Love is considered one of the essential emotions to human life. But it is so complex, so elusive that many times when we are with someone, we cannot tell whether we are genuinely in love or not. Many are told by their parents that they will just know when they are in love, and given no further instruction. Due to this lack of understanding just what love is, we often find that we are bouncing around from one relationship to the next. It seems our love lives are nothing more than trial and error, and sometimes it can feel very much more the latter than the former. Psychologists will tell you that one of the chief things adults want to discuss in therapy is whether they are in bona fide love, or just lusting after someone, or in love with the idea of being in love. So how do you know when it is real love? That is a thorny question. Let’s follow what psychology has to say about the matter. As far as we can tell, love is something that happens to us. We fall into it. It is not something you convince yourself of. Instead, it is an uplifting experience. And you want more than anything to be around the person making you feel this way.
When the object of our affection returns our love, we feel absolutely sublime. In their presence we are blissful, our senses are heightened and we feel more creative and energized than ever before. If one’s love is not returned, longing and anguish are all that we experience. We want them to reciprocate our feelings. We want their approval. And we want to touch and be touched by them. There is an intensity of feeling and desire. For many this is the beginning stages of love. But falling in love and being in love are different. Falling in love is considered the honeymoon phase. But being in love is a continuum. Love changes as a relationship moves into a more long-term arrangement, and we have to change with it. After this initial stage is over, couples generally have to wrestle with differences, and love becomes a deeper and more profound experience, less based on intensity and more on a deep bond. Some people mistake love for power or the need to control. Here, the person is insecure. They intensely need control in their life. They woo another and feel longing. But that longing is for controlling situations and their partner, rather than for being with them, or for who that partner is. They fall in love with having the other person and being able to control their behavior, and not the person themselves, for who they are.
Some people think that the expression of jealousy underlies love. Jealousy comes from feelings of insecurity. So you can be totally in love and secure, and so not jealous, or not in love, insecure, and jealous. Some people feel that taking care of another is love. It makes them feel important and is wrapped up in their self-worth. This is a desire to rescue another, not love. It comes from the idea that love is done by one who has a certain kind of superiority, the forever mother, the saint, hero, or the knight in shining armor. Then there are those who enter into a relationship thinking it is love, when really they are looking for security. These intense feelings come from the sense of joy being in the company of another. Here a person focuses on the fear of being alone, desperation, and the need for another. This is translated into love in their mind, but is not authentic. There are those who mistake a beautiful face, popularity, or an eye-popping physique for love. This person lacks self-esteem. But they quickly learn that other aspects of the person which they would tolerate if they were in love, quickly begin to drive them insane. This person uses their own relationship to fill the empty places within themselves. The last is love versus a fantasy. Here the person projects their image of the perfect mate onto the person they have chosen as their partner. But when they begin to see through the cracks, love fades. Of course, the emotion itself is not enough for a relationship to make it. There has to be trust, good communication, and a willingness to work together, compromise, and so on. But it helps if you take some time to figure out exactly what you like about this person, how they make you feel, and why it is you are attracted to them. If you are in love with aspects of who they are, chances are it is the real deal. If you are more interested in what they are providing for you whether financial, emotional, reputation-wise or what-have-you, chances are you are not experiencing authentic love. If you love them for who they really are, real love is indeed your own.