Thousands of songs, books, and poems have been written in attempt to encapsulate what it feels like to be in love. So, how on earth are we supposed to know if we’ve encountered such a complex phenomenon?
Further confounding matters, you’ve probably been warned at some point about how easily lust can be confused with love. Yet love does exist, and it is possible to feel it after a relatively short period of time.
“There are different stages of attraction,” says Adina Mahalli, MSW, a certified relationship expert and mental health consultant for Maple Holistics. “The first stage is lust, which is why it can sometimes be confusing to tell if you really love someone or it’s just lust. Lust is when you are driven by desire and passion, not an emotional connection. If you don’t have a deep emotional attraction and are only interested in the person’s looks, then it’s just lust. When you are in love with someone, there’s more than the physical connection. There is also an emotional connection that bonds you together.”
The first stage also involves infatuation, where you put your partner on a pedestal and see them as the greatest person ever. This can get you in trouble because you may not think about things like whether your values align, says Mahalli, but it doesn’t last long. “Infatuation and lust both trigger a chemical reaction in the brain that is similar to the reaction associated with addiction,” she says. “That’s why you feel like you just can’t get enough of your partner when you’re infatuated. Your brain produces all the feel-good hormones such as dopamine and reduces your stress hormone, cortisol, which in turn, lowers serotonin. A reduction in serotonin, a hormone that plays a part in regulating your mood, explains why you act ‘love-drunk’ when you’re infatuated.”
So it’s hardly surprising that it can be difficult to understand the true nature of your attraction. To help you figure out whether you’re truly in love, we asked experts for the most telltale signs. Here are their top answers.
1. You go out of your way for each other.
Love isn’t just a feeling; it’s an action. It means that you’re there for each other when you need each other, even when it’s not convenient. For example, if your partner is sick and your immediate impulse is to go over and make them soup, that’s a sign that you’re in love, says Jane Greer, Ph.D., New York-based relationship expert and author of “What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship.” If you’re too afraid of getting sick or annoyed about not being able to be intimate with them, then it’s more likely lust.
2. You imagine a future together.
If you’re merely infatuated with somebody, you may be focused on when you’ll see them next or how attractive they are. But if you’re in love, you’ll likely be thinking longer term, says Greer. In addition, the qualities of theirs you admire and the things you imagine doing with them will go beyond just the physical.
3. You want to meet each other’s families.
Once you’re willing to get your families involved, the relationship has probably gotten serious, says Mahalli. “Partners may come and go, but family is forever,” she explains. “Although it may seem inconsequential, introducing your partner to your family can be a major stepping stone in the relationship and signify that you’re all in. It communicates trust and shows a willingness to open up about the things that make you who you are.”
4. You don’t mind their flaws.
Being in love means not being a fair-weather friend. You’ll know you’re in love once you see your partner’s dark side and still want to be with them, says Mahalli. Even when you fight, your feelings for them won’t waver. You won’t have them on a pedestal but instead will truly know them and embrace every part of them.
If it’s just lust, you’ll have less patience with their flaws. “If you get sick of them to the point where you can’t stand to be around them, then you may want to cool things off to re-evaluate the situation,” says Mahalli. You can also get sick of someone when it’s love, especially later in the relationship, but if your connection is still strong, you’ll be able to remember what you love about each other and make it through.
5. You have deep discussions.
Couples that have more than physical attraction going for them are able to connect over much more than physical intimacy. They enjoy each other’s company the same way good friends do. When you’re in love, “you want to discuss real things like your emotions and feelings that only deepen your emotional attraction,” says Mahalli. “When you’ve made it past the lust phase, you’ll begin to appreciate your partner’s whole character.”
6. You make time for each other.
How we choose to spend our time is a major indicator of what — and who — we love, says life coach and matchmaker Michelle Fraley, MA, WPCC. “If you take time away from other activities or people you enjoy to spend it with your partner, that is a pretty clear sign that you are in love,” she explains. “We make time for things that are important to us, and making time for your partner is a good indication of love.”
7. Your attention is on nothing but them when you’re together.
True love will give you “tunnel vision” — your partner will be the only thing you can think about when you’re spending time with them, according to Fraley. It may feel as if you’re the only two people in the world.
“If you tend to ignore other stimuli (including your phone) while in the company of another, that is a good indication you may be in love,” she says. “You may consciously decide that the time with your partner is just too special to be interrupted, or you may be having such a wonderful time together that you don’t even have to think about blocking everything else out.”
8. You’ll put up with a lot to make them happy.
If you’re truly in love and your partner has friends or family you don’t like or wants to do things that aren’t your cup of tea, these things may not seem so bad. “Tolerating someone or something to make your partner happy is a good sign that you are in love,” says Fraley. “People in love will often do just about anything to be with their love interest.”