Love is one of the most profound emotions we experience as humans. It’s bigger than us, meaning, though we can invite it into our lives, we do not have the control over the how, when and where love starts to express itself. Although people say, “your love is usually in the most unexpected person” poetically, it is often the case. You may feel sexually attracted to someone else but may fall in love with someone you would never even think about feeling attracted to. Love goes beyond physical characteristics and sticks to emotions. There is a scientific difference between romantic love, sexual lust, and emotional infatuation. While we all feel love differently and it’s difficult to even differentiate these three when we have crossed that friendship line in our minds, there are psychological components that play a role in these emotions and can help you tell each apart.
Let’s start with discussing what lust and the initial attraction even is. Lust is defined as intense sexual desire or appetite. It’s a passionate or overmastering desire or craving for someone, usually in the sexual sense. This often gets misidentified as “love at first sight”. If you look at someone and get sexual or physical symptoms, that is usually lust. You are attracted to someone based on their physical characteristics. This is sometimes the first stage of romance, however studies do show that the majority of people don’t feel the intense lustful attraction towards someone they will later fall in love with at first sight. Nine times out of ten, lust is short-lived and doesn’t lead to love.
Next is infatuation. This gets confused with love a lot. Infatuation is really close to what love is, but it’s really just loving the idea of someone rather than actually loving someone. This is very common in teenage and young-adult relationships and is often mistook for love. Infatuation stems from the idealization of a person, from painting a false image of your partner and praising it, and really just turning their imperfections into perfections. Infatuation is dangerous and can lead to obsessions and toxic relationships, however is often considered the “honeymoon stage” of a relationship, where everything seems perfect. This is the stage you start getting to know each other, start gaining intense feelings, and getting scared to lose them.
The best way to differentiate infatuation and love is by asking yourself, “if your partner says that they aren’t happy and want to break up, would you let them go or manipulate them to stay?” If you chose the latter then it’s just infatuation and it hurts, that’s for sure, but it’ll heal with time. However, if you said that you would let them go, that’s love because when you love someone, you would do whatever it takes to make them happy, even if that means letting them go.
Lastly, let’s get to talking about love. If you truly love someone, you would stay in the dark times and help them. You wouldn’t pretend that they’re perfect but rather accept their imperfections. You wouldn’t be in it for the looks, money, or any of the shallow things; You would truly appreciate their existence and who they are at the core. You would feel like time flies with them and they would make you happy just by being with you. Your heart will still race even months or years into the relationship because they still have that effect on you. You would be curious to learn even the little details about their life and little things would remind you of them. Seeing or hearing their name would make you smile. Even if you choose to take a break or break up for good, you know it’s love if you have a hard time hating them even if they mistreated you. Love is when they’re out of your sight but on your mind anyway. Lastly, the telltale sign of love, even after a breakup or divorce, is if you think about them at the lowest points in your life. For example, if you just got into a car accident and they’re the first ones on your mind, that’s love because psychologically speaking, love is healing. If you think about that one person in times of distress and for even a few seconds you feel euphoric and as if your problems have vanished, that’s love. That person acts like a distraction and healing agent for you. That person is the light in your life even if they’re not in your life anymore. While this post is focused on romantic love, love is light even in friendships, family, and any relationship in general.
Now that we’ve differentiated the three, let’s discuss the actual psychology behind love and the entire process of falling. Obviously, this differs from person to person but this is how it usually goes.
Believe it or not, it doesn’t take much for two people to fall in love. It can get initiated from mere eye contact even. Studies have proven that falling in love is like taking drugs; it causes a similar high. This is because both hard drugs such as cocaine and love release chemicals in our bodies that evoke a sense of euphoria. Ironically, cuddling acts as a natural painkiller. When you hug or cuddle someone you have feelings for, oxytocin, a so-called love hormone, is released and has better effects than any medication.
Let’s rewind a bit and start from attraction. Studies have shown that two people at the same or similar level of attractiveness are more likely to end up together. Have you ever seen couples who could go for being siblings? Yup, that’s completely normal. Straying away from looks, opposites do attract. If your personalities and mannerisms are too similar, you’re frankly better off as friends. Usually polar opposites make long-lasting lovers.
After getting attracted to each other, intimacy usually comes along. Studies have proven that holding hands with someone you have intense feelings for relieves stress. That’s why usually during pregnancy labor, many choose to hold their partner’s hand so they can calm down, rather than holding a random nurse’s hand. Kissing also acts like a pain killer and sets the mood for the activities that usually come next, such as making out and sex.
Lastly, there are different kinds of loves, even in the romance context. Relationships usually start off with alluring love and then slowly become committed love. What many people don’t know, however, is that love is made up of three different components. Love is made out of passion, intimacy, and commitment. Knowing this fact makes it all that more easier to recognize whether you have or have not fallen.