Love. Is there anything in the world more complicated, more confusing, and more agonizingly delightful than love?
And perhaps the most difficult part of love is right at the beginning – when you first start to take notice of feelings you might haven’t felt in years (or ever before), and you are forced to figure out what to do with them.
What are you feeling? Is it truly love or something else?
In this article, we discuss the components behind the ever-elusive yet always present love, how you know if you love someone, and what you should do if you determine that your feelings are real.
What is Love?
What is love? It’s a question humanity has been asking for as long as time itself, and it’s one we can keep answering but never truly understanding for the rest of time.
Love is a feeling caused by a mix of emotional, behavioral, and physiological systems occurring in the brain, causing strong feelings of warmth, admiration, affection, respect, protectiveness, and general desire for another person.
But love isn’t always one thing or another.
Many people make the mistake of comparing their feelings for one person to the feelings they had of another person in the past.
Love changes, and the way we feel love changes according to our own personal experiences.
Love at 20 is different from love at 30, which is different from love at 40, and in a way, this is what makes love so irresistible: no matter how many times you might have experienced it, love will always hit you like it’s the first time.
Pinning down a definition for love is impossible. Instead, it’s better to understand it by matching it against various themes of feelings. Some of these include:
- A persistent willingness to put another person’s needs and desires over your own
- Overwhelming or subtle feelings of need, affection, attachment, and bond
- Sudden and explosive emotions
- A desire to commit to another person and stay with them
- A longing for another person when they are not around
While none of the feelings above prove that you might be truly in love, they do act as strong indicators that this might be the case.
Perhaps the best way to understand love is that it is at its most complex but also simplest part right at the beginning, and what is simple and complex at the beginning, slowly interchange as time goes on.
In other words, love is never easy. And knowing whether you’re in love or not – for real – can be one of the hardest and easiest parts.
Why it’s important to know you’re in love
It’s never easy being in that limbo of not knowing, for you or for the person in question. You might be in a situation where someone has declared their love for you, but you don’t know whether you are ready to reciprocate those feelings truly and honestly.
Or perhaps the person you think you love is about to climb into a relationship with another person, and you want to say something about it before it’s too late.
But how do you know that what you feel is real, permanent, and true?
Love is much more than the other feelings we experience every day.
Love is something we shape our lives around – we change our careers for love, we move around the world for love, we start families for love.
Love determines so much of the way you live your life, that you want to make sure that the feelings you feel are real love before you commit to them.
So how do you do that?
There’s no one roadmap to knowing if you’re in love, but you can start off by asking yourself the following questions:
- Can I see myself being happy with this person in an exclusive relationship?
- Do I want to say “I love you” to them, and do I want to hear it back?
- Would it make me feel pain if they rejected me?
- Do I care about my own happiness more than I care about theirs?
- Is this more than just lust or an infatuation?
The last question is perhaps the most difficult to answer, and for good reason.
To understand this, we must note the differences between the three types of romantic affection: lust, infatuation, and love.
Lust, Infatuation, and Love: Knowing the differences
When someone is obsessing over another person, making irrational decisions because of them, we often say they are “blinded by love”, but sometimes we say instead that they are “blinded by lust”.
The line is so thin, and yet the differences between the two are so important.
Love, lust, and infatuation: why do we have so much trouble knowing whether we’ve stumbled into one or the other?
The answer is simple – when you start feeling any kind of romantic affection towards a person, your brain becomes compromised.
The physiological components that pull the strings behind these feelings go into motion, and your ability to identify reality from what your brain wants becomes muddled.
In no time at all, you become the least qualified individual to determine the legitimacy of your own feelings.
To better get a grip of your own feelings, it helps to understand the differences between love, lust, and infatuation, before applying these differences to your own situation.
Firstly, romantic relationships are built upon three layers of intimacy.
These layers are the emotional, the intellectual, and the physical, and unwrapping these layers is the best way to determine whether your feelings are of love, lust, or infatuation.
Lust is an affection of the physical and rarely anything more. You are overwhelmed with the desire for their touch and their physical energy.
You require your partner to match your own sexual energy and your brain needs to feel them like they’re a drug.
If your partner is selfish or lazy in bed, lust wears off quite quickly, but if they match your sexual desire, you can stay in a period of lust for years.
Lust can evolve, but only if you can become attracted to the person for other reasons than just their body.
Infatuation is an affection of two components, generally the emotional and the physical; rarely ever the intellectual.
Infatuations usually begin as physical attractions, without the necessity of fulfilling sexual desire.
