Perhaps the most commonly written about, sung about, conjectured about sentiment ever on the planet is, what is love. Love is a many splendoured thing, a film title, a song lyric used by numerous singers, the epithets about love are endless but do they take any of us any closer to understanding exactly what true love is, and does it really exist?
The general consensus of opinion is that true love really does exist but it is tricky to define. Rather than attempting to do this in words, it is perhaps easier to work on traits or characteristics, examples or scenarios. And then at the end, we can deal with the raft of doubting Thomas’s as there are always vociferous voices claiming that true love is just an illusion.
So the early passionate and heady days are passing and you think this one is a keeper. Your love seems to be blooming in all the right ways but how do you know if it is real love and when will you know that? Here are eight indicators that will turn the dial up on the real deal, the more you spot in your relationship, the closer you are to true happiness.
- 0.1 1. True love is never jealous or possessive
- 0.2 2. True love is accepting people for who and what they are
- 0.3 3. True love is needing not wanting
- 0.4 4. Actions speak louder than words
- 0.5 5. Real love has myriad forms of expression
- 0.6 6. Real love makes you feel good, not bad
- 0.7 7. Real love really is a biological process
- 0.8 8. You are in it for the long haul
- 1 Are you a non-believer?
1. True love is never jealous or possessive
Real love is utterly selfless, it is about putting that other person before you and your needs and above all else. It shouldn’t even be a conscious decision, it should just happen naturally.
There is no room in real love for possessiveness, jealousy, control freakery and selfishness. Don’t confuse overpowering attention and claustrophobic control with selflessness, it certainly ain’t that. Controlling another person is borne out of insecurity and warped tendencies and is dangerous territory. What might seem flattering at first can develop insidiously into something deeply dangerous and is to be avoided at all costs.
Real love is about freedom, not possession. A caring partner will never force you to ditch your friends, change how you look, move jobs or stop seeing your family. This is the hallmark of a possessive and controlling lover. For sure, everyone experiences doubts and insecurities and sometimes that can manifest in behaviour or reactions which fit this bracket. But by and large, this should be the exception, not the rule.
Jealousy and possessiveness are negative emotions which have no part to play in real love. True love is uplifting and is based on trust and freedom. So whilst it might make your chest swell with pride as your guy floors another in a bar for trying to chat you up, these are not emotions to endorse or be proud of. The true recipe for real love and long-term happiness is trust and lots of it. Loving anyone is about allowing them to be free. You are still your own person even if you are in love and you should be allowed to grow and develop both as an individual and as part of the relationship. Love ultimately is the absence of fear because fear is centred around need and it is this which gives rise to possessiveness and jealousy.
2. True love is accepting people for who and what they are
As part of the controlling debate, true love does not seek to change someone but accepts them for who they are, what they are, how they look. “I love you just the way you are” so “don’t go changing, try to please me” are some of the most famous song lyrics on the planet.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to look nice for your guy or wanting to impress him, landing that job promotion, helping a family member out. Quite rightly, he should be proud of you and its perfectly normal and natural to want to elicit feelings of appreciation and pride in your lover. However, one person trying to change another, altering their behaviour, what they look like, who they see, is not about love but control.
Accepting someone for who they are is actually about empathy. This is a trait which is fundamental in all human interrelationships but is never more important than when you are in love. Accepting someone for who they are is recognizing their right to be a unique individual even though they are in a loving relationship. That sense of individuality should not be countered. True love respects the fact that each of you has a right to your own private opinions, emotions and thoughts. This should not threaten the other person and make them feel insecure or jealous.
Differences of opinion are perfectly acceptable within a loving partnership, just because you are in love doesn’t mean you have surrendered your character and personality – you should not be a carbon copy of one another and indeed, opposites attract as often as not. Allowing others to be different is the variety that is the spice of life and is a huge part of the success of a loving relationship between two people who may be quite contrasting.
3. True love is needing not wanting
It’s easy to confuse need with other feelings in a relationship. You want to be with your lover 24/7, is that desire or need?
Needing or being needy is a negative emotion based on fear and insecurity. It can result in possessive and suffocating behaviour as destructive tendencies increase. This is totally opposing to wanting someone in your life.
