We might wonder the first time we feel butterflies. Or when we see a couple that seems more “in love” than the rest. Or when we meet someone who redefines what we thought of love before.
How do we know if it’s the real thing? The thing that people sing songs about, chase at all costs, and even start wars over?
It’s a question worth asking—and yet, one of the most difficult ones to unequivocally answer.
We all understand love differently. We practice it differently. And when two people come together, how they each understand and practice love will influence their relationship.
Love evolves, too. Or it doesn’t. In either case, the result will inform how we understand love moving forward.
That said, try as we may to understand love completely, we can’t. To some degree, it’s ineffable. There’s a beauty we can’t quite put our finger on. It transcends us.
And that’s why it’s worth everything.
While we all experience love differently, these signs may help you understand whether you love somebody, and how to love someone in return.
Sign #1: You Feel Everything
For many, falling in love begins with “butterflies.” That whirling sensation that begins deep in your gut and rises through your chest.
It can give you goosebumps. Make you feel weak in the knees, yet stronger than ever before.
You may feel confused. Insane, even. There’s just too much to process. Everything makes the most sense and the least, all at once.
You feel ballsy and terrified and empowered and vulnerable. You feel like what Keisha describes in her song, “Your Love is My Drug:”
I don’t care what people say
The rush is worth the price I pay
I get so high when you’re with me
But crash and crave you when you leave
In another you’ve found a limitless energy source. You feel superhuman when you’re with them. When you’re not, the thought of seeing them again fuels you. You wake up each day to the thought of them.
They’re perfection. Everyone in your past fades, and you see no one else in your future.
You’re hungrier for more than just good conversation. If things get physical, it can be mind-blowing. Every touch is electric. Every kiss, transformative. Every whisper, illuminating. Like your souls are connecting in a way no ones’ have before (and you may be right).
Each experience deepens your bond. Before you know it, you can’t get them out of your head. You can barely focus on other tasks. You wonder how someone could have taken such a strong hold of your heart.
It’s chaos. And to you, it’s worth it.
All of these things tend to happen in the first stage of love: the infatuation or “honeymoon” phase. This phase can last from a few months to three years. During this stage, your brain is flooded with chemicals—namely:
-Cortisol, the “stress” hormone that reduces serotonin levels, resulting in obsessive thoughts;
-Dopamine, the “euphoria” (aka I-feel-like-I’m-on-crack) hormone; and
-Estrogen or Testosterone, the “lust” hormones;
And, as romantic attachment increases:
-Oxytocin, the love hormone released during sex and other skin-to-skin contact; and
-Vasopressin, the hormone linked to behavior that leads to long-term, monogamous relationships
With biology at your side and all else that can’t be explained by science, you feel invincible. But this larger-than-life stage won’t last forever.
It simply marks the first phase of love—if you’re falling in love at all. If you’re not, you may have just experienced lust or infatuation alone. That leads us to sign #2:
Sign #2: You Feel Freaked Out
When you love someone, you open up your heart—sometimes, before you feel ready. You may think, “I don’t want to fall in love,” and yet, you have. You may not feel you even know how to love someone. Are you doing it right? Are they doing it right to you?
This relationship anxiety is often more prevalent when you first begin to love somebody.
You may feel more sensitive. By loving someone, you’re imparting responsibility on them. You’re asking them to guard your heart. Look out for you. Love you back. These expectations can result in others, such as expecting your partner to always “say the right thing.” If your partner says something off-putting, you may have a stronger reaction than you’re used to. Say, a surge of nerves.
If you’re not used to someone having such an emotional hold on you, it can feel scary. If you’re highly independent, you may even feel resentful. How dare this person threaten your ability to thrive alone?
That said, you know it’s not the other person’s fault. In fact, you feel incredibly lucky to have found them. But that same feeling can translate into fear of loss.
What if the feelings of love fade? What if the person you’re falling in love with falls for someone else? What if they turn out to be someone entirely different?
Your mind is running a million miles a minute. And it can make the sanest of lovers feel insane.
So don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel a little off balance. Love is an adjustment. The joy of it, and the fear of losing it, are two sides of the same coin. Practice focusing on the right side—the bright side—and the rest will fall into place.