This means that if you have a physical crush on someone, you might become attached to the feeling of having this attractive person giving you the attention you desire.
Emotional attraction forms because you start feeling a withdrawal whenever the attractive person doesn’t give you their attention.
The emotional connection is formed when the physical connection bleeds over and starts affecting your own emotional needs.
While infatuations can be harmless, they can also be quite mentally unhealthy and they are usually one-sided.
Love is the most complex affection of them all, requiring all three layers of intimacy: physical, emotional, and intellectual.
What makes love so different from lust and infatuation is that it doesn’t have to start from any certain layer of intimacy; love can begin from any of the three, with the first bond being a physical one, an emotional one, or an intellectual one.
What is important, though, is that all three layers are fulfilled and met at least at the beginning of the relationship.
This creates the strongest bond and desire between two partners, when the three intimate factors are met.
While they might fade over time, the bond created during the initial rush is enough to keep the relationship going organically, allowing the couple to stay happily together.
The Theory of Love: Understanding your affection
To better identify the nature of your feelings and whether you are feeling lust, infatuation, or love towards another individual, you can test your feelings against psychologist Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love.
Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love is the idea that consummate love – perfect love – is made of three elements: intimacy, passion, and decision or commitment.
- Intimacy: Feelings of bondedness and connectedness
- Passion: Feelings of sexual, physical, and romantic attraction; excitement and stimulation
- Decision or commitment: Feelings of prioritizing unwanted short-term decisions for better long-term goals for the relationship
While each component is its own separate bar that must be fulfilled, they do interact with each other.
There are 8 combinations of these three elements, depending on how many of them are fulfilled, creating 8 different types of love. These are:
- Nonlove: None of the components are present
- Liking: Only intimacy is fulfilled
- Infatuated love: Only passion is fulfilled
- Empty love: Only commitment is fulfilled
- Romantic love: Intimacy and passion are fulfilled
- Companionate love: Intimacy and decision/commitment are fulfilled
- Fatuous love: Passion and decision/commitment are fulfilled
- Consummate love: Intimacy, passion, and decision/commitment are all fulfilled
To test yourself, ask yourself the following questions:
– How connected are you with your partner?
– Do you and your partner understand each other?
– How much does your partner understand you and your feelings?
– Do you ever feel excited or stimulated by your partner?
– Do you long for them when they’re not around?
– Do you think about them throughout the day? How often?
– Do you feel “all-in” with your partner?
– Do you feel like you are responsible for what they do?
– Do you feel protective over them?
6 truths of Love you can’t fake or misread
Love takes on many shapes and forms and evolves further as two people foster a stronger bond together.
Sometimes, love sweeps you off your feet, and before you even know it, you’re already head over heels with the other person.
Other times, years of friendship and familiarity slowly but surely pave the way for romance and intimacy.
But regardless of how it manifests – whether it’s unrequited, shared, slow, or instant – there are fundamental truths about love that makes it distinguishable from any other emotions.
Here are 6 defining truths about real love:
1) Love starts with you
Love is not a static emotion – it’s meant to be shared, received, or given. Because of its social nature, many people think that being around someone is the same as being in love with them.
Loving someone means cherishing them for who they are, not what they can do for you. A person shouldn’t represent possibilities, freedom, and happiness.
No person should be held accountable or responsible to make you feel good about yourself.
If you’re seeking relationship after relationship hoping to improve your life through another person’s presence, you are only using their energy to improve yours.
The best way you can love someone is by loving yourself. When you do, the love you give out to the world is not tethered to obligation or fear — you love others simply because you have more to give.
2) Love brings out this instinct in men
Does your man protect you? Not just from physical harm, but does he make sure you’re okay when anything negative arises?
This is a definite sign of love.
There’s actually a fascinating new concept in relationship psychology that’s generating a lot of buzz at the moment. It goes to the heart of the riddle about why men fall in love—and who they fall in love with.
The theory claims that men want to feel like a hero. That they want to step up to the plate for the woman in their lives and protect her.
This is deeply rooted in male biology.
People are calling it the hero instinct. We wrote a detailed primer about the concept which you can read here.
If you can make your guy feel like a hero, it unleashes his protective instincts and the most noble aspect of his masculinity. Most importantly, it will unleash his deepest feelings of attraction towards you.
Because a man wants to see himself as a protector. As someone a woman genuinely wants and needs to have around. Not as an accessory, ‘best friend’, or ‘partner in crime’.
I know this might sound a bit silly. In this day and age, women don’t need someone to rescue them. They don’t need a ‘hero’ in their lives.
And I couldn’t agree more.
