Friend? Love? Unzone?
November 19, 2011 2:24 AM   Subscribe

What does true love feel like?

How do you define love? When do you know it's real?

I had some one-sided strong feelings before, and every time I feel that pain and I start freak out as I'm familiar with the deja vu. I was always myself around them, honest, trusting, and wanted the best for them in every way, put their needs before mine. I was probably growing feelings for some idealized versions as I noticed some of them weren't really being themselves later on, or I led my delusion self into believing them as something else.

Now, if there's this friend, not perfect, whom I like a lot. I have a bit of feeling (as I tried to unlike them, so strong feeling dissolved over the time as we got closer) outside of the friend zone but not intense at all, feeling pretty healthy, happy, what is this feeling?

Bonus question,

Is there some way to un-friendzone myself? (Initiated some flirting, some more blatant, not sure what signals I got in return. Have always been open with each other. I'm able to be more assertive and get my needs met. Had long conversations multiple times on love, sex, marriage, relationships, and sexual/dating preferences. Do friends talk about those very often? I feel like the focus has been on those more often than usual, compared to my other friends, is it just the dynamic? As I got many friends more shy and have less experiences)
posted by easilyconfused to Human Relations (25 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know what true love is. I have been in love several times. Obviously not all of those relationships worked out, but I would never denigrate them by saying they were not real love. I married my husband because in addition to being in love with him, I like and admire him, we have similar life goals, ethics, and are very compatible in terms of living together. Ergo, I am not even sure what the metric for true love might be.

I do know that when you experience that sick-to-your-stomach initial feeling, it's limerence. Conversely, when everything is mellow and cool, I would call that "falling in like." I have had this experience with both friends and romantic partners. I think it's the buzz of making a really good connection, and is not an specific indicator of romantic potential. YMMV.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:56 AM on November 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

True love is walking hand in hand.
posted by AlliKat75 at 3:00 AM on November 19, 2011

I have said this before on this very site, but it bears repeating because I think many people get a lot out of this. I think that there is a very easy way to figure out what love is, or if you are in love. But it requires some backstory to make it clear.

One year around Valentines Day I was pondering what love was. Wilst I dwelled on this subject, I began to consider what it meant to 'be' in love. Many others had offered their opinions and I read them and found these musings to be enlightening to my own explorations. However, I disagreed somewhat with all of them, especially the more 'scientific' assessments of what love is. They are certainly not incorrect in their conclusions, and that is perhaps the most important thing to consider at this point. Love is a strange and varied creature which differs in strength and nature from person to person. But what it means to be in love brought me to another question; how could one know whether or not they were in love? I considered my own experience. I am in love with my grlfriend. And I knew this instinctively because... well that will take some explaining for it to become clear. Allow me to reminisce, and perhaps it will become clearer.

The first time I had ever thought I was in love was with my very first girlfriend, a girl whom we will refer to as 'K', back in 1996. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that I didn't love her. It was probably a case of inexperience; I was young, I was dating and sleeping with a girl and with no prior experience with women all I had was the idealism of Hollywood movies to go on; if I was doing what I was doing surely I had to be in love, no? But I wasn't. I liked her, but I didn't love her. This is a surety. Indeed, when it ended one year and six months (exactly!) later, it barely registered a nerve.

The second time I thought I might have been in love was with my third girlfriend, a girl whom we shall henceforth refer to as 'J'. When I was with her, I did some crazy things. Things I would never have normally done, and I did them because I was utterly infatuated with her. In terms of this question, I was utterly in lust with this woman, though I did not see it at the time. But when I was with her, I was not myself. I stayed up and out to all hours, partying hard, whereas before I had been much of a homebody. I coloured my hair blonde to make her happy (it was her favourite colour on guys) and even started taking an interest in things that she liked! Egad! So it seems fair to say that at the least I was head over heels in lust with her, but what of love? I agonised over that question many nights whilst I was with her and I was never able to come to a definitive conclusion. But as before, it was only with the benefit of hindsight that it became clear I wasn't in love with her. She was dumb and vapid and an outright bitch; the perfect profile for someone who aspired to be a model, really. So she was everything I didn't ever want and clearly most of my feelings towards her probably stemmed from her undeniable good looks. But did I love her? Not a chance in hell. To this day, she is the worst break up I have ever expereinced with a girlfriend.

