When I hear the phrase "puppy love," I immediately think about The Beach Boys' album Pet Sounds. Although puppy love isn't actually about surf-rock, I believe there's a correlation between being smitten with someone and the dreamy, love-struck nature of a '60s beach-pop ballad. Sure, getting lost in someone's eyes and fantasizing about your future together is a sweet idea. But hearing the truth about puppy love in relationships may change your tune. It certainly changed mine.
According to Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples' therapist in Los Angeles, while puppy love may sound endearing, complete infatuation is different than being in a stable and mature relationship. "Puppy love is a reflection of very strong feelings of attachment," Dr. Brown says. "It typically is more related to what someone feels about the object of their affection, rather than who the person really is."
At the beginning of a relationship, you may feel like you're walking around with cartoon heart-eyes. Every kiss tastes like fireworks, and every phone call is a production. Though you may be certain that your boo is the one for you, Dr. Brown shares that puppy love is often the result of always being on your best behavior. (Cue me switching my outfit nine times before a date and forcing myself not to overshare about my IBS.)
"It’s natural to feel a certain degree of infatuation at the start of a relationship," Dr. Brown says. "Puppy love lasts right up until the relationship is confronted with one or a series of conflicts that are difficult to resolve."
According to Dr. Brown, while puppy love develops from seeing the best side of a person, mature love builds after seeing all sides. "After a while, even in the very best of relationships, one or both of you are going to feel disappointed in each other," Dr. Brown says. "There is no such thing as 'the perfect partner.' That’s the first thing you can do: Be aware that nobody is going to be a perfect match."
When you start seeing someone new, it's common to want to make a good impression. Although showing your date the most polished parts of your personality can feel safe, Dr. Brown shares that sustainable and mature love requires complete authenticity. "Mature love involves true emotional vulnerability, trust, courage, self-awareness, kindness, and genuine feelings of gratitude," Dr. Brown says. "Puppy love can definitely turn into stronger and more stable love, [but] it takes a certain level of maturity for that to happen."
Falling for someone can be thrilling and all-consuming. Whether you and your boo stay up all night talking or you go on the sweetest and most thoughtful dates, the beginning of a relationship can feel straight out of Hollywood. Though Dr. Brown says it's good to have healthy, gooey feelings for someone, idealizing them or creating a perfect mental image of your partner can lead to trouble.
"Realistically, there is [little] chance that a relationship based solely on puppy love can be fulfilling and stable," Dr. Brown says. "As the bloom begins to come off the rose, so to speak, simply accept that this is part of the natural progression."
Though puppy love can be sweet, Dr. Brown shares that dependable, long-lasting love begins when you and your partner start being real with each other. Whether your partner finally breaks out their overnight retainer or you get in a screaming fight about what to wear to a family reunion, Dr. Brown shares that romance only grows stronger and more stable after you and your partner stop romanticizing each other.
"It’s at this point that the over-idealization of puppy love will propel the relationship into the beginning of a love-based relationship that has been tested over time," Dr. Brown says.
Though puppy love can be exhilarating, building a sustainable relationship means being 100% transparent with your partner. Like, "Babe, can you pick up my IBS medicine on your way home? I ate a gallon of clam chowder today," transparent. Although having your first fight or admitting that you don't like the smell of your partner's shampoo can feel scary, Dr. Brown shares that dealing with conflict can make your relationship stronger. "These things will help you discover if this is a relationship that has the potential to become mature, fulfilling, and more enduring love than puppy love," Dr. Brown says. While puppy love may mean stealing kisses, honesty and conflict resolution in a relationship can mean security and longevity.
If you're worried that you may be in puppy love, Dr. Brown suggests talking to your partner openly about your feelings and needs. Though it may sound cynical, Dr. Brown says that it can actually be helpful to think about the things you don't love about your partner or what you need more of from them, i.e., "I love that you love your friends so much, but I would like to see you more during the week." Getting really real with someone may mean the butterflies seem to fade, but being open and honest with a boo can make your love life stronger and hotter.
Early on, it's natural to feel smitten with your partner, like they can do no wrong. While the start of a relationship can be romantic, true romance means seeing your partner for who they really are and showing them who you really are over time. Though puppy love can be a sweet way to get closer to someone, unapologetically being yourself and being honest about your needs can make your love last for dog years.