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“How do you know when you’re in love?” Sherri asked me. She was in a new relationship, one that seemed, for now at least, much healthier and kinder than her previous ones. But now this question rose to the surface.

If those previous relationships, when she thought herself in love, seemed now so wrong, did Sherri really know what love was and had she ever experienced?

A lot of us have those thoughts.

I have fallen in love and when it’s ended, I’ve looked back and wondered, was that love at all? Or is this new feeling with this new man ‘real love’?

Years ago, as I struggled through devastating depression from a break-up that in many ways broke me, I told Carolyn*, my counsellor, that I had loved that man. We had been together for only a month or two but my love was as real to me as the river flowing through the city where I now live.

She laughed aloud saying, “Lucretia, you can’t fall in love that quickly. That wasn’t love. Love takes time to grow and take hold.”

Her incredulous response showed how far I had strayed from her reality. She later told me, post-session, that she was separating from her husband. Did that create her cynicism or had it always been there? She helped me process my grief but our perspectives on love remained in opposite hemispheres.

Love is love is love. I believe you can experience it for many romantic partners in a lifetime. Sometimes you don’t even need to have sex with them to fall in love. Am I an anomaly? I don’t know. I have an emotional heart but, doesn’t everyone?

How do you know when you’re in love? For me, love has sometimes created fear. When I’ve said those words, “I love you”, I have cried for the fear of it – the vulnerability of saying those three words has felt devastating because in that moment I feel like I have given my power away. I have given them the power to hurt me and the thought of the possible pain that might result has terrified me.

Other times I have been in love and it’s felt like freedom. When you haven’t felt it for a while – months, years – to realise it is still possible, well, that is joyful and heart-expanding. The man in question may not even feel the same in return but that in some ways doesn’t matter. It is more important that I feel it and it opens me up to feel more.

How do you know when you’re in love?

It’s not cerebral. You don’t think love. Years ago, a friend told me that you could choose who you love. It was a conscious choice that she decided, or not. Her determination that she could control something so ephemeral as love was, to my mind, ludicrous and insane. You cannot choose who to love. Love visits of her own accord. And when she leaves, you cannot force her to return. Ask anyone who has chosen to leave a partner they once adored with their whole heart. When love departs you can look for it under every rock and in every basement, behind the tins on the shelf and in every crevasse of your life. She may hide for a while and return, rarely. But if she has gone, you cannot force her return and you cannot force your heart by sheer strength of will to comply with your mind’s demands.

No. Love is not a logical determination and it takes many forms. It can be violent in its intensity, throwing you down and dragging you far from shore, far from what you believed and who you thought you were. It is often uncomfortable because it is a risk: what if it’s not reciprocated? What if he leaves? What if he cheats?

You can try to resist but your heart will want what it wants and won’t be denied by rational reasoning or sensible caution.

Love can creep up on you, springing out yelling, “Surprise!!” like friends at a birthday party. You will feel disoriented. How did I get here? Can I get out? And then, hang on, I’m in.

I have been lost and found by love, destroyed and created through love, expanded and restricted by love. It is explosive, gentle, violent, passionate, quiet, confident, nervous. It is all those things and more. I have been in love many times and they have all been real and different and all valuable as part of my life’s journey to discover the person I am constantly becoming. Whatever your experience of love has been, it was real and you did feel it. It didn’t look like what anyone else thought it should, but it’s not supposed to. Take what you learned from that love and bring it forward with you to the next love. Most importantly, know the feeling was true and it was yours. And that is how you know you were in love, because you felt it.

If you have to ask, “Am I in love?” then you are not yet fully in it. Love may be outside the door, or she may not visit at all. But you will know when she comes.

Whether that love will result in a healthy relationship, is a question for another day.
*all names have been changed.

If you have a question about love, managing life, relationships, living the life you want (not the life others think you should live) and making choices, visit DearLucretia.com and ASK ME ANYTHING. It’s time to take the filters off and have a real conversation about life.

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