But here’s the ironic truth. Men do still need to be a hero. Because it’s built into our DNA to seek out relationships that allow us to feel like one.
If you would like to learn more about the hero instinct, check out this free online video by the relationship psychologist who coined the term.
Some ideas are game-changers. And for relationships, I think this is one of them.
3) Love is positive
In bad relationships, you’ll often hear abusers defending violence with “I did it out of love” or “But I love you”. We tend to idealize love as an urgent and passionate emotion, so much so that it becomes a means to defend reprehensible choices, from stalking to cheating to attacking.
In reality, healthy love doesn’t resort to negativity. Insecurity and pain are inevitable in any relationship, but what defines two loving people are the actions they take to resolve these negative emotions.
The point is not to completely eliminate negative emotions, but to bring them to light and allow both parties to work out a favorable solution.
4) Love is cooperative
Even the most successful relationships are bound to hit a speed bump every once and a while. As you learn more about the other person, there will be aspects of their personality that you won’t completely enjoy.
Similarly, you will have habits, quirks, and affectations that the other person won’t approve of.
Let’s say one of you has a tendency to raise their voice in public. Love is equally hearing out how your partner feels about this and letting the other person know about this tendency without making them feel bad about themselves.
Love is both choosing to improve yourself as a person for your partner, and ensuring that your partner knows you still love them, despite the need for some fine tuning.
Ultimately, love is about meeting halfway. It’s being considerate of what the other person feels, and making the right choices that help the relationship grow.
5) Love is built on a strong foundation
While physical attraction and intimacy are important components of love, these two shouldn’t be the main anchors of your bond.
People fall in love because of the way the other person talks, how they treat people in their family, or how successful they are in their career. It’s everything, from their deepest convictions to their idiosyncrasies.
But what really transforms love into the deepest, purest version of itself is completely knowing the other person and loving them more for it.
A bond doesn’t have to last a decade to blossom into something that lasts a lifetime.
However, there has to be enough time to really understand a person’s core essence, including the good, the bad, and the ugly things in their life.
6) Love occurs in stages
No matter how ethereal love seems, it’s still a feeling. Just like other feelings, it’s going to ebb and flow based on a variety of factors, some of which may not even involve your romantic interest.
Too many people make the mistake of thinking that love should only be the passionate kind, and that any other kind of love is false.
However, it’s really the quiet, stable, and steady kind of love that stands the test of time because people who are in it understand that love isn’t just about the high points — it’s about cherishing everything including the middles and the lows.
“I’m In Love”: 20 Feelings You Probably Have
Happiness, contentment, and excitement aren’t the only components of a loving relationship. There are other characteristics that will help you understand whether you’re really in love or not.
Listed below are some 20 affirmations about the love you are feeling. If what you feel is real, chances are you will tick at least 15 of the following:
- Most, if not all, of the things I do for my relationship are done out of love.
- I choose my partner and there is no one else I’d rather be in a relationship with.
- My partner and I are transparent about each other, and I’m confident he/she loves me the way I love him.
- I am fulfilled and content with my relationship.
- When I feel insecure about the relationship out of nowhere, I remind myself that everything is probably okay and trust that everything is going well between me and my partner.
- I call my partner/lover first to both bad and good news.
- The choices I make in the relationship are more for us than for me.
- I am content with how my partner and I resolve issues.
- I am ready to support my partner no matter what obstacles they face.
- I feel happy and supportive of my partner when he/she receives great things in life.
- I like most things about my partner, including his/her quirks and affectations.
- If my partner were to lose everything right now, I would still choose to be with her/him.
- I feel good about my choice in a partner. I like being around him/her around other people.
- I love and treasure myself the same way I love my partner.
- I am able to stay true to myself in my relationship. I don’t need to pretend or walk around eggshells when I’m around him/her.
- My happiness isn’t dependent on my partner. I can be happy with and without my partner beside me.
- Just thinking about my partner makes me happy.
- I connect with my partner on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level.
- Previous issues between me and my partner have been resolved through our mutual efforts.
- My partner has added value to my life and helped me become a better person.
Are you in love? Start your relationship the right way
Any good relationship needs a solid foundation from the get-go. Thankfully, the path to building a long-lasting relationship isn’t as complicated as it seems.
In order to make something last, you have to jump start it the right way, starting from your motivation to how you seal the deal.
Step 1: Make each other feel essential
For a man especially, feeling essential to a woman is often what separates “like” from “love”.
Don’t get me wrong, no doubt your guy loves your strength and abilities to be independent. But he still wants to feel wanted and useful — not dispensable!
