How To Know If You're In Love If You've Never Felt It Before, According To An Expert

I'm trying to remember how I first learned what "love" was. Sure, my parents said "I love you" to me as an infant, but my cognitive skills were also infantile. I remember crying in a movie theater chair when the Beast from Beauty and The Beast turned into the prince — why did he leave?! (My three-year-old brain couldn't exactly process "transformation.") Yup, Disney definitely had an impact. And while I knew how much my parents loved each other, figuring out how to know if you're in love has always seemed nebulous to me.

Was that enormous, life-shattering crush on the boy I sat with on the bus one time in seventh grade love? Because god damn, it felt like it was. I was moderately sure I was going to puke every time I saw him, I once stole a pen cap he lent me and cherished it, and I made my lab partner wave across the hall to him daily (they were friends). Fun fact: I later wound up dating this crush and losing my virginity to him. Life is weird! Verdict: seventh grade me wasn't in love; she was experiencing hormones for the first time.

Was I in love that guy I met in acting class at 21 and dated? Because it felt like it. It took me two years to get over a two-month relationship with a dude who is now on potato chip commercials. But alas, the verdict: I wasn't in love, I was infatuated with a really great-looking human.

And later, when the on-and-off again "situationship" I maintained for close to two years ended, completely crushing my heart, I wondered — was that love? Maybe, but a more likely verdict was that it was me loving a challenge. Give me distance! Give me passion! I'll pretend it's love.

People say that you should just know when you are in love. I know that love feels a bit like a rush of attraction and respect and flutters going through your chest all at once. I also know that real love should feel easy. I've sort of felt all of these things, but I'm a pessimist, and I love "double checking" that what I feel is actually love before committing to the terrifying word. This is because for me, love is so easy to conflate with lust, drama, or pure admiration.

I spoke to clinical psychologist and host of "The Web Radio Show" Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. about how you can figure out if you're actually in love when you're not sure if you've felt it before. Here are some signs that this might be the big L.

1You Feel Physical And Emotional Attraction To Them

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At first, identifying what "type" of attraction you feel towards someone seems simple, but I am certainly guilty of taking a major physical attraction to someone and projecting my own emotional wants and needs onto it. It's exciting! I can't help it!

"Respecting [a partner], feeling admiration and fondness for them, caring about their well-being etc. are all aspects of love for your partner," explains Dr. Klapow. "Desiring them, feeling a physical attraction or even a physical need to be close to them is a different kind of love." He adds that for some couples, both of these types of love are present, while for others, the relationship is more based in one or the other — the real deal will involve some combination of the two.

2You're Comfortable Being Vulnerable With Them

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Because it's tricky to tell the difference between physical and emotional attraction, it can be helpful to think about how comfortable you are being vulnerable with your partner. In love, you of course can feel nervous from time to time, but ideally you'll feel comfortable being your genuine self when you are with your partner.

Dr. Klapow explains that the desire "to be vulnerable with [a partner] and share their vulnerabilities" in a relationship is an indication that a deeper love exists. In tandem with a physical connection, "this more intense, more physiological feeling of love is what separates an intimate connection from deep friendship," he explains. Which brings me to our next sign that you're in love...

3Your Relationship Feels Deeper Than Friendship

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Alas, yet another elusive line to draw in the sand — what makes a friendship with a side of physical attraction different than true love? It's important to remember that falling in love is incredibly different for every person on this planet. "Love is such a subjective, complex, cognitive, emotional, and physiological experience," explains Dr. Klapow. "Having friendship, admiration and respect without intimacy creates problems." You should look at your partner as more than just someone you care for, but you should also desire them.

4You Think About Them All The Time

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Dr. Klapow told me that being in love with a partner can be exhausting. "You think about them, you worry about them, you have a physical need to be close to them, you may feel confident with them but you may worry about the status of your relationship tremendously, because it means so much to you," he adds.

While actual "drama" is not requisite for true love to be present in a relationship, if you're falling in love for the first time, you're probably thinking about your partner constantly — and worrying about them too. "When you physically must be close to your partner and when you desire to know everything there is to know about them you are likely in love," explains Dr. Klapow. But remember... love is pretty much the most indescribable feeling around, and we all feel it in different ways. Stay open to the feelings, and you'll figure it out.