In the study of economics, a need is described as essential for survival whilst want is classified as being on the basis of desire and it may, therefore, be unobtainable. The words are often used interchangeably. If your lover tells you he needs you, that doesn’t have to have a negative connotation; it’s just semantics and he probably is trying to demonstrate how much he wants you and how important you are to him. Remember, its’ only language and, after all, actions speak louder than words.
To put it a different way, needs are usually physiological whilst wants and desires are psychological. If your guy is becoming needy then this is probably a sign that the relationship is not necessarily that healthy. If you think of a need as unconditionally necessary then you can see that this cannot form the basis for a fundamentally healthy and loving relationship. Need is about co-dependence and whilst this may have a place in other loving relationships, i.e. child and parent, it does not really have space in a romantic partnership.
4. Actions speak louder than words
Love is about what you say but words can be cheap, we have all been in a situation with a guy who promises the moon and the stars but then just doesn’t seem to deliver, is never there when you want him, is unreliable and thoughtless and lets you down. It’s not long before we realise that he says one thing and does another.
Love requires attention and work, it has to be nurtured in order to grow. That euphoric Cloud Nine feeling won’t last forever and actions – grand and simple – are the mortar that puts the bricks together and constructs something solid and long-lasting.
Being in love is a way of life, it involves putting someone else’s desires and needs before your own. It is about having them as a priority on your list for the day, about not taking them for granted. Love can involve grand gestures and who doesn’t welcome the surprise weekend break away in a romantic hotel or a couple of last minute flights to somewhere hot and exotic.
But equally, love is about the smallest of gestures, popping a note in his laptop case because you know he has a big presentation that day. Love is about finding your favourite bottle of white chilling when you get home from a difficult day at work. Love is about holding a door open or walking on the outside on the pavement. There is no set guide to actions, no defined list of tick boxes which takes you to the top and awards the status of ‘real love’, it is just something you know when you see it and feel it.
5. Real love has myriad forms of expression
One of the reasons love is so hard to define is that it manifests in many different forms. Love has been represented in five love languages in a book entitled, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. He details what he considers to be the five key elements of love:-
- The giving of gifts
- Spending time together
This list could equally apply to parental love and familial love as well as romantic love. Interestingly, he does not include sex, desire or lust. ‘How I do love thee, let me count the ways’ from Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1803-1861) is used repeatedly at weddings and for Chapman’s list of five, there are probably many more which could be added.
Many psychologists actually consider romantic love a modern invention. In focusing on this element alone of love, there is a danger of missing something more deep and meaningful. The classical masters, Plato and Aristotle, most prominently but amongst others defined different types of love. ‘Eros’ is passionate or sexual love which is probably closest to the modern concept of falling in love. It is depicted as a type of madness. Then there is ‘philia’ or in simple terms, friendship and virtue. The best philia is born out of eros so it is the bond of friendship that lovers have between each other. This is what Plato cites as the gold standard, it operates on a higher level than lust and desire.
Other types of love are discussed such as the rather unfortunate sounding ‘storge’ which is seen more in the context of parental love but does have a level of familiarity and dependency which has a relevance to romantic love. And then there is ‘pragma’ from which we derive the words, ‘pragmatist’ and ‘pragmatic’. This is practical love over a longer-term period and one should hope that eros will eventually develop into pragma.
6. Real love makes you feel good, not bad
True love should make you feel warm, appreciated, safe, secure, cherished, nurtured and above all, loved. Real love should make you feel tender and open to other people, not just your partner.
If you are experiencing real love, you will feel considerate, tender, gentle and respectful to your partner. You are concerned for their welfare and tolerate their flaws with patience and indulgence. But did you know that true love can also make you kinder and softer to those around you? This maybe your family, work colleagues, friends or even complete strangers.
Real innate deep down happiness and fulfilment can make you kinder to other people, it is pervasive. Conversely, if you are usually content and happy go lucky but your friends and family remark on the fact that you have changed, then this might be an indicator that love is not making you feel good.
Love can not only make you kinder, friendlier and more open but it can also inspire you, make you feel invincible, empower you to take on challenges you would never have considered before you met that person. Courage and motivation come in spades and you develop a kind of energy and drive on the back of which you can achieve some amazing things. Of course, you don’t have to climb Mount Everest or conquer your fear of flying just because you have fallen in love. Many people just revel in the intense feelings of optimism and might, it’s like a drug-induced high that goes on and on.
