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This week is Valentine’s Day, and our culture turns to the most syrupy, most sentimental ideas of love and relationships.  If you have a spouse or partner, you’ll probably be making time for romance.  If you’re single, you’ll probably be grinning and bearing it and eager for the calendar page to turn.  But what if you’re dating?  How do you know if you’ve found “the one?”

Whether its images of Cupid’s arrow or talk of chemistry, most people expect to know quickly, if not instantaneously, when they’ve fallen in love.  The talk of chemistry is interesting, because part of what’s involved is literally just that – neurochemistry, in this case.  Research shows that when you’re smitten with someone, you experience an amphetamine-like soup of hormones and neurotransmitters.  The two most involved are dopamine and phenylethylalamine, or PEA.  We find ourselves focused on the other, almost obsessed.  We’re infatuated, and it feels good.

It is important to understand that this isn’t the same thing as love.  You may be experiencing what is sometimes called limerence.  It’s a little euphoric.  It can also be transitory.  And it could be an oxytocin high.  Sometimes called the cuddle chemical, oxytocin causes us to feel more attached after physical intimacy.  It can also make us stupid, because sometimes the person we’re attached to is not an appropriate choice.  Women seem to be particularly prone to oxytocin intoxication.

So how do you know if its love?  Here are a few clues:

  • You find yourself loving the time you spend together.  You’d rather be with this person than just about anyone else, and you may annoy your friends by spending your time away from your guy/gal talking about your guy/gal.
  • You feel warmth and affection for your crush and find you can’t help expressing it – verbally, physically and in other ways.
  • You enjoy the other person’s personality and the way it expresses itself – including in odd or quirky little ways.
  • You feel better – more secure, more stable – in the other person’s presence than you did when you were by yourself.
  • The other person becomes a priority for you – not to the exclusion of your own needs and wants, but you find that you are influenced by the other’s needs.  You want to make him or her happy.
  • You find yourself thinking and dreaming about plans for life down the road together.

Understanding love can be confusing – all the more so because you and your significant other may not get there at the precisely the same moment.  Feelings can get a little bruised if one person is more enthusiastic and into the relationship than the other is, perhaps because the two of you carry different baggage into the relationship.  So remember the advice The Supremes gave many years ago:  “You can’t hurry love, no you just have to wait.”  When it comes to true love, patience is indeed a virtue.