How to Tell When You’re in Love

Q: How do you know when you are in love with someone?” - Jeri K.

A: Well, Jeri, this is kind of a trick question because the word “love” is useless. That may sound harsh, but it’s true! For a word to have meaning it must literally ‘have a meaning’. Think about it.

I can “love” that fast food restaurant someone causally mentions, a couple can love each other after having been married 60 years and growing more in love every single day of their marriage, and love can mean everything in-between those two extremes.

When a word can have almost any meaning, it really has no meaning at all.

“I love when people say ‘I love you, but I don’t love love you’” The fact that this quote can exist proves my point.

The Greeks were smart, they didn’t have one word for “love”. They have several.

  1. Mania – An obsessive desire to own someone or something.
  2. Eros – The emotional feeling of wanting to be near someone.
  3. Philos – Non-romantic love that says “I love who we are together”. This is commonly referred to as “brotherly love.
  4. Storgy – Often called “motherly love”, this is the love one has for someone who is dependant on you, like a child or a pet.
  5. Agape – Unconditional love. This love requires absolutely nothing of the other person and exists no matter what the person does. This kind of love requires personal sacrifice and is as much a conscious choice as it is anything else.
The two typical romantic relationship timelines

Friend first

A man and woman meet and develop Philos love for each other. At some point the Eros love starts to create sexual desires and the couple develop strong romantic emotional desires for each other, even at times becoming Manic.

Dating first

A man and woman meet and start to date. The Eros love preceeds the Philos love. The Philos love tends to develop later on as much of the sexual energy is spent on physical affection and flirting instead of deep conversations uncovering who each other really is. Romantic Eros love tends to mask reality.

In many cases, the Philos love doesn’t occur until after the honeymoon is over, and sometimes never happens at all.


When the two people commit to marriage, they are making the decision to have Agape love for each other. In other words, they are making the commitment to love each other unconditionally. It’s saying that no matter what happens, you will love them. By definition, Agape love is forever. You can’t “fall out of” Agape love.

loveNot too long into the marriage, the Mania is gone and the Eros love is quickly fading. Hopefully, the Philos and Agape love is always present, but Eros love is based on emotions which are inconsistent. If you are truly committed to Agape love and work hard at your marriage, then the Eros love will come back and will be weaved all throughout the timeline of your remaining life together. And if you allow yourselves to have true emotional intimacy, then the Philos and Agape love will continually grow and the Eros love will follow as a result.

As you can see, breaking love down into 5 of its elements was pretty smart. Thanks, Greeks. Also, thanks for the Olympics. And Gyros. And Uncle Jesse. And creepy guys with thick mustaches at singles events.

Define it for yourself

However, there’s still more to the story. There does seem to be something else that happens that isn’t so easily describable. While Agape is somewhat a conscious decision, there’s a part of it that grows unconsciously.

  • There’s a time in your relationship when you realize that you care more about the other person than you care about yourself. It’s at that moment that I consider myself “in love”.
  • Some people might define being “in love” as the moment that you realize that you would literally do anything to be with them (although this is most likely the Mania love which occurs at the peak of the early Eros part of a relationship).
  • Others may define it as the moment when you realize that if you could literally be with anyone in the world you would choose that person (although women tend to be very self-delusional about this).
  • Still others may define it as the moment you realize that you would still want to be with the person forever, even if they got in a car accident, were horribly disfigured, and you had to take care of them for the rest of their lives. (at this point, it’s time to get married!)

But, regardless, the word “love” is meaningless unless you define it. I would recommend that you figure out exactly how you are going to define being “in love”, and then tell the person you are in a relationship with so that they’ll know exactly what you mean when you say it (or don’t say it) someday.

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- Jim Graham
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