Of course, there is no infallible litmus test. How boring life would be if there were! So this article is not intended to give you any sort of checklist that leads you to an easy answer. I'll leave such contrivances to the teenage magazines. What I aim to do is provide you with some food-for-thought that will help you, if you are at all unsure, to make up your mind about what love means to you, and whether you are in love or not. And, even if you already know that you are in love, I'll try to provide some guidance and support if you want to make your love-life more meaningful and rewarding.
Quite possibly, love is one of the most over-used and abused words in the English language. In spite of the considerable efforts of our most accomplished poets and writers to capture the beauty of the word, its high currency is commonly devalued to the point of worthlessness. Here in England, for example, you can find yourself addressed as "Love" or "My love" by a shop assistant who has never before laid eyes upon you as you make a trivial purchase at a store. In part, I think this devaluation is because we tend not to distinguish very well between different types of love, even though making a distinction can be very useful indeed.
I remember that someone once told me that Eskimos have 20 different words for snow, whereas we - even in England where we talk about the weather all of the time - have only one. I don't know whether that information is true, but it makes sense to me because it must surely be useful for Eskimos to be able to communicate with precision about something that affects their daily lives so significantly. After all, a sentence like "that dry fluffy type of snow that makes hardly a sound until your foot has sunk into it to a depth of about 8cm at which point you hear a slight double-crunching noise" would become a bit tedious after a while!
But I'm not going to propose that we invent new words for the different types of love: I'm hoping that we can make do with four simple qualifiers that make the important distinctions very clear. I'll tell you what they are, and then I'll show you how useful they can be. Four types of love:
I'm not going to waste time talking about how a parent displays or feels love for a child or vice versa because I've never known a woman who doesn't instinctively understand the basic notion of a beautiful child/parent relationship. This article is primarily about adult-to-adult relationships where sexual interactions may occur, in other words relationships where "couples" have strong feelings for one another. But you will see in a moment that ALL FOUR types of love are relevant within exactly that adult-to-adult scope.
Most couples, when asked, would say that they love each other. At least, they would say that to you and, at least initially, they would say that to me. But, if you probe with a little more subtlety, and a bit more persistently, you will often unearth buckets of frustration, resentment, mistrust, insecurity, jealousy, and sometimes fear.
None of these buckets fit well within the concept of love that all those poets have attempted to capture on paper for us aspire to. When a woman says "Of course I love him - he's my husband!", what does she mean? Would a person who was really "in love" ever say such a thing? You will have your own answers to those questions, but here's a clue to why our four distinctions can prove to be so useful.
Suppose a woman said "Of course I love him - he's my son!" Do you see a very significant difference? Most women absorb an uncritical, unconditional responsibility to "love" their children from the moment of their birth. (Post-natal depression issues aside, because it's a whole different subject and not relevant for our purposes today.)
Now, I'm not denying for a moment that there are some women who accept a similar responsibility for their husbands once the bond of marriage is in place, but I can't think of many poets who have burned the midnight oil in capturing the emotions they are feeling at the time. Let's take a closer look at what we might call "childish love".
I put it to you that each of these words or phrases would be far more acceptable in describing a child than used within the context of an adult-to-adult bond.
Needy, selfish, dependent, immature, demanding, irresponsible, possessive and jealous, approval-seeking, moody, impulsive, scared of being alone, scared of rejection, often testing boundaries, feeling inferior, feeling powerless, sulky, loyal, reverent.
I'm not saying that none of these words or phrases should ever apply at all in an adult relationship, but I do think it's clear that an excess of any or several of them can be the cause of a lot of tension, anxiety, conflict, and misery. Which means that it's worth reflecting on the nature or your relationship if you can identify with many of them in the relationship you have with your current partner. Now let's look at the next type of love.
Non-sexual, very responsible, serious, dependable, predictable, mature, occasionally resentful, selfless, reliable, risk-averse, stoic, protective, authoritative, superior, judgemental - perhaps even prejudiced at times, controlling.
Again, these are warning-bells if you can see a few of them becoming the most applicable adjectives you could use to describe your adult relationship. Now let's deal with the third of our types of love.
I want to mention this almost in passing, because - delightful though it can be when you're in it - either the bubble bursts or the infatuation evolves into some other sort of love over time. Exactly what sort of love it evolves into is of course very critical to whether you achieve the fulfilment of truly being in love. Here are some pretty exciting words and phrases that can apply to infatuated love.
Heady, illogical, passionate, butterflies-in-the-stomach, can act in foolish ways, highly motivated to be with the object of desire, spontaneous, wild, adventurous, caring, considerate, having strong sexual attraction, blind to faults, optimistic.
