Often times when we think of love, we think romance, dates, marriage, sex, having children, etc. Popular media often shapes how we think of love, and our own personal experiences can shape this landscape as well. Ask anybody and they’ll give you a definition of love, but it likely will not be the same from person to person. Why? Love is highly subjective — we all view it through our own minds and bodies, and nobody is the same. With all the differing perspectives, how are we supposed to know what love really is, or how to tell if we’re “in love”?
Before we begin, we would like to note that there are various forms of love, which often overlap:
Romantic love: this is the oft thought of schema regarding love – sex, intimacy, commitment, and physical attraction
Companionship love: this is the type of love we might show our children or best friend – characterized by trust, loyalty, positive regard, etc.
Self-love: this type of love includes self-esteem, self-care, and how we perceive ourselves. This type of love can be rocked by events such as bullying, body image issues, caregiver abuse, etc.
General love: this type of love seems to encapsulate “everything else”. For example: a love of brownies, a love of politics, a love of taking walks on the beach. These can be things that make us happy outside of ourselves.
Considering this, it can seem complicated to tell if we’re “in love” with somebody. This can be especially confusing if we’ve been betrayed by a partner, abused by caregivers, struggle with depression, experience sexual dysfunction, or live in a culture with rigid standards regarding love. For example, in more community-centered cultures, self-love can be viewed as selfish if it is perceived to be valued above the needs of that community.
However, here are some general signs that we may be falling in love/in love with somebody (ranked in no particular order):
You accept each other, without judgment.
All of our lives include chapters that we would rather other people not know. However, with this person, you feel safe enough to share your weaknesses and fears. You don’t need to hide certain details or rush to “explain yourself”, because this person knows that your past does not define you. They enjoy getting to know who you really are, and don’t share personal information with others without your consent.
You would ideally like your family/friends to “approve” of this person.
We know, families and friends can be rough when it comes to the dating world. While we do think it may be a red flag if your family and/or friends strongly disapprove of your partner, ultimately, you are the one entering into the relationship. If you feel emotionally and physically safe with this person, that is what should be the deciding factor.
You enjoy being around this person, but both of you can function independently.
Several chemicals in the brain make us want to stay near the people we love. Dopamine provides us with the rewarding feeling that makes us lust after one another. Oxytocin provides us with the comforting feeling that makes us feel safe with one another. While it is important to spend time with each other, we can still function independently, and our partner is able to do the same.
Both of you experience intimacy in the relationship.
Usually when we hear the word “intimacy” we think of sex or physical closeness; however, sex does not equal love and sex drive certainly changes over time as part of normal human development. Does decreased sex drive or lack of physical closeness necessarily mean that either of you love the other any less? Of course not! What seems to withstand time, the effects of aging, illnesses, and other changes over the lifespan is emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy can be characterized as a deep sense of trust and reciprocity. You have faith that this person will cherish your dreams as well as your fears (similar to #1 above).
You both push each other to do and feel your best.
When our connection with somebody is strong and secure, we feel safe enough to share our goals and dreams. Furthermore, we want to see each other do well and try to help the other reach goals or provide them with praise. We have no desire to tear the other down, because our happiness is often bolstered by our partner’s happiness.
So… what does this all mean?
We hope this blog has been helpful in outlining the types of love and how to tell if one might be “in love”. However, we caution that this list is certainly not exhaustive. There are other blogs and articles on this subject, and much like our experiences of love, they are all different. What matters is what fits for YOU.
Overall, we believe that emotional and physical safety are critical, and will be the foundation of a secure partnership. Check in with these areas within yourself and your relationship, and use it as a guide when making decisions. Also, by understanding how to love yourself, you provide your potential partners with a blueprint to do the same.
by Chelsea Honea