Updated: Sep 8
Guest post by Sejginha Williams-Abaku, LMFT
"How do I know if I'm in love?" I asked my mom on a weekend home from college. My mother thought for a moment and replied, "you just know." Although my mother is a wise woman in one sense, she was wrong. Dating can be confusing, and it can be relatively easy for us to misunderstand our own emotions. Nostalgia, infatuation, and brotherly love are three feelings easily confused with being in love. Let's dive deeper into each emotion to assist you in understanding whether you are genuinely in love.
Nostalgia is an emotion running rampant in the age of Instagram and Facebook. We can effortlessly reconnect with old crushes and high school or college boyfriends. Nostalgia is based firmly on sentiment and a feeling of vague longing for past experiences or emotions. It is triggered by people from a past period that you associate with a happy, exciting, or memorable time in your life. Like love, Nostalgia also gives you warm and fuzzy emotions and feelings of excitement and anticipation. However, these emotions are for a memory, a sentimental space in time, and not for the actual person.
Infatuation is a feeling marked with intense passion and excitement based solely on attraction. It happens so quickly and so strongly that you feel as if you are on an exhilarating ride. You have a very idealized view of that person and feel as if they can do no wrong. At times you may feel more like a fan or groupie. You feel as if you love them because of how much you care for them. You realize that you don't know enough about their real personality, history, or character, but you feel a strong connection regardless. You tend to fantasize about your life together and believe things will work out just on the virtue of how good you would be together. You do anything to maintain that fantasy, including hiding your faults, shifting your personality, and hiding the parts of your life, you deem undesirable. Deep down, you fear that he is too good for you and will realize that you are not good enough for him. Infatuation fades with time and can leave you realizing that you don't even like him much less love him.
Philia or brotherly affection is a love seen in close friendships marked by loyalty, respect, mutual concern, and appreciation. Brotherly affection can be difficult to identify in a society where many have sex quickly after meeting. Having sex too fast can blur your understanding of whether you are in love with him, or you love him as a friend. When he is just a friend, you feel excited about hanging out with him or engaging in a mutual activity. When you are in love, you get excited about being held by him, smelling the scent of his cologne, or hearing what's on his mind and in his heart. Let's put things in perspective; does he feel like a girlfriend who happens to be male? Are you excited at the thought of intimacy, or does intimacy feel like just something you guys happen to do? Depending on your answers, he maybe just a friend.
True love is more than just a feeling. It's a fantastic chemical response that seems to awaken your soul. Unlike with infatuation or Nostalgia, when its true love you like him and not just the idea of him. You allow yourself to see him for who he truly is, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. You can see his real character and not just his perceived potential. You have allowed him to prove by his actions, words, and reputation that he deserves a space in your life. You think about him frequently and feel as if he has become an extension of you. You find that you are always talking about him, and your friends point out the same. You miss him when you are apart and discover that you can't wait to reconnect. You find it essential for your core group of family and close friends to like him as much as you do because you are invested in having him in your life, for life.
You genuinely want him to be happy, and you celebrate his accomplishments as if they were your own. Unlike the experience of brotherly affection, being in love changes your vision of who you are positively, and even the people around you can see the difference. Your life is defined as your life before him and your life now.
True love motivates and inspires you to do the emotional work necessary to be patient, kind, selfless, and loyal. It gives you the courage to heal trauma and overcome toxic behavior passed down through generations. It motivates you to hold yourself accountable for bad behavior and make changes to improve your now and your future. True love is limitless. It only grows with time and is cultivated through the years by intentional acts of connection and reconnection.
Mom was right when she stated that being in love is something you know. It is a conclusion we come to by taking the time to sit with our thoughts and emotions. Do not rush or be pressured into making a decision. Be honest with yourself and focus on your feelings, coupled with your behavior. Taking time for this assessment while considering the different types of love can help you conclude whether you are genuinely in love. Taking time for this assessment can also help you identify whether he is genuinely in love with you.
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