A few years later came a girl we shall refer to here as 'P'. I was with her for about 8 months or so, and during that time I rarely saw her, because she lived over 300 kilometres away from me. I saw her at least once a fortnight, though sometimes, during rare periods of increased wealthiness, I could afford to go see her once per week. But the weekends I spent with her were almost always nice. Once more, hindsight reveals that it was this strange arrangement that contributed to my belief that I was in love with her. Or, to be more specific, my belief that I was falling in love with her. Even during my time with her, I never believed I was in love with her, though I often questioned whether I was falling for her. The afforementioned hindsight showed me, however, that the fact I saw her so little made me value what little time I had with her even more, so the passion of our meetings was always intensified. With such passion came the belief that there must be love growing there. But hindsight shows this not to be. I didn't love her, and I wasn't even falling in love with her. I enjoyed her company, but that's as far as it went.

I mention hindsight alot. Hindsight this, hindsight that. It is a wonderful thing, hindsight; especially so when it comes to my current girlfriend, explaining my feelings towards her and, hopefully, answering your question. You see, what hindsight revealed about all my past experiences with 'love' was that I always questioned whether or not I was in love. I always wondered if I was in love, or if I was falling in love, or if my actions meant that I was in love. I never knew I was in love. But with my current girlfriend, I know I am. I lust after her body the same way I did with 'J'. I look forward to meeting her at the end of each day and spending time with her even more than I did with 'P'. And I'm as excited with my relationship with her as I was with my very first relationship with 'K'. And while these are all good signs, they don't speak the most about my feelings towards her. No, at the end of the day, I just know I love her, without any need to question that. I just know. And that's the answer to your question right there, I believe.

If you ever need to figure out if you love someone, of if you simply want to know what I believe to be the difference, I believe that the key indicator should be that you shouldn't have to think about it. My experiences suggest that you're in love if you know you are in love. This is true of both romantic and platonic love. Do you love your parents? Of course you do. How do you know? You just do. It's the same when you love your partner. How do you know you love your husband, wife, or life partner? You just do. No question.

So should you ever question if you love a person or if you are merely in lust with them, simply remember; you should just know.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:01 AM on November 19, 2011 [23 favorites]

There is no such thing as "true love". There's just love, of various kinds, and like Effigy I think you just know. With the benefit of hindsight I know that I didn't truly love a couple of the people I thought I did, but the people I loved - I never doubted that I loved them. When you love someone you don't think they are perfect, you know they have their flaws, but they don't bother you. You accept them as part of them. Oh they'll drive you crazy sometimes, but the rest of the time you'll shake your head and smile.

Personally I also believe that if you really love someone you are prepared to sacrifice to make them happy, to put their feelings first sometimes. However, always putting their needs first and never expressing yours isn't the basis of a healthy relationship.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:15 AM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hmm, I dunno that I agree with the earlier posters. I've had some strong relationships over the years, romantic and non-romantic, and the feelings didn't stay the same the whole time. Take my kids, who I would say I love very much. Sometimes I am happy not to see them for weeks. Sometimes I miss them very much. Sometimes I'm cranky at them, or worse, really hurt by their behaviour, or unhappy with the direction they're taking. There's not one single feeling I can at any time hold onto and point at and say, there, that proves I love my kids.

If I can't feel 'love' for my kids 100% of the time, what chance does a partner have?

So while I admire (and perhaps somewhat envy) those who say 'you just know', I think it's not the same for everyone. My rule of thumb comes from a quote from Heinlein, and while I've grown out of Heinlein, the idea still sounds good. Love is when someone's happiness wellbeing is integral to your own. (my edit, because sometimes, for someone's wellbeing, they have to do things they don't like). This means I love lots of people (which is kinda nice), but I'm not in love, nor do I believe in in love as anything more than a period of intense lust.

Oh, and I'm 44 and have been around the block a few times, but this doesn't mean I know of what I speak. I could just be really unique, or a psychopath.
posted by b33j at 3:44 AM on November 19, 2011 [18 favorites]

True love is peace. In my experience it really is different. My boyfriend of the past two years has always felt very familiar to me, like a family member I'd never met (but not in a creepy way).

I've loved men before, but I'd never really known true, unconditional "in love" type love until I started dating my boyfriend.

As far as the "friend zone" thing, well, it really depends. Yes, friends can and do talk about everything under the sun, so that's not a reliable indicator of attraction. As a straight woman, over time I have come to realize that the majority of men who bothered to take the time to truly befriend me over the years would have dated me had I been open to it (most of them told me so later). However, I never dated a friend before my current partner-- one night a specific event caused me to have a sort of revelation that I could probably love him romantically, and we gave it a try. I think something really has to shift in the mind of the more resistant party for the "friend zone" barrier to melt away, which is a somewhat uncommon occurrence.

