Each of these 10 feelings can feel exactly like love. Here’s how to tell whether you’re experiencing the real thing or you’ve just been bewitched.
Those fingers in my hair
That sly come-hither stare
That strips my conscience bare
Carolyn Leigh, Cy Coleman—Witchcraft
Partly because I had a kid crush on Sam—who didn’t?
And partly because I believed—and still believe—in magic.
Not the nose-twitching kind that Sam practiced to clean the house before the Tates came for dinner, undo a minor car accident, or zap Darren’s briefcase to his office in a pinch.
The kind of magic that fills the air when someone with special abilities (and I was told as a child I was special) makes extraordinary things happen.
The magic of a charismatic actor commanding the stage and transporting us to a different world.
The magic of an author creating fictional characters more lifelike than anyone we’ve ever met.
The magic of a filmmaker projecting a story onto our mind’s eye that we suddenly realize is our own, and guiding us to the deepest, darkest jungles of our psyche.
These magicians can’t twitch their noses like Sam, but their magic is real.
And then, there is the simplest and loveliest magic of all—the magic of two people coming together—in love.
We all think we know love when we feel it. But there are many feelings that feel like love and are components of love but are not actually love. Here are my top 10.
1. Attraction. Let’s dispense with love at first sight. Finding someone physically attractive doesn’t mean you love that person. It just means you find him or her physically attractive.
2. Affection. You can have tender feelings for a person and still not love that person. And a person can show affection for you, even physical affection, and not love you. Love is as much a discipline, a commitment to a way of behavior, as a feeling.
3. Attachment. Throughout life we form and sever attachments. Feeling a part of someone and wanting not to be apart from someone is part of love but doesn’t constitute the full picture.
4. Desire. Sexual desire is perhaps most commonly confused with love, because sex and love are so closely bound together. But wanting someone doesn’t mean you love that person; it just means if you want to keep that person, you’d better learn how to love that person.
5. Need. While love—both the acts of giving and receiving—is a basic human need, the feeling of need itself is not love. You can need someone and treat them terribly, or vice versa. If they stick around for the punishment—or you do—it’s called codependence or dysfunction.
6. Intensity. It’s said that love is blind, and love can also be blinding. But so can many other things, and a single flash of lightning can’t guide us all the way home. Intensity can embody some of the other love impostors, such as need and immediacy, and it can also masquerade as passion, which is one of love’s core elements. Love creates a sense of peace, security, and stability. Love is sustainable. Intensity is not.
7. Chemistry … and physics. In unhappy, unhealthy relationships, the kind in which two people are bent on destroying each other, the sex is often the last thing to go, because … well, because the sex is so damn hot. ‘Nuf said.
8. Hero worship. Putting someone on a pedestal is indulging in a fantasy, the wish-desire for the perfect partner. Love is real and stays in the here and now. Worship a real hero if you want, but treat your partner as an equal.
9. Immediacy. We’ve all witnessed, and some of us experienced, the mad rush to the altar. If it’s all happening too fast and there’s no time to think, someone is rushing it. And when we rush, we screw up, unless we get really lucky. If you’re really that eager to build a life with someone, why not take the time to make sure there’s a solid foundation in place, so you don’t end up in a castle in the air.
10. Synchronicity. This is the narrative of “it was meant to be.” This is perhaps the most powerful love simulator, because nearly everyone loves a romantic story. Your relationship may truly feel this way, but if you or your partner are forcing this overlay onto the story of your courtship, it’s probably not meant to be. Make sure you love your partner, and your partner loves you, more than you each love the story of your union.
So how do you recognize the real magic of love?
When the magic of love pursues an agenda, it is not love.
When the magic of love flows from guile, it is not love.
When the magic of love replaces having and holding with getting and clinging, it is not love.
The magic of love cannot be forced, either through force of personality or the seduction of charm. But these can be bewitching, and we can easily, and with devastating consequences, fall under their spell.
The magic of love happens organically and flows naturally, because love is organic, natural, and alive.
The magic of love never seems like effort.
The magic of love … grows.
So be careful.
If you feel your heart twitching, it may just be love.
But if you see a nose twitching, beware.