You grab your phone, hoping it’s a message from THAT SPECIAL SOMEONE.
It is, OMGOMG. Be cool. Your heart’s racing, the butterflies in your stomach are whipping up a tsunami. You respond “Hi *heart eyes emoji*” and immediately wonder if that was a little too much, too soon.
You know the typical progression of romantic relationships: First there’s a spark. Next comes a connection. Then you start thinking about the long term and even the L-word. But is it real, or is it just in your head? Are you moving too fast?
These are legitimate questions about some complicated and legitimate feelings. We’ll help you get a handle on your thoughts and decide how to proceed on your love trip.
Generally speaking, falling in love feels good. Your brain releases dopamine, and everything just seems a little more sparkly. Here are a few signs that you may be falling in love, but your mileage may vary.
1. You’re seeing through rose-colored glasses
Your new love is the cutest, most fascinating creature you’ve ever encountered, and you are mesmerized. It’s normal to idealize the person you’re falling for.
According to Dr. Pepper Schwartz, sociology professor and relationship expert on “Married at First Sight,” emotional signs are a big part of falling in love. She says you may feel increasingly comfortable and safe with them, feel like they really understand you, and you want to tell the world how great they are.
2. The warm and fuzzies heal your pain
According to a research review, love can decrease your perception of physical pain. A study of people in the early stages of falling in love found that their pain was reduced when they looked at a picture of their romantic partner, and there was increased activity in parts of the brain associated with reward.
If you notice your aches fading as you scroll through your crush’s Insta, it could be love.
3. You feel lovesick
Fresh love is not all roses, though. You may feel stressed, have heart palpitations, or get a stomachache, but in a good way? People in love have higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. No need to worry that your butterflies are a bad sign, it’s normal!
4. You can’t eat, can’t sleep
Extra norepinephrine might make you a little jumpy, increasing your heart rate and making you sweat. So cute, right?
“Physiologically, you may find yourself sleeping less, eating less, and feeling in a blissed out state of bodily arousal and excitement,” says dating and relationship expert Cora Boyd. As your relationship develops, oxytocin kicks in to relieve stress and secure your bond.
5. You might start to feel a little obsessed
Having intrusive thoughts about your crush? When you first start to feel the love, serotonin levels in your brain drop, causing you to feel kind of unreasonable and obsessive. (People with obsessive-compulsive disorder tend to experience these low serotonin levels more often than people who don’t have obsessive-compulsive disorder). There is also a drop in activity in your frontal cortex, which causes lapses in judgment and irrational behavior.
6. You develop cravings
You might as well face it, you’re addicted to love. OK, not necessarily, but there have been discussions about possible links between characteristics of falling in love and addiction, like craving, euphoria, tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal.
While the actual clinical research behind it is debatable, some of the feelings can be similar.
7. The eyes have it
The cliche is that you see someone across a crowded room and are instantly drawn to them. Locking eyes with your crush is not just a cliche, it’s a sign that something’s there. “Eye gazing for more than a few seconds also means real attraction — and intimacy,” Schwartz says.
8. You gotta get too close for comfort
You want to be as close as possible to your person at all times. That may mean sexual attraction, or it could just be the urge to intertwine yourself with them and breathe the same air. It’s also possible to be intensely attracted to someone and not necessarily be “in love.”
Physical signs like increased heart rate and arousal could be attraction masquerading as love, Schwartz says. Look for other signs to confirm the emotions behind your attraction.
You love them, but do you LOVE-love them?
“Romantic love is characterized by fixation with each other, the notable craving for depth, emotional closeness, and physical intimacy,” Schwartz says. “The energy of platonic love is calmer, more spacious, with less urgency to merge and be as close as possible.”
Dr. Faith G. Harper, licensed professional counselor and certified sexologist, says it’s unfortunate we are conditioned to prize romantic love over friendship. “Friendship isn’t a ‘zone’ we shove full of the people we don’t want to have sex with, but is also an important part of being human in the world,” she says.
So, chin-up, people who are in the dreaded Friend Zone. You are important too.
Does it always have to get physical?
What comes first, love or sex? It depends on whatever you and your partner are comfortable with.
“It’s OK to take your time and explore that relationship, and yes, completely OK to not want to be physical with someone while you figure that out,” Harper says.
If you typically enjoy sex and intimacy, but have zero interest in having physical contact now or in the future with that particular person, Boyd says that it could be more of a platonic love. However, asexual people can still absolutely experience romantic love without being physical.
Even if sex isn’t on your agenda, it’s perfectly normal to want other forms of physical closeness.
Realizing you’re in love with someone can be exhilarating, surprising, and even scary. In many instances, the scared feelings come from not really knowing what to do next, or being unsure if the person you love even loves you back.
“In the movies, the announcement of love is always a big deal because there is always some tension of not knowing how the other person feels,” Schwartz says. “But in real life, it should progress in a natural way, so that you become more and more sure that the person you love either loves you or is growing in that direction. Usually, some hints are dropped to see if saying ‘I love you’ is safe.”
Boyd says, go for it and share your feelings when it feels right. “It may feel awkward, and there’s really no right or wrong setting to share how you feel. My advice is to share how you feel without expecting a reciprocated response from the other person in the moment,” she says.
Remember these tips for navigating your new love:
- Be patient. Let your (hopefully) new S.O. develop and express their feelings in their own time. If they need to take a beat to let it sink in, you still did the right thing by being honest and open.
- Communicate. Figuring out the dynamics of your relationship is one of your first big challenges as a couple! Are you exclusive? What are your expectations? What’s next? Don’t assume that being in love means you both want the same things. Talk about it.
- Take your time. Spontaneity is great, but have you tried not blowing up your life to move in with someone you just found out you were in love with yesterday? In some cases, a big commitment might be the right choice, but there’s also so much to savor in a new relationship. Taking it slow could be fun too.
If you have struggled with relationships in the past, therapy could be especially useful in helping you navigate new love.
“If you have a history of crappy relationships, or a crappy childhood, recognizing and expressing your boundaries and desires can be difficult,” Harper says. “A therapist has perspective from a different angle and can help you notice patterns, figure out what is important to you, and express those issues.”
Boyd says a professional can also help when feelings freak you out, and you are tempted to bail on a good thing.
“A therapist or mental health professional can help someone navigate and enjoy the wild ride of opening up and surrendering to love without self-sabotaging,” she says.
There are a lot of ways that falling in love makes us feel out of control — obsession, euphoria, anxiety, insomnia, sexual chemistry, fast heart rate, and more. If you experience the signs listed above, it might be love! Congratulations, let the wild ride begin.
If your lovey feelings end up being platonic, or unreciprocated, that’s OK too! You can still enjoy the excitement and discovery of new relationships and the comfortable bonds that they eventually lead to.