What Does Love Feel Like?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

At the risk of sounding silly and love-obsessed, I’m wondering if you can help me identify real feelings. For all the relationships I’ve been in and the hurt I’ve experienced, I still feel like I don’t know what I’m looking for with someone. I worry you’re going to tell me, “No one can tell you what love feels like; you have to experience it for yourself!” But I genuinely want to know the signs I’m searching for.

Is it butterflies in my stomach? Or is it a sense of peace and calm?

Is it fireworks and lightning? Or is it a soft internal “glow”?

I feel so lost, like I don’t know what people (or Disney movies) are talking about when they describe “true love.” IS there such a thing? Am I foolish for even searching for it? What if I feel butterflies but take that as nervousness and a warning sign? What if I feel comfort and safety, but it feels just like the love I feel for my friends? I just don’t want love to pass me by if I mistake my feelings for something else. —What Is Love?

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Dear WIL,

You don’t sound silly or love-obsessed at all. Love and relationships can be confusing. As you allude to, different relationships yield different kinds of love—the love we have for our family, friends, and romantic partners can be quite different. To confuse matters further, the love we have for romantic partners—especially long-term romantic partners—can at different points in the relationship feel like all of the above.

At the beginning, and hopefully at various points throughout a relationship, love feels like the fireworks you mention. Long-term romantic partners can, indeed, feel like friends who provide a feeling of comfort and safety. When love is deep and long-lasting, it often has the roots and permanence of familial love.

We learn and internalize a lot about what romantic relationships are “supposed” to look like through watching our parents’ relationship(s).

We learn and internalize a lot about what romantic relationships are “supposed” to look like through watching our parents’ relationship(s). I find myself feeling curious about the romantic relationship(s) your parents modeled for you. Did you grow up with both of them together? Did they separate or divorce at any point? Did they marry or develop relationships with others? Most importantly, what was your experience of their relationship(s)? What did you learn about what love was “supposed” to look like? Does this concept hold up to your ideas about what you want for yourself as an adult?

You might find it helpful to collaborate with a therapist to explore these issues. A therapist can work with you to explore the meaning you made of your parents’ relationship(s), as well as your previous relationships. You would likely find some connections between what you saw in your parents’ relationship(s) and what you have experienced in your own relationships. Engaging in this process with a therapist might just lead you to a deeper understanding of what you are seeking and greater clarity on what love is to you.

Sincerely,

Sarah

Sarah Noel
Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
  • 5 comments
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  • carmen

    carmen

    July 29th, 2016 at 10:14 AM

    I know that this is not what you want to hear but I promise you when you do fall in love with someone then you will know it.

  • Jacki

    Jacki

    July 30th, 2016 at 4:14 PM

    It feels like an explosion in your heart that you feel the minute someone brings up his name… the butterflies in your stomach… and knowing without a doubt that you don’t want just one day to go by where you do not see his face or hear his voice.

  • Ali

    Ali

    August 1st, 2016 at 11:04 AM

    I think a big part is acceptance – that the person knows all your faults and short-comings and either loves you for them, helps you with them, doesn’t hold them against you, and/or accepts you as you are and doesn’t try to change you. If you feel comfortable being who you are, and not hiding yourself with that person because you feel they accept you for you, that’s a big indicator when it comes to love.

  • Seth

    Seth

    August 2nd, 2016 at 12:01 PM

    This is a really great question
    and I know that this is probably a stretch for you
    but I promise that once that love arrow shoots at you you will feel it.
    I don’t think that there are actually adequate words to totally describe it other than it will bowl you over it will feel so strong

  • Lia

    Lia

    September 22nd, 2018 at 1:40 PM

    Love (for me, at least, and don’t take my word for it because i’m still in high school) is like having fireworks go off in your heart every time you see him. It’s the warm feeling that buzzes through you mind and body when he holds your hand or says something adorably romantic (or cheesy). Love makes you want to be the best version of yourself, not just for yourself, but for his sake as well. Love is watching out for his health (physically or mentally) even when he begs you to drop it. Love is caring with your whole mind and heart. Love is knowing he’s different from any other person and embracing him *for* his faults, not in spite of them. Love makes it possible for you to write whole paragraphs about what you feel because there’s just so many emotions rolling through your mind at the thought of even hearing a voicemail or receiving a heart text emoji from him…

    Love makes you feel complete.

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