What Does it Really Mean to Be In Love

IMG_3408Because the only love I experienced before being with A was the ‘unrequited love’ type, I can feel that I have something missing with him. I am not in pain with him, I do not think about him every second of the day, I do not crumble when he does not text me back. I know it sounds silly and I am clearly looking back with rose-tinted glasses because I also remember that it’s a genuinely awful feeling, too. All the same, my wounded self is shouting so loud that what I have with A is NOT what I want. It shouts saying ‘I want someone that makes me melt’ ‘I want to feel proud of his incredible handsome looks and show him off’ ‘I want a man that is on a pedestal that I can worship, and never fades’.

I know that this is an unhealthy part of me, one that I would really like to shed, but it’s persistent and assures me that this is what I want. My wounded self tells me that that is what it is to REALLY be in love.

– An email from a client, published with her permission

This is certainly what our culture tells us it means to really be in love. We learn at a tender, early age that being in love means drama, chase, and delicious, exquisite agony/ecstasy. It means worshipping the object of your desire, being inspired to write angst-ridden love poems about your cherished beloved, always feeling proud to be attached to this person as if it increases your worth or status in some way. It means you miss him desperately when he’s away; it means you feel almost painfully attracted to her every time you see her. In short, it means a feeling.

The truth, however, is that being in love has nothing to do with my client’s description above. What she described is an adolescent infatuation that seeks to find validation, aliveness, and connection through the gaze of the beloved. She’s describing a state of longing that is often misunderstood as being in love. This adolescent infatuation in ultimately a self-serving experience where the lover or pursuer seeks to fill her or himself up by receiving the approval of the beloved or distancer. There is nothing healthy about this state of what we call being in love. It has nothing to with giving and everything to do with taking.

So if this isn’t what it means to really be in love, what does it mean?

This is how I see being in healthy love:

  • Being in love means that you’re committed to the practice of learning about love.
  • Being in love isn’t exclusive to romantic relationships. We fall in love with our children, with new friends, with pets, with a stimulating dance or yoga class, with life itself.
  • When we talk about being in love, we’re referring to the strong feelings of joy, warmth, and sometimes ecstasy that bubble up from the heart in the presence of the beloved (again, not necessarily a romantic partner).

Like all feelings, these “in love” feelings are transitory. Every mother has had the experience of “falling out of love” with her child (a painful transition that deserves much more awareness and conversation in this culture). Likewise, if you had an in love phase with your romantic partner, you will inevitably fall out of love at some point. This is when the real work of learning about love begins.

Here’s my definition of being in love: The sweet and sometimes subtle joy that springs up from an open heart when the fear walls fall away and you connect to the warm current that runs inside your soul. You can experience this feeling when sitting in nature, gazing at your newborn, or holding hands with your partner. It’s an experience that is born from the fullness of your heart and leads to loving actions in service of others.

Where being infatuated comes from emptiness, truly being in love comes from fullness. Where infatuation is an immature state of being that seeks to take, truly being in love is a mature state of being that seeks, above all else, to give. When your fear walls and protection systems come down and you learn how to fill your well of Self, the state of love in which we are born naturally overflows toward others. We long for the feeling of being in love as proof that our relationship is valid, that it will withstand the test of time, and as a way to fill ourselves up and feel alive. But what we tragically and culturally fail to grasp is that it’s only when we learn to express love as genuine care and concern for another’s well-being do the feelings that we long for bubble to the surface.

And here’s the good news: Learning to soften your fear walls and fill yourself up so that you can experience being in love are skills that we can all learn! When it comes to intimate partnerships, there are certain Love Laws and Loving Actions that, when practiced daily, will open your heart and allow you to see yourself and others as you really are.

If you want to learn to dismantle the unrealistic blueprints and expectations you’ve absorbