"The search for love is one of our greatest life tasks," reports "Psychology Today" magazine. Everyone experiences love in a unique way that's difficult to catalog. However, most people can divide love into three categories: physical love, or lust; attraction, or romantic love; and long-term attachment, or true love. What you're feeling could be one of these, or all three simultaneously. That's according to Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University, who has spent more than 30 years studying the subject. Knowing certain characteristics of each type of love can help you identify exactly how you're feeling toward your significant other.
You Want Them Physically
Do you find it difficult to keep your hands off your partner? Do you want to touch your partner's arm, hold her hand or caress her back? When you're at dinner, do you sometimes have the urge to simply lean across the table and kiss her? That’s the lust type of love, which is a craving for sex and physical contact. At this stage of love, you may feel similar to how you would feel if you did an opiate drug, as the brain releases hormones that are similar to a natural form of heroin.
It's in the Eyes
It has been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. They're also a clue to love. People who are in love can't help staring into the eyes of the person they are attracted to, according to Dr. Lucy Brown, a neuroscientist interviewed by YourTango. Dr. Brown says that when it comes to the brain and emotional bonding, the eyes are what we focus on most, so it makes sense that we're that much more interested in the eyes of our significant other. Not only might you be interested in your partner's eyes, but your eyes might change, too. Dr. Eckhard Hess, a biopsychologist, tells Chemistry.com that when you look at someone you love, your pupils dilate so you can see more of them. This, in turn, lets in more light and can make the room appear brighter. So, if things get brighter whenever your romantic interest walks into the room, it could be love and not a faulty light bulb.
You Can't Stop Thinking About Them
When you're at the romantic or attraction stage of love, your brain activates areas involved with social cognition and emotion, which in turn releases hormones like oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopressin. This in turn causes symptoms like increased energy and obsessively thinking about this person. That's according to MRI studies done by Dr. Stephanie Ortigue. Dr. Fisher's research suggests a similar conclusion regarding obsessive thinking. In fact, these thoughts about your partner can be so intrusive and so obsessive that the symptoms may even share characteristics similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Your Partner Feels Like Home
While lust and romantic love may feel great, these stages of love can also be unstable. The last stage of love, long-term attachment, is what many may call "true love." Dr. Fisher tells "The Economist" that this type of love "is characterized by feelings of calm, security, social comfort and emotional union." This may feel different to each person. For some people, their romantic partner feels very "familiar," similar to the way a mother or father may make you feel.
A Warning About the Unique Journey of Love
While researchers have spent decades studying love and human emotion, don't forget that this is an intensely personal journey and that everyone experiences it differently, including you and your significant other. You may move through each stage at a different pace, and you may feel like you're not in any of these stages at some point in your relationship. "Psychology Today" sums it up by saying, "Love is not static. Feelings of love come and go just like feelings of sadness or happiness. It is commitment that does not waver."
- Pscyhology Today: Finding Love
- YourTango: 5 Signs You're In Love
- The Independent: Love on the Brain
- Chemistry.com: Do You Two Have Chemistry?
- The Economist: I Get a Kick Out of You
- Psychology Today: How Do You Know When You Are In Love?
- HelenFisher.com: About Dr. Helen Fisher
- The Telegraph: How to Find Love
Joshua Duvauchelle is a certified personal trainer and health journalist, relationships expert and gardening specialist. His articles and advice have appeared in dozens of magazines, including exercise workouts in Shape, relationship guides for Alive and lifestyle tips for Lifehacker. In his spare time, he enjoys yoga and urban patio gardening.