Think You're Falling in Love? Here's What Science Says

·9 min read

Wondering whether you're really, truly falling in love with someone? Chances are, you've probably already asked a close friend or family member for the telltale signs. And if they're like most people, they probably responded with "you just know," "it's hard to describe," or something equally vague—all of which, needless to say, are pretty unhelpful.

But just as there is no hard-and-fast rule for how long it takes to fall in love, there's no set checklist for how to know if what you're feeling is the real deal. Some people know after a single moment; others develop the feelings after months or even years of small gestures.

That said, though, there are some common (and scientifically-backed) signals that you're likely falling in love. For instance, you feel the need to share even the smallest moments of your day with your person, and maybe you discover that their interests are suddenly becoming your interests, too. Or, perhaps you seamlessly start rearranging your schedule to make more time for your guy or gal. And, of course, you might start wondering—perhaps even daydreaming—about the moment when your special someone will admit they love you, too.

Ahead, we ask therapists, researchers, and other relationship experts to share the classic indications that you are, indeed, falling in love. So now, all you have to do is prepare to say those three big words.

You want to share your world with them.

Dawoon Kang, co-founder and co-CEO of online dating platform Coffee Meets Bagel, tells Oprah Daily, “Falling in love is different for everyone,” adding she believes in Dr. Robert J. Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love, which identifies three main aspects: intimacy (the desire to feel closely connected), passion (physical and emotional stimulation), and decision/commitment (the resolve to stick together).

“You don’t need all three components to know that you’re falling in love, but they are strong indicators that you’re on the way,” she explains. “But don't conclude that someone isn't falling in love with you because they aren't showing the same exact signals as you do.”

That said, the most telling sign, according to Kang, is if you find yourself wanting to divulge as much as you can with your love interest, from a small win at work to your relationship history.

“I knew I was falling in love with my now-husband Jack when I found myself calling him every night, wanting to share every little detail about my day and wanting to know about his,” she said.

They're always in your thoughts.

Sure, it might be trite—but it’s true. You know you’re falling in love when your someone begins to take up major real estate in your thoughts. You might find yourself rehashing your conversations in the middle of work, thinking about your next date days in advance, or even envisioning your future together. For Kang, she remembers re-reading her husband's text messages and viewing his photos over and over again when they first began dating because she thought about him so often.

And you're dying to know if they love you, too.

If you find yourself considering whether this person feels similarly and you look for for signs that they're missing you, too, that's another signifier, Dr. Jacqueline Olds, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, tells Oprah Daily.

“Your stomach and heart may take a leap every time they contact you or suggest spending time together,” adds Olds, who has completed extensive research on long-term marriage, alongside her husband of 41 years Dr. Richard Schwartz. (The couples therapists co-wrote Marriage in Motion: The Natural Ebb and Flow of Lasting Relationships.)

Along this same vein, if you’re falling in love, you tend to experience a warm feeling when you think about your significant other, according to Kang. That may mean you can't stop smiling or you might notice that you generally feel more positive and hopeful.

They become a priority.

“We make time for what–or who–we love,” says Rachel DeAlto, the chief dating expert for Match (formerly known as Match.com). “If you’re rearranging, reprioritizing, and reimagining your life, you may be falling in love,” she explains.

Equally important: It doesn't feel like a sacrifice when you have to make changes to your own calendar (say, brunch with your girlfriends) in order to ensure you're available to attend something important to them (like a family party or dinner with a sibling who's visiting from out of town.)

You crave them.

Yes, you read that right. Similar to how you can crave a favorite food or even a seasonal cocktail (hello, frosé), you can crave a person too.

Match’s chief scientific advisor, Dr. Helen Fisher, has studied these feelings and found that an area of our brain associated with focus and craving called the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) causes increased levels of dopamine to be released when you’re falling in love.

As DeAlto notes, this yearning is usually coupled with feeling a rush when you think of them.

You even find their quirks attractive.