Sign #3: You Feel Like Oversharing
When love knocks on your door, you might swing the door wide open, releasing everything about you into the open air.
For what might be the first time, you have someone who gets you. Someone who’s willing to listen, and in fact enjoys it. Someone to bounce ideas off of, help you see things more clearly, and even provide unique insights of their own.
You want to tell them about every trip you’ve taken, and how it shaped you. You want to tell them about that one time your boss said that annoying thing. You want to tell them about your hobbies, your favorite foods, your triumphs, your disappointments.
You want to share every belief you have about people and the world and how it all works.
Before you recognize it, you’ll have shared far more than you intended. You might even feel like you’ve ruined your chances with your new love.
The good news is, if it’s meant to be, you won’t have ruined anything. And if your new love feels like you do, they may share your desire to overshare.
While it’s important not to let it out all at once, the desire to share is a good sign. It shows you’ve found someone you trust and respect.
Offer the same understanding and encouragement your new love gives you, and they’ll feel encouraged to reveal themselves to you, too.
Sign #4: You Feel More Than Just Lust or Infatuation
Love isn’t lust alone. It’s an emotional connection that breeds intimacy and requires more than physical attraction. It’s something that will last even after you’ve slept with someone. And even if someone becomes less physically attractive over time.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with lusting after the one you’re falling in love with. Lust just can’t carry love home.
Love is not infatuation, either.
It’s seeing someone for not only all that they are, but also all that they aren’t. It’s loving the real and not the ideal.
In short: lust is too little. Infatuation is too much. Love is just right.
Sign #5: You Feel Commited
While love requires feeling more than just lust or infatuation, love is also more than a feeling. It’s a choice.
The choice doesn’t tend to present itself during the “infatuation” stage. During that stage, the moment you fall in love leads to emotional highs. You can’t control them.
As time goes on, you may develop a strong association between love and euphoria. So much so, that when the euphoria subsides, you conclude you’ve fallen out of love.
But that conclusion doesn’t do love justice. That conclusion relies on the presence of feelings alone, when love in fact has the power to weather emotional ups and downs.
Those who don’t recognize or appreciate this will move from partner to partner, chasing the “infatuation” stage forever. And while that stage is one of life’s greatest gifts, it can’t hold a candle to the deeper love that follows.
To access that deeper love, you must make a choice:
Commit to the highs, the lows, the mundane, and all the rest with the person before you–because of who they are and who you both are together. Or walk away, because it’s not the right person or something you want.
If you choose to commit, remember: love is standing on your own two feet before you stand with someone else.
It’s recognizing you have values that should be satisfied—not sacrificed. And it’s understanding that your partner deserves the same.
If you and your partner choose to commit, you’ll enter the “attachment” phase.
You’ll accept, perhaps even embrace, your respective quirks. You’ll work on the flaws you can work on. You’ll make each other better as you learn and grow.
You’ll fight. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll want space.
But you’ll also respect each other immensely. You’ll share life-changing experiences. You’ll feel wanted, protected, and understood. And you’ll forge a bond that words can’t quite describe.
The “attachment” phase shows your love is more than just a fluke. It’s intentional. And it doesn’t need butterflies to persist.
Quite the contrary, it persists against all odds.
Sign #6: You Feel Like Your Brains Are Connected
Have you ever heard someone talk and thought, “That’s exactly how I would’ve put it”? Ever met someone who understood you before you even asked to be understood? Ever caught yourself saying “me too” so many times that it felt ridiculous?
These are all symptoms of some “brain connection” you have with your special someone. And to have that brain connection makes you feel warm, relieved, and at home. There’s officially someone out there–here, now–who thinks like you do. Someone who’s got your back.
This brain connection doesn’t mean you’re identical, of course. It refers to shared values, or a similar way of viewing the world.
It can even refer to a similar way of thinking or making decisions–even when you view the world differently.
That’s when sh** gets real. It’s harder to outthink your partner, because they know how you think. It’s harder to hide from them, because they know how you feel. And you have the same power over them. You’re connected.
