You can’t stop thinking about them. The mere idea of them makes your heart light and fluttery, in all of the best of ways. And you count the minutes, or maybe even the seconds, until you can see them again.
Yes, these are all the classic signs of falling in love, at least according to movies, television, and reality shows like The Bachelor. Although these things can all certainly be true when you’re first genuinely enamored with someone, there are other signs of romantic love to look out for.
If you’ve been dating someone or you’ve reached a new level of commitment in your current relationship, you may have a lot of questions about the emotions you’re experiencing and you may wonder, “What does love feel like?” — especially if you haven’t been in love before.
There are plenty of studies on the subject of falling in love — in fact, there are tons. For example, one 2011 study says that men typically say “I love you” six months before women do. A 2004 study confirmed that our hormones actually do change when we fall in love, from testosterone to cortisol. A mathematician from the UK took a stab at narrowing down someone’s chances for finding love in research for eHarmony, and based upon Britain’s population, reported that people have a one in 562 chance of finding love.
As Harvard Medical School points out, “Love may well be one of the most studied, but least understood, behaviors.”
Falling in love isn’t an exact science per se. There are certain trends and commonalities that fall into general themes, but at the end of the day, it really comes down to you, your heart, and if your partner inspires you to be the best version of yourself.
In this article, we’ll look at love from a clinical standpoint and provide guidance to explore the question: “am I falling in love?”
What Are the Symptoms of Falling in Love?
If love’s a topic that’s frequently on your mind these days, it’s probably because you have a desire to verify your feelings toward a partner or seek clarity in your relationship. That’s perfectly normal. Everyone needs a little validation in life, or at least clarity, especially when it’s around a decision with this much weight and importance. As a matter of fact, there are indications you can try and identify if you think you’re falling in love.
Dr. Amy Cirbus, LMHC, LPC, and Director of Clinical Content at Talkspace, has focused on relationships throughout her clinical experience over two decades. “It is our relationship with both ourselves and with others that serves as the foundation from which our mental and emotional well being is built upon,” she writes in her bio.
Since falling in love and mental health can so often intertwine, it seems only natural that falling in love comes with physical, mental, and emotional impact.”
According to Dr. Cirbus, falling in love is often accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Low appetite
- Not being able to fall asleep
- Feeling excited and giddy
- A near-anxious feeling, with heart palpitations
Other symptoms of romantic love can include an excess of sweat, increased stress (yes, even in the midst of those euphoric feelings), wishing for their happiness, feeling more optimistic, and continuous staring at the object of your affections (yes, in a lovey-dovey way).
There is a single hormone that drives many of these feelings, and that’s dopamine, the feel-good hormone. Dopamine is also known as the hormone of desire, it is responsible for the spark that you’re feeling when falling in love, which is actually a dopamine rush through the body.
A spike of dopamine feels like it heightens all of our senses. Cirbus says that some people even interpret this physical reaction as scary and making them feel uncomfortably vulnerable — a reaction that can be felt in our brains and bodies.
“Research shows that the areas of our brain associated with feel-good sensations light up when we’re in love,” Cirbus explains. “Chemicals in these reward centers send out a signal to the rest of our body. We may feel a racing heart and flushed cheeks. Our palms can get sweaty and we can experience feelings of anxiety and even stress as our body reacts.”
Love is an awesome feeling, but in some relationships it can lead to strains that make love unsustainable, and even unhealthy. To make sure your relationship isn’t wandering into an unhealthy place, watch out for the following signs:
- The majority of your time together is dedicated to arguments
- Much of your time together involves making up after arguments
- You don’t have time for yourself
- You feel possessive about your partner’s time
- You can’t remember when you last spent time with friends
- You are made to feel guilty about normal things
- You’re feeling belittled
- There’s a feeling you have to stalk social media to find information about your partner
Some also consider love an addiction. While not addictive physically, like dependence on a drug, one could become addicted to the excitement and feeling of falling in love, all that dopamine rushing through the body, which can make it very hard for them to commit in a relationship. Those who we might think of as addicted to love usually sabotage things once the excited feelings once the honeymoon phase of their relationship is over. If love no longer feels healthy and instead turns into depression, anxiety, irritability, or self-harm, it’s likely time to rethink the state of your relationship.
