Ahhh, love. It’s got to be one of the most universally misunderstood emotions. Why? Because it’s so difficult to tell if you love someone or if you’re just mistaking those warm fuzzies for something else entirely. And no one wants to spend a ton of time and effort into something that’s headed straight for splitsville. So how do you know you love someone? Read on for advice from dating experts on how to try and find out if you are in love or just having fun.
How to discern if you may love someone
Maybe you’re thinking you’ve really met “the one” this time, and you’re considering the possibility that the relationship may have staying power. While how to tell if you’re in love with someone is far from an exact science, there are some clues you can consider.
It may be love if:
You’re truly concerned about the other person’s wellbeing. You’re not thinking of what’s in it for you, but rather you’re concerned that the other person is happy and fulfilled.
You feel there’s a future together. You can visualize the future, in a realistic way, with this person. You can see how you’d be spending the moments of your days together, said Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist.
You’ve talked about the tough stuff. You have easy communication about serious things, and you’ve talked about sex, money, lifestyles, future plans, extended family and other real aspects of sharing life together.
The relationship is low-stress. Even perfect couples will have arguments and disagreements from time to time, but in general, the relationship should feel like it’s on autopilot—in a good way.
You celebrate their successes. When an acquaintance or coworker experiences success, you may feel a twinge of jealousy. But when someone you love gets a big win, your shared connection means you feel it just as strongly as they do.
You miss them. A few days to yourself, may sound great at first but if you love someone, it doesn’t take much time apart to start missing them.
You want to try new things. Love can have effects on your personality. If you never had any interest in rock climbing, for example, but are suddenly keen to try it because your partner enjoys it, that’s a sign you may be in love.
You want friends and family to like them. It’s normal to value input from loved ones when dating someone new. But if you’re actively hoping they give your new partner their seal of approval, that’s a sign you’re probably becoming more attached to them.
You’re fine letting things go a little. When you first start dating someone, you likely make a point to put your best foot forward to impress them. When you genuinely love someone, though, it’s normal to let your guard down. If you don’t feel compelled to dress your best every single day, or find yourself fine with their less hygienic behaviors, that may be a sign.
You think about them often. Of course, it can be hard to get your latest crush off your mind. But when you love someone, your bond with them means the relationship is a factor in every decision you make.
You feel like you’re a better person. As mentioned, being in love can alter your personality in surprising ways. You may not feel drastically different, and you may not be able to pinpoint it, but being in a loving relationship often means feeling like you’re a better person than you were before you met them.
It’s probably something else if:
The feeling was instantaneous. “It is a myth that love happens instantly, that you must be absolutely sure from the beginning, that you’ll know when you find it, and that ‘chemistry’ is all you need,” said Tessina. “These ideas are heavily promoted in movies, TV, novels and plays. Such romantic falling in love can be great entertainment, but it usually doesn’t work well in real life.”
Everything revolves around the bedroom. “While love can include physical excitement, at other times, purely physical and/or circumstantial attraction can fade rather quickly, and lead nowhere. The more you get to know each other, the less exciting a purely physical attraction is; with love, the converse is true,” Tessina said.
There’s jealousy involved. Feelings of jealousy are often mistaken for love—it’s only natural to want the object of your affection all to yourself. In reality, however, jealousy is more about insecurity or a need to control the other person than actual love.
You disagree on major things. One of you can’t imagine not seeing your parents weekly while the other hasn’t seen theirs in a decade. One of you wants to leave society and live in a yurt while the other wants to pursue a fast-paced career. It’s okay for couples to be different, but disagreements over fundamental aspects of life may get in the way of building an actual loving relationship.
What exactly is love, anyway?
Unlike lust and infatuation, actual love is not an immediate feeling. Like friendship, it grows over time and doesn’t need to be fueled by sexual attraction. While some types of love do go hand-in-hand with sexual feelings, others don’t at all (consider love for a sibling or parent versus a partner).
According to Sam Whittaker, dating expert and editor at Mantelligence, there are actually eight different types of love:
- Eros - a romantic and sexually oriented love
- Philia - a friendship type of love; pure, without any interest
- Storge - the love you feel toward family
- Philautia - self-love
- Ludus - a playful love, often seen at the start of a romantic relationship
- Mania - an obsessive type of love
- Pragma - a mature, long-term love
- Agape - an altruistic type of love without expecting anything in return
Not surprisingly, the love that grows between a couple who stays together over the years is much closer to the last two listed—pragma and agape—than any of the other flirty, sexually oriented types. It’s the commitment to stay together through financially stressful times, child rearing, disagreements over where to spend the holidays and other stress tests that can buckle even the strongest of relationships.
There aren’t many of life’s challenges that can be overcome through sexual attraction, which is why real love must reach much deeper in order to last. “Many excellent lifelong relationships began without a lot of chemistry,” said Tessina.
“People who develop a friendship first often don’t generate chemistry right away. Chemistry’s great if you have it, but not everyone makes that instant connection. If you focus too heavily on whether or not you are excited about someone, you may discount the very real possibility of the kind of love that grows slowly, such as a friendship that eventually becomes a loving relationship.”
Love vs. lust
When a certain someone comes around, your face gets flushed, your heart begins to race and, well, you basically lose your cool. What’s going on, here? Whittaker, says it’s quite simple: you’re infatuated with this person.
“Lust is an initial physical attraction that overwhelms and is driven by pheromones,” he said. And it’s quite a powerful thing.“
According to studies, said Whittaker, “the brain of a person experiencing lust is like a brain on drugs. MRI scans have even shown that the area that lights up with lustful thoughts is the same as when a person gets a cocaine fix.”
But infatuation simply isn’t the same thing as love, though it can certainly be a precursor.
“The main reason for this is because these emotions both stem from an intense attraction for the other person. And usually, this emotion obliterates common sense and intuition, even in the most sensible human beings,” Whittaker added.
So if you’re wondering how to tell if you love someone, you’ll have to do some soul-searching. Are you in this together? Is your bond with the person strong? Are you able to put your ego aside when you discuss difficult matters?
All of these things are indicators that this could be the real thing. And, of course, it’s totally okay to have all those fun, lusty feelings of infatuation, too. That just makes things all the more fun.