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How Can You Tell When You're in Love?
What a question! “Mom, how do you know when you’re in love?” It was not asked idly. The oldest of my sons was in high school, a junior or a senior, and I had seen the symptoms already, so the question did not come out of the blue. I really didn’t think it was my only chance to talk things over, but it was an opportunity I didn’t want to squander. I wanted to make it meaningful.
Well (I began), one thing that happens when you are in love is that you really enjoy being around the other person; you like being in their company. Also, you tend to think about them a whole lot when you are not around them, and you wish you could be with them. Most of all, though, is that you care a great deal about the other person’s welfare. You want to help find what is best for them, even if it is not necessarily what you would like, and you want to help them achieve their goals. Of course, one of the biggies is that you want to have physical contact with them. You would like to have sex with them someday, even if you have made the commitment to wait until you are married, as I hope you have done and will continue to do.
…So, that was the essence of my conversation at that point. There were other conversations, including strong reminders that every act of sexual intercourse opens the possibility of creating a new little human life. Even the very best of birth control methods is not 100% reliable. In fact, someone once pointed out to me that if a birth control method claims to have 99% reliability, that means that out of every 100 couples who use it accurately and adequately, one of those couples will become pregnant. Or, put another way, if one couple uses that method accurately and adequately, then out of 100 uses, they might expect to become pregnant. Of course, the reality is not quite that simplistic. There are many variables, including the relative fertility of each couple. But it does still make one think, and it definitely should!
I included in this particular discussion with my son another reminder: that when a person actually is in love and wanting to do what is best for the other one, they will take appropriate precautions when they do have sex. A young man who truly loves a young woman will not want to put her in the position of having a baby when she is not ready, and the young woman will not want to put the young man in the position of being a father when he is not ready. So another check of true love is whether the couple takes the trouble to discuss birth control and then to use as many layers of birth control as they need, once they decide to express their love through sex.
It was not a surprise to me that my son decided that, yes, he actually was in love with the girl in question. (I hadn’t doubted it.) After several years of dating through college, they got married and have been married for four years now.
Despite the similar title, this Hub has no connection to this book, an excellent one by all accounts.
Changes Over Time
There was more about love that I didn’t tell him at the time, and I don’t doubt that as they have matured in their relationship they have discovered this on their own. Another great secret to being in love is that love does not remain static. It does not feel exactly the same after three years as it did at the beginning, and it won’t feel exactly the same after fifteen or twenty or thirty years.
A lot of that heady rush, that giddiness of first love, will abate. In its place will grow a continual warmth, an increasing respect for one another as well as increasing tolerance of one another’s imperfections and an ongoing desire and commitment to help out when appropriate and possible. One great saying I have heard about relationships (specifically about marriage) is “If, after five years, you think alike about everything, then one of you is superfluous.” Even with great compatibility, there will be and should be differences. We are unique. Our differences can balance and complement one another, contributing to the relationship instead of pulling us apart.
Even now, as I think back on that conversation from many years ago, I remember a different conversation even longer ago. I was in junior high school, and my brother was in high school. One day when he came home from school, Mother asked what he had had for lunch, because she could smell on his skin some type of flavoring (probably onions, which he is allergic to). As they talked, the light dawned in his eyes. He said, “Now I get it! There have been times when I was in class after lunch, when my heart was beating so fast, I thought I must be in love with some girl and didn’t even know it! I’ve been trying to figure out who it was. Now I don’t have to worry about it.” Silly story? Maybe. He does have a sense of humor, my brother. The point, though, is that physical symptoms from other sources can mimic some of the physical symptoms of love; taken alone, they do not constitute love at all! So much more is involved, and so much is at stake. It is worth investigating the question with depth and insight, instead of trusting to the glib answers of our popular culture.