How Long Does It Take to Fall in Love?
Though some studies attempt to map out a timeline for falling in love, there actually isn’t a set timeframe it takes to develop feelings of love.
Cirbus assures us that falling in love does take longer than you’d think. The start of a relationship is most associated with lust and infatuation, which develop more immediately, love has more depth and develops after your relationship achieves stability.
What Are the Stages of Falling in Love?
John Gottman, a world-renowned marriage expert and researcher, has conducted extensive research on the stages of love within a relationship. He laid out three overall stages: lust, attraction, and attachment. But can be further subdivided into six smaller stages that are less researched.
The six stages of love, as Cirbus describes them, are:
- A person begins to take on new meaning in your life, becoming more than a potential love interest or more than just a friend.
- That person begins to consume your thoughts. Not only do you become preoccupied with them, but you also find your thoughts turning to them often.
- You idolize and idealize that person, you see them in a glowing light that makes everything they do look adorable.
- You develop a heightened sense of self-consciousness as the stakes are now higher.You are hyper aware of how you present yourself now that more risk, i.e., that the relationship could deteriorate, is involved.
- You feel more comfortable around this person and after more time is spent together your relationship is now characterized by a great depth of intimacy.
- You want to solidify the relationship and formalize your intent. You are beyond infatuation, and have a broad understanding of one another and how you fit together as a couple.
So, is it possible for a couple to go through all these stages quickly? In, let’s say, a week?
Cirbus says that a strong physical and emotional connection with a partner can be established in a week’s time. But once you’ve established a foundation for love, only time will tell if it lasts and develops further.
You can also ask yourself some questions to determine if you are really, truly falling in love. Here are some topics to think through:
- Are you highly motivated to be with this person?
- What are you investing in your partner? Time? Commitment?
- How do you feel when you first see them?
- How do you feel when you’re with them?
What Causes One to Fall in Love?
What are the main things that stoke the fire of romantic love? Well, it comes down to personal preferences, hormones, and how we feel.
“We’re attracted to people for different reasons,” Dr. Cirbus explains. “These are unique to our hormones and what we personally find attractive. We’re drawn to certain looks and smells in others. We’re also drawn to how people make us feel. If someone makes us laugh or boosts our own self-confidence, these feelings create attraction.”
In What Ways Does One Show Love?
You might be wondering if all those nice little things you’re doing for your partner are signs of falling in love, or if their actions show that they could be falling for you. In other words, how does one show love?
“We all show love in different ways,” Cirbus says. “Some people verbalize it, others invest their time in doing thoughtful things, and for others, it’s about opening up in ways that feel vulnerable. We stretch different parts of ourselves for those we love.”
The way that you show love won’t necessarily be the same as the way your partner shows love.
The key in a loving relationship is to acknowledge how your partner shows love in order to understand how they express themselves.
“By recognizing our partner’s love language, we’re better able to feel their love, which enhances our intimate connection,” Cirbus says.
Why Is Loving Easier for Some Than Others?
Maybe you’ve always found falling in love difficult. This might especially be true if you have had negative past experiences. Difficulty expressing love is a challenge for many of us, and often stems from our past experience or our childhood.
“Our ability to show love can depend on our personality, how love was modeled for us as children, and our experiences with previous love relationships,” Cirbus explains.
There is also a distinction between the act of falling in love and the action of loving.
“Falling in love is a spark,” Cirbus says. “People vary on their ability to be open to opportunities of love. The act of love is something a bit different. Love is intentional and requires insight and acceptance of our feelings. Falling in love can feel very reactive. Love, and loving someone, is a thoughtful action.”
The spark that comes from falling in love is something that should be savored. When all is said and done, it’s truly a wonderful feeling that doesn’t come along all that often.
“Enjoy it,” Cirbus advises. “For most people, falling in love is not something that happens once in a lifetime. Who and how we love can evolve over time. Our desires change as our self-awareness grows.”
If you’d like to speak to a therapist about falling in love or talk through any relationship hurdles, consider online therapy to help you discover how to show love to your partner in healthy ways.