According to some quack science known as "modern psychology" given to me through what I call "years of mental health counseling," love isn't supposed to be all or nothing.
Supposedly, many people are able to be in love and also be functioning, productive members of society, who don't spend work meetings doodling hearts on the borders of their legal pads and actually eat lunch on their lunch break.
To this mature love, I say, "No, thank you." These "heathy, balanced" feelings are not the feelings for me!
Whether it's the fault of my Aquarian heart or the leftover karma from the sad witch a psychic once told me I was in a past life, love is a pretty all-or-nothing experience for me. It's such an extreme experience that I once explained it to my above-mentioned therapist as being derailed by an oncoming train. That might also be why I am currently avoiding it at all costs.
The good thing about having such an extreme reaction to love, though, is that each experience has provided me with a definitive moment when I knew I was head over heels for someone. Here are mine.
1. I Wanted To Be Around Her All The Time
Allow me to start with the obvious. Whether you're capable of measuring out your recommended daily dose of love in reasonable, balanced amounts or not, I think that spending entire days with another person and not tiring of their company is a good indicator that you are in love.
If you're like me and usually need a lot of time alone to recharge your social batteries, the prospect of spending an extended period of time with another person usually requires overcoming a huge personal hurdle.
I know I am in love when I've blown through it without even trying.
When love is fresh for me (and it's been a few years since I've gotten past the point of love being new), I don't even need to be doing an activity with the other person to be happy in their company. We don't need to be making love. I've had days where the two of us stayed in a single room staring at a blank wall and talking and felt perfectly entertained.
For the record, I think this counts for platonic love as much as it does for romantic love.
2. It Didn't Feel Like Home Without Him
After a long period of commitment, the experience of being in love has shifted whether or not it felt like I was only visiting somewhere or whether it felt like a place where I belonged.
The first time I lived in New York, I was in a long-distance relationship. When my boyfriend came to see me from Pittsburgh, Manhattan felt like home to me at the time. When he left, I felt like I was a newly transplanted tree -- vulnerable, still putting down my roots, and a little bit in shock.
In other relationships, even the ones that didn't last as long as that one, we could live in the same city, and I would feel their absence if my partner was out of town.
It wasn't so much a sense of loneliness (although, sometimes, I definitely felt that) as it was the feeling you get when somebody has stepped out of a room mid-conversation, and you're holding your thought until they come back.
3. I Wanted To Be In Their Care When I Was Sick
I remember the exact moment I knew I was in love for the third time. I had ridden my bicycle to the gynecologist for a routine checkup, only to find out that my IUD had shifted, and I had to get it replaced unexpectedly.
If you have an IUD yourself, you know that after the procedure, you're not exactly in the condition to go tearing off through the city on your 10-speed. My lover happened to live in the area, and even though I was in a vulnerable position, I wanted to go to their house and have them take care of me.
Now, because of that all-or-nothing mechanism in me that I mentioned earlier, I am pretty guarded if I don't have feelings for somebody. If I do have feelings, though, all the walls come down. And I do mean all of them.
I ended up wheeling my bike to their house and spending the rest of the day in bed with their stuffed animals. They even bought me Chinese food.
Oh, and when they got sick?
Yeah, I practically broke through the door to take care of them, too.
4. Even Our Flaws Felt Beautiful
If I love you, then I will love every gross thing about you. I've squeezed the zits of my lovers, and I've wiped boogers out of their nose. On one occasion, I even told a lover that I thought his morning breath smelled nice, and he was actually grossed out by my compliment.
You could grow a tail in the middle of our relationship, and I would still think you were the most gorgeous person in the world.
I know that this much can be explained away by hormones and love chemicals. I'm assuming that goes for the second part of this, too.
In addition to thinking my lover is an Earth-angel, I tend to think that their beauty radiates over to me as well. When in love, I think that my partner and I are the hottest couple of the year at a minimum, but probably the two most beautiful people who have ever gotten together in the history of time.
While looking back, I can see now that most -- but not all -- of my partners were reasonably attractive, some even very much so. Do I still think that together we looked like the hotter version of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter in a relationship with herself? No.
In short, I know I'm in love when I'm deluded.
5. I Knew All The Stories From Her Childhood By Heart
A friend of mine once went on a spree where she was only dating older men. When I say older, I mean much older. Like, 40 years older.
When I asked her what the appeal was, she told me that it was because it gave her the chance to collect twice as many stories as she could from people her own age. After all, most of her partners had lived twice as long.
This perhaps flawed logic sounded highly sensible to me. Every time I've been in love, I have memorized their stories by heart. I know that he had a pawprint shaved into the back of his head in elementary school, and I know that she met her best friend when she was six by counting bees on the elementary school playground.
If I'm deeply in love, this habit extends to collecting stories about his or her parents, grandparents, and siblings. And if I'm in love to the point of insanity, I won't even stop them when they start to tell me a story I've heard a thousand times again.
6. I Would Literally Do Anything For Her
Writing this now, it occurs to me that I must have learned about love from a commercial where a husband goes to great lengths to deliver some good or service to his wife -- you know, driving across country in a Jeep Cherokee to decorate her hotel room just because she called while on her business trip and said she was lonely.
When I am in love, I will decorate your hotel room. I will find you a therapist. If you did something illegal, I would probably take the fall and go to jail.
If my love were a movie, it would be Saving Private Ryan, only Tom Hanks and Matt Damon are a gay couple, and that's why he's walking across enemy-occupied France for him. (There would be fewer people blowing each other up, too.)
7. I Let Him Go
I don't fall in love very easily, and it's even harder for me to fall out of it. The toughest time was with the person I loved the most. He told me that he needed to be alone to learn how to take care of himself, and to do that, I needed to force myself to stop loving him and he needed to force himself to stop loving me.
While I don't think it is possible for me to force myself to stop loving someone, I did force myself to give him up.
It didn't happen right away. For a long time, I would dream about him almost every night, and sometimes, I still do. I even wrote a book that is, in part, about how much I love him. Some days, I am still uncertain that I have released him totally, but I'm still trying to do what was best for both of us.
Isn't that what real love is supposed to do?
How do you know when, to quote my second-favorite Usher song, "U Got It Bad"? Let me know in the comments!