When it comes to falling in love, most people don’t experience the classic rom-com meet-cute. These days, you’re stuck on an app, going on date after date, trying to find out who lives up to their online profiles. But when is it time to put Tinder, Raya, and all the other swiping sites down? How do you know when you’re truly in a loving and committed relationship, and ready to say the L-word?
Translation: How do you if you’re in love?
We spoke with various relationship experts to understand the differences between fleeting attraction and long-lasting, healthy love. One thing to know about love, right off the bat? Just because you don’t feel it right away, doesn’t mean you never will. “While some people are struck by love at first sight, for others, love unfolds over time as attachments and commitment grow,” explains Pam Shaffer, a licensed psychotherapist.
Below, Shaffer, along with licensed marriage and family therapists Vienne Pharon and Shadeen Francis, and licensed therapist Jor-El Caraballo, share their advice for how to know how when you’re in love—as well as when your relationship may not be as healthy as you thought.
Signs that you might be in love:
1. You prioritize the other person’s needs on the same level as your own
When you start thinking about someone else’s desires and needs as much as your own, it’s a pretty good sign that you are in love, Shaffer says. “You may not necessarily want the same things but when you are in love, you start thinking of the other person’s perspective just as much as your own.”
2. You feel comfortable being yourself
“When you start allowing your partner to see your flaws, that’s when love can flourish,” Shaffer says. You should never feel that you have to hide something from your partner—and if you do, it’s probably not real love. That’s not to say you should give up on being presentable and polite to your partner, but remember it’s often our imperfections and quirks that make us lovable. When you feel comfortable being yourself, for better or worse, that is a good sign that you are in a trusting, loving relationship.
3. You feel grateful for your partner without taking them for granted
If you find yourself feeling thankful for the little things your partner does—not just the grand gestures—then you may be in love. “You don’t just assume they will be there for you, even though you trust that they will,” Shaffer says.
4. You are proud of their accomplishments as if they were your own
“When your partner finally publishes that novel they are working on or gets that promotion, your heart should swell with joy,” says Shaffer. When you’re in love, you want want to brag about your partner’s accomplishments and take pride in their projects, whether they are something you are super interested in or not. Love can be feeling in alignment with your partner’s joy and success.
5. You are willing to put in the work to understand them even if you have a conflict
“Even when you are fighting, love is knowing that you are still on the same team,” Shaffer says. It can be frustrating but it’s worth it to put in the work to peacefully resolve conflicts, which there will be, even and especially when you’re in love. Of course it’s not fun, but you still want to do it because you want to be with your partner.
6. You feel calm and secure
You should expect to feel some initial nerves when you’re getting to know a partner, but eventually they should peter out, and you should feel relaxed around them. After all, your partner is supposed to make you happy and be a positive force in your life. “When people are in love, they tend to experience greater levels of oxytocin (particularly due to physical contact like kissing, sex, etc.),” Caraballo says. “This often means feeling less stressed, more secure, calm, empathetic and trustful.”
7. Your feelings for them go beyond physical attraction
Some social scientists describe love as a series of characteristics, according to Francis. “Most notably, Robert Sternberg described love as potentially containing commitment, passion (here meaning physical attraction), and intimacy (meaning emotional connection).” When you’re figuring out if you’re in love, ask yourself if your feelings encompass all those things—instead of the just the infamous butterflies.
Signs that you’re probably not in love:
1. You’re not being your authentic self
You shouldn’t hide yourself or compromise on your values in order to be with someone, explains Pharaon. “If you find yourself needing to be inauthentic in any way for fear of the other person leaving, then the dynamic is not as healthy as it could be.” It’s also probably not love.
2. You’re codependent
Love and codependency are two completely separate things, and it can be easy to conflate the two. “Wanting someone to need you has been romanticized in movies and media for ages,” says Pharaon. “This ‘I can’t go on without you’ might sound charming, but relying too heavily on one another eradicates a sense of autonomy and independence.”
3. You immediately feel like you can talk about anything with them
Adjacent to being codependent is this idea that you can tell your partner everything from the moment you meet. This actually implies a lack of boundaries, according to Shaffer. It’s one thing to feel comfortable with your partner, but a whole ‘nother to feel as though you can just spill your emotions all over someone you just met. “Vulnerability is being judicious about who you trust and love, not just oversharing because you feel like it,” she says.
4. You have great sexual chemistry, but that’s it
Great sex is important in most relationships, but it shouldn’t be the deciding factor of whether or not you’re in love. Throughout loving relationships, sexual activity can change over time. “If it’s the only thing going for your relationship, that’s not going to go very well,” says Shaffer.
5. You feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster
“All those ups and downs are usually more of a sign of mismatched attachment styles or potentially a disaster waiting to happen,” says Shaffer. When you are in love, there will be some particularly spectacular moments, but you should not feel like you’re constantly up and down.
People sometimes confuse boring relationships with not being enough, while “chaotic” relationships get confused with excitement and connection, explains Pharaon. “If the family you grew up in operated with a lot of chaos, it’s very easy to find yourself in dynamics that resemble or reenact the ways you tried to receive love as a kid,” she says. “Remember, not everything that’s familiar is healthy.”
6. You’re obsessing or fantasizing about the person
Remember: Infatuation isn’t the same thing as love. Pinning your hopes on someone instead of focusing on who they are in reality can be dangerous, according to Francis. “If you feel like you are obsessing or making plans based on fantasies, hopes, or assumptions rather than agreements and plans, you might be experiencing infatuation or limerence,” she says.
7. You feel pressured to continue the relationship
It takes work to love another person, but it shouldn’t feel like a second job. Caraballo says you shouldn’t feel any internal or external pressure to stay with your partner; it shouldn’t be an obligation. “In those situations, it’s good to take stock of your feelings, particularly helpful if you do so with a therapist, to help you sort through things and make the best choices for you moving forward,” Caraballo says.
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