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What Is Love? How Can I Know if I'm In Love?

Robin has her Bachelor's degree in Psychology, and personal experience in applying psychological principles to every day life.

the-science-behind-love

What Does It mean to Love?

You have likely experienced something that could qualify as love over the course of your lifetime. Sources for this could be a parents, relatives, caregivers, mentors, close friends, or even pets. But what does it mean to love and be loved? What is the difference between liking and love, infatuation or passion and love? How can you tell if you are in love or if the person you care for loves you? How do you know when someone is “right” for you? And how can you know if your love will last?

Science has taken a peek at all of these questions and produced some interesting answers that shed light on this complex phenomenon.

What Is The Simplest Form Of Love?

Filial love, or the love one has for their family members, close relations or friends, is the most common type of love. This kind of love seems to come naturally, without our even giving it a second thought. If you have had a relatively normal childhood, you have experienced love from one or both of your parents, your relatives, caregivers, friends and teachers. You likely have also loved them.

With family, the simplest scientific explanation for this love is the similarity in genetic composition you have with family. Facial features are likely very similar and things that are valued are also much the same. If your parents and relatives were encouraging and helped you learn and grow, you likely have a high regard for them and would suffer a great sense of personal loss if anything were to happen to them.

You probably also feel love towards to special people in your life, who have made a positive difference in your life. These are the people who have helped you along the way, from teachers to ministers to close friends. This is, in part, because liking, love, and helping are closely related.

Even small children understand the importance of closeness to those who help. Babies who observe puppets that help others and puppets who do not, will choose the puppets that help if the opportunity arises. This holds true even when the characters Are merely shapes acting out a simple drama.

Relatives, mentors, and friends also help make each other happy. Have you ever noticed how much children laugh and giggle together? Studies have shown that one of the determinants of the strength and longevity of a relationship is the amount of laughter and smiles shared by the people in the relationship.

The dynamics of filial love are interesting, but even more interesting is romantic love. Most people do experience some level of romantic love over the course of life, even if it is brief. The longing for this type of love is strong, especially in youth, yet most people don’t seem to have a very good idea what exactly they are looking for in a romantic partner.

the-science-behind-love

Is “Love At First Sight” Real Love?

One of the strongest needs we have as the “social animals” that we are, is the need to belong. Whether you like to admit it or not, in some way or another, you belong to some group. Even if it is a group of people you only interact with online, these are the people you feel “at home” with, the people who “get” you and whom you can relate to.

Throughout the course of our lives, we move from group to group, belonging, not belonging and seeking to belong. Humans also normally have a strong need to “belong” to one special individual, someone with whom intimate thoughts and feelings can be safely shared.

Some of the factors that can determine how and when we meet this special someone include:

  • Geographical nearness or proximity
  • How often our paths cross
  • The amount of closeness we feel (usually determined by amount of eye contact)
  • Attractiveness (pheromones, genetics, similarity, and appearance all play a part)
  • Likeability (we typically like those who are most like us and who share the same values)

So can we really fall in love with someone at first glance? The reality is we can gain a sense of how attractive a person is to us at first glance, and if we are very taken with someone, we often feel very hopeful that something more will evolve. A strong sense of attraction, along with pheromones and an exchange of glances or even smiles can be very encouraging. If we follow up, especially if we see the person on any kind of regular basis, it is possible to cultivate a relationship, and also possible that it can last. All possibilities remain possible always. Cultivation is key, however, and this means some action must be taken.

How Do I Know If I’m Falling In Love?

Attraction can be strengthened, and this is usually accomplished through repeated contact, communication, and increased liking. This should be accompanied by a sense of safety and enjoyment, and in time, liking might grow stronger. Continued positive encounters and conversations could lead to purposeful meetings and outings, or dates.

This developing relationship might then leave you with more questions than answers. You might begin to wonder if you are in love, or wonder whether the other person is feeling the same way about you as you are about them.

