How do you know when you're in love, not just infatuated? Five signs to spot

Falling in love is one of the most exciting and terrifying things humans can experience.

Romantic love is the subject of songs, movies, TV shows for a reason, but how do you know when you feel ‘it’?

That head-over-heels feeling can be hard to explain, and everyone will experience love differently – but if you are questioning whether this is love that you’re feeling or a fleeting infatuation, there are some tell-tale signs to look out for. 

But before we get into the signs that you may be in love, let’s define what that five-letter word is. 

Anyone who has fallen in love romantically will know how intoxicating and overwhelming it can be. 

It’s such a powerful feeling that the rational brain can take a back seat sometimes (ever heard someone say their ‘head’s gone’ when talking about falling for someone?) yet trying to explain this in concrete terms is difficult.

Why? Love isn’t a feeling, not really. 

What is love?

Scientifically speaking, love is a chemical reaction. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University, has been researching the biological bases of love for decades. 

Looking at MRI scans of smitten folks, she found that when we are falling in love, our brain is flooded with dopamine and oxytocin. ‘Romantic love is primarily a motivation system, rather than an emotion,’ she concludes. This has a few impacts. 

First, you begin to idolise your beloved, thinking there is no one else like them. You may get blinkers, and not feel anything for anyone else, as practising monogamy can drive up dopamine –  the neurotransmitter responsible for attention and focus. 

Find yourself realising that everything you see reminds you of them? You can blame dopamine and norepinephrine, a chemical associated with memory, for being unable to think about anything else when you’re falling for someone. 

This is according to a 2013 study in the journal Motivation and Emotion, which found that being in love prevents people from focusing on other information. 

Love may be biological, but that doesn’t make it any less real. What it does mean is that we may be getting carried away because of addictive chemicals. 

That mushy oxytocin feeling can come on quickly, as an evolutionary drive tells us to mate with a compatible partner (hot!), but is that love, or lust?

Love is a unique experience 

‘There’s no lightbulb moment when it comes to love,’ says Dr Laura Vowels, principal researcher and sex therapist at sex therapy app Blueheart. Instead, it grows over time, based on a foundation of mutual respect, ongoing communication, and healthy levels of trust. 

Being ‘in love’ is a slippery concept, as it is a unique experience and can mean different things to different people, Dr Vowels argues. 

In series eight of Love Island, Tasha asks fellow contestant Ekin-Su how she can know if she is in love. Ekin Su replies that you ‘know’ when you ‘stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about them more than you. You become obsessed with things you weren’t obsessed with before, like their BO, their scent, the little things they do’.

Sorry Ekin-Su, but these aren’t signs of love, says trauma and relationship therapist Lizandra Leigertwood – but she understands why it might feel like it is. 

There are phases to falling in love and this describes the first one, she adds. ‘This is known as limerance or being in infatuation or the lust phase of a relationship,’ Lizandra tells

‘It’s during this time that time where we experience higher love chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine. These feelings are highly addictive and can be where we can become obsessed.’

In these early days, it’s easy to ignore red flags and see things through ‘rose-tinted glasses instead of the reality of what is actually happening,’ Lizandra adds. 

It can explain why your mate seems to be obsessed with someone who is an objectively terrible person. 

This feeling can be addictive (our brains are full of chemicals that make us feel good, after all), so some will keep seeking out this early stage without ever seeing it through into a lasting relationship, Lizandra explains. 

The signs that we are in love rather than lust are much less sexy…

It’s lasted beyond the honeymoon period 

No one can put a time limit on love, and some people say they knew they loved their lifelong partner within a few weeks or months. However, to know for real whether this is love or infatuation, time is your friend. 

‘We know that we are not just infatuated with our love interest when it goes beyond those first few months,’ Lizandra says. ‘This is why it’s always a good idea to get to know someone really well to work towards building intimacy and trust.

It needs to be deeper than thinking about them all the time, Lizandra adds, which can be unhealthy. 

It’s easy to get sucked into the big romantic declarations when you’re feeling all the excitement of seeing some new, but you know you are in love when it’s more than that. 

You can tell them how you feel 

‘The main hallmarks of a truly loving relationship are trust, communication and respect,’ explains Dr Laura Vowels. If you can’t be honest with someone and trust that they will care about your feelings, it’s probably not love. 

She continues: ‘Remember those early relationship anxieties about whether you’re coming on too strong, or whether you’re funny enough?

‘In a genuinely trusting, loving relationship, those feelings should dissipate and both partners should be comfortable in and sure of each other’s affections.’

Communication is ‘the bedrock of successful partnerships’, Dr Laura says, arguing that ‘it’s hard for love to truly flourish if a couple hasn’t figured out how to properly and meaningfully communicate.’

If you can do everything with your partner but talk to them about how you feel, it may be time to call it a day and find someone who makes you feel safe enough to open up. 

Another important question to ask is whether you feel respected, and respect your partner. Sure, they say all the right things, gush about your two being soulmates and makes you feel all warm inside, but do they value you as a human being?

‘A lack of respect for one another’s opinions, bodies, and emotions will erode romantic relationships, so make sure you’re seeking this out in a partner,’ Dr Vowell advises. 

It’s easy-going 

Don’t listen to pop culture that tells you nothing good comes easy – love should feel easy. That doesn’t mean you never have disagreements or have doubts but it shouldn’t feel like a slog. 

When you love someone, it comes naturally, and you won’t find yourself excusing their bad behaviour and the fact that you feel terrible ‘because you love them’.

‘A feeling of calm or safety during the relationship is a healthy sign,’ Lizandra says. 

‘It’s also very instinctual, as long as you’re attuned to the right signs of healthy love and not getting caught up in the whirlwind of excitement that will eventually fade,’ she adds. 

You want to do things for them 

Think about how we treat our best friends. We do things for them to make them feel loved and appreciated, whether that is buying them something when they are sad, organising their birthday celebration or just texting them to ask how they are. 

Romantic relationships are no different.

You may know you are in love when you start doing little things for them: cooking them breakfast while they sleep in, buying them something because it reminded you of them, organising a cute date night to spend quality time with them. 

If you want to be real with yourself, you shouldn’t be doing this to ‘score points’ or try to convince someone you are worth being with. That’s not healthy! 

Instead, you find yourself thinking of their needs and wellbeing, Lizandra adds. 

So, you do the washing up for them not because you want to hold it against them in a later argument or prove yourself to be some perfect partner, but because you know they are rushing off to work and will appreciate coming home to a clean kitchen. 

You want the best for them 

Pop culture likes to feed us this narrative that being in love means you will fight to stay with them no matter what, even if it means they have to turn down a dream job, cut off friends, move countries or change themselves in some way. 

However, true love isn’t possessive. A sign of being in love is truly wanting the best for them, Lizandra explains. 

So, you’ll encourage them to pursue their dreams and go for what will make them happy, even if it means you won’t work out. Now that is truly romantic. 

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