Not Sure If You’re in Love or Not? Here’s How to Know for Sure
What does it mean to be in love with someone, when you really get down to it?
You might picture stereotypical scenes from romantic movies or lyrics from songs about love, people claiming they can’t live without the other person or they think about the other person constantly, but there’s more to being in love than just experiencing romantic desire and passion for someone else.
What Does ‘Being in Love’ Mean?
“Deep romantic feelings are only part of the picture,” says dating coach Connell Barrett. “You also have a strong need to contribute to that person’s life — to make them happy, to give them kindness and compassion, to help keep them safe. You also want to grow with them. In short, being in love is about needing to give to and grow with someone you have strong romantic feelings for.”
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of “Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today,” agrees that wanting to share your full lives is a big aspect of being in love with someone.
“Being in love means wanting to share life with a partner, wanting to make that partner happy, caring about your partner’s feelings and wants, and feeling good about being together,” she says.
In short, being in love with someone is a combination of different feelings — a strong desire to see and spend time with someone, not just in one specific way but in many different ways, not just in the short term but in the long-term as well.
Being in love with someone is about feeling that you’ve met your perfect match — someone who’s deeply right for you, someone you’ll care for no matter what.
The Difference Between Loving Someone and Being ‘In Love’
Of course, you might be curious about what differentiates simply loving someone from being ‘in love’ with them — and that’s a fair question. Is “I love you” different from “I’m in love with you?” And if so, why do we say the first to people we love as well as to people we’re in love with?
Some people might not necessarily draw a distinct line between the two concepts, but generally speaking, people understand that you can love someone without being in love with them — that we reserve ‘in love’ for one person only, someone we love in a romantic and passionate way.
“We love all kinds of people: parents, children, dear friends, good buddies, beloved mentors,” says Tessina. “However, being in love means wanting to share all aspects of life with that partner: living together, making love, building a life for the two of you (and maybe a family) feeling especially close to one person, closer than anyone else you love.”
Part of that dynamic, Tessina notes, is the idea that the two of you could conceivably turn your long-term relationship into spending your entire lives together.
“Your parents and children will grow away from you as you or they grow up,” she notes. “Your friends may move, get married, or otherwise be unavailable. The person you’re in love with and you intend to be with each other always, and you’re willing to work to make sure the relationship grows and thrives.”
What drives that desire for it to just be the two of you? Barrett argues that it’s simple: passion.
“When you’re in love, you’re fueled by a strong passion for that person,” he says. “It feels like being possessed. That’s what a great relationship is: love and passion. Without that desire, you’re like very close friends. You may love them, but you’re not in love.”
While that passion is primarily emotional, often it can take the form of physical (that is, sexual) passion.
“You want to be intimate with someone you’re in love with; kiss them, cuddle them, and have sex with them,” says Engle. “As simple as this sounds, ‘love’ vs. ‘in love’ basically boils down to romance and, unless you’re on the asexual spectrum, sex.”
Signs That You’re in Love With Someone
So how do you recognize that you’re really, truly in love with someone? Of course, there’s no simple way to do this. It will feel slightly different for every person and every couple, and there’s no simple set of things you can check off to show you that you’re in love.
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However, there are some signs that might be useful in determining if your feelings really do qualify as being in love.
“If you can picture a future with your partner, and there’s no one else you can picture that future with, that’s probably love,” says Tessina.
It may also present itself as a feeling of nervousness or giddiness, initially.
“The old phrase ‘butterflies in your stomach’ to describe love is actually pretty accurate,” says SKYN Condoms’ Sex & Intimacy Expert, certified sex coach, sexologist and author Gigi Engle. “This is short-term anxiety that feels exciting — kind of like being on a roller coaster. When you first fall in love, your brain is flooded with dopamine and oxytocin, which feels amazing. This is what cultivates sexual and romantic attraction.”
“Another sign is when your mind is obsessively thinking about the person,” Engle says. “Obviously in some cases this can be unhealthy — such as, if this isn’t someone you’re actually dating or potentially dating — but, when we’re in love our minds are awash with feel-good chemicals. We’re looking for that next hit of the good stuff: oxytocin, or the ‘love hormone.’ This is why being in love feels so good, and why we can’t seem to get our minds off our partner.”
Barrett agrees that thinking about someone a lot is definitely part of the package.
“It starts with a feeling of euphoria, being in a new, exciting world,” says Barrett, comparing the feeling to the point in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ when the movie goes from monochromatic to full color. “That person in your thoughts constantly, making you giddy just to think of them.”
“You’re very interested in the things that they like,” he adds. “You check your phone a lot to see if they’ve messaged you.” And likely, he notes, you’ll be spending a lot of time being physically affectionate — whether that’s sex or things like holding hands, kissing, hugging, or simply lounging in each other’s arms.
