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9 Ways to Tell if You’re Falling in Love for Real, According to Experts

It’s a classic story: You meet someone, feel butterflies, and start pondering a future, whether it’s Friday’s dinner or next year’s proposal. You’re pretty sure you’re falling in love—or are you?

However strong the feeling, it can be tough to decipher whether it’s grounded in something real or something more fleeting. After all, plenty of things can look and feel like love. Lust, for example. Or infatuation. Or toxic love bombing. And even if it does seem like 100% genuine love, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is. You may be able to think back to a time when you were sure you were falling hard and then reversed course when you saw them, say, be a jerk to a waiter.

To help you untangle it all and decipher your emotions, we consulted a few relationship experts on this particular matter of the heart. Here are ten signs that it’s the real deal and you are, in fact, falling in love with someone—so you can declare your feelings with confidence.

1. You know them well (or at least pretty well).

While there’s no set time for how long it takes to fall in love, the experts we talked to agree that getting to know someone is a key part of developing deep feelings. When you’re really hot for someone in the early stages of dating, it sure can feel like you’re in love (see middle school crushes for reference), but according to Megan Fleming, PhD, a clinical psychologist and sex and couples therapist in New York City, “the difference between infatuation and love is knowing a person.” Meaning that when you’re merely infatuated, “it’s a projection because you haven’t learned much about them yet.” Essentially, you’re projecting all the things you hope are true onto this person—a lovely but still largely blank canvas.

Whereas when you’re in love, it’s typically based on a deep connection and shared values, which requires at least some understanding of who this person is and what makes them tick. You have a sense of their personality: cautious or daring, outgoing or shy, even-keeled or excitable. You can largely predict their reactions and rely on them to be consistently themselves.

Even if you don’t know everything about them yet, if it’s “true love,” you’ll probably want to: A 2021 research review in the journal Frontiers of Psychology found that “preoccupation with the partner,” the “desire to know the other and to be known,” and “studying the other person” are all common components of romantic love. In other words, when you’re falling in love you tend to become fascinated by anything and everything you learn about your new partner. (What was their third-grade teacher’s name, anyway?)

2. The phrase that best describes your feelings is in love rather than just love.

When it comes to feelings of love, it turns out that what you call your emotions might matter. Ty Tashiro, PhD, NYC-based psychologist and author of The Science of Happily Ever After, tells SELF that in a 1997 study conducted at the University of Minnesota—his alma mater, which is just one reason why this oft-cited study is among his favorites—researchers parsed the differences between “love” and being “in love” and the associations people have with each term. The research may be old, but its findings stand the test of time, according to Dr. Tashiro.

“The researchers found that the two most common predictors of being ‘in love’ are liking the person and feeling lust for them,” he says. “They found that 86% of the time, if both of those things were in place, people were in love,” and not just feeling more general love for the person. If you just like the person but feel no heat, Dr. Tashiro says, “then what you have is a friend, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And if you just have physical attraction, that’s a booty call, and that’s okay too.” In other words, if you combine the positivity and goodwill one feels toward a loved one with the attraction one feels to a lover, you’ve likely got yourself a match.

3. You can see their quirks and look past them.

The 2021 Frontiers of Psychology review also found that romantic love is marked by “a tendency to perceive one’s relationship and one’s loved one in a positive light or bias.” Dr. Fleming notes the importance of removing those rose-colored glasses when it comes to real intimacy, though—since in a state of infatuation, we’re often so dazzled by the person we can’t even register their quirks and shortcomings. “It’s about the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Dr. Fleming says. “When you hold love and fondness and affection for someone who is flawed and human, that’s love.”

That said, there’s a difference between overlooking imperfections and excusing behavior that’s abusive or otherwise toxic. Paying attention to and trusting your instincts if something feels unsettling in your partnership can help you distinguish between flaws you can accept (they hate talking on the phone or leave used floss around the house, say) and warning signs of an unhealthy bond. On that note…

4. What’s happening between you feels positive, not draining or dramatic.

Looking out for red flags is key. If someone treats you with too little care, overlooks or straight-up invalidates your feelings, keeps you at arm’s length (leaves you on read, returns only every third phone call), or simply makes you feel unsafe physically or emotionally, for example, those are all clear signs that you’ve entered unhealthy territory—and that does not lend itself to real love. “If it doesn’t consistently make you feel good it’s probably not right,” Dr. Fleming says.