Anyway, in my experience, the true love I feel now is much deeper than what I felt for my two past loves, the ones who still count as something real. Although neither of those relationships were meant to be, the breakups didn't leave scars and I can remember those men fondly-- another marker of real love, I believe, and again, very different from the infatuations I've had.
posted by devymetal at 4:33 AM on November 19, 2011

There is no such thing as a "friend zone". Believing there is will just reinforce feelings of bitterness.

There are people who are open to relationships and/or sex with you and there are those who are pen to friendship with you. And then those who are open to neither.

The whole "friend zone" thing is a concept that people latch onto because it's a situation most people can relate to, but it isn't a thing. It's an excuse bitter people use.

So, my advice is to stop seeing things in black and white. Let go of the "friend zone" concept. It just breeds bitterness and fear.

As for knowing you're in love. Yeah, you just know. Your life would just be that much worse without the other person in it. You drive each other in good ways. You miss each other and your lives start to blend a bit. You start to feel like your home is with the other person.

Remember that love transcends lust, so sometimes you need a little time to be completely sure. But eventually, you just know.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:34 AM on November 19, 2011 [9 favorites]

True love is when you'd rather go and cuddle with your gently snoozing sweetheart than finish the
posted by scruss at 5:44 AM on November 19, 2011 [22 favorites]

Best answer: ugh. don't try to un-friendzone yourself. If you want to be romantic with the person- ask them out. Trying to sneakily lead them into thinking of you more romantically only makes things more awkward because:
1. the person is going to know what you are up to, but if they aren't into it they will have NO direct way of telling you to knock it off.
2. if the person finds out that you've been trying for an extended amount of time, it's going to look like you were just pretending to be friends in order to get in their pants/bed. This is Nice-Guy Syndrome and it makes people bitter and their intended feel tricked.

Just say this- "You know, We talk about dating all the time. We should try going out with each other one time. I'll even bring you a corsage or something." If they hedge, laugh it off or say No- you've got your answer and you need to respect it.

As for what love feels like- I think of it like this: The thought of being without the person hurts me. The thought of them being upset or in pain goes way past normal human empathy and rolls into a sea of "Oh god don't hurt please." It's wanting to be able to take care of them. It's wanting to be a better person and do better things because that person deserves a really awesome person.
posted by Blisterlips at 6:36 AM on November 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

If you're asking if you're feeling "true love" with this friend of yours with whom nothing romantic has ever started, the answer is no.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:46 AM on November 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with b33j pretty much. I have been in love about three times, and what has distinguished it has been two things:

* Their being sad or unhappy causes me INTENSE pain, worse than if it happened to myself, and

* I am sexually attracted to them.

I have often had one without the other, but both things need to be there for me to feel I'm in love. Note that you can genuinely love someone in that way and it still doesn't guarantee a good relationship, but I think of a "good relationship" as "being in love AND..."
posted by Nattie at 7:00 AM on November 19, 2011 [12 favorites]

Oh yeah, and I agree there is no "friend zone." Every time I've found myself in love I knew the person for four years prior. Apparently anything faster than that doesn't give me time to develop the familiarity I need to care about them enough that I then find them sexually attractive. People work all sorts of ways and assuming socially constructed ideas like "friend zones" are gospel is going to keep you from interpreting things as accurately as you would otherwise.
posted by Nattie at 7:05 AM on November 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Just like false love.
posted by tsmo at 7:53 AM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

b33j is right that feelings change and morph over time. I don't think feelings and relationships are static, though often we treat them as they are.

So I find, thinking about it, that I'm of the opinion that "true love" is something mutual. That is, it doesn't build up to a healthy love feeling without the one you love reciprocating and reinforcing back to you. Yes, you can love someone and they not love you back, but I wouldn't call that "true love".

For instance, I feel what I have with my husband is the one time in my life I've been in "true love". But my experience of love requires trust and reliability. Should I lose my trust in and my ability to rely on my husband - and if I felt I couldn't rely on his feelings of love for me - I don't think I would be in love with him anymore, and I wouldn't want to be this tied up with him. My feelings would change.

When I met my husband we had very strong limerence and spark, which quickly developed into love. So sometimes I say "well yes, there is love at first sight" because I fell for him right away and never stopped. But if that love hadn't continued to grow into trust and relying on each other, then it wouldn't have become the true love it is now. So I think it is situational - you can have a potential that doesn't work out based on distance or life events or whatever. I feel sure there is some level of luck (not necessarily fate) involved.

