In an interview with InStyle magazine some years ago (re-published in part by People), tennis icon Serena Williams had a psychological take on meeting—and falling in love—with her now-husband tech entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, Sr.
“I had this sense, like, ‘I’m going to marry this guy, but I’m not ready yet, but I know I’m going to marry this guy.’ I didn’t know his world at all…so we started talking, just as friends. Just casually chatting…So after that we just continued talking, and then, I don’t know—I love his world.”
Even though Ohanian has made a profound impression on her, Williams senses that she had some life to live and some evolving to do before they became a couple.
Psychologists say that it’s not just our “butterflies in the stomach” and ecstatic emotions that tell us we’re in love, but a number of other factors besides feelings.
So what are the signals psychologists say we should pay attention to to truly know that we are in love?
Here are six indications that the love you feel is about a lot more than just the chocolates and the roses (although those are certainly very nice, too).
1) Your feelings for them are much more consistent than a crush
When you’re truly in love, your feelings get deeper and stronger.
When you find long-lasting and healthy love, it’s much different than a crush or a fleeting attraction, says Sarah Barkley, from PsychCentral. “It’s a complicated experience, but it’s life-changing in irreplaceable ways.”
Many people describe the realization that they’re in love when they have this familiar feeling of coming home. Like they’ve known this person their whole lives. There is safety, a calmness, and contentment in being with them, as opposed to an ecstatic, intoxicating, almost chaotic attraction.
“When you’ve wondered for a while and your emotions haven’t wavered or decreased, it’s a good sign that you’re in love,” Barkley says. “When our feelings for someone deepen, we’ll find comfort in being able to honestly express ourselves.”
This feels like a nourishing love and bond that you want to nurture and grow.
2) You like how they look—but you are drawn to them for reasons that are much deeper than that
There’s nothing wrong with physical attraction in romantic love—but when you’re truly in love you see that more as a bonus to who they are as a person.
Especially over time.
“That’s because the longer a couple knows each other, the less important physical attractiveness becomes for maintaining a long-term relationship,” says Madeleine A. Fugère PhD, from Psychology Today.
That’s because there is more merit and value in qualities such as a sense of humor, intelligence, kindness, understanding, as well as a family orientation.
These are the things that sustain the relationship.
Physical attraction does have its place: but it is more the gateway that directs us towards partners who are healthy, age-appropriate, and perhaps able to reproduce (if that’s what you’re looking for), says Fugère.
“But no matter our personal level of attractiveness, or our partner’s, as we get to know, like, and respect each other more, our attraction naturally grows and deepens.”
3) You accept one another with open arms
What’s that saying? Real love gives us the gift of ourselves—or something like that? I believe that to be true.
Acceptance is a huge part of this. But it also works both ways.
“Acceptance means embracing each other’s flaws and imperfections,” says the team at Better Help.
“True love doesn’t seek to change the other person but accepts them for who they are, acknowledging that nobody is perfect.”
Some people resist the idea of acceptance because it feels to them that they’re giving up or giving in, says therapist Jason Whitling, PhD.
“It doesn’t mean you ignore problems or don’t try to improve your situation…Acceptance just suggests that many things are outside of our control, and getting angry or bitter about it only makes it worse,” he says.
“Sometimes difficult situations involve suffering. When there isn’t a quick fix, it is an opportunity for patience and growth.”
Remember: real love is a process.
4) You drive each other crazy—but in a good way
Romantic love is easy to fall into, but it is also a risk.
It’s a good thing to date someone who challenges you—even if they drive you nuts some of the time, says Mélanie Berliet from Thought Catalog, a platform devoted to mental health and relationships.
“Compatibility in a relationship isn’t just about being able to have a good time with someone.”
Berliet says that even though it’s important to laugh together and enjoy each other’s company and to share interests, hobbies, and values, true compatibility is about so much more than that.
“Arguably, it’s more important to find someone who’s different from you in certain key ways. Because personal growth depends on being challenged, and you will not be pushed by someone who’s exactly like you.”
I love that Berliet says that we shouldn’t date a “yes person”—the person who agrees with everything we say.
“Date the person you literally can’t stand on occasion because their opinions drive you mad or their way of seeing the world seems incomparable to you,” she says.
“Force yourself to try and see things from their perspective—to learn how their experience of the world has shaped their views and made them harbor whatever beliefs they hold dear.”
Being with someone who challenges us and compels us to evolve—and vice versa—will grow the love and the bond.
5) You can see yourself having a future with them
You know you’re in love when there’s no one else you’d rather be with.
It’s the big things we mentioned, but it’s also the small things. You smile when you hear the sound of their voice, for example.
You can’t stop thinking about them when you’re not with them—not in an obsessive sort of way of course—but in a “I really miss you” kind of way.
You also feel a profound sense of gratitude that this person is in your life; they have become your partner in crime; your ride or die.
“Ultimately you should be in a relationship in which you don’t even notice any greener grass because you’re with someone you think is best for you, and who thinks you’re the best for them,” says Gary W. Lewandowski Jr, PhD, from Psychology Today.
When you see a future with them and you don’t even want to imagine being with anyone else, that’s a pretty surefire way to know that you’re in love.
Falling in love is fueled by a myriad of things…
In essence, the realization that you’re in love comes from a combination of things.
Behaving more affectionately towards the person or not being able to take your eyes off them are some superficial signs. Craving to be with them is another obvious indication.
Deeper signs are that you have decided to make each other a priority. You have compassion, respect, and empathy for one another as well as aligning interests and values.
You feel safe with them and really, the relationship shouldn’t be that hard. Sure, there will be challenging times but it shouldn’t be difficult to be with them.
When you have all of the above, you can cross finding love off your list—hopefully forever.