They do say that the love of the right person can make you the best possible version of yourself and this is one of the ultimate ways to test out the depth of your feelings and whether your love affair is real or fake.
7. Real love really is a biological process
For all those sceptics who deny the existence of real love, there really is a chemical process which occurs in the human body to underpin this claim.
Positive attachment to another human being releases chemicals in the brain such as serotonin, vasopressin, dopamine, oxytocin and norepinephrine. These hormones are real chemical messengers and create the physical and emotional feelings that occur when two people are falling in love. This is what they do:-
- Serotonin – heightens mood in a similar way to drugs
- Vasopressin – this hormone is responsible for the feelings of attachment and belonging
- Oxytocin – this is the biggie and underpins the real biology of physical attraction. This hormone is released during kissing and cuddling and strengthens the connection and bonding process between two people
- Dopamine – revolves around reward and desire and centres on the pleasure felt during the interaction within a loving partnership. This might emanate from kindness, touch or going out on a special date
- Norepinephrine – this hormone is responsible for some of the physical manifestations of falling in love including clammy palms, a racing or fluttering heartbeat and feelings of lightheadedness
A lot of these physical processes in the brain are similar to the effect produced by taking drugs like ecstasy, probably why it was given that name in the first place. So love really is a drug and for those who deny the existence of real love, there is actually biological and chemical evidence to prove them wrong. Scientists have studied and categorically proven a real physiological basis to the human condition of falling in love and being in love.
8. You are in it for the long haul
Wedding vows talk about the eternity of love ‘for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health’ and a real sign of true and meaningful love is sticking with someone when times get tough.
A selfish person would up and leave if there were financial problems or a health issue and of course, selfishness has no place on the stage that is true love. It’s easy to be with someone when times are good, there are no pressures or work problems, no family difficulties or shortage of money. But do you still feel the same way when things are not looking so rosy?
Love is about cherishing that person and caring about them more than you do yourself. Many relationships don’t survive the pressure of difficulties and fragment and break down. To be fair, some crises are truely awful like the terminal illness of a child. But if it is just you and him, your love will be tested in challenging times and real love will not be found wanting.
True love is about putting your partner’s needs before your own, of focusing on their welfare rather than your personal life and of not even considering the impact that these difficulties might have on you. It shouldn’t occur to you that there is an exit door at these troubled times. Love is about having your partner’s back through the good times and the bad.
Rather ironically, testing times can deepen love and act as a litmus test of your commitment to one another. A relationship which has to survive the fire can be forged into an even deeper bond and become literally as strong as steel. It can be a huge vote of confidence for a couple even though no-one would wish difficulties upon themselves.
Are you a non-believer?
If you are a non-believer in the state of true love then quite possibly, it is because you have never experienced it. It is simple really, sceptics state that is a myth, an illusion because they have never felt real love for themselves.
There have probably been as many pop songs written about the fact that love doesn’t exist as those penned which try to define it and champion the cause of true love. Some people fall out of love with love after numerous failed relationships and bad experiences. I guess as any desired and cherished thing, real love can be a rarity and it could be a matter of chance whether or not we meet the right people in our lives.
One of the difficulties is that love is so romanticised and idealised, represented in films as some sort of warm, fluffy and pink status. In fact, real love is hard work, gritty, challenging, scary and a whole host of other things besides. Have we all been too influenced by the idealised view presented in the movies and when relationships don’t match this gold standard, we reject them as not the real deal?
For many who reject the idea of real love, they also cast aside the concept of a lifetime partner or soulmate. Don’t let one or more bad relationships sour the true goal of real and meaningful love. Perhaps you just haven’t found the right person yet.
So yes, in conclusion, true love does exist, there is just too much evidence to the contrary. Doubters and cynics are shaped by their own bad experiences and to some degree, jealousy and resentment toward those who are happy in love. There is even a basis in science to support it. This list of 8 reasons or characteristics can easily be multiplied many times over. Write your own list, get your friends to write theirs, they will all be different and all will be correct and viable. So to those who say true love is a fable, a myth, a made-up device of modern media, I would say, you just haven’t found the right person yet.