Feeling infatuated is usually a call to action. If you are feeling infatuated with someone then do something about it! It's simply not something you can ignore. So, even if you're married and infatuated with someone else it's important to address the situation and take action, because keeping those powerful feelings secretly bottled-up will have a very damaging effect on your relationship. I'm not saying that the right approach is always to follow your heart, because infatuations can often be based on very questionable foundations, but it is important to find a resolution somehow that leaves your integrity intact.
Infatuation is intoxicating, and it is often evocative of those dreamy days of teenage romances. But it can give you a nasty hangover too if you avoid dealing with the complications of an adult reality. Although Albert Einstein was clearly one of the greatest minds in history, even he had to admit defeat on this point.
"How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics
so important a biological phenomenon as first love?" —Albert Einstein
So let's leave infatuation there, and move on to some words and phrases that are commonly applicable in the real deal.
Independent, responsible, decisive, reliable, trustworthy, mature, trusting, truthful, empowered to do the right thing, vulnerable and courageous, feels free to flow with heart's desires, both selfless and selfish, spontaneous and thoughtful, sexually motivated, caring, considerate, wild, passionate, adventurous, adorable.
These characteristics are highly desirable in adult relationships, and if you relate strongly to many of them then you're almost certainly in a pretty good place right now.
Putting them all together
Most women, when reading through the sections above, will find that words and phrases from more than one "type" of love strike a chord with them. Although it can be very hard to admit that the dynamics of your current relationship are based on more than one type of love, the admission itself can be an enormously positive first step to migrating your relationship towards your ideal. With this in mind, you might want to carry out a simple exercise to get some insights that will help you answer whether you are really in love or not.
How in love are you?
Look at the way I've described the characteristics of the different types of love we've considered in this article and then try to assess the proportions of each of the categories of Childish Love, Parental Love, and In Love so that you have a total of 100%. I've omitted Infatuated Love from this exercise because it - more than any other type of love - is likely to be a phase that matures into one of the other three. If you're in it right now, then my guess is that you're unlikely to be worrying too much about answering any of the questions I've put to you in this article!
So, for example, you might decide to put 30% in Childish Love, 50% in Parental Love, and 20% in In Love. This openness and honesty with yourself is a great starting point for improving the quality of the love that you feel and receive. We'll take a look at just how to do that in a moment.
First, it's important to recognise that falling in love is tricky when you don't like yourself very much, so building and maintaining healthy levels of self-esteem is critical to the success of any adult-to-adult relationship. This self-esteem is not just about believing that you are worthy of being loved by another person, it's also about having or developing the skills to foster good relationships. It's only when you have the skills to do well that you can genuinely and legitimately respect yourself and your approach.
Now, let's take a more detailed look at what to do if your "In Love" score is not as high as you would like. There are some great tips coming up that will help you to fall head-over-heels with your current partner, or someone new if that's the right thing for you.
If you have lots of Childish Love in you
Quite simply - try to ditch it! Your partner is NOT your parent. If you think that you've been applying any Childish Love to an adult-to-adult relationship, then now's a very good time to make a firm commitment to stop. You're not a child anymore, and it's time to grow up, hold your head up high, and strive to reach your full potential as a sexually mature, responsible, loving woman of worth.
If you have lots of Parental Love in you
Channel it! You are NOT his mother, you're his lover! And of course the same goes if you're in a lesbian relationship too. If you think you've been applying Parental Love to an adult-to-adult relationship, then you're not channelling your maternal instincts very effectively. If your partner is feeling vulnerable and needs support from you, then by all means give it wholeheartedly, but do not fall into the common trap of mothering your partner by taking over responsibility for an issue that does not belong to you. Encourage your partner to step up to the mark and behave as a sexually-mature, responsible, loving person of worth. Again, it's best to check which of these were specifically recommended to you based on your own results in The Ultimate Self-esteem Test at my web site.
If you have a high In Love score
Cherish it! But NEVER try to possess it. Remember, being in love is a beautiful thing. An awesome thing. But if you live in fear that it may disappear one day, and your fear drives you to attempt to "cage" your loved one, then your love will surely die eventually. In many ways, love is like a butterfly: fragile and beautiful when it is free to choose where to go and what to do. But placing a butterfly in a tiny cage so that you could stop it from flying away from you in order for you to enjoy it more would be a terrible thing. That butterfly's beauty would soon be destroyed, and it would sadly die.
If your loving feelings towards your partner ever begin to fade, try to remember all those characteristics I listed in the In Love section above, and emulate them whenever you can. They will help you to do well and let your love shine out and brighten your world.