How Do You Know When You're in Love?

If life were a movie, love would cue the soaring soundtrack. In reality? It’s a bit more confusing, our dating expert says.

By Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW

Q. This sounds like a weird question coming from a divorced 44-year-old mother of two. But how do you know when you’re in love? I married my college sweetheart because that’s what you were supposed to do. But I never felt like my ex was my soul mate. I’m not even sure what that means. I’m dating a really sweet guy. We’re compatible — he likes my kids, the sex is okay but still no stars. Is wanting it all an unreasonable expectation?— Diane

A. There are two schools of thought on the "is this love?" dilemma. The first says it’s like asking if you’ve ever experienced an orgasm. If you have to ask, you haven’t. Relationship expert Morgan Delaney, MS, explains, "Authentic love is the deepest of all relationships, the level of ultimate belonging, the kind of love that keeps us grabbing for the Kleenex when we watch An Affair to Remember for the umpteenth time."

Then there is the thought voiced by one who knows — a divorce lawyer! California-based Belinda Rachman, Esq., considers love "the least reliable predictor of whether a marriage will last," adding, "If a couple is compatible regarding their vision of how to raise children or spend/save money, they are miles ahead of the game."

Perhaps the truth shakes out somewhere in the middle. You want your lover first and foremost to be your best friend. But you also need to occasionally make sex an event, something special. Lovemaking shouldn’t solely consist of matter-of-fact tumblings with Leno or Letterman as background music.

It’s normal for the initial high-testosterone lust, sweaty palms phase (hot flashes anyone?) to smooth into something tamer, friendlier, fueled by the "connection hormone" oxytocin. Attraction remains, even though tempered.

Why did your first marriage end? It sounds like passion was missing with this non-soul mate. Are you seeking out a similar dynamic, one perhaps rooted in a fear of really losing control and allowing yourself to become vulnerable? What will happen if you stop holding yourself back?

The first person you need to love is yourself. The idea is not to look for a partner who completes you, fills you, lives in your pocket so to speak, someone with whom you cannot bear to be parted for more than a bathroom break. Rather, you want to partner yourself with a man who lets you be you and gives you free rein when you need it, yet who you look forward to spending time with at the end of the day.

Your question, then, can be tweaked from "when is it love?" to "what do I need love to be?"

Do you have a tough question about dating or relationships?

E-mail Sherry at datingexpert@more.com and your question might be featured in an upcoming column.

About Sherry Amatenstein

Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW, is the author of Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and Q&A Dating Book. She runs dating seminars around the country and does private coaching — not to help singles marry in 60 days, but to uncover their blocks. She has given relationship advice on the Early Show, Regis, Inside Edition, CBS News, VH1, BBC, and many other programs. Her philosophy is that the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself.

Originally published on MORE.com, October 2008.

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