“Am I in love?”
That is the question, isn’t it? Does mere desire translate to love? Or is there more to it?
If you daydream about someone for hours on end, is that an irrevocable sign you’re falling in love? What if it’s just infatuation? And what does science have to say about all this?
Love is an extremely complicated affair. There’s no end in sight to the questions that inevitably pop into your mind as soon as you feel those butterflies work their magic.
But whilst everyone’s experience of being in love is unique in its own right, there are always some universal signs you can watch out for! Turns out, the human brain acts in very specific ways when you’re in love, making this whole mess of emotions easier to untangle.
How to Know if You’re in Love: What Happens in Your Brain
Falling in love is like getting high. Quite literally.
A study called Neuroimaging of Love has found that the experience triggers the same areas in the brain as taking cocaine, while other studies suggest that falling in love is similar to drug addiction.
For instance, both include:
- Intense focus on the object of desire
- A rush of euphoria/intoxication
What’s more, getting separated from your loved one can manifest in common signs of drug withdrawal, such as lethargy, insomnia, or chronic loneliness.
It’s pretty wild. And it definitely doesn’t make love any easier – confused thoughts, storming emotions… add behavioral addiction into the mix, and you’ve got yourself an epic rollercoaster ride.
“Romantic love is one of the most addictive substances on Earth,” says Dr Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who is known as an expert on romantic love. In her research, Fisher has uncovered that falling in love activates VTA, the brain’s reward center that’s in charge of wanting, craving, and motivation. It also releases the feel-good hormone dopamine.
That’s only the beginning, though.
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Welcome to the Three Stages of Falling in Love
Yep, falling in love happens in stages – and according to science, each stage accounts for different physiological reactions in your body.
Stage 1: Lust. This is when the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen take the wheel, propelling you to look for romantic opportunities.
Stage 2: Attraction. You’ve set your sights on someone, and you’re slowly (or rapidly – research has shown that it can take under a second to fall in love) developing feelings for them.
Three hormones play a significant role here:
- Dopamine – gets released when you do things that feel good, which can literally just be spending time with the person you’re in love with. It’s that simple.
- Norepinephrine – also known as noradrenalin, this hormone makes you energetic, even euphoric, and gets your heart racing. It can also cause a lack of appetite or insomnia.
- Serotonin – is a feel-good hormone that regulates social behavior, mood, memory, sexual desire, and more.
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Stage 3: Attachment. Oof, that was a whirlwind! Stage 3 is when things start to calm down a bit, and you’re beginning to form a deeper attachment with your partner.
This phase is governed by the following:
- Oxytocin – also known as the cuddle hormone, oxytocin is released during sex, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Its main purpose is to make you bond with one another.
- Vasopressin – is another bonding hormone. Men are supposedly more sensitive to vasopressin, while women are more sensitive to oxytocin.
And let’s not forget cortisol, of course – the stress hormone also has a key role to play, especially in the beginning phases.
No wonder people in love can’t eat or sleep. Falling for someone takes a huge toll on your body!
(Although it feels kind of amazing… Which is also why it’s so dangerous if you’ve fallen in love with the wrong person, and absolutely marvelous if you make a good match.)
10 Endearing Signs You’re Falling in Love (Based on Science)
First and foremost, let’s make one thing clear – if one of the below signs fits, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything. People are more complex than that.
If it looks like many of the signs apply to your situation, though…
Congrats! You’re in love!
Alright, let’s get into the specifics!
1. Everything Just Feels… Better
The most beautiful thing about love is how much it can change your mindset. The moment you fall in love with someone, you put on rose-colored glasses, and when you look around…
Everything is just a little bit better. The things you used to hate suddenly aren’t as dreadful anymore because, well, at least you get to look forward to seeing the person that lights up your world!
You become excitement reincarnated, you can’t help but smile, and you often tend to spread the love to your other relationships in the process.
As philosopher Erich Fromm said in his book The Art of Loving:
“If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life.”
Love is contagious. If you suddenly feel like you could burst with all the love you have to give, it’s one of the signs that you’re in love.
2. You Primarily Focus on Their Positive Aspects
When you’re falling in love, you kind of forget that. The person you want to be with makes you feel so wonderful that you tend to put them on a pedestal, idealize them, and ignore their negative traits.
This is because the key to being in love lies in the belief that the person is special and unique. They are the sunshine lighting up your gray daily life, the one thing that makes you feel better, no matter how bad your day has been.
Unfortunately, many relationships crumble once they pass the stage of disillusion and are faced with reality. Unrealistic expectations and too much idealizing of your other half lead to sore disappointment, which means arguments bubble up where everything was smooth and perfect just minutes before.
Self-awareness. Pay attention to how your brain is twisting reality, take mental note of any red flags, and understand that falling for the wrong person is in many ways worse than staying single.
Once you fall, the climb back up is an exhausting journey, to say the least.