Some of the things that help this process along are things like:

  • Genuine praise
  • Rewarding behavior (positive shared experiences)
  • A perception that we are liked and appreciated
  • Approval (a growing high regard for the behavior of another person)
  • Increasing physical attraction

How Will I know If I've Met "THE ONE"

Infatuation, passionate love and long-lasting romantic love are interesting, complex and difficult to study. This is because in order to gather empirical data, scientists must rely on the self-reporting they can gather from willing participants in their studies.

It is important to note that while infatuation and passion are components of long-lasting romantic love, they are in fact, separate phenomena. Unfortunately, many people confuse these concepts and end up in a variety of uncomfortable and unhappy situations. This is one reason I encourage dating for some time before engaging in sexual relations.

To begin with, infatuation is basically a heightened sense of liking, made up of the components we have previously discussed. Infatuation isn’t necessarily a bad thing but if a romantic relationship is to continue, infatuation alone will not be satisfying. It does not constitute the kind of long-term, deep, meaningful love that most people yearn for.

People who are in love and infatuated tend to do several things, including:

  • Telling each other secrets and developing trust
  • Playing games (toying with one another to establish boundaries)
  • Imitating one another’s behavior
  • Laughing, helping each other, and extending eye contact
  • encouraging one another
  • taking an interest in each other’s activities and goals

Is Passionate Love Real Love?

Passionate love would be next along the path to enduring love. It includes a strong sense of arousal and can usually be identified by intense sensations of longing for togetherness. This can be sexual, or can involve just foreplay.

In this type of love, people want to hold one another, cuddle, or just spend hours together even if they are not doing anything in particular. They sometimes get “butterflies” in their stomach when thinking of their partner and experience some level of stress and anxiety when apart.

Both physical contact and sexual behavior can be included in passionate love, whether it is the act of holding hands, embracing, foreplay or consummate activity. There is a sort of adrenaline rush when people in passionate love encounter one another or are engaged in activities together and this can further heighten their satisfaction with the relationship.

Passionate love can occur without a good “liking” foundation, and often does. “Love at first sight” is common, and can lead people to make commitments to each other without even having taken the time to go through the basic steps of getting to know one another.

Still, passionate love alone does not constitute the kind of long-lasting romantic engagement the majority of us are interested in. More often than not, people who make snap decisions while having a passionate affair with someone tend to “fall out of love” almost as quickly as they fell in.

the-science-behind-love

How Can I Find True Love - That Will Last A Lifetime?

The highest form of love, the kind most people yearn for is actually a combination of all the things we have discussed, on at least some level, and a few other factors. The final pieces of the puzzle include commitment, companionship and social bonding.

Being able to spend extended amounts of time with a person, get to know them, and learn to appreciate them in spite of their faults is a part of the process. Having a strong desire to continue the relationship far into the future is an indicator that love may be ”true” love.

Without exception partners will have disagreements. This is true of anyone you spend enough time with. So it is critical to realize that fighting and mud-slinging is not a good sign. In a “good” argument, each side presents their view and gives supporting evidence for holding that view. Compromises can be reached, and there can be an agreement to disagree, allowing for the other person to hold their own opinion.

Healthy arguments can lead to satisfactory resolution of an issue or clarification of the rules of conduct and can strengthen love. However, violence, yelling, and abusive language or behavior should never be tolerated. If the argument starts to escalate or get out of control, it is best to step away and take some time out to gather your wits.

Another important element in a relationship is a sense of equality. When one or the other of the partners in a relationship does not regard their companion as an equal, problems will doubtless arise. There should never be a “little black book” in which a tally of scores is kept. When two people truly like one another, share values and tastes, appreciate one another’s physical features, are committed to each other’s well-being, have a shared sense of equality, and share infatuation and passion, chances are the relationship will endure.

As years pass, some of the aspects of infatuation and passion may be stronger or weaker, but they will never truly die. Couples should seek to solve problems together, and even great tragedies can be shared, endured and conquered. Through it all, the relationship can survive intact, as long as both parties communicate well. Scientific evidence points to this being the kind of love that you hear about when you read in the paper that a couple has shared a 75th wedding anniversary and says if they had it to do all over they would still marry their partner.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 BringingSpring