In this week’s #ThisFrenchLife column, Audrey Diwan, editor-in-chief of Stylist France, shares some advice for anyone on the receiving end of that first all-powerful “I love you”.
But how do know that you're in love and not lust? Researchers have discovered notable differences in the brains of people who have recently fallen in love and those experiencing feelings of lust, and both starkly contrast from those in a long-term relationship.
A series of studies carried out by Dr Helen Fisher, a Rutgers University anthropologist and expert in the science of human attraction, found 10 signs you’ve fallen in love - these are the telltale giveaways:
1. You’ve lost the ability to think about anyone else in a romantic way
Thanks to increased levels of central dopamine – a chemical known for improving attention and focus – a person who has recently fallen in love will only have eyes for their partner. According to Dr. Fisher’s TED talk, the deep attachment we feel to our love interest during the early stages of romantic love is all thanks to a basic mating drive that encourages us to focus our energy on just one partner, in order to start the mating process with a single individual.
2. You think they're the best person you’ve ever met
True love has the tendency to distort reality. Someone in the first flush of love will be more likely to overlook their partner’s flaws and focus instead on their positive qualities. This stage often includes pleasant daydreams, replaying trivial moments and snatching up any memories that remind us of our loved one. Again, we’ve got increased levels of central dopamine to thank for these feelings, along with a spike in central norepinephrine, a chemical that improves our memory when we first encounter someone or something new.
3. You’re experiencing mood swings
Love is one of the most addictive substances on this planet, according to Dr. Fisher's findings. As a result, someone who has recently fallen head over heels may experience emotional instability – bouncing between positive feelings including exhilaration, euphoria and increased energy, and unwelcome moments of anxiety, panic and despair – especially if there are any early setbacks in the relationship.
4. You can’t stop thinking about them
In the early stages of love, it’s not uncommon to spend more than 85 percent of your waking hours thinking about the object of your affections, researchers have found. This is actually a form of obsessive behaviour, and it’s known as intrusive thinking – scientists think that it may result from decreased levels of serotonin in the brain.
5. You’re spending a lot of time together…
Successful couples invest a lot in the relationship – including time, energy and emotions. In the early stages of a relationship, people falling in love will usually find themselves gradually increasing this investment – seeing each other more often, having deeper conversations and beginning to take steps towards long-term commitment.
6.…And you don’t want to be apart
Along with all the good feelings that crop up in the early stages of love, there are some that are less desirable – including possessiveness, jealousy, fear of rejection and separation anxiety. If you start skipping social events to spend every evening with your new partner, the latter might be playing a key role in your decision making.
7. You’re making plans for the future
Thanks to our evolutionary impulses, those first fluttering feelings of love are often swiftly followed by a desire to make plans for the future – and that could be anything from booking a holiday a few months down the line, to daydreaming about marriage and children. Making future plans together increases emotional ties, taking a couple closer to long-term commitment.
8. You feel sad when your partner gets bad news
Love is associated with powerful feelings of empathy, so if something gets your partner down, you may literally feel their pain. Empathy can also lead to sacrifice in a relationship – from small concessions like opting to see your other half's choice of film at the cinema, to being willing to relocate if they get a job in another part of the country.
9. You’re trying new things
As well as being willing to make sacrifices, you may find yourself eager to try things that your partner likes – a type of food you've always been convinced you hate may not seem so bad, while that particular sport you've always avoided may become unexpectedly enthralling. This subconscious impulse brings our interests inline, and increases the possibility of a long-term relationship.
10. You want to say those three little words
The desire to say “I love you” has a purpose – it allows us to take definite steps towards a future together and underpins feelings of comfort and security. In heterosexual couples it’s found to be men who often declare their love first – and studies indicate they also tend to fall in love faster.