True love probably involves a small bit of idealizing the other person (otherwise they might drive you nuts being with them all the time) but that is because I think true love is an experience to help you grow; I know I feel my experience of love within my relationship has made me a better person, and he says the same.

So your situation - I think maybe your feeling is not intense because it is not reciprocated, and it might become more intense if you find it is reciprocated down the line. It sounds like your situation has potential (openness, assertiveness, long close conversations are good signs) and therefore there is no reason I can see to hold back from testing if it could morph to another level of closeness.

I don't think it helps to think of "being in the friendzone/getting out of the friendzone" because I think it makes you frame relationships and people more as objectives. It feels healthier to treat each relationship as a chance to see how you uniquely mesh with that person, and what you can learn from it. I don't find "true love" is something that comes from being forced or pushed because you are so invested in the idea of "this person" or "this relationship". I think it's more helpful to be open to a potential, test that potential, and then let it go if it's not working out - leaving you free and open to the next potential.
posted by flex at 8:01 AM on November 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My personal answer is that all love is "true love". Is all love lifelong, lasting, et cetera? Nope. But the love I felt for my first boyfriend was as real as the love I felt for my First Unreciprocated Love, which was just as real as the love I felt for the crazy guy who thought he was a vampire, which was just as real as the love I felt for my ex-boyfriend's friend, which was just as real as the love i felt for the bass player in the love triangle/rock band I was in a few years ago, which was just as real as the love I feel for my husband. Et cetera. Yeah, they're all different. Yeah, they're all in the past (though I am still friends with some of them). But they were all real. They were all formative. So I can only consider that they were all "true".

I was never the sort to consider non-permanent relationships worthless, though. I've always felt that if I'm learning something, if I consider it worthwhile at the time, if it's interesting, then I am not Wasting Time (TM). There are, I know, those for whom that is not true. For them, I suppose that one element of True Love would be permanence.

My husband, as far as I was aware at the time, was firmly friendzoned, if you will, for months after we met. I was at the time still in the rock band/love triangle, so both available romantic slots in my head were filled-- Person I Am Dating, and Person I Secretly Long For. I was therefore quite surprised when my friend X told me that he was in love with me, and I discovered that I kind of really liked him too. I guess it's only 4 1/2 years later at this point, but that seems to me to be at least a good sign for potential friend-to-lover scenarios.

But yeah, you are probably worrying about the True Love Potential more than you ought to be at this point. Try. You will know when you try. The only way to find something good is to keep bashing your head into brick walls over and over and over until you find someone who's right.

Then, that is from someone who thinks that limerence is the best thing ever and will miss even the most painful parts of that until the day she dies. If your romantic pain-tolerance is lower than your risk-averseness, you might want to discount my advice entirely.
posted by Because at 8:29 AM on November 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

I suspect it feels very different at 17 than it does at 40.
posted by colin_l at 10:55 AM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

When her laugh is like music... when her smell is intoxicating... when you would give your life for a minute with her. When the greatest joy of all is holding her close. When she finishes your sentences and you hers, but never in a way which seems like you are stepping on each other, and it seems like she not only knows you, but is in your head. You mourn when you have to leave and rejoice when you get to come back. Even her flaws are beautiful. Yup, been there...
posted by brownrd at 11:13 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Trying to make someone conceive of you as more than a friend will probably backfire, because it's irritating, controlling, and unauthentic behavior. If you have to try so hard, it isn't worth it. I do think relationships and love change us, one of the best aspects of life, in my opinion. The growth that happens in love and friendship. But going into it with, "I want to make this person do or feel x, y, or z about me," is too much pressure and it's demeaning as hell, to boot. Just try to be the person YOU want to be, and I think you'll be more comfortable.
posted by amodelcitizen at 11:19 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have found that it makes a difference when these questions don't occur to you.
posted by rhizome at 11:50 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't really agree with Effigy. I think it's too easy to rewrite history so that every relationship before your present one wasn't "real love." I would be disturbed if I found out my partner did this in hindsight. I'd wonder whether I'd turn out to be another future ex girlfriend he "thought" he was in love with. IMO, love is an almost meaningless word since it is so different for everybody. The idea that you should know 100% all the time whether you're in love probably doesn't apply to how a lot of people experience emotion (myself included). Sometimes I don't even feel the love for my parents, even though intellectually I recognize that I love them most of the time.
posted by timsneezed at 2:17 PM on November 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

Had long conversations multiple times on love, sex, marriage, relationships, and sexual/dating preferences. Do friends talk about those very often? I feel like the focus has been on those more often than usual, compared to my other friends, is it just the dynamic?