This is because men have a built in desire for something “greater” that goes beyond love or sex. It’s why men who seemingly have the “perfect girlfriend” are still unhappy and find themselves constantly searching for something else — or worst of all, someone else.
Simply put, men have a biological drive to feel needed, to feel important, and to provide for the woman he cares about.
Relationship psychologist James Bauer calls it the hero instinct. I talked about this above.
As James argues, male desires are not complicated, just misunderstood. Instincts are powerful drivers of human behavior and this is especially true for how men approach their relationships.
So, when the hero instinct isn’t triggered, men are unlikely to commit to a relationship with any woman. He holds back because being in a relationship is a serious investment for him. And he won’t fully “invest” in you unless you give him a sense of meaning and purpose and make him feel essential.
How do you trigger this instinct in him? How do you give him this sense of meaning and purpose?
You don’t need to pretend to be anyone you’re not or play the “damsel in distress”. You don’t have to dilute your strength or independence in any way, shape or form.
In an authentic way, you simply have to show your man what you need and allow him to step up to fulfill it.
In his new video, James Bauer outlines several things you can do. He reveals phrases, texts and little requests that you can use right now to make him feel more essential to you.
By triggering this very natural male instinct, you’ll not only give him greater satisfaction but it will also help to rocket your relationship to the next level.
Step 2: Understand your needs and limits.
Why you’re getting into a relationship in the first place is the first question you should evaluate. What do you hope to get out of this experience? Answering this question will help you understand who you’re looking for.
Do you want to have a quick fling or do you want to meet a potential long-term partner?
What values and characteristics are you looking for in a person? Before meeting “the one”, it’s important to know what you like and don’t like in a partner to avoid settling down someone who is nowhere near your standards.
Step 3: Learn more about the person you’re dating.
Before going all in and declaring your love for the other person, take the time to actually get to know them. On your first date, you’ll probably talk about your job, families, friends, and hobbies.
If these are impressive enough to make you want to marry them, remember that there are still many things you don’t know about them that could result in incompatibility.
Don’t take what they say at face value. Spend time with them in different contexts to see how they behave in different stimuli. It’s easy to make yourself look good on a date, so make sure to spend time with them outside of a controlled environment.
Step 4: Don’t be fooled by chemicals
Sleeping with someone releases a brain chemical called oxytocin, which increases the bond between two people.
Don’t let your physical compatibility define the success of your relationship.
Keep in mind that the strong bond you’re feeling towards this person is chemically-induced and that there are many more aspects of the relationship that are more bond-forming than sex.
Step 5: Profess your feelings
If you really see yourself falling in love with the person, it’s always worth a shot to say something about it, unless they’re openly abusive or manipulative.
Letting the other person know what you feel shows courage and confidence. Even if they don’t reciprocate your emotions, you can move on with your life not wondering about missed opportunities and possible scenarios.
In the event the person does reciprocate your feelings, discuss your expectations openly. People who are in love won’t always want a relationship, so don’t assume immediately that he or she would want to be committed to you.
If your love isn’t mutual? Here’s what to do…
Nothing sucks more than unrequited love. It feels like all of your energy and potential have been snuffed out. It’s tempting to wallow in your sorrow and give up on them.
However, you should fight this instinct and instead remind yourself that your love is born from a pure and special place. And if the person is worth fighting for… then fight for them.
Especially for women, if he doesn’t feel the same way or is acting lukewarm towards you, then you must get inside his head and understand why.
Because if you love them, it’s up to you to dig a bit deeper and figure out why he’s hesitant to return serve.
In my experience, the missing link in any relationship is never sex, communication or a lack of romantic dates. All these things are important, but they are rarely deal breakers when it comes to the success of a relationship.
The missing link is this:
You actually have to understand what your guy needs from a relationship.
Men need this one thing
James Bauer is one of the world’s leading relationship experts.
In his new video, he reveals a new concept which brilliantly explains what really drives men in relationships. He calls it the hero instinct. I talked about this concept above.
Simply put, men want to be your hero. Not necessarily an action hero like Thor, but he does want to step up to the plate for the woman in his life and be appreciated for his efforts.
The hero instinct is probably the best-kept secret in relationship psychology. And I think it holds the key to a man’s love and devotion for life.
My friend and Hack Spirit writer Pearl Nash was the person who first introduced the hero instinct to me. Since then I’ve written extensively about the concept on Hack Spirit.
For many women, learning about the hero instinct was their “aha moment”. It was for Pearl Nash. You can read her personal story here about how triggering the hero instinct helped her turn around a lifetime of relationship failure.