fabulous to say your boyfriend’s a movie producer? Do you actually like him, or is he just tall? 

If you’re attracted to the idea of how other people react when you tell them that you date this guy, but behind closed doors you feel unfulfilled and unhappy, you know what to do. 

Go for genuine appreciation of the individual, not the shiny packaging.

Observe your behavior around him

This one’s big: Never ignore your gut feeling or intuition, whatever you call it. 

Pay attention to how you act around him. You are supposed to feel safe and at ease around your partner.  

Studies on the body’s response to perceived danger indicate that feeling nervous around someone can be a sign that your autonomic nervous system is detecting a lack of safety. This response is known as neuroception, a term coined by Dr. Stephen Porges in his Polyvagal Theory. 

Neuroception refers to the way our nervous system automatically scans and responds to safety and danger cues in our environment without conscious thought.[8]

If you stammer and stumble over your words when you’re with him, or you try to crack a joke but mess up the punchline, these are signs that your nervous system is on high alert around him. It’s worth exploring why you feel this way.

While a bit of nervousness at the beginning can be cute, if you’re waking up before him to do your hair and makeup because you feel self-conscious, like Annie in Bridesmaids, it’s time to reconsider. This guy is not for you.

You deserve someone who makes you feel at ease — like Rhodes, who saw Annie as beautiful, talented, and sexy, even when she neglected to change her backlights.

If he makes you feel nervous and like you’re not enough, then you’re likely in love with the illusion of him, not the reality.

Evaluate your willingness to accept his flaws

Think of three of his flaws. If you can’t, you’re probably idealizing him. If you can but immediately excuse them, yep, still idealizing.

Idealization is a big thing in the beginning, we all do it. Early on, we see the best in people because, believe it or not, we’re actually projecting our self-image. 

A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology “revealed that individuals’ impressions of their partners were more a mirror of their self-images and ideals than a reflection of their partners’ self-reported attributes.”[9] 

So, all the positive traits you admire in him are actually reflections of your own qualities! Take that, inner critic!

However, another study from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that “lasting satisfaction depends on individuals understanding their partners’ real strengths and frailties. After all, because few individuals really are perfect, time should inevitably reveal just how romantic partners fall short of each others’ hopes.”[10]

In real affection, you see the person in 3D and full color. You get that every yin has a yang: his helpfulness means sometimes he’ll overcommit, his decisiveness means he might forget to ask your opinion, and if he’s adventurous, brace yourself for some nail-biting moments. 

When you genuinely like someone, you see his quirks and flaws without rose-colored glasses. This doesn’t mean you should tolerate bad behavior, like him being rude to waitstaff at Olive Garden — absolutely not. 

But if you can’t acknowledge his flaws, it might be a sign that you’re more into the self-made illusion.

Assess your level of jealousy or possessiveness

You’re on a delightful date, sharing a laugh over some inside joke, when suddenly your date’s phone buzzes with a text. You feel a pang of jealousy, and you might even catch yourself thinking, “Why am I feeling this way?” 

A little jealousy now and then is natural. We’re not all strutting around with the unshakeable confidence of a four-year-old boy in a Batman cape all the time. 

But jealousy and possessiveness are a slippery ground to walk on and speak more of your insecurity than your attraction to the person in front of you.  

You may be so into the fantasy of being with the most charming person at the party that you can’t stand anyone else dancing with them. It’s giving unresolved issues.

A healthy connection is built on trust and mutual respect, not on a plot of Stephen King’s horror story with a side of creepy obsession like you were Annie Winkers in Misery

Reflect on your past relationship patterns

In The Tao of Love, Ivan Hoffman writes, “We can never work our way out of a problem by using the very same thinking that got us into the problem in the first instance.”[11]

“We can never work our way out of a problem by using the very same thinking that got us into the problem in the first instance.”

– Ivan Hoffman

Reflect on your past relationships and try to note down the patterns that you see. 

If you find yourself saying “all men are like this or that,” it might be that you are consistently choosing a certain type of partner due to the relationship dynamics you learned at home, because in love we seek what is familiar.

Alain de Botton talks about that throughout his teachings. In his book The Course of Love he remarks,

We believe we are seeking happiness in love, but what we are really after is familiarity. We are looking to re-create, within our adult relationships, the very feelings we knew so well in childhood and which were rarely limited to just tenderness and care. The love most of us will have tasted early on came entwined with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his or her anger, or of not feeling secure enough to communicate our trickier wishes.[12]

Let that sink in. 

If you easily become infatuated with people, it might be because you learned to fabricate love where it didn’t exist — a kind of fairy-tale thinking. You might fill the gaps where the other person hasn’t communicated, not giving them the time and space to reveal their true selves. This behavior attracts avoidants and narcissists, who benefit from your emotional labor.

Healthy people find this unattractive because they sense you don’t see them for who they are. 

I’m sorry if this is the case for you, but to break the cycle of relationship patterns that don’t serve you anymore and create healthy ones, addressing this in therapy is crucial.

Consider your willingness to take things slow

Infatuation is like a caffeine-fueled squirrel — fast, jittery, impatient, and often with a debilitating crash. The real attraction is slower, more like a snail on a Sunday stroll.  

Real attraction builds over time. It burns slowly like a romance in a Jane Austen novel. 

So, if you feel that after every hit of his attention, you immediately need another one, this may not be the real deal. 

In How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, Van Epp remarks that “a better blend of reality with idealism and the caution to test the one you trust over time will help distinguish an illusion from a genuine dream.”[13]

Evaluate your level of self-awareness and personal growth

Van Epp also tells us,

“The message is clear: Fix yourself first, or your unresolved emotional problems will disrupt both your choice of a partner and the relationship you establish.”[14]

“The message is clear: Fix yourself first, or your unresolved emotional problems will disrupt both your choice of a partner and the relationship you establish.”