3. You Feel Safe With Them
Safety and contentment are what love feels like. While falling in love itself can be much more chaotic than that – jittery excitement, stress and anxiety, giddiness, intense longing, and the rush of euphoria when you finally get to see them – safety is still one of its main components.
Scientists agree on that front: neurobiological research confirms that emotional safety plays a large role in every romantic relationship because it’s wired into our bodies for survival reasons.
This is where you can recognize whether we’re talking merely infatuation, or if you’re truly falling in love. Do they make you feel safe and understood? Are you creating a deep emotional connection?
Or is it more about wanting what you can’t get, repeating familiar childhood patterns (e.g., striving to be with someone unavailable), or purely enjoying having someone to think about?
Not everyone makes you feel safe. Finding that sense of security and peace with someone you love – due to oxytocin flooding your body – is one of the signs you’re falling in love.
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4. You Can’t Get Enough of Their Smell
Funnily enough, loving their smell to the point of obsession is one of the biggest physical signs of love.
According to psychologists, this is because your nose can “suss out complex mechanisms like sexual compatibility, although the conscious mind is unaware of it.”
Ever heard of the Sweaty T-Shirt Study?
The scientist Claus Wedekind gathered a group of women and men with different types of MHC genes (genes that guide sexual behavior based on the different smells they give off), directing the men to sleep in the same t-shirt for two nights in a row.
When the women sniffed the t-shirts afterward, they rated the smell based on pleasantness, intensity, and sexiness. The ones they liked most belonged to men with MHC genes different from theirs, which usually leads to offspring with stronger immunity, therefore ensuring survival.
Your nose may know what’s best for you better than you do. If you feel like you want to sniff them until the day you die, chances are… yep, you got it!
You’re in love.
5. You Don’t Care About Your Ex as Much Anymore
Remember all that social media stalking, crying yourself to sleep, and rewinding your memories with them in your mind?
One of the best signs you’re in love with someone new is realizing that you don’t really have the tendency to do that anymore. Your former relationship is over and done with, your ex is in the past, and you might even feel happy for them, wishing them well.
That’s how powerful falling in love is.
Hold on, though – it’s not that simple. Timing is everything. If you’ve just broken up, you might want to fall in love to get rid of the pain, convincing yourself that this is how you really feel.
While rebound relationships are shown to be more effective than we give them credit for, it’s crucial to recognize if you’re really catching feelings or if you’re just looking for some bandages to soothe those wounds.
Either way, processing your break-up and accepting the pain is the best way to go. Falling in love is the most incredible experience when there’s no recent heartbreak to complicate things.
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6. You Constantly Think About Them
…and it feels like you simply can’t stop.
This goes hand in hand with the obsessive-compulsive behavior that love inevitably triggers, turning you into a that-one-specific-human junkie.
As worrisome as this may sound, the obsession does calm down after a while.
With time, couples usually learn to oscillate between moments of peace and moments of passion, stabilizing their bodies and grounding themselves back in reality.
It’s not going to be a rollercoaster forever.
If it is, it’s actually a sign of an unhealthy relationship dynamic. Your partner should make you feel safe and supported, not in a constant state of anticipation, obsession, and longing.
7. Your Usual Activities & Hobbies Aren’t as Exciting
I’m a huge bookworm. Reading is my favorite pastime.
When I’m in love, though, the words on the page turn into blah, blah, blah the moment I try to focus. It’s incredibly annoying when you don’t enjoy your hobbies as much anymore, but it’s also a sign you’re falling in love.
It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Your brain zooms in on your romantic prospect, putting all its focus to work in its strive to find a mating partner…
…and your hobbies go out the window.
This is confirmed by the conclusion of a 2013 study, which states:
“People who are in love are less able to focus and to perform tasks that require attention.”
Don’t worry, though – you’ll feel more like your old self in a few months’ time.
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8. You Feel Strong Empathy Toward Them
When you form a romantic bond with someone, your emotional and physiological processes start to sync up. It’s scary and mesmerizing at the same time.
Not only do your hearts and your breathing sync up when you sleep, but you also experience greater empathy towards each other in terms of both negative and positive feelings, according to Andreychik’s 2019 study.
While negative feelings trigger your need to care for them, offer support, and show them they can lean on you, positive feelings create a strong bond that shows you will be there for each other to:
“offer support outside of contexts of adversity, by, for example, responding enthusiastically to one’s successes and supporting one’s goal strivings.”
Over time, your partner becomes such an intrinsic part of your life that it only makes sense you should form such a deep connection. Feeling such strong empathy in the beginning stages of a relationship is one of the most obvious and endearing signs you like someone.
9. You Enjoy Imagining a Future with Them in Your Head
This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course. Many people want to take things slowly and are careful not to get burned because of past heartbreaks, which is completely understandable.
It’s not uncommon to picture a future with the person you have fallen in love with, though. Once oxytocin and vasopressin set in, you begin to form a deeper attachment that relies on stability, safety, and clear expectations.
