How do you know when you love someone? You've probably heard that "love works in mysterious ways"—so, uh, how exactly are you supposed to wade through all that mystery and know if it's real or not? Social media, movies, and pop culture will have you believe that love is meant to feel like fireworks and butterflies. You're supposed to hear music and "see the light." But the truth is, falling in love isn't always dramatic like that. Here are a few science-backed ways to know you love someone:
You feel no pain.
You've probably heard stories of mothers who instantaneously gain incredible strength to save their children from impending danger. It turns out there's science behind the connection between being in love and feeling no pain. One study1 analyzing early relationships (within the first nine months) showed that simply viewing a photograph of your romantic partner could provide immediate relief from lab-generated pain. Of course, this doesn't mean love is a cure-all for any ailment. But feeling a sense of relief from pain, discomfort, or stress when your partner is near could be a sign of true love.
You want to try new things.
Have you ever had a friend who finds a new partner and seems to become an entirely new person? Research studies2 have shown falling in love is associated with self-expansion, meaning you tend to grow as a person, willing to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. If you find yourself willing to go for a run or travel to a foreign country for the first time in years with your new beau, it could mean you're falling in love. And it's even better if your partner is also stepping out of their comfort zone for you. Bottom line: If you're trying new things that are new to both of you, or if each of you is partaking in the other's interests, that's a great sign. (Just be sure to distinguish this self-expansion from simply trying to impress your partner by pretending to like all the things they like, which could be one of the signs of emotional dependency.)
You want them to be happy.
Compassion plays an important role in healthy love. As with most relationships, you should always want what's best for the other person. After all, how can you expect them to contribute to your happiness if they're not happy themselves? "Compassionate love" is a telltale sign3 of true love. It means your behaviors and feelings are typically focused on supporting, helping, and understanding the needs of another person, especially when that person seems to be suffering.
Love is equal part action and feelings, so it might be helpful to spend less time wondering if you love someone and more time performing the acts of love. If they don't come naturally to you, that might be a sign in and of itself about how you really feel.
You just can't look away.
"Love at first sight" might just sound too good to be true, but research4 has shown that prolonged eye contact actually can lead to an attraction. Gazing into your partner's eyes sounds like something straight out of a rom-com, but wanting to do it can be a sign that you're fixated on them and that you love the person. (Just make sure you know the difference between love and lust, which might also present itself through preoccupation with looks.)
You feel the urge to utter three little words.
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it's worth noting because there's actual science to back it up. If you find the words "I love you" on the tip of your tongue, it probably means that those words and feelings are true. And while heteronormative culture will have you believe that women are more likely to say "I love you" first, research shows that men often beat them to the punch.5
You still think about your ex (stay with us here…).
It's not uncommon to think about past relationships and lovers. In most cases, people view this as a sign that you're not over that important person you left behind. Though it sounds backward, being reminded of your previous relationships (good or bad) can boost emotional and social health and even contribute to greater satisfaction in your current relationship. So if your ex occasionally pops up in your brain, or even if you find yourself comparing your ex to your new love interest, don't take this as a sign that you're with the wrong person. It could mean just the opposite.
It's important to keep tabs on this, though. If these memories and comparisons are so pervasive that you can't fully be present in your current relationship, that may be a sign you're with the wrong person or that you haven't given yourself the proper time to really get over your breakup.
Falling in love versus being in love.
Just remember, falling in love feels different from being in love. "We don't stay in that high place [of falling in love] all the time," Linda Carroll, M.S., a licensed marriage and family therapist and life coach, tells mbg. "Some days are cloudy, some are stormy, some are gray, and sometimes the sun shines. Relationships are seasonal and cyclical."
So if you find that your once-profound feelings of love start to wane a bit, that's not necessarily a sign that you no longer love the person. The act of falling in love, she says, "is a chemical high that isn't meant to last forever."
Elsbeth Riley is a writer and editor living in Oakland, California. She is an ACE certified personal trainer, and holds a B.A. in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz. As a content creator specifically in the health and wellness space, she enjoys living the values of the articles she puts together. She's a marathoner (running cures her writer's block) and a hiker (she summited Mount Kilimanjaro in December 2018). She's also on a life-long hunt to find the world's best hot tub.