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Being Smitten May Feel Awesome, but Is It Good for You?

This captivated state is precarious because the beloved is so highly idealized.

Key points

  • The meaning of "smitten" has evolved from being struck aggressively by an enemy in combat to being "struck" ardently by a potential paramour.
  • Despite its buoyant beginnings, fervid emotional involvement with another more often than not ends with downcast, heavy-hearted disillusionment.
  • When one is in a state of "smittenness," one is not exploring the other person's possible incompatibility with one's core values.
mododeohar, photographer/Pexels free photo
Source: mododeohar, photographer/Pexels free photo

Smitten is a term with a long and intricate history—and perhaps one more convoluted than complicated. But as most commonly used today, smitten (past tense of smite) refers most often to being powerfully "taken" with (or by) another person.

It's usually employed in the context of having intensely romantic feelings toward another—or, more likely, a would-be or prospective life partner. And its "falling for" meanings have also been applied to characterize mothers "smitten" by their newborns—all the way up (or down) to individuals strangely "smitten" by serial killers.

The etymology of the word is unquestionably curious. So let's first look at the capsule summary provided by the Online Etymology Dictionary:

smitten (adj.) mid-13c., "struck hard, afflicted, visited with disaster," past-participle adjective from smite. Sense of "inspired with love" is from 1660s.

To elaborate on this synopsis, this same website enumerates the early antagonistic meanings of smite—namely, "to hit, strike, [or] beat"—"coming from the Old English word smitan," and augments its definition through the use of such tainted descriptors as "soil, pollute, blemish, [and] defile."

Linking the origins of the term to many other languages, this dictionary is forced to conclude that the evolution of the word's multiple definitions is "not quite clear." But pointing to its well-recognized biblical usage, it emphasizes its prevalent meaning of "slaying in combat."

And yet at the same time, it acknowledges how the Bible also relates the term to "striking with passion or emotion." So we can deduce that the physically violent intensity of death by duel may have become intertwined with the similar emotional intensity of falling in love—as in, being "smitten" by the object of one's adoration.

An exceptionally broad, varied, and ambiguous usage, indeed.

"Getting Smitten" as It's Used Today

Smiting one's enemy—reflecting the word's originally bellicose meaning—now has an archaic feel to it. For its meaning much more commonly has evolved into being struck not antagonistically by an adversary but ardently by a potential paramour. And many writers (academic and otherwise) have noted, exploring its psychological hazards, that being "struck by a crush" is (at best) a mixed bag.

If we consider some of the identifying words and phrases already mentioned, the negative ramifications of being smitten are fairly obvious: "Struck hard" suggests being attacked without the preparedness to adequately defend oneself. "Afflicted" hints at contracting, or being victimized, by a difficult-to-control disease (cf the popular label "lovesick"). And "visited with disaster" intimates the possibly devastating outcome that can be linked to unwittingly getting "taken" by another.

Such a pessimistic forecast aligns with the frequently reiterated caution on the web that such a fervid involvement with another, despite its buoyant beginnings, more often than not ends with downcast, heavy-hearted disillusionment. The synonyms for being romantically smitten may be alluring but they're also routinely connected to heightened, poorly managed vulnerability. Consider, for example, two "non-normal" terms intimately related to smitten: namely, "enchanted" and "intoxicated."

Additional Hazards of Getting Smitten

The main reason this charmed or captivated state of mind is so precarious is that the object of one's adoration is generally highly idealized—put on a pedestal. If you cherish someone, then as wondrously blissful as this feeling may be, the rhapsodic illusion of perfection, or specialness, so passionately attributed to the object of your affection may well set you up for a fall more hurtful than anything you ever experienced. In fact, "falling in love," or being in love "head over heels," suggest a depletion of both physical and emotional balance.

In such an enamored state, how could you possibly trust your judgment to evaluate your essential affinity with the person you've lost your head over? Once you look at someone through worshipful, rose-tinted glasses, you can't help but glorify them beyond what, realistically, can be expected of them. Like everyone else, sooner or later they're likely to reveal limitations and flaws you conveniently overlooked. And that can culminate in grim disheartenment, even dismay.

Inevitably, being romantically obsessed, not able to think straight with your aphrodisiacally affected brain soaring through the clouds, your capacity to make wise decisions is impaired. Accurately assessing another's personality is hardly tenable when you're uncritically projecting your loftiest aspirations onto them.

Typically, when you're in the otherworldly state of "smittenness" you're not even attempting to explore the other person's possible incompatibility with your core values. Rather, if you're attending to such discrepancies at all, they're minimized, or rationalized away. Added to this is the circumstance that when you're infatuated, you're flooded with feel-good chemicals, which have their own seductively distorted impact on your reasoning.

And finally, assuming your love interest wants to be pursued by you, they'll probably withhold facts about themselves that could lessen your romantic inclinations. And through their carefully selective self-presentation, they may actively contribute to your being so beguiled by them.

Ironically, given the mutuality of the enamored effort to put your best relationship foot forward, the two of you will maximize the chances that you'll "successfully" deceive the other about your personality and prime identity.

Committed Love: The Ultimate Antidote?

Perhaps the predominantly negative aspects of smitten are attested to by its being synonymous with infatuated, which connotes being driven to behave foolishly (or, fatuously). And this response is generally contrasted with love, in that this more favorable term connotes caring about someone whose favorable, and not-so-favorable, qualities are already fairly well known to you. In which case your attachment to them is much more grounded in reality than the fantasy-based feelings of being in love.

Moreover, truly loving someone implies that you're dedicated to them and feel a commitment to wholeheartedly serving them. It means focusing on their thoughts and feelings, wants and needs—not just your own—and putting what pleases them on a par with what pleases you. On the contrary, those smitten with another are mostly preoccupied with how the idolized person can gratify their self-centered (even egotistic) desires.

Vlada Karovick, photographer/Pexels free photo
Source: Vlada Karovick, photographer/Pexels free photo

So the central question is whether the transient facets of being smitten or in love can gradually transition or evolve into a more secure, enduring union of love, one which can guarantee that the two of you will be partners not just in love but in life—now and in the future.

© 2021 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.


Boley, M. (2020, Feb 5). 4 Things You Can Do to Avoid Falling in Love Too Fast or Too Hard.… [Definitions and Connotations for smitten.]

Online Etymology Dictionary. [Etymological Sources for smitten.]

Patrick, W. L. (2021, Sept 6). The Real Problem with Love at First Sight.…

Rosenthal, N. (2003, May 22). When You're Smitten You're Walking on Air. air/#:~:text=These%20words%20come%20to%20mind,and%20an%20absence%20of%20malice.

Seltzer, L. F. (2015, Jul 22). What Makes Romance So Romantic (and So Doomed)?…

Seltzer, L. F. (2017, Sept 1). 15 Reasons to Be Wary About Falling in Love.…

Seltzer, L. F. (2021, Aug 9). 10 Reasons Why Romantic Love Can Be So Dangerous.…

Smith, Joy. (2019, Jul 26). The Dangers of Infatuation, and How Introverts Can Avoid It.…

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