It is very easy to confuse love with the feelings of pleasure and fascination that a person awakens in us, and so we end up making promises and gifts of love when we are not yet ready.
Fortunately, modern sciences such as psychology and biochemistry can help lovers sort out their feelings. Based on their data, right off-the-bat we can say that love at first sight does not exist. Any encounter between two people goes through different stages, and only rarely does that reach the stage of love.
Identifying the stage of the relationship you are in with your partner will help you know which option suits you best, and how to guide your relationship to true love.
The stages of love
A couple’s relationship goes through various stages that can be identified as attraction; the romantic or "I love you" stage, and finally "love."
This is the rosy and exciting stage when one person feels strongly attracted and fascinated by the other. These feelings are so strong and pleasant that many people think that this is love.
However, the attraction that binds two people together is just the effect of substances called pheromones, which not only alter our senses and make us feel great joy and passion at the slightest contact with the other person, but make us believe that we could not be happy with anyone else.
That is, the physical pleasure is so strong that the mind remains blinded or fascinated. That is why the lovers do not see their beloved’s flaws and even doubt that they could have any. Everything seems perfect.
Along with this lack of objectivity, when someone is in love, he might lie about himself and exaggerate his virtues, since he will do whatever he can to win over the person who gives him such pleasure.
Infatuation is a phase where pleasure predominates, but it is unrealistic stage because we do not yet know who the other person really is. In fact, when we are falling in love, what we love in the other person is not precisely who they are, but what we feel when they touch us, talk to us, or attract us.
These feelings are passing, since the effect of pheromones lasts for three years at most. If, during this time the couple has not had the chance to talk frequently and make an effort to know who the other really is, then instead of staying enchanted by pleasant but meaningless exchanges, the relationship will end. If you have sex during this time, the blinding effect of pheromones will double, creating a fictitious sense of intimacy.
Infatuation is not the stage for the self-giving that comes with sex and married life.
The Romantic or "I Love You" Stage
In the romantic stage, the couple starts to share more and so get to know each other better. When we enter into the world of the other person and discover their tastes, ideas, characteristics, skills, and so on, then the things that really attract us begin to appear, and not just their body. We start to enjoy who the person is, not just the feelings they inspire.
Some of the characteristics that we discovered in the person are real. We can already see some flaws, but there may still be a lot of fantasy or idealization. (We love the dreams that the other person awakens in us.) That is why it is important to remember that we are just starting to get to know the other person.
Along with passion, tenderness appears in the romantic stage. It seeks to reach deep into the other person to flatter her or make her feel good.
But the romantic stage is not yet love. We do not know the other person enough to know if we would be ready to give them the keys to our house or the secret code to our bank account. And if that is the case, then it is a sign that we are not yet ready for the full self-giving of sexuality or marriage.
Love is not a blind and passionate lovers’ rapture. Nor is it the rosy ideal painted by the romantics. Love involves close union, deep trust, and the desire to seek the good of the other person above all else. This happens when we know the beloved and are happy with what we know about him or her. Only then comes the trustful drive to give ourselves completely and to receive everything that the other person is, to form a "we."
In other words, in love, trust and generosity are key, inter-related elements: Because we trust, we want to generously give our whole life. But we cannot reach trust without mutual understanding.
In short, we can say that love is composed of three elements:
I know where you come from and where you are going.
I know how you react when you are tired, angry, under stress, and when you are happy.
I know most of your flaws and qualities.
I know your values and I share them.
I know that you are not perfect.
I admire who you are.
I like your physical appearance and your way of being.
Among all the people whom I might like, I choose you.
I do not expect you to change in order to love you. Even if you do not change, I love you as you are.
I know that you would never want to hurt me.
I can entrust my health, my money, and my future to you because I know you want to take care of me.
I love to see you happy.
I know your aspirations and am willing to support them.
I offer everything I have for your material, sexual and emotional well-being.
I am willing to invest all my energy in accompanying you, understanding you, and serving you, even when it means renunciation and sacrifice.
For anyone who is a believer, it is clear that there is no better definition of love than the one Jesus gave us: "Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13). Love is no longer just a feeling; it becomes the permanent action of self-giving or dedication to the good of the other.
In a couple, the two do not always reach this point together or develop this kind of love at the same time. If, after a while, one of the two (or both) does not progress to this love of self-giving, it is because they are not ready for marriage.
Love must be constantly nourished. Therefore, the fact that a couple gets married with love does not mean that their happiness is already guaranteed. Everyone needs to strive to take care of and grow in their self-giving, trust, mutual understanding, and acceptance of the beloved.
Reprinted from Aleteia’s Spanish edition.