– John Van Epp

This message has probably peeked through in the previous sections, but to evaluate whether you like a man or just the idea of him or his attention, you need to assess your self-awareness. 

That includes your level of self-acceptance, emotional maturity, and the stage of your personal growth journey. 

It could be that you like someone because you just fear being alone. You might be using a relationship to silence your inner demons rather than addressing them. And believe me, once you address them, you won’t fall for anyone so easily. That’s called standards.  

This kind of self-awareness and personal growth can break the pattern of being attracted to the idea of a person rather than the person themselves.

Seek outside perspectives

Asking for advice about your love life can feel like crowdsourcing your emotions, but sometimes it’s worth it. At the end of the day, you know yourself best, but even Taylor Swift has a team backing her up. 

If you’re feeling unsure about someone, ask trusted and compassionate friends (not just any random person) for their opinions. If one of your closest friends doesn’t like the guy, that’s OK (maybe they’re secretly in love with you), but if none of your friends likes him . . . Houston, we have a problem. 

For me, I usually just check in with my therapist. You do you, but avoid confirmation bias. Don’t just consult people who’ll cheer on your worst decisions. 

Instead, find those who genuinely have your back and won’t just sit back munching popcorn while your love life turns into flames. 

Conclusion

Understanding your true feelings and being honest with yourself is how you find out if you really like a guy or just his attention.

Instead of overanalyzing your feelings towards him, I have a better idea for how you can use your energy!

Romanticize your life yourself — don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. Fill your own cup. Create a life so amazing that you’ll need a really good reason to let anyone enter your secret garden.

Spend time alone with your thoughts and learn to enjoy your own company. 

Toss out the perfect guy list and make a list of your needs, wants, and non-negotiables instead. 

You can’t be confused about whether you like someone if you know what you want, and knowing what you want you can’t be tricked into wanting what you don’t need (or what is beneath you). 

In the words of Ted Lasso’s Roy Kent

“You deserve someone who makes you feel like you’ve been struck by lightning. Don’t you dare settle for fine.”

If you want to read more about topics about getting into a relationship check out our page here.

FAQs

How do I know my feelings for him are real?

You know your feelings for him are real when you experience a deep emotional connection, feeling understood and valued through meaningful conversations. You prioritize his happiness, take joy in his successes, and support each other during difficult times. You are willing to make compromises for the relationship, naturally considering his feelings and needs alongside your own.

Why am I confused about my feelings for him?

You are confused about your feelings for him due to various factors, such as past relationship experiences that may have left you wary or unsure. Also, it can be challenging to distinguish between infatuation, which is often intense but short-lived, and genuine love, which develops over time and involves a deeper emotional connection.

What is interest vs attention?

Interest differs from attention in that interest is a genuine desire to know someone on a deeper level, involving curiosity and care about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In contrast, attention is more about seeking validation and an ego boost from the interaction, often focusing on immediate gratification rather than forming a meaningful connection.

References

1. Turecki, J. (Host). (2023, January 9). How to actually love yourself and raise your self-work (S1 E20) [Audio podcast episode]. In Jilian on Love. Apple Podcasts. https://podcasts.apple.com/ie/podcast/how-to-actually-love-yourself-and-raise-your-self-worth/id1640172049?i=1000593089291

2. Mellody, P. (2003). Facing love addiction: Giving yourself the power to change the way you love. HarperOne.

3. Behrendt, G., & Tuccillo, L. (2004). He’s just not that into you: The no-excuses truth to understanding guys. Simon Spotlight Entertainment.

4. de Botton, A. (2006). On love: A novel. Grove Press.

5. Mercado, E., & Hibel, L. C. (2017). I love you from the bottom of my hypothalamus: The role of stress physiology in romantic pair bond formation and maintenance. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 11(2). https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12298

6. Van Epp, J. (2008). How to avoid falling in love with a jerk: The foolproof way to follow your heart without losing your mind. McGraw Hill.

7. Baxter, A., Maxwell, J. A., Bales, K. L., & Eastwick, P. W. (2022). Initial impressions of compatibility and mate value predict later dating and romantic interest. PNAS, 119(45). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2206925119

8. Porges, S. W. (2009). The polyvagal theory: New insights into adaptive reactions of the autonomic nervous system. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 76(2), 86–90. https://doi.org/10.3949/ccjm.76.s2.17

9. Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., & Griffin, D. W. (1996). The benefits of positive illusions: Idealization and the construction of satisfaction in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(1), 79–98. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.70.1.79

10. Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., & Griffin, D. W. (1996). The self-fulfilling nature of positive illusions in romantic relationships: Love is not blind, but prescient. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(6), 1155–80. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3514.71.6.1155

11. Hoffman, I. (1992). The tao of love. Prima Lifestyles.

12. de Botton, A. (2017). The course of love: An unforgettable story of love and marriage from the author of bestselling novel Essays in Love. Penguin.

13. Van Epp, J. (2008). How to avoid falling in love with a jerk: The foolproof way to follow your heart without losing your mind. McGraw Hill.

14. Van Epp, J. (2008). How to avoid falling in love with a jerk: The foolproof way to follow your heart without losing your mind. McGraw Hill.

Author

  • Milena J. Wisniewska

    Milena might not be a relationship professor, but she's definitely been through it all, learned her lessons, and is here to spill the tea. She combines the wisdom of renowned relationship specialists with her own romantic adventures to offer relatable and practical advice.

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