How do you know when you’re in love? (and other questions)
I was once asked this question – ‘how do you know when you’re really in love?’ – by a young person at an event we were running, and I froze. It seemed silly, because I’d been married for a few years by then, and it was a good question, so I should have known how to answer.
The truth is – it’s so hard to pin down what that means. Even now, with time and hindsight on my side, with the experience of both wonderful and toxic relationships – the answer to the question ‘what is being in love? What is it like?’ – is hard to put into words.
What comes to mind when we think of love? We might think of our hearts racing when we see someone. Our stomach flipping when they smile at us. We might think of wanting to be with that person all the time, of missing them when they’re not around. We might think of friendship, fun, and laughter. After a while, when you are in a truly loving and healthy relationship, those exciting, first-dating feelings will eventually mellow and mature into something strong and unique and special.
Ultimately, though, I think there are other questions we need to ask about love.
When you start a romantic relationship with someone, you are sharing yourself with someone else, in a similar, but different way than you would with a friend or a family member. You are sharing your time and yourself with someone else.
Which is why it’s so important to make sure you’re in a relationship that is healthy, and right for you.
I mentioned earlier that I have experienced a wonderful relationship. I have also experienced a bad one when I was a teenager. You see, I never sat down and wondered what I really wanted from a partner. I never asked myself what I felt was right or wrong in a relationship. I never stopped to think about how I wanted to be treated.
And I quickly learned, the hard way, that I should have asked those questions of myself first.
So here are a few things I wish I had asked about my romantic relationships when I was younger:
What is necessary for a healthy relationship?
I’d say, for a healthy relationship I’d want respect. This is key for any kind of relationship. Both of us should respect each other’s opinions, even if we disagree. I’d want trust – I should be able to share things with that person and not expect them to tell all their mates about it, to know they would be loyal to me and keep their word about things they said they would do, and to not let me down. I’d want honesty – no lying or hiding things from each other. I’d want security – I’d want to feel safe with them, and to feel they were supporting me.
I’d also want equality, with each of us having an equal role in the relationship. I’d want teamwork, to work well together and have each other’s backs. I’d want to have good communication, to feel we can openly talk and listen to each other. I’d want acceptance – for them to encourage and accept me the way I am, and for me to do the same for them – with no pressure to change or become someone I’m not to make them happy. I’d want encouragement, for us both to cheer each other on. And, of course, I’d want love – to truly care for each other, and to put each other first, and think of each other’s needs.
What do I really want in a partner?
This is where things can get more specific. For me, an important part of a relationship is friendship and laughter – I want to be able to hang out and have fun with my partner, to enjoy spending time with them, and on a deeper level, to be able to trust that person, to know they will always be there to talk to, that they would challenge me and wouldn’t be afraid to call me out (in a loving way!) when needs be.
What other things can you think of that you would like in a partner? It may be a good idea to write a list of things you’re not willing to compromise on in a romantic partner and share it with someone you trust to hold you accountable to it – as it’s easy to forget these ideas when you really fancy someone!
Would you want to be physically attracted to them? Would you want them to compliment you? Would you want them to share your interests, or are you happy to like different things? How do they treat other people? (This is a huge indicator of how they might treat you.) Do you want them to get on well with your family? Would you want to hang out all the time, or have your own space? What about PDA? Do you like holding hands in public?
What do my family and friends think of this person?
Think of the people that you really trust, who are closest to you. What do they think of this person? Do they like them? Do they think they’re good for you, that they bring out the best in you? Do they have any concerns, and if so, why? Ultimately, who you choose to go out with is up to you, but it’s important to be able to listen to those that care about you.
What don’t I want?
This is a big one, the one thing I really wish I’d asked myself when I was younger. It’s so important to know the signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship to look out for, and to know what to do if you think you or someone else might be in one. It’s a good idea to ask yourself what you don’t want in a relationship, as well as what you do want. For example, for me:
I didn’t want to feel unsafe in a relationship.
I didn’t want to have to worry about the other person’s mood swings.
I didn’t want to feel that I had to choose between him and my friends and family.
I didn’t want to be forced into doing things that I didn’t really want to do.
I didn’t want to feel that I had to change who I was to fit in with what that person wanted.
Really, thinking about what we don’t want in a relationship is just as important as thinking about what we do want.
These questions can help protect us from entering a relationship that isn’t healthy or safe – so it’s really important to think about it, whether you’re already in a relationship, or just thinking about what you want from a future partner – and it will help you to enjoy being in love, when the time comes.
At Revealed Projects, we run workshops for young people around healthy relationships, to equip young people with the knowledge and skills to make positive decisions around the relationships in their lives. We cover a range of topics, including self-esteem and confidence, emotional well-being, online relationships and more, in age-appropriate, engaging, and interactive workshops. We are passionate about our work with young people, and if you’d like more information about what we do, click here.
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