This question presumes that being “in love” is a good thing, something which will tell us if we’re with someone whom we might consider for our future spouse or life partner. Indulge me here because I’m going to change definitions around a bit and suggest that we view the term “in love” a little differently, not as a good thing but actually as a temporary drug-induced fantasy state, in contrast to real and meaningful “love” which is a higher level state, capable of leading to long-term connection, fulfillment and happiness. Please read on because I’m not, in all cases, putting down romance or feeling wonderful about someone you’ve recently met and for whom you have strong feelings. But I am making some important distinctions.
In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck contrasts the state of feeling “in love” with the act of deliberate and conscious loving. In our culture, “being in love” usually denotes that euphoric, head-in-the-clouds feeling and “honeymoon” period that more often than not is short-lived. “Love” on the other hand is referred to by Mr. Peck as a conscious choice to extend oneself for the spiritual benefit of oneself and another person. The “in love” feeling is often based, at least in part, on hormonal activity that produces a sense of wellbeing and is also the result of lust which increases the level of dopamine in the brain’s reward center (part of the limbic system) which is wired to help propagate the species.
Hollywood and Madison Avenue do a wonderful job of painting an illusory image targeted to our egos of what our romantic relationships should look like. The advertising industry is all about selling us things, many of which we simply don’t need. The underlying notion is that we are not okay and loveable just as we are, but that if we just wear this outfit, try this perfume or cologne, drive this car, or flash this watch, etc. (you get the picture)… then we’ll really be happy. This is nothing less than an epic myth and an unabashed deception. But without such deception it would be virtually impossible to sell us so many of the unnecessary products and services that we purchase.
The real truth is that when we are in that infatuated state known as being “in love”, our brain is literally “on drugs” — big time. I’m talking about the internal release of neurotransmitters including dopamine (known as the “pleasure” hormone) and oxytocin (known as the “cuddle hormone”) as well as others. Regardless of how glamorous it may appear on the screen, we are not entirely emotionally or spiritually conscious when we’re in that state. In truth, we are not yet really in a position to truly “love” consciously while we’re in that state of infatuation. We simply aren’t ready to do so. Scott Peck’s sometimes controversial assertion is that real love is not a feeling but rather a deliberate choice, decision, and commitment to another human being and oneself for the highest good of both. This type of “love” cannot begin to occur until after the “honeymoon” period of infatuation commonly known as being or falling “in love” is finished (for the many of us that go through the infatuation or “honeymoon” period first). (Please don’t confuse semantics with ideas. If you define “in love” as being a high state of conscious choice to partner, connect with, and care for another for their highest good notwithstanding feelings you may have that, in any given moment, may be good or may be bad or negative, then I would equate that with the concept of the “love” to which Mr. Peck has referred.)
If you want to know whether you’re “in love” or consciously loving another, start by answering these questions: are you absent-minded, forgetful, or anxious, i.e. if your love interest doesn’t call you soon or often enough? Are you losing or misplacing important things, such as your keys, purse, wallet or cell phone? Did you forget an important appointment, neglect to return an important call, or place your newfound love’s interest in front of that of an old friend, a parent, or some other important obligation? If you’ve been in this new relationship long enough, are you somewhat quick to anger if other expectations of your partner’s behavior aren’t met, i.e. he or she cancelling a date or forgetting to return your call, etc.? The real question is whether you are on that neuronally-induced roller-coaster “high” that feels so wonderful but almost never lasts forever. That is the question. Even if you answered “no” to all of the above questions, you may still be in a state of infatuation. However, if you did answer “yes” to even some of these questions, there’s a fair chance that you may be in – or on your way to being “in love” or, more accurately, in a state of infatuation.
Why is it important to know if you’re “in love” or truly experiencing “love”? There are so many reasons, but I’ll mention just a couple.
For one thing, it is crucial not to make any important, major life changes or decisions when you’re in that state of infatuation. As obvious as it may sound, when you’re feeling that you’re “in love” it’s not a good time to leave your spouse, to file for divorce, to move to a new town or city where your new partner lives, to give up your job or career path, or to abandon an old friend. When you’re in that state, you need to know that your judgment is skewed. If it helps, imagine that someone has spiked your drink and that you’re not thinking clearly even though you think you are. It’s sort of like having a friend tell you that you’ve had too much to drink and he or she insists on driving you home even though you want to insist that you’re “fine.” Your brain chemistry changes are subtle and insidious and can cause you to do things, say things, and make changes in your life that you may later regret. The good news is that, just as that drug in your drink will eventually wear off, so will you regain your perspective and good judgment following a period of infatuation with your new partner.
Secondly, if you’re seeking a long-term partnership or marriage, being able to answer this question will help you navigate through the world of dating to decide with whom you want to a long-term and lasting love relationship. It will save you a tremendous amount of false starts, emotional heartache, and upheavals in your life based upon your potentially misreading the compatibility of any number of potential partners if you but take the time to “wait out” the “honeymoon” phase until you reach a place of truly knowing your partner and being truly known by him or her.
On a most profound level, however, it’s important because learning and knowing how to “love” can be said to be a most – if not the most — important human spiritual lesson and challenge. You have the potential to experience states of deep and exquisite intimacy and connection which are perhaps far greater than you’ve known before. There will be joyful times and scary times and you will feed naked emotionally more than you may be comfortable with. In fact, as Marianne Williamson has said, it’s just when we’re beginning to get really emotionally intimate with a potential partner or love interest that we tend to take our clothes off and have sex. We think we’re getting more intimate; in fact, our having sex at those moments is often an unconsciously most effective way of putting a stop to the deeper and more vulnerable emotional intimacy that’s just waiting to happen. That state is the emotional nakedness that is much scarier but that results in a quantum leap into emotional connection which is light years more meaningful, powerful, and lasting. Getting closer by being emotionally more and more genuine and vulnerable may not be as glamorous or make for great Hollywood movies or sexy commercials, but you will be building a house on a solid foundation, not on sand and dopamine.