Perpetual apologizer? Neat freak? All (innocuous) traits of your beloved are fair game and welcomed when you’re falling in love. “You start to find everything about them irresistible," explains DeAlto. "That even includes their little quirks, their odd sense of style, and their particular way of doing things, which all become endearing.”

There is one thing, though, that's more important than how they act or what they do: You’re mindful of the emotional climate within the other person, including what troubles them, what brings them joy, or what triggers anxiety. “You care about their happiness, as much as your own,” says DeAlto. “Empathy and compassion for your partner rises as you fall in love.”

They make you feel better about yourself.

People in the throes of falling in love often report feeling like they know more, or can do more, according to Dr. Theresa E. DiDonato, an associate professor of psychology at Loyola University Maryland. She describes how an experience of “self-expansion” often occurs as people fall in love, meaning their own sense of self grows through their relationship with this new person. For example, someone whose partner loves hiking might start to see themselves as a hiker too.

You’re ignoring other attractive people.

Gone are the days of swiping right on dating apps or DM'ing other potential partners. If you realize you’re not as inclined to investigate those other fish in the sea, that can be telling, DiDonato tells Oprah Daily.

“Falling in love may correspond with changes in attention–specifically people in loving, committed relationships show less attention to other viable partners,” she says.

You’re kind of freaking out.

Replaying interactions in your mind. Analyzing text messages. Mulling over what to wear. Haven’t we all been there? “Changes in stress or anxiety may correspond with the early stages of falling in love,” explains DiDonato. While exhilarating, the newness of a relationship, the uncertainty, and the intense experience of new romantic love can predict stress, as indicated by cortisol levels or self-reported anxiety, she says.

Their traits become your traits.

Whoever first coined the term “two become one” wasn’t kidding. As a romantic couple gets to know each other, their own perceptions of self begin to merge, says DiDonato. “Because of this self-other overlap, individuals feel real pride for their partner’s achievements, see themselves more like their partner, and can mistake their partner’s characteristics for their own,” she says. On top of that, you may even start to dress or talk like your significant other.

You want to say those big three words.

You know it’s love and not just lust or a physical attraction because you’re curious and interested in what makes them tick, says Olds. “You want to hear their words and their thoughts, not only feel their body,” adds Schwartz.

But, as you expected, you find yourself wanting to take the courageous leap of saying “I love you,” according to Kang. (And, for the record, there are no rules surrounding the "right" time to tell someone that.)

Friends are noticing.

Are you always talking about your partner or asking if you can bring a plus-one along? Yeah, your friends see that. And they also might notice that you've been spending less time with them as you're devoting your attention to your romantic relationship. While your BFFs are likely to understand (hey, they probably did the same thing), don't forget to try to strike a balance, DiDonato urges.

You see a future with them in it.

You might notice that it doesn't feel weird to book your flights for that destination wedding six months from now or even to start talking about where you'll spend the holidays—because you know they'll be around to go with you.

This is a strong sign and reveals commitment blossoming, according to Kang."You might also find yourself planning and taking more weekend getaways with them,” she says. Or perhaps what you envision goes even further...like thinking about your engagement or playing around with the idea of relocating to another city together.

In addition to envisioning a future with him or her, you might also start to talk about what that would actually look like—from what you'd need to feel happy in your marriage to whether or not you want kids to how you'd handle any religious or political differences.

And the most prominent sign you're falling in love? It feels right.

“I actually think for a majority of people it’s not a hard question and the answer is perfectly obvious to them,” says Schwartz. “And part of that is because one of the characteristics of being in love is this feeling of rightness and certainty and absence of doubt,” he adds. You might start to notice that you no longer worry whether you'll get ghosted or you don't even consider the possibility that they could be scared off by your collection of stuffed animals.

That's because, according to Schwartz, the parts of the brain responsible for social judgement and critical thinking go into a slower operation when we’re falling in love and there isn’t the kind of scrutinizing, questioning and assessing we may undergo in alternative circumstances. “Love is something we feel and, when we do, we say ‘this is it.’”


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