When you first fall in love, it’s all-consuming and exciting. You can’t stop thinking about the person and want to spend every moment with them. You’ll talk about them all the time on the phone and over text, even if it’s only for a few seconds. Your whole body feels a little lighter and you just want to tell the world how much they mean to you. Over time, though, that initial phase starts to wane as challenges arise and reality sets in. That’s when it’s important to remember what love really means for you.
While there’s some debate about the definition of love, most people agree that it’s a feeling of affection and attraction. It can be a romantic relationship between two adults, or it can be a more platonic, family-oriented kind of love. It can also be a combination of both types of love, or it can include other close relationships in your life like friends and siblings.
Biologically, researchers have linked love to unique hormone processes in our brains. Lust is fueled by testosterone and estrogen, while attraction is driven by dopamine and norepinephrine. The attachment stage is influenced by the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin. These hormones are known to create feelings of bonding, care, and security that help us form emotional connections with others.
These biological explanations of love don’t always fit with our ideas about what love is, however. Many people believe that a healthy love is more of a mental and emotional state than a physical one, while others think that it’s more of a mix of primary emotions rather than just a single emotion.
Either way, there’s no definitive answer to the question of what love really is, since everyone’s experience of it will be different. But there are some clues to look for that can help you determine whether or when you’re ready to say those three small words:
They treat you with kindness and respect
If someone treats you well, it’s likely that they see you as a good partner. They’ll be understanding and supportive of your needs, and they won’t push you into a commitment you might not be ready for. A true friend will respect your boundaries and let you be yourself, so don’t be afraid to tell them if they treat you badly or unfairly.
They prioritize you
Whether it’s making time for each other, taking care of your physical health, or simply doing things that they know you enjoy, people who truly love you will put your needs ahead of their own. This shows that they’re invested in you as a person, not just what you can offer them.
Showing appreciation and affection are great ways to express your love for someone. Hugging, kissing, and touching are obvious examples of this, but it can also be as simple as leaving out a blanket for them to snuggle up in on a cold day or washing their car before they go to work. These small acts of love are powerful because they’re a reminder that they choose you over themselves, and they don’t take you for granted.