Love is a profoundly strong emotional and behavioral affection for another person. Stalking is a form of abuse that some may mistake under the guise of love. It is important to learn the differences between the two.
This article looks at stalking versus love, including their possible similarities and differences.
It also explores stalking statistics, the impact on health and well-being, the laws on stalking, how a person can protect themselves, and organizations and other forms of support.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Love is typically the combination of emotions and behaviors characterized by affection, intimacy, and commitment.
Distinguishing between the two
Two of the main distinguishing characteristics between stalking and love are:
- Consent: People may express love based on mutual consent between two people. Stalking may involve one or more individuals expressing love in a particular way or pursuing someone without their consent or reciprocated feelings.
- Intent: A person may declare or express love based on genuine emotions to let someone know they care. Stalking involves an unhealthy fixation on a person that may have malintent to scare or harm them.
There are some ways stalking may appear similar to love on the surface, but there are many ways it differs.
Some similarities and differences between stalking and love include:
Stalking and love can cause a person to feel attached to someone. People may confuse love attachment with stalking attachment because they can lead to similar actions.
However, someone who loves another person feels a strong attachment based on genuine emotions for their well-being. Stalking may cause a person to experience attachment based on an obsession or desire to control the person.
Stalking and love may result in a person being persistent in pursuing another person.
Love causes a person to share healthy and persistent emotions or gestures to express their feelings, which are typically reciprocated.
Stalking causes a person to persistently pursue someone without their consent.
Love and stalking may mean the receiving party gets attention from another individual. However, in love, this attention is met with consent and reciprocity.
With stalking, the attention is unwanted. It may lead to negative emotions and harm for the person receiving the attention.
Awareness of personal information
Stalking and love usually involve awareness of a person’s personal information, such as home or work addresses, relationships, routines, and more.
Love can mean a person is aware of personal information about the other person based on trust and genuine care.
In stalking, a person may already be aware of certain information or seek more information without the person’s consent or knowledge. The person may use invasive acts to get information and act upon said information in a harmful way.
Both stalking and love may involve continued communication over a long period of time.
With love, communication is reciprocated and expected based on a desire to be in close contact.
Stalking may lead to unwanted and nonconsensual in-person or virtual communication. Communication is usually persistent, which can cause a great deal of distress for the person on the receiving end.
Acts of service
Love and stalking may cause a person to perform acts of service. However, people usually perform acts of service based on a genuine desire to show love by helping or doing something for someone.
Stalking may lead to unwanted acts of service that a person has not asked for or expected. These acts of service can cause distress.
Love and stalking may result in a person buying gifts or items for another individual.
If the gift is from a lover, it is typically a sign of care and thoughtfulness.
If a person receives an unwanted gift from a stalker to a private address, it can be a form of harassment.
Love may result in consensual physical touch and closeness.
With stalking, physical touch is not consensual and not reciprocal. It can cause emotional and physical harm.
Love and stalking may evoke deep emotions felt by both parties.
The emotions in love usually result from the connection between two individuals, whereas stalking may mean one party has a strong emotional connection to a person based on an obsession. The receiving party may experience negative emotions, such as fear.
The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, & Resource Center (SPARC) defines stalking as a pattern of behavior resulting in fear for safety or experiencing significant emotional distress due to actions.
Below are some examples of stalking:
- repeated phone calls that may involve threatening conversations
- repeating unwanted messages via mail or social media
- sending gifts to a person through the mail or other means
- following a person in public, or involving friends or relatives
- showing up in a place when the person does not want or expect them to
- following a person’s every moment in or outside of the home
- stealing belongings to attract attention
- seeking private information by own means or from other people
- entering the person’s property to scare them
- threatening other people or service animals
- damaging property or belongings
- physically or verbally assaulting
Stalking may vary by gender, age, and relationship to the person.
According to SPARC, research shows that nearly 1 in 3 females and 1 in 6 males have experienced stalking at some point in their lives. More than half of people have experienced stalking before age 25 years, and nearly 1 in 4 experienced it before they were 18 years old.
Additional research shows that 40% of people’s stalkers are current or former partners, and 32% are co-workers, neighbors, relatives, or acquaintances.
The types of stalking people have experienced also vary:
- 69% of females and 80% of males experience physical harm
- almost 50% of people had unwanted contact at least once per week
- more than twice as many people experienced stalking with technology
Stalking can affect a person physically and mentally. It can cause:
- stomach and digestive issues
- anxiety or depression
- sense of loss of control over life
- feelings of shame, guilt, or humiliation
- effects on concentration
- panic attacks
- difficulty sleeping
According to SPARC, stalking causes people to lose time from work, with more than half of people who have experienced stalking losing 5 days of work or more.
A person can discuss any mental or physical health concerns with a therapist or doctor to find support and treatment.
According to the National Institute of Justice, stalking is a form of criminal activity that is an action or series of actions that, when taken individually, constitute legal behavior. But when the action(s) carry the intent to instill fear or injury, it is illegal.
If a person is in immediate danger, they should call 911 or local emergency services.
If they do not feel there is an imminent threat, they can file a complaint with the police and get a restraining order against the stalker. This legally requires the stalker to stay away from and not contact the person.
If a person experiences stalking, they can do the
- avoid contact with the stalker as much as possible
- block numbers or addresses that a person is receiving contact from
- inform friends, family, and employers of the situation
- keep their phone with them at all times
- consider traveling with another person when possible
- report the person on social media platforms
- avoid posting information online, such as on social media accounts
- consider changing email and physical addresses and phone numbers
- keep a record of evidence when something does happen to share with the police
The above steps are usually what authorities ask people to compile when building a safety plan. A safety plan may also include:
- taking self-defense courses
- changing routines and schedules
- having a security system in place when inside buildings or homes
- varying driving routes
- sharing live locations with a safe person at all times
A person may find counseling or therapy helps them cope during their stalking experience or court proceedings. People may also receive support from family, friends, and employers.
For more information or emotional support, a person can call or text VictimConnect at 855-4VICTIM (855-484-2846). Support is available Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Eastern time.
Additional organizations that offer support and information include:
Stalking is not love. While the two concepts may cause overlapping actions, they are not the same.
Stalking usually involves repeated communication, such as calling or texts, unwanted acts of service, or showing up to a place of work or home without prior notice.
Stalking is a criminal offense. A person should report any stalking incidents to the police and call 911 if in immediate danger.
People can protect themselves from stalking by avoiding contact, blocking numbers, changing personal details, and always informing a loved one or other person of the situation.
Resources and helplines are available for people to seek the right support when needed.