Can't get that girl or guy out of your head? Daydreaming about the person when you should be working? Imagining your futures together? These dizzying thoughts may be signs of love.
In fact, scientists have pinned down exactly what it means to "fall in love." Researchers have found that an in-love brain looks very different from one experiencing mere lust, and it's also unlike a brain of someone in a long-term, committed relationship. Studies led by Helen Fisher,
an anthropologist at Rutgers University and one of the leading experts on the biological basis of love, have revealed that the brain's "in love" phase is a unique and well-defined period of time, and there are 13 telltale signs that you're in it.
When you're in love, you begin to think your beloved is unique. The belief is coupled with an inability to feel romantic passion for anyone else. Fisher and her colleagues believe this single-mindedness results from elevated levels of central dopamine — a chemical involved in attention and focus — in your brain.
People who are truly in love tend to focus on the positive qualities of their beloved, while overlooking his or her negative traits. They also focus on trivial events and objects that remind them of their loved one, daydreaming about these precious little moments and mementos.
This focused attention is also thought to result from elevated levels of central dopamine, as well as a spike in central norepinephrine, a chemical associated with increased memory in the presence of new stimuli.
They also long for emotional union with their beloved, seeking out ways to get closer and day-dreaming about their future together.
Another love expert, Lucy Brown, a neuroscientist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, says this drive to be with another person is sort of like our drive toward water and other things we need to survive.
"Functional MRI studies show that primitive neural systems underlying drive, reward recognition and euphoria are active in almost everyone when they look at the face of their beloved and think loving thoughts. This puts romantic love in the company of survival systems,
like those that make us hungry or thirsty," Brown told Live Science in 2011. "I think of romantic love as part of the human reproductive strategy. It helps us form pair-bonds, which help us survive. We were built to experience the magic of love and to be driven toward another."
People who are in love generally feel a powerful sense of empathy toward their beloved, feeling the other person's pain as their own and being willing to sacrifice anything for the other person.
Falling in love is marked by a tendency to reorder your daily priorities and/or change your clothing, mannerisms, habits or values so that they better align with those of your beloved.
Even so, being yourself may be your best bet: In another of Fisher's studies, presented in 2013 at the "Being Human" conference, she found that people are attracted to their opposites, at least their "brain-chemical" opposites. For instance, her research found that people with so-called testosterone-dominant personalities
(highly analytical, competitive and emotionally contained) were often drawn to mates with personalities linked to high estrogen and oxytocin levels — these individuals tended to be "empathetic, nurturing, trusting and prosocial, and introspective, seeking meaning and identity,
Those who are deeply in love typically experience sexual desire for their beloved, but there are strong emotional strings attached: The longing for sex is coupled with possessiveness, a desire for sexual exclusivity, and extreme jealousy when the partner is suspected of infidelity.
This possessiveness is thought to have evolved so that an in-love person will compel his or her partner to spurn other suitors, thereby insuring that the couple's courtship is not interrupted until conception has occurred. [5 Strange Courting Rituals from Around the World]
Being with your partner isn't hard work. You don't have to struggle to find time to spend with them because you really want to. Even the arguments don't feel as intense as they did in other relationships. While all couples argue and bicker, when you're both in love, your priority is your relationship, not your pride.
You're not worried about being the first person to give in or lose the argument because you can't imagine your life without this person. Even one day apart really feels like forever.
When you're in love, your partner is always in the back of your mind. You might have a sudden thought to call them because you haven't chatted in a few hours. Or, maybe, you go into a clothing store with the intention of buying something for yourself and then end up buying something for your partner, too. "Love is determined. When you like someone, you can brush it off and think of other things as you go about your day,"
Maria says. When you're in love, this person is always on your mind, but it isn't overwhelming. "When you love someone, you are physically, mentally, and emotionally impacted at theoretically any/all time(s). It is a calm and secure reality you will consistently crave," Maria says.
A little bit of jealousy is natural. Jealousy becomes dangerous, however, when you start obsessing over what your partner's doing, so much so that you do stuff like look through their phone without them knowing. That is toxic behavior and it might signal you're not in a healthy relationship.
When you're in love, you're obviously attracted to your partner, so it's only natural that you want to be all over them all the time. Whether it's simply holding hands or turning your cuddling into an intense make-out session, you want to be affectionate towards your second half. If you're completely repulsed by them, that's something to think about.