Hate to break it to you, but some people just like to talk. The reason they don't talk about those things openly is because the opportunity isn't there, not because they are picky or trying to send a signal. And in fact, you may be unconsciously directing the conversation there because you desire intimacy from this person and this is as close as you can get.

If you want real intimacy, real love, there is no easy magic way to have it handed to you. You have to buckle up and go out there and ask, and be okay with getting a no. Sometimes, the fact that you're comfortable enough with yourself to deal with getting rejected is all the confidence you need.
posted by griselda at 3:03 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer, I'm 21, and that's a valid reason for you to discredit my every opinion w/r/t love.

I'm reading a book by the old director Richard Boleslavsky which argues that the meaning of life can be found in rhythms. Not in tempos, mind you, rhythms – the ways that everything in the world moves. There's rhythm (or more commonly rhythms) to everything, shallow, deep, blatant, subtle. And the joy of life is that we are surrounded by these rhythms everywhere, and we are free to join with them in any way we see fit.

We have a tendency to assign meanings to rhythms which don't actually exist – we decide that if you're quiet, or loud, or crude or polite, that it says something important about you. But it rarely does on a significantly deep level.

I find that it helps me a lot to think of the world in terms of these rhythms – not just for love, but for friendship and workplaces and what-have-you. Everybody's moving in a hundred ways at once. You'll find you're attracted to some rhythms and repelled by others, and that's perfectly natural. But take note of which of these rhythms are the shallower ones, and which are the truly deep. Also keep in mind that everybody's willing to change parts of themselves and averse to changing others.

There is no one love. There are a thousand loves, each one entwined in all the rest. The bolder you are about searching for the things you want, and about expressing your own self without caution, the quicker people will respond to you, but again, that's not to say that the shy and awkward are incapable of finding others whom they click with.

You'll find people you can love only briefly before the allure fades. With others you won't feel an immediate response, and only realize you love them after months and years of never growing tired. I feel that what people refer to as "true love" is simply when both shallower and deeper rhythms align, and you can progress quickly from infatuation to a deeper connection. It's rarer but it happens.

I'm not old or experienced enough to say firsthand what those deepest rhythms are that can keep people together for decades. But surely they exist, in as colorful a variety of ways as simple childhood crushes.

Ask yourself what you're looking for, not once but frequently. And pay attention not only to your responses to others, but to their responses to you. I've made the mistake of wooing girls I liked who I knew didn't like me, and I promise you that one-way romances are even worse than one-way infatuations. What you want are people who are in love with you as much as you are with them, on however shallow or deep a level as you're looking for. As always, the shallowest ones are the easiest ones to find, and the deeper ones require you to make an effort. Don't be concerned about that effort. Instead be concerned when you see that effort's yielding no response, and yet you're still pushing in the hopes that something "truer" exists.
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:11 PM on November 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

I'm also a baby (twenty years old), but I was lucky enough to fall in love once and, three years later, I still believe that it was true. As you can see from the variety in the posts above, everyone's experience with love is different; this is mine, and perhaps you'll find it useful.

For me, love wasn't so much a feeling towards a specific person as an activity I did with her--that of getting out of our own heads, opening ourselves up to each other. When I love someone, I want to learn all about them, I want to live within their bones, I want to hike along the sulci of their mind. And, as flawed and fallible and tiny as I am, they miraculously feel the same about me. No matter how far we travel, there extend new vistas beyond; we gasp in wonder at the hazy mountains and hurry farther inward. With time, the hunger is gradually replaced by comforting familiarity. We pick up their favorite brand of tea at grocery store; we hear a piece of music and automatically think about if they'd like it; we read their emotions in the patterns of their breath. Yet, somehow, the newness never ceases. This dual act of knowing and being known is, to me, the essence of love. It's hard work, and it feels like it sometimes (which is why I disagree with people who say that you "just know," since sometimes things are just difficult), but so worth it.

This quote (sent to me by my love) says it better:

"When one is older and in love, it is the double vision of sharing with your beloved which gives experience texture, shape, significance. To travel alone is to journey through a wasteland. But if you love enough, sometimes you can see for yourself and for another, too." - New York, Truman Capote

As for your situation: take the risk and ask. You won't know if there can be love 'til you try it. Good luck!
posted by flawsekno at 2:15 AM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

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