Among many of the people I spoke with, a common occurrence I found was that people had said the words “I love you” in previous relationships without really understanding what that meant. A few maintained that they did feel some form of love in those situations, but it wasn't necessarily the type of love that you can build a life on. It wasn't until they had actually fallen in love that they realized the times they had thought themselves in love before were really more diluted experiences of the emotion. They loved, but weren't necessarily in love. Love is a spectrum, and it takes many forms. Oftentimes, we do not realize exactly where on the spectrum we fall, and this is especially true when we are young and not that experienced in love. To those I talked to, many found that as they matured and were able to better understand who they were as an individual, it became much easier for them to understand when they were truly and deeply in love with someone, and what it was they needed from a steady and committed relationship.
One person's story in particular stood out to me, because she was reflecting on a love that she wasn't sure was actually returned (at least at the time). She told me she’d had feelings for someone for a long time, but never realized that what she was feeling was love. In fact, she adamantly denied that what she was in love, even when other people would point it out to her. When she finally acknowledged what the emotion actually was, she described it as a full body reaction that she’d never had towards anyone else. Just thinking of him would make her chest ache, her heart pound, and her legs go a little numb. He was the only person she'd ever thought of having a future with, and also the only guy who'd ever held her attention for very long. While she wasn't really sure she was all the way in love with him, she eventually realized that she was definitely on that path.
Finally, the majority of the people I talked to reported back the same thing: they could be their genuine selves with the other person. They didn't have to hide any part of who they were, or try to adjust themselves to fit the other person's ideals. In a few instances, people realized they were in love with their significant other because they were put in a vulnerable situation, but it didn't bother or frighten them that that one person was present to witness it. As one individual put it, "love is finding somebody who not only accepts, but who also understands the weird in you...Love is mutual weirdness."
So, put together, what can all this tell us about falling in love, and knowing when we are really in love? It tells us that people recognize the feeling at different points in their relationship, for different reasons. It doesn't always strike like a lightning bolt out of nowhere. A lot of the time, it's a natural build up over time. Being in love, like really, really in love, can be complicated, confusing, and scary. It can be unlike anything you've ever experienced before, and it can be ever-changing, evolving as you grow and mature as an individual and as a couple. There might not be one right way to fall in love and be in love, but it seems to really be one of those experiences that you know its happening when it finally happens.
Until next time,
Mostly because the whole series is on Netflix and I'm binge-watching it, one of the best, most love-filled moments from Friends :)