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What Is Love and What Is Not

What Is Love and What Is Not

Love is a 4-letter word that has probably crossed your mind one time or another. It either strikes fear in the hearts of some or motivates others. Its existence and meaning has been a topic of discussion and debate for centuries. Just what is love?

This age-old question has been asked by everyone from love-struck teens to romantic poets and philosophers to curious scientists. Guess what? We have the answer to the “what is love” question. And the answer is….. (drumroll please)…..

It depends on your perspective. Let’s look at a few first:

Different Definitions of Love

From a Romantic’s Perspective: Love Is Perfect

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What is love to you? Do you think it should be easy with no disagreements, ever? Or maybe you think that romantic partners should always just understand each other? If this is your idea of love, you might be a romantic at heart.

I hate to break it to you, but true love at first sight is unlikely. It actually takes work to maintain that feeling. According to Sally Connolly, a relationship therapist with 30 years of experience, insisting on the idea of perfect love can actually make your relationship pretty unhealthy.[1]

From a Scientist’s Perspective: Love Is About Our Sense of Smell

If you’re a more analytically- oriented person, you might believe that love is related to biology. This idea about what is love, is actually backed up by scientific evidence. Researchers at the Swiss University of Bern have conducted research on the connection between our sense of smell and our attraction to another person. They discovered that major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes in human DNA may cause us to feel love for another person.[2]

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From a Realistic Person’s Perspective: Love Is Like the Ocean

A realistic perspective of love is to know that love is like the ocean, full of ever-changing waves and tides. Feeling this way about love is having a more balanced and normal definition of this elusive emotion. Understanding that question about what is love exactly, isn’t easy. Love takes hard work, which in the long run, will prepare you for a healthier, more fulfilling, and longer lasting relationship.

What is Love Not?

While the definition of love might depend on your perspective, there are some very clear things that are definitely not love. What is love not? Take a look:

Infatuation VS Love

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Infatuation is that feeling we have at the beginning of a relationship. The love that keeps us awake at night, distracts us during the day, and makes us feel exhilarated – that love, is actually infatuation. Because this is what you feel while falling in love with somebody, it’s easy to mistake infatuation for love. Being infatuated, instead of actually in love is a trap all too many of us fall into time and time again.[3] You ask yourself, “what is love?” and then convince yourself it must be this feeling. If that is what you believe, the first time your relationship is challenged, it isn’t likely to survive. Real love, however, is long lasting.

Lust VS Love

It’s possible to confuse love for lust, but the 2 are not the same. How can you tell the difference? Well, if you’re more interested in the bedroom than conversation, or you’re focused on your partner’s looks, or you don’t like to sleep over after intimacy – you’re probably feeling lust rather than love.[4] This can be an easy trap to fall into because it’s our natural response to always hope for the best and sometimes we do so much hoping that we end up convincing ourselves of something that simply isn’t true. It’s always easy to ignore when something isn’t quite right about a relationship, because saying goodbye to people you care about is just too difficult. Responding to “what is love” with lust, can get you caught up in a fantasy relationship instead of letting you find the real thing.

Friendship VS Love

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Friendship and love often feel similar, which can be confusing. This is because we can feel love for a friend or feel like our romantic partner is also our friend. It’s easy to mistake friendship for love because we often spend so much time with our friends that we can’t imagine a life without them by our sides. This, of course, is the same feeling we have about our significant others. The lines can sometimes be blurry. So, if you’re feeling confused about your relationship with somebody, try focusing on your chemistry, level of intimacy, and intensity of your feelings. Generally speaking, the more intense your feelings about another person, the more likely it is that you are actually in love rather than in a friendship.[5]

Emotionally Dependent VS Love

Sometimes we might think we’re in love, but it’s actually an emotional dependency. How can you tell? Well, there are a couple questions you can ask yourself. Do you tend to idealize your partner? Or do you have a deep fear of losing them? Or is the way they treat you more important to you than who your partner is? If you answered yes to these questions, you might actually be in an emotionally dependent relationship, which is not love.[6] If you discover that you are really experiencing emotional dependency instead of love, don’t be hard on yourself. It’s easy to become emotionally dependent. A lot of the traits of emotional dependency, like idealizing your partner and being afraid of losing them, are normal. These feelings are even expected in romantic relationships, but sometimes we can take it too far. Remember, you are your own person and so is your partner. Love lets us be who we are.

What is Love?

Ok, so now we know what love is not. But, that still leaves the unanswered question: What is love? Love is intangible, independent, universal, caring, unpredictable, and natural. It is far from perfect and gives us the flexibility to experience all of the other emotions, including: anger, fear, grief, and pain[7] Love isn’t something we can go out and buy, something we can hand out as a reward for a job well done, nor is a something we can count. Most importantly, love is something that is given freely without prior conditions put in place. Understanding these things is the first step toward finding true love.

Featured photo credit: ANAMORPHOSIS AND ISOLATE via anamorphosis-and-isolate.tumblr.com

Reference

More by this author

Amber Pariona

EFL Teacher, Lifehack Writer, English/Spanish Translator, MPA

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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