Love, the one thing that is most universally acknowledged as a core human experience, is also the hardest emotion to consistently define. Whether it’s a feeling, an act, a concept, or something else entirely, the way we love can vary greatly from person to person, and even from culture to culture.
Biological models of love tend to see it as a mammalian drive, similar to hunger or thirst, and influenced by hormones like oxytocin, neurotrophins, and pheromones. Psychology, on the other hand, views it more of a social and cultural phenomenon.
In the first rush of falling in love, a jumble of hormones like dopamine (pleasure), adrenaline (fight or flight), and norepinephrine (alertness) can make you feel flushed, sweaty, and crazy. When this phase ends, those same hormones are replaced by oxytocin (the “cuddle” hormone), which makes you feel closely bonded and ready to start making long-term plans together.
The feelings of love can be incredibly intense, and if you’re unable to control those feelings, it’s easy to fall into the trap of infatuation or obsession. A person in love can often find themselves yearning for their partner, thinking of them constantly, and sometimes getting so caught up in those feelings that they can’t concentrate on anything else. In some cases, this can lead to an inflated sense of self-importance and a view of the other person as a perfect match.
This can be especially difficult when your partner may not be able to fulfill those idealized expectations, which can make you feel like your own needs aren’t being met. It can be challenging to see someone for who they really are when you’re in the thick of those feelings, but looking out for red flags is important. If you’re dating someone who treats you with disregard, forgets about you when they’re not around, or keeps you at arm’s length (leaves texts on read or only responds to every third phone call), that’s a clear sign that they are not the one for you.
There are few things more awe-inspiring than seeing someone who is in true, lasting love with another person. Whether that’s the selfless love displayed by people such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Maya Angelou, and Oprah Winfrey or the loving friendships of your own family members, it’s important to be able to recognize true love when you see it.