Love is the subject of thousands of songs, films, TV shows, books, plays, poems and more. “All you need is love”, so sang the Beatles, and “Love comforteth like sunshine after rain”, Shakespeare wrote. People have been fascinated by the concept of love for centuries.
But what exactly is love, and how can you tell if you are in love with someone? It’s a huge and complex question, but as the most romantic day of the year - Valentine’s Day - approaches you may find yourself asking that very question about the person you are currently dating.
“Love is a tricky thing to define. You know it when you feel it, but describing it doesn’t come so easily. Ask someone this question and they’ll probably tell you that they ‘just know’ when they’re in love”, says Ed Buhler, director at sexual wellness brand Bodyjoys.
It seems that love is a numbers game; there are those who believe in love at first sight and think that you can fall in love in just a few seconds, and there are those who think you have to date a certain number of people before you find your true love.
Here at NationalWorld, we have spoken to several relationship experts to get their take on love to help you understand your feelings. Here’s what they had to say - and it seems there could be something behind the link between love and numbers.
Three different elements to love
Serena Novelli, certified intimacy, love and relationship expert, says that the idyllic versions of love we have seen in films and fairytales may not be reflected in the love we experience in real life as true love takes work.
She said: “We have all heard of the magic of true love’s kiss. It’s embedded in us as children that we will be swept away by our Prince Charming and that we will live happily ever after in bliss and unity - but in reality this is rarely the case.
“For true love to blossom we must have a mix of emotional, physical and sexual attraction for one another. Emotional connection, however, is key and surpasses physical and sexual attraction. This is because to feel truly loved we must feel as if we are completely understood and that our feelings and emotional needs are being met. True love feels safe, and enables us to cultivate a deeper intimacy, opening us up to become vulnerable in sharing our fears, desires and loves.”
Four different types of love
Internationally certified matchmaker and relationship coach Alex Mellor-Brook thinks that in order to define love we need to look to the Greeks for help.
He said the word love in the English language seems so limited compared to other cultures. In the Oxford English Dictionary, love is defined as “senses relating to affection and attachment” or “a feeling or disposition of deep affection or fondness for someone, typically arising from a recognition of attractive qualities, from natural affinity, or from sympathy and manifesting itself in concern for the other’s welfare and pleasure in his or her presence.”
But, Mellor-Brook thinks that love can have many layers - from strong emotions towards something or someone to an intense fondness or liking, depending on the context.
He said that the Greeks best explain the different styles of love with four clear examples. They can all be applied to romantic love, although they are not exclusively about that. They are:
- Eros: The erotic, passionate side of love, usually prevalent at the very beginning of a relationship. It can be the most exciting, but can also lead us down an unintended path ending in heartbreak.
- Philia: The love of friends and someone we have got to know. Where a relationship has been built, providing a more stable feeling and has a very positive influence on our health.
- Storge: It is the type of unconditional love that is found in parents towards their children, especially mothers.
- Agape: A love that is given without the expectation of receiving anything back. With a sense of kindness and forgiveness. It is a love that can be given to anyone.
Mellor-Brook, who is also the co-founder of Select Personal Introductions dating agency, added: “So, how do you tell you love your partner? Well, take your pick. If it’s about ripping their clothes off after only just meeting them, you’re definitely in the ‘eros’ stage. If some of the physical aspects of your relationship have calmed down a little and you are starting to appreciate being in each other’s company more, then you’re probably in the ‘philia’ stage. If you have known your partner for a while and yet you can still look at them with a feeling of warmth, fulfilling emotion and you’d do anything for them, then you’re experiencing ‘agape’ love.”
Five ways to identify love
Novelli said there are five statements that should be correct if you truly love someone. They are:
- You are willing to put in the work even when it’s tough.
- You want to hear about their day and feel safe in their company.
- You often catch yourself thinking about them when you aren’t with them.
- You look forward to sharing adventures and planning your life with them.
- You desire them physically.
Buhler added: “If the person you ‘like’ is someone you trust absolutely, you can’t stop thinking about them and life somehow feels indefinitely better when they’re around, you might just be in love.”