I’m trying to remember how I first learned what “love” was. Sure, my parents said “I love you” to me as an infant, but my cognitive skills were also infantile. I remember crying in a movie theater chair when the Beast from Beauty and The Beast turned into the prince — why did he leave?! (My three-year-old brain couldn’t exactly process “transformation.”) Yup, Disney definitely had an impact. And while I knew how much my parents loved each other, figuring out how to know if you’re in love has always seemed nebulous to me.
Was that enormous, life-shattering crush on the boy I sat with on the bus one time in seventh grade love? Because god damn, it felt like it was. I was moderately sure I was going to puke every time I saw him, I once stole a pen cap he lent me and cherished it, and I made my lab partner wave across the hall to him daily (they were friends). Fun fact: I later wound up dating this crush and losing my virginity to him. Life is weird! Verdict: seventh grade me wasn’t in love; she was experiencing hormones for the first time.
Was I in love that guy I met in acting class at 21 and dated? Because it felt like it. It took me two years to get over a two-month relationship with a dude who is now on potato chip commercials. But alas, the verdict: I wasn’t in love, I was infatuated with a really great-looking human.
And later, when the on-and-off again “situationship” I maintained for close to two years ended, completely crushing my heart, I wondered — was that love? Maybe, but a more likely verdict was that it was me loving a challenge. Give me distance! Give me passion! I’ll pretend it’s love.
People say that you should just know when you are in love. I know that love feels a bit like a rush of attraction and respect and flutters going through your chest all at once. I also know that real love should feel easy. I’ve sort of felt all of these things, but I’m a pessimist, and I love “double checking” that what I feel is actually love before committing to the terrifying word. This is because for me, love is so easy to conflate with lust, drama, or pure admiration.
I spoke to clinical psychologist and host of “The Web Radio Show” Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. about how you can figure out if you’re actually in love when you’re not sure if you’ve felt it before. Here are some signs that this might be the big L.
1. You Feel Physical And Emotional Attraction To Them
At first, identifying what “type” of attraction you feel towards someone seems simple, but I am certainly guilty of taking a major physical attraction to someone and projecting my own emotional wants and needs onto it. It’s exciting! I can’t help it!
“Respecting [a partner], feeling admiration and fondness for them, caring about their well-being etc. are all aspects of love for your partner,” explains Dr. Klapow. “Desiring them, feeling a physical attraction or even a physical need to be close to them is a different kind of love.” He adds that for some couples, both of these types of love are present, while for others, the relationship is more based in one or the other — the real deal will involve some combination of the two.
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