We’re bad at being able to tell.
“Love” is hard. Not complex —but hard. Especially when it comes to knowing if you really have it.
I talk a lot about signs it is love, but here’s a list of common signs — especially feelings — we attribute to “love” that actually aren’t.
TL;DR — it’s most of them.
You’re Flying High
Love is not about highs and “peaks.”
Everyone experiences the elation of emotional peaks with their partners, especially early on, and a lot of people misidentify these feelings as “love.”
Love is not in “upside.”
Love is reality. It has peaks, sure — it shouldn’t be ugly — but love is really in the valleys. That’s where you know for sure.
What happens when things go south, or shit hits the fan? Because love is neither fight nor flight; love doubles-down, joins forces, makes it work. If your reaction is to throw punches or throw in the towel the minutes you’re no longer flying high, it’s not love. And you won’t know until you hit that.
Look, feelings are wonderful — they are incredible parts of the human experience, so feel All Of The Feelings for your partner, because those are some of the best!
Just also understand that love is not simply “feelings.” The problem is:
- It makes for immature, volatile relationships, and
- It leaves us susceptible to one day “not feeling it” and folding.
Love is a choice, an active decision, and a series of investments and efforts and actions.
“Infatuation,” “preoccupation,” “obsession” or “can’t live without”
If you like someone simply because they keep you company, it’s not love. Partners are not here to keep us entertained, or distracted, or protect us from feeling lonely — or staring down the barrel of old age.
You don’t share (or they’re not here for) your lows
My brother died unexpectedly a few years ago. When I told my boyfriend (whom I’d been dating for years at that point), his first (and only) response was “when’s the funeral?” We are not together anymore.
You don’t want to move with them — or vice versa
When they move across the country (or the world) and you are in no way inclined to follow (except, perhaps, “for the adventure.”) Or, vice versa, when you feel compelled to move across the country but only half-care if they come.
Pleasure (including “they’re beautiful”)
If you think you love someone because they’re “beautiful” or “giving” or “make you feel good” or some other pleasure, you should realize: that’s not real love.
Not adult love, anyway. Not mature love. That is the love we learn from our parents — one-sided love in which one person makes sacrifices for the others’ comfort. And yes, while the best some people ever do is to “compromise,” passing the “pleasure” baton back and forth between them (“she’s pretty,” “he takes me out”), that doesn’t mean it’s love.
That’s not to say you don’t (or can’t) really love them, but “the pleasure they give you” (or, in codependent cases, the pleasure you give them) can never be the foundation.
Just go re-read the first two sections, honestly.
Mature love is based on healthy non-attachment.
Declarations of… intent? possession?
I don’t understand how anybody could ever think it’s “romantic” for someone to declare, “I’m going to marry you” or “I’m going to have kids with you” shortly after meeting them.
Gross. Get out of here with that grabby shit.
To be fair… when it aligns in the right way, it feels really good. But when it doesn’t, and they claim more of you than you offered or chose, it’s awkward.
Fear and love can’t coexist. If your primary anxiety around the idea of breaking up is “fear of being alone,” it isn’t love.
Then what IS love?
- Embracing each other as individual human beings with individual human being lives, who just happen to get along enough to bump down the road alongside one another.
- Then, mutual investment and support in each other’s growth, especially when things get rough or scary. But always complementary, never to complete one another. And always with care and compassion.
Love is deliberate, and we are active players. Attraction and infatuation may be something we “fall into” against our will, but mature and healthy love is something we consciously build.