Irony is, if you’ve found someone like this, there’s no need to hide at all.
Sign #7: You Feel Like Giving Before Getting
We come into this world alone, and we’ll leave it alone. We’re in control of only ourselves. And many of us are taught to “look out for number one.”
There are plenty of reasons to be selfish–not all of which are bad. But it’s the ability to be selfless that helps us rise to another plane.
When you’re in love, your partner feels like an extension of yourself. You feel sadness when the world knocks them down. You feel joy when they flourish. You feel anger when someone doesn’t treat them like they deserve.
You just want your partner to be happy. And you’re willing to put them before yourself, at times, to help them get there. It becomes less about what you can get, and more about what you can give.
When both you and your partner feel this way, the relationship flourishes. You’re both generous too and with one another. You make each other a priority. And no one’s keeping score.
Sign #8: You Feel Like Best Buds
When you’re in love, you feel like you’ve found the ultimate friendship.
Even just sitting on the couch and chatting can be a good time. If you’re in a bad mood, your partner can flip the switch and have you smiling in no time. You can shoot the sh** together and laugh. You can tease and play.
You’re in a safe space to challenge each other and explore new ideas. There’s no judgment.
You enjoy going on adventures together, whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or backpacking in New Zealand. You’re more open to exploring your partner’s interests, and vice versa. And both of you are made better for it.
While relationships aren’t always easy or effortless, the strongest ones have friendship as a foundation.
Sign #9: You Feel Like You Can Take On The World
Real love doesn’t break you down. It doesn’t make you feel unworthy, or insecure, or weak.
It builds you up. It makes you feel valued, just as you are. It makes you feel confident, empowered, and free. It makes you feel like you can set out to become your best self, all while being proud of who you are now.
Note that to depend on someone is not the same as being “dependent.” It’s okay to depend on your partner for certain things: kindness, understanding, honesty. It’s not okay to lose yourself in the process.
Draw from the strength your relationship provides you, but remember where your greatest source of strength lies: within yourself.
Sign #10: You Feel Trusting
“I do not trust people who don’t love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” – Maya Angelou
Love is trust, and to trust another, you must trust yourself. The right person will make you feel like you can.
We all enter relationships with baggage. Some people are dishonest about their intentions. Others fall in and out of love more times than they can count, leaving a trail of heartbreak in their wake. Some look beyond their partners for excitement, or comfort, or freedom. Maybe you made your share of mistakes as well.
With the right person, you will feel like you can rise above your past. No matter what decisions you or your prior partners made, you will trust yourself to rise to the occasion that love demands. You’ll believe you can be your new partner’s cheerleader, confidante, and rock. You’ll feel confident you can commit to the ultimate gift you’ve been given.
That kind of trust will translate to the trust you have in your partner. You won’t second guess their love for you if they have a bad day, nor will you check their phone for things you hope don’t exist. You won’t push them away because you’re afraid they won’t measure up. You’ll trust their judgment and yours.
Most importantly, you’ll trust that you’ll be okay, no matter what happens. And you’ll breath a sigh of relief as you let go.
So, What Does Love Feel Like? – A World of Your Own
If you haven’t experienced all of the above signs, that’s not to say you aren’t falling in love. It’s possible to not have butterflies and fall in love, for example. You can also be filled with butterflies, yet one day realize you don’t feel true love.
Love takes many forms, and it will never be the same from one person to the next. Therein lies love’s beauty. While we can look to common threads to answer, “What does love feel like?” we will never hit the mark completely.
So here’s but one attempt to answer the question:
The world we live in is a lot. It’s complex, uncertain, and sometimes downright chaotic. It’s also filled with compassion, inspiration, and endless opportunity. There are a million paths to travel, and as humans, we can only choose but a few.
For those of us who choose love, we build a world within a world. A world that’s uniquely our own. A world where we can experience a love that reveals who we are, and all that we can be.
That love is the first breath of fresh air we take after it rains. It’s the warmth we feel when we cuddle beneath a blanket. It’s the gentle voice we hear when the world gets too loud. It’s the beauty we see when we look into another’s eyes, and see their heart.
There’s no time when we feel more alive than when we love.