Written by Kristin Barton Cuthriell, M.Ed, MSW, LCSW
Falling in love and real love are not the same thing. Whether you are single or in a committed relationship, it is extremely important that you know the difference. If you are single, knowing the difference can assist you in making a mature decision when selecting a partner. If you are already committed, knowing the difference may make you think twice about your relationship expectations.
Falling in Love
Falling in love often feels magical. We feel a rush of adrenaline, and our beloved is almost too good to be true. There is a temporary collapse of our ego boundaries, and we almost feel as if we are one. We often put the other on a pedestal, ignoring faults and exaggerating strengths. Our emotions run high, and in our mind, our new love is everything that we have ever wanted. Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking that if we can make this one relationship work, our lives will be healed; our problems gone. We have found the answer to our prayers, we tell ourselves. Life is good.
Does this sound familiar? Have you ever experienced such feelings about another person?
Real love may or may not begin with the feelings described above. It may begin with the this is too good to be true feelings that go with falling in love, or it may begin as friendship, without such intensity. Either way, real love is different than the falling in love experience. Scott Peck, M.D. author of the classic book, The Road Less Traveled, defines love as “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Love is difficult to define, but for the purpose of this article, we are going to look at love from the perspective of nurturing self and other within the context of a romantic relationship between two adults.
Real love involves friendship. It is a give and take relationship based on kindness and goodwill. It is based on the sharing of similar values, beliefs, activities, and life goals. Real love involves emotional intimacy, being able to share vulnerable parts of self and feel safe. It involves a fine balance of separateness and unity. It is two different people, with different backgrounds and different opinions, coming together to share their lives with one another.
Real love is not only acknowledging the idiosyncrasies and the things that drive you crazy about the other person, but a willingness to live with them without trying to change the person to fit your ideal. Real love involves an equal amount of self-love and love for the other. In real love, the growth of the other is just as important as your own self growth. Real love is not an automatic feeling. It takes discipline and hard work. It is something that can’t be taken for granted and must be practiced every day.
Knowing the Difference is Important
Too often, people commit to one another because of the feelings involved in falling in love, without realizing that the intensity of these feelings will not last. They may bring two people together, but they will not keep them together. Before committing, it is important to look at the aspects of real love. Are the characteristics that make up real love present in your relationship, or are you in love with falling in love? Are you in love with the real person or some ideal that you have created in your head? Do you love the person for who they are, or are you planning to change them once they commit?
Another reason that it is important to know the difference is because many people end their relationship when the falling in love feeling fades, without realizing that this feeling will fade to some degree in every relationship. The falling in love feeling can turn into real love if certain qualities are present, and hard work, commitment, and discipline are practiced. People who go from one relationship to another, looking for that constant falling in love high, may miss out on ever experiencing real love on a deep level because real love takes time to develop.
Real love, on a deep level, involves a decision, and although the emotions may sometimes feel less intense, real love is much more powerful than falling in love. With real love there is no illusion, it is loving the other person for who they truly are and allowing them to love the real you.
This article was inspired by The Road Less Traveled, by Scott Peck, M.D. and by my own clinical work with clients.