However, lots of these factors can be present in the early stages of a relationship — truly being in love is when these feelings last long enough to start thinking of what your life together will be like.
“You want to plan the future with them in the picture — the trips you’ll take, the dog you’ll get, the house you’ll buy,” Barrett says.
Signs That You’re Not in Love With Someone
OK, so maybe the above signs weren’t totally conclusive for you. What about when you’re not in love? Are there any surefire signs of that to help you sort out your feelings?
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For starters, Tessina suggests, imagine if you could never have sex again — or your sex life would all but dry up. Would that change how you felt about your partner in a drastic way or would you want to stick with them?
“If your main interest in your partner is sex, that’s not the same as love,” she says.
For Barrett, sex is less of a factor. He thinks if you’re not in love with someone, you’ll forget about them completely as soon as they’re not around.
“The biggest sign you’re not in love with someone is that they’re not on your mind when you’re not with them,” he says. “You may like them, enjoy them, have great sex with them. But if you’re not thinking about them often, you’re not in love.”
“Another big indicator? They back out of something you’ve planned to do together — and you’re relieved,” he says. “And if you don’t day-dream about the things you share with this person, then you’ve either lost that lovin’ feeling — or you never had it to begin with.”
“You can be dating someone, find them fun and cute, and still not be in love with them,” says Engle. “Maybe you are enjoying playing the field or aren’t in a place in your life to get serious with someone. That’s OK too.”
“Really, if you want to know if there’s a future, envision yourself in a long-term, monogamous (assuming you’re monogamous) relationship, and see how that makes you feel,” she advises. “Are you scared or anxious? If it doesn’t make you happy or excited, it’s probably not love.”
Tessina agrees. “If you feel neutral about the relationship, and not committed to it, you’re not in love. If you don’t make each other happy, that’s not love.”
How to Handle It If Only One of You Is in Love
What about situations where two people are dating but only one of them feels like they’re in love with the other?
Is the relationship doomed to failure or can you make it work? Of course, there’s no guaranteed way of knowing, but some factors can make it more or less likely that you’ll be able to work things out. The first thing you should know is that you shouldn’t panic.
“It really depends on the context of the situation,” says Engle, as to whether things are salvageable or not. “If your partner says they love you and you aren’t ‘there’ yet, that’s OK.”
“Not everyone falls in love at the same time, despite what the movies will tell you about fairytale romances,” she notes. “You might just need a little extra time to get to that place. As long as you see the potential for things getting to love, you’re doing alright.”
“You have to be open and communicative with your partner about this,” Engle advises. “Let them know that you see the relationship moving forward and that really excites you, but you just aren’t ready for ‘I love you’ yet. It will probably hurt their feelings, but you have to be honest with yourself about these things and not say something you don’t mean.”
What about if you’re the person who’s in love, but your partner isn’t? That can be a trickier place to be from an emotional standpoint. Tessina advocates giving them some space to figure out how they really feel.
“The first thing to try is backing off a little, to see if the person is just taking you for granted because you’re making it too easy,” she says. “If the other person comes forward when you back off, then it might be possible to balance out the relationship. If not, the relationship may always be one-sided, and it’s probably better to let go and find someone else.”
Barrett agrees that sometimes, a relationship where only one person is in love just won’t be workable in the long-term.
“When only one person is in love, that’s often the death knell for a relationship,” he says. “You can have an honest, heart-to-heart conversation to find out what might be missing for the person who’s not in love. Maybe there’s something you can work on.”
“But it takes two to have a great, passionate, loving relationship,” he says. “If only one of you feels that way, and it doesn’t seem like the other person’s feelings will change, end it. Life is too short to live it without real love.”
How to Talk About ‘Being in Love’ With Your Partner
If you’re not sure how to bring that heart-to-heart conversation up, that’s normal. Love is a big, intense feeling, and the fear that your emotions might not be reciprocated can cause even the bravest people to clam up. So first things first, don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling to open up about things.
“There is a beauty to vulnerability when it comes to being open about falling in love,” says Engle. “The best thing you can do is go for it, if it’s what you really feel. If you want to be more cautious, starting with,
‘I think I could see myself falling in love with you’
is a good first toe in the water. This way you get to gauge out where your partner is emotionally and move from there.”
She advises that you keep the conversation small and real, however — rather than shooting to be romantic.
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“No grand public gestures,” Engle insists. “This will probably freak your partner out and could lead to an embarrassing situation for both of you. If you want to do something cute and romantic, send them roses after the ‘I love you’ has happened. You don’t want to put pressure on someone to say something they don’t mean.”
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