Again, trusting your gut is the best way to know if a partnership is potentially unhealthy, but that can be tough to do if you’re being flooded with mixed feelings and intoxicating hormones (like dopamine and oxytocin). To help you determine if the bad outweighs the good, here are some common red flags in a relationship to look out for.

5. But it doesn’t necessarily make you feel good all the time

There’s a caveat to that last item, though. “If the situation only makes you feel good, then it may not be healthy, either,” Dr. Fleming says. In other words, loving someone involves at least some struggle, emotional risk, and actual work—you’re learning to understand, trust, and communicate with a separate human being after all. If you’re not challenging each other to do better, putting your heart on the line, and doing your best to grow and evolve and meet the other person in the middle, it may be a sign that your connection isn’t as deep as you think.

6. You feel intense empathy toward them

Helen Fisher, PhD, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has conducted years of fascinating research on romantic love. In one 2005 study in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, she notes that “lovers exhibit extreme empathy toward the beloved,” which may look like a huge investment in their feelings IRL. The Frontiers of Psychology review also noted that love tends to make people focused on “determining the other’s feelings” and being of “service to the other.”

They had a bad day at work? You’re there with an afternoon coffee. Their childhood dog just passed? You’re in tears too. It’s little wonder, since research shows a strong neurological connection between romantic love and a deep sense of compassion.

7. You can think beyond the present moment.

“Infatuation and lust are very present-focused emotions,” Dr. Tashiro explains. “They focus your attention narrowly on whatever you’re feeling the desire for. That doesn’t tend to lead to future-oriented thinking.” But those who are in love tend to be looking down the road. “When you look at folks who feel more of a companionate kind of love,” he says, “they think about what a coordinated life together could look like.”

In other words, instead of pondering, say, which graduate programs you might apply to based entirely on the schools’ faculties and locations, you might consider the way in which this decision might impact your shared existence with your partner. Which city is best for their career as well? How close does their family live to each program? What might a joint decision on this matter look like?

8. This love feels real to you—and doesn’t fit a pattern of false alarms.

“If you’re someone prone to infatuation and crushes,” Dr. Fleming warns, “the question is what are the patterns? Do you pine for people who are unavailable, long-distance, married? Are you often attracted to avoidant people?” If so, she suggests taking a beat and really considering whether this time is different.

“It always helps to have curiosity about our feelings,” Dr. Fleming says, “so we have a sense of which ones to lean into”—that is, which ones to pursue versus which ones to perhaps think twice about. If you’re the type for whom romantic feelings don’t necessarily come easily but you’re absolutely wild about this new person and can’t stop thinking about them, that’s a sign that this may be the real deal.

The key, as Dr. Fleming says, is to be curious about your feelings. Sit with them and see if they change with time or circumstance. Do you only feel “in love” with this person when they’re nearby, but largely forget about them when you’re apart? Do you feel any reservations alongside your romantic feelings—things about the person that gives you pause, but that you maybe haven’t unpacked just yet? These are all important things to consider before setting your heart on love.

9. Your feelings are reciprocated.

Of course it’s possible to love someone who doesn’t love you back—and it’s terrible, to be sure (Bonnie Raitt gets it). But if you’re under the impression that the two of you are falling in mutual love, it’s important to be sure you’re reading the room.

How can you tell if they’re as into you as you are them? Dr. Fleming offers this tip: Pay attention to their attention. If they’re falling in love with you too, “they’re interested in being around you, even if it’s just to banter,” she explains, warning that the flipside is equally important. Do they seem distracted when you hang out? Do they give you subtle cues that they’re not thrilled to be spending time with you, like looking at their watch or cutting things short? If so, it might be time to pull back on those feelings. If someone is in love with you, they too will be exhibiting many of the behaviors on this list—like accepting the full you (flaws and all) and being invested in your day-to-day life.

If they’re not, then take heart. Yes, it really, really sucks. But as anyone who’s been there will tell you, romantic rejection really does get better with time. And we don’t have to know you to understand that you deserve someone who’s equally into you.

The original article found on SELF US.

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