Are you falling in love? How can you tell? There’s no question that the first stages of a relationship can be confusing. You might puzzle over your own feelings and wonder what the person you’re dating thinks of you. Your own emotions may be difficult to fully decipher, and trying to categorize them as falling in love or as just a passing attraction can be tricky. Is what your feeling the real thing, or are you prone to feeling this way and should be careful moving forward? Drawing on recent research (focused on heterosexual relationships), here are some questions to help you sort it out.
- Do you fall in love frequently? New evidence suggests that men fall in love more frequently than women (Sanz Cruces, Hawrylak, & Delegido, 2015). Scholars can explain this tendency from an evolutionary perspective, linking love to sex: whereas women are likely to be more stringent in their partner criteria because their potential investment in an offspring is greater (e.g., pregnancy, childbirth), for men, such emotions might promote reproduction and could be considered evolutionarily advantageous. If falling in love is something you feel frequently, you have less chance of missing the real thing, but more chance of heartache: mistaking attraction for something more than it is.
- Are you suddenly doing new things? As people fall in love, they often branch out beyond their normal range of activities and try those that their partners favor. You might find yourself trying new foods, watching new shows, or trying new activities, like running, fishing, or gambling. People who fall in love tend to report growth in the content and diversity of their own self-concepts (Aron, Paris, & Aron, 1995).
- Does the person you’re falling for return your feelings? If you’re a woman and you feel like you’re falling in love, you might be interested to know that women experience reciprocity in those emotions more than men (Sanz Cruces et al., 2015). Maybe women are more apt to hold back their emotions until they believe they are returned, or maybe women are more successful at seducing their partners. In either case, women who think they’re falling in love tend to have their feelings returned more than men, making them more likely to find their feelings turn into relationships.
- Have you been especially stressed lately? As much as falling in love might be a welcomed event, evidence links the experience with higher levels of cortisol, a well-documented stress hormone (Marazziti & Canale, 2004). So if you’re anxious, tense, or just plain jittery, this might be a normal response to the strain of repeated social encounters with someone whose impression matters to you.
- Are you highly motivated to be with this person? Transitioning from a casual relationship to falling in love may have a chemical underpinning. Evidence shows that dopamine-rich areas of the brain are involved in the beginning stages of love (Fisher, Aron, & Brown, 2005); these areas are considered part of the brain’s “reward system” and serve as highly motivational. Once couples are “in love” for awhile, the intensity of their emotions tends to decline and different areas of the brain, potentially linked to attachment, become more active.
- How intense are your emotions? People high in attachment anxiety (i.e., they question their own self-worth in relationships) tend to experience a high degree of passion when romance is budding (Sanz Cruces et al., 2015). If you’re not high in anxiety, a lack of super intense feelings isn’t a clear sign that Cupid hasn’t struck: not everyone experiences falling in love the same way. In fact, those who have avoidant attachment orientations tend to fall in love with much less intensity.
- Are you tempted to say “I love you”? A sure sign of romantic interest, some people are more reticent to utter these three words than others. Although people might think women are the first to dive in, research on heterosexual couples indicates men are more apt to say “I love you” first (Harrison & Shortall, 2011). They’re also the ones who tend to fall in love faster than their partners.
- Are you investing more in this person? One hallmark of successful couples is investment: all the time, energy, emotions, etc. that people put into their relationships (Rusbult, 1980). People who are falling in love are likely increasing their investment in a person, linking their lives together in a way that might promote commitment and stability.
Scientists seem to agree that falling in love is a uniquely intense period of time. Much needs to be sorted out during the falling-in-love phase. Beyond attraction, is this person someone who will support you, respect you, understand you, and be compassionate with you? Does this person share your values and priorities? If you’re lucky, putting in the time and effort during this initial period will pay off, and your mutual attraction can transition into a more stable (and less stressful) long-term relationship.
Originally Published: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/meet-catch-and-keep/201507/how-do-you-know-if-youre-falling-in-love
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