As is well known, falling in love often leads to emotional and physiological instability. You bounce between exhilaration, euphoria, increased energy, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, trembling, a racing heart and accelerated breathing, as well as anxiety, panic and feelings of despair when your relationship suffers even the smallest setback. These mood swings parallel the behavior of drug addicts.
And indeed, when in-love people are shown pictures of their loved ones, it fires up the same regions of the brain that activate when a drug addict takes a hit. Being in love, researchers say, is a form of addiction..
Going through some sort of adversity with another person tends to intensify romantic attraction. Central dopamine may be responsible for this reaction, too, because research shows that when a reward is delayed, dopamine-producing neurons in the mid-brain region become more productive..
People who are in love report that they spend, on average, more than 85 percent of their waking hours musing over their "love object," according to Fisher. Intrusive thinking, as this form of obsessive behavior is called, may result from decreased levels of central serotonin in the brain, a condition that has been associated with obsessive behavior previously. .
People in love regularly exhibit signs of emotional dependency on their relationship, including possessiveness, jealousy, fear of rejection, and separation anxiety. For instance, Fisher and her colleagues looked at the brains of individuals viewing photos of a rejected loved one, or someone they were still in love with after being rejected by that person. .
The functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed activation in several brain areas, including forebrain areas like the cingulate gyrus that have been shown to play a role in cocaine cravings. "Activation of areas involved in cocaine addiction may help explain the obsessive behaviors associated with rejection in love," the researchers wrote in 2010 in the Journal of Neurophysiology..
You know the feelings you get when you’re falling for someone new. The butterflies, the constant desire to want to chat or text them, and the sudden need to buy a completely new wardrobe just to impress them, even though your wallet totally disagrees with you. When you first start crushing hard on someone, the feelings can get really intense and there’s a sense of excitement that’s difficult to describe.
It actually feels pretty similar to when you're falling in love for real. Because of that, it can be hard to distinguish between romantic love, platonic love, and like, or even infatuation.
When it comes to platonic love, things are more simple. For starters, platonic is defined by Merriam-Webster as "being a relationship marked by the absence of romance or sex." That means you can form meaning platonic relationships with your friends, family members,
or anyone else you're close to. Platonic relationships provide the opportunity to get comfortable and build trust in a safe, supportive environment. You can bond over your hobbies and interests and provide and receive emotional and mental support when you're in need.
Dr. Nikki Coleman, a licensed psychologist, said "Platonic love is what we feel when there is trust, safety, and validation in a close relationship." in a statement to Insider. "It's the sense of feeling good and cared for in a relationship."
Things may get a bit more tricky when it comes to deciphering romantic love, but it's not always super hard to determine. According to Maria Sullivan, dating expert and vice president of Dating.com, there are some really clear signs that will let you know when your feelings are real and it might finally be in love
When you're in love, you're genuinely a happier person. It's like you're on a natural high. The thought of spending time with your partner really excites you and just looking at the dozens of selfies you took together is enough to put a cheesy smile on your face. But being in love also makes you a tiny bit nervous. You're anxious for what the future holds.
Because you know that you want your relationship to last. "Lots of people compare love to something they could not lose or let pass them by, yet the uncertainty of its unknown outcome is exciting," Maria says.
When you're in love, you're excited to do things you've already done a million times before because it's with your partner this time. They're the first ones you think of when you see a romantic movie preview or when you're planning to make a quick trip to the nearest fast food place. You'd even be willing to sit through four hours of a sports game if it means spending time with them..
Maria says that's because love sparks a new change in you. "When you’re in love, the basis of your perception changes. I compare it to a feeling of being really awake and excited," she says. "You have found someone that makes everything feel new and intriguing – even if it’s just sitting on the couch watching TV.”
When you're really into your relationship, you want to bring your partner into all aspects of your life. You want to introduce them to your family and friends because you genuinely want your relationship last.
When you're in love, you start seeing your bae as an extension of yourself, so when they're hurt, nervous or really excited about something like getting accepted into a school or program they really wanted, then you experience the same feelings as them.
Feeling empathy towards your partner also makes you want to make tiny sacrifices for them, like getting up and going to the store for some soup and medicine when they're sick. Small things like that are easy to do when they're for the person you love.
You know you're in love when being with your second half makes you want to improve yourself in some way, whether it's setting new goals or having a more positive attitude. Your partner should push you towards becoming better, but not in a way that's consistently negative.
"If a partner isn’t building you up, then you must consider looking elsewhere for love – no matter what other characteristics he or she may have that you are infatuated with," Maria says. When you're truly in love with someone, you want your partner to succeed as much as you because you want to create a stable future for both of you.