I’m six months into my first serious relationship and my partner told me he loves me, but I’m having a hard time returning the sentiment because I’m not sure that I feel the same way. I think I love him, but I’m confused because “love” seems so unquantifiable—plus I don’t have any other relationships to compare it to. Movies make such a big deal about getting butterflies and saying the big “I love you” while making out in the rain, but I’m not sure if that’s there for me. I really care about him, we have a lot of respect for each other and I really enjoy being with him, but I don’t know if I’m “in love.” How do you know you’re in love, anyway?
I’d been dithering about how to delicately answer this question, when Ewan McGregor swung onto my shoulder like a handsome, grinning, tuxedoed, monkey and yelled a quote from his turn as Christian in Moulin Rouge: “Love is a many splendored thing! Love… LIFTS us up where we belong! All you need is love!” Then, in a normal tone, he added, “Just answer the fucking question.” I was like, “Good call, Ew.” (That’s what I call him.)
So here it is: I don’t think you’ve fallen in love with your boyfriend yet.
I think this because I’ve had the great fortune of being in the spinning bingo cage that is falling in love. And though “I feel like I’m in a spinning bingo cage of love” is (somehow) not yet a cliché, I can assure you that ACTUAL clichés about falling in love exist for very good reason.
When you fall in love, you DO feel like there are pre-historic butterflies that have made a home for themselves in your actual body. You DO think about the person 143,000 times a day, because now even weird things like Brita filters and gum remind you of them. You DO get “ma’am-ed” at the grocery story because you’re 1,000 miles away, daydreaming about what it was like making out with this person in the rain. Or devising elaborate plans to make it rain, so you can finally make out in it.
Granted, I am speaking from my own personal experience, but I know I’m not alone. Over thousands of years, people have built castles, written books and plays and songs and poems, they’ve painted paintings, jumped out of airplanes, dressed up like something super dumb for Halloween, broken the bank, burned bridges, eaten sea urchin, gone to war, and probably even driven for billions of hours across deserts full of lava and snakes, because they’re crazy in love. The world is full of incredible proof that people have fallen in love.
ON THE OTHER HAND (and btw, there are way more than two hands here… we’re talking about love, mmkay?), I do very much believe that loving and falling in love can exist independently of one another. Love doesn’t always come in the form of dolphins leaping across the ocean’s horizon. Love can be found in companionship, love can develop over time and it can form out of necessity, proximity or familiarity. That’s one of love’s most wonderful characteristics—it comes in many shapes and sizes, and it can grow out of many things.
ON THE OTHER, OTHER HAND (I told you this was going to be a thing), if, after a bunch of months into your first serious relationship, you haven’t felt at least a few little wings punching around in your stomach lining, then something might be missing. And if it is, that’s okay. Sometimes a whole bunch of people come and go before Rachael McAdams and Ryan Gosling yelling about being birds and smooching around in the ocean starts to make sense.
Though it’s possible you might not find the feeling you’re looking for in this relationship, I can promise you one thing: you’ll know when you’re the equivalent of Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge, swinging like a handsome, grinning, tuxedoed monkey, around a giant elephant-shaped outdoor lounge decorated like a Moroccan bazaar, while stars sparkle in the sky above.