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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 August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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