Love is a complex concept. It can be romantic, familial, platonic, or spiritual and has a variety of different meanings in a wide range of cultures. It can be defined as a feeling of attachment and compassion that transcends mere infatuation, but also involves a level of loyalty, commitment, and trust that are uniquely human. The complexity of the emotion — and its many forms — is part of what makes it so difficult to consistently define, even when looking at individual examples of the feeling in action.
Despite its difficulty to pinpoint, “love” is still a powerful feeling that many people experience throughout their lives. It can be triggered by an array of stimuli, from a sudden, overwhelming rush of emotion to more subtle signals like eye contact and body language. People may even feel the urge to say those three little words – “I love you” – without hearing them from another person. Regardless of how they’re stimulated, the feelings remain similar: love is a powerful force that binds us together.
Some people are more nervous about saying the word than others. Some consider it a monumental moment that’s best shared in private, while others are ready to declare their love publicly and openly. But, how do you know when it’s time to say those three small words? While there’s no set timeline, some key clues can offer insight into not just when you might be ready to say it, but when your partner might be ready to hear it.
A fMRI study published in 2014 showed that when you talk about someone you love, the areas of your brain associated with pleasure – including the amygdala and hippocampus – light up. Additionally, your body releases chemicals such as the “cuddle hormone” oxytocin and the adrenaline that trigger a sense of well-being. These are all signs that you’re in love, according to researchers.
Ultimately, the best way to know when you’re in love is to act with kindness and care. A 2017 review on the state of love cited hand holding, cuddling, and compassionate actions as the top indications of true love. It also highlighted controlling behaviors – such as monitoring activities and possessiveness – as the least loving actions.
In short, when you are in love, you’ll want to spend time with the one you love, you’ll seek out their company and be motivated by a desire to be there for them – not just because they make you happy but because they deserve your attention. In addition, you’ll be willing to go above and beyond to be there for them if needed.
And, while it may hurt if they don’t return the affection, the fact is, true love – returned or unrequited – is beautiful in and of itself. It shows a noble capacity to endure anger and pain, and even exist in the most unlikely places and times. It’s a beautiful thing to behold, and it’s something we should all strive for.