Recently, my girlfriend put me on the spot and asked me how I knew if I really loved her.
Having given this subject quite a bit of thought beforehand, I stated that, ‘I just knew’ (how eloquent, right?). At the time, I felt confident in my answer and only elaborated a bit. Having been dating for a little while, I went home that night and started questioning myself even more than I had ever before. Why was I so sure that I was really in love? Could I have been duped by hormones and romanticizing? No way! I know myself and my feelings too well to be tricked like that.
How could I fall so fast for her though? Isn’t there some amount of time I’m supposed to wait before making such a declaration? I can’t remember what the number is but, I’m pretty sure it’s more than a month. Maybe it’s three months? Am I supposed to wait six months before I tell her what I already know now? No matter how long I wait, I do need to make sure, that, it’s in fact what I’m feeling.
I did what anyone wanting answers would do in my place. I proceeded to Google the heck out of everything I could on the subject. I may have put off work for a bit but, I needed answers and, I don’t work that hard anyway so I’m sure nobody noticed. The dichotomy and irony of me being a hopeless romantic and a rational man at the same time, needing tangible evidence to explain many things, isn’t lost on me. In matters of the heart though, I’ve always worn it on my sleeve and followed my gut. I certainly felt that she deserved a better answer than, “I just know” though. I deserved better as well. I needed to get to the bottom of this.
Can love be medically prescribed?
It didn’t take long for me to find a ton of resources on the chemicals that affect our body when we first begin a relationship. Between dopamine, adrenaline, norepinephrine, there’s a veritable Molotov cocktail of chemically induced fondness and adulation flooding into our brain. Those aren’t feelings though. Those are responsible for the butterflies, the infatuation and obsession. In fact, the lowered serotonin levels act in the same manner on our brain as an obsession in an OCD patient.
Once you get passed all that ‘chemistry’, scientists go on to explain that our body begins to build up a tolerance to these chemicals, allowing different hormones and endorphins like vasopressin and oxytocin to help you relax in the security of the attachment phase, the base of a lasting relationship.
This has to be the least romantic thing I’ve ever heard of!!! WTH! It goes against everything Hollywood and Nick Sparks’ books ever said about love! They can’t be completely wrong, can they? What am I missing? How can everything we feel be synthesized in our body? I feel like there’s a big chunk of information missing here. I refuse to accept that this is all there is to it. I know it isn’t.
None of this research takes into consideration any of my real feelings either. The research doesn’t even touch on much emotion at all. Well, maybe it mentions it by describing the artificial feelings of lust, excitement and adoration. More words that fail to describe properly what I’m feeling for this woman. It doesn’t talk about any fondness, tenderness, intimacy, respect, etc… I knew I hadn’t found the answer yet. More research…
Webster should chime in here.
I started thinking that the English language was just missing a few words. Kind of like describing someone as ‘not sad’ because the word ‘happy’ hasn’t been invented yet or lost to time. What if there’s supposed to be a few more words between ‘like’ and ‘love’? If we had a few more terms that transitioned from one to the other, maybe we could make heads or tails about our feelings a little easier? As it is now, we’re just treading in the “like” pool until we unwittingly find ourselves in the “Love” pool (and only after a socially accepted amount of time). You can add any adverb or adjective you want but, it still doesn’t describe it properly. ‘Really like’ or, ‘deep affection’ are poor substitutes for us to try to fill the gap of expressions between the two. That really doesn’t make sense or help me figure things out either.
Maybe there’s no answer?… Maybe I’m just trying to rationalize something irrational? So many better men and women than me have tried to explain love through either science, literature, song.
To love, or not to love — that is the question.
I’ve started weighing the idea that, maybe, love isn’t really an emotion or feeling at all? What if it’s a choice? You’ll find plenty of articles out there that support this as a fact. A decision that you consciously make. I’m sure that it’s not as simple as that though. Otherwise, you could just pick someone from a crowd and choose to love them, right?
No. What they mean by choice is, you’ve gone through the initial stage of attraction, infatuation or lust and, you have your wits about you again. Finally! You’ve decided that all the boxes have check marks on them. She’s (or he’s) smart, kind, considerate, funny, adventurous, you speak the same love language and a whole slew of other qualities or competences you’re looking for in a partner (as well her being beautiful beyond comparison). You can easily picture yourself in great, pleasant conversation for many years with her. Most good things will come from that by the way. In your later years (like me in my 50s), you’ll truly appreciate and understand how rare and precious such a deep connection really is as well. You’ll learn to spot it too, if you trust yourself.
So, you know you ‘like’ her, a lot, all the boxes are checked and, you can picture yourself together for years to come… Now you have to decide; Do you choose to love them or not? It’s not the same as a commitment to marriage but, it’s still a mental commitment. You’re telling yourself that you’re willing to put in the work a relationship needs right about now. We usually make this choice because we see the long term qualities we’re looking for and we usually feel safe and secure with this person before we make this choice. Once you make that decision, your life will become infinitely easier (just kidding). You’ll at least have one less thing to think about though.
The choice to love someone is a decision you make and follow through with every day after that. Making coffee for each other, taking out the trash, doing all kinds of things together. All choices. You could also choose to walk away from this and close the door on love at this point. Fear and past experiences are often involved in that decision. Either way, you make a choice. You can put that decision off for a while or, in my case, make that decision early on.
Now, choosing to love someone is somewhat overly simplified. Plenty of people like or love each other and choose to pursue their relationship and, it still doesn’t work. Why is that? Obviously, love being a choice doesn’t quite fit either, does it?
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” — Mahatma Gandhi
I’ve read several other arguments and articles that describe Love as a Skill. “How can love be a skill?”, you ask. (you are a curious one)
Like many other things, knowing how to love someone is learned. Being patient, kind, empathetic, understanding and reasonable are not qualities everyone is born with but, they’re all part of love, amongst many other qualities you’ll need to develop, if you don’t have them already. They can be learned with practice and hard work, like almost anything else.
An introspective person that’s been in several “failed” or partially successful relationships will tell you that they’ve grown as a person since or, that they’re not the same person they once were. For myself, I’ve spent a good amount of time trying to understand how I could be a better partner in my next relationship and how I contributed to the last one not working out. I’ve come to realize my own shortcomings this way and like to think that I have slowly become a better person because of it. My goal was to try to become the person I would want to be with. I’ve become better at loving like this, I believe. I want to know how my partner needs me and how to support her. I know that nothing will be more rewarding to her and to me than for me to be the best person she needs in her life, and vice-versa. It might take me a little while to learn what she wants or needs but, I’ve already decided that I’m going to be those things for her and still be true to myself. Win-win.
“What is love? Baby don’t hurt me…”
Where does that leave me though? Is love a feeling, a choice or a skill? Neither one answers my questions on their own. Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me, it’s all three. You can’t have love without feelings and emotions, I refuse to accept any other option. You also have to choose it and, you have to become good or skillful at it. It’s the only recipe that can make it work and deepen into something movies should be made about. It’s the only thing that makes sense and encompasses a little more what we think of when we think of what Love really means. I think we’ve gotten used to calling Love a feeling for lack of a better word or, understanding of what the word stands for.
When I say that I’ve fallen in love with her, what I’m saying is that I feel all the emotions that we’ve acknowledged as being love(really, really like!), I can see us together for more than just a few years, I’ve made the choice that this is the woman I’ve been looking and waiting for and, I will use every skill I have and, develop the ones I fall short on to make this the best relationship I can imagine.
The next time she asks me how I know that I love her, I think that I’ll have a better answer.
Previously Published on medium
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