Plus, many of us analyze our partners to see if they’d make good parents. If you’ve only known each other for a month and you’re already imagining what your future kids would look like, you’re not crazy – it’s actually a sign you may be falling in love, so congratulations!
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10. You’re Willing to Make Sacrifices for Them
Last but certainly not least, making sacrifices willingly is a huge deal. It means you’ve fallen so deep that you don’t mind going out of your way to accommodate the needs of the relationship.
Going to the store when she wants an ice cream (even though it’s freezing outside), spending some extra time with him when he feels sick (even though you’re busy with deadlines)… these are all things that count.
While you should never lose your sense of self-worth and should always set clear respectful boundaries, research shows that making sacrifices to decrease the suffering of your partner can actually result in mental and physical benefits.
Love is so powerful that it quite literally promotes selflessness.
Here are 5 Small Signs You’re Not Really in Love
Sometimes, it’s just not meant to be. Are you falling in love? Or are you not really feeling it? How do you know when you love someone?
Here are 5 small telltale signs this might not be it:
- You don’t really care when you see them next. You could easily go weeks without talking to them, and you’d be completely fine.
- There are quite a few things about them you find annoying or cringy, causing an uncomfortable feeling in your body. You hyperfocus on these little quirks and can’t get over them.
- They don’t smell great to you.
- You don’t enjoy imagining a future with them. When you do try to imagine it, it just doesn’t feel right.
- You ask yourself over and over again if you’re truly in love. Falling in love is such an overpowering feeling that many people just know it in their bones when it happens.
How to Know if Someone is in Love With You
Maybe this isn’t just about your own emotions – maybe you really want to know if your love is reciprocated, or if your friend has started catching feelings for you.
Look no further!
While the signs a man is falling in love may differ a bit from those of a woman, both genders generally act in similar ways:
1. They often look for a way to be physically close to you
Brushing arms against each other, sitting beside one another, or even bending a little too close to you when they want to tell you something – these are all signs that they’re gravitating toward you.
2. They are very protective of you
Especially when it comes to men – testosterone has been shown to promote protective behavior in relation to the well-being and safety of one’s mate.
3. They suddenly want to spend much more time with you.
Their brain zooms in on you, motivating them to seek out interaction as much as possible.
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4. They frequently look into your eyes, sometimes for a prolonged period of time
When you’re in love with someone, you can’t take your eyes off them! And there’s more to it – prolonged eye contact releases oxytocin and phenylethylamine, which play a major role in attraction.
5. They give you their full attention and attentively listen
What’s more, they’re always available when you call or message them, and they text back very quickly.
6. Their pupils dilate when they see you
This is caused by oxytocin and dopamine, which get a boost when our romantic prospect is around. Careful, though – pupil size can be affected by other factors, such as ovulation.
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7. They mirror your body language
Apparently, we mirror people who we’re interested in – we imitate their speech, body movements, facial expressions, and more. This can also be an unconscious way of showing heightened empathy.
8. They make an effort to ensure you’re happy
That cup of coffee you’ve been craving? They went and got it for you. The concert you’ve wanted to go to for years? Guess who’s got the tickets? When someone is in love with you, they go above and beyond to see you smile.
9. They get jealous when you show an interest in dating someone else
This can manifest in avoidant behavior, grumpiness, or irritability, but it can also be quite obvious, such as making mocking remarks about your romantic interest.
The main and most important sign, however, is the vibe they give off. Do you get the feeling that things are purely friendly? Or is there more to it?
Look for what’s hidden between the lines – the tiny remarks, the glances, the lingering touch, the atmosphere in the air.
You’d be surprised what you can find when you really pay attention.
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So, how do you know you’re in love?
For many people, falling in love is so overpowering that there’s absolutely no doubt about it – you just know.
Love can be more complicated than that, though, especially if you’re looking for signs you’re falling in love through text or with your best friend, for instance.
In general, however, here are the 10 signs you’re falling in love:
- Somehow, everything feels better. Your mood is improved.
- You focus primarily on their positives and disregard the negatives.
- You feel a sense of safety when you’re with them.
- You can’t get enough of their smell.
- Your ex is a thing of the past. You may even wish them well.
- You can’t stop thinking about them. It’s bordering on an obsession.
- Your hobbies aren’t as exciting anymore. You can’t focus.
- You feel strong empathy towards them and want to care for them.
- You enjoy imagining a future with them.
- You’re willing to make sacrifices to ensure their happiness.
Before we part, here’s an important piece of advice:
No matter how enamored you are, always make sure you’re taking good care of yourself. Set clear boundaries, be aware of any red flags, and be careful about who you date.
Falling in love is one of the most wonderful experiences in your life. Make sure you fall for someone who will be there to catch you.
When was the last time you actually caught feelings?
Let’s continue the discussion over in the Gentlemen Within Private Facebook Community.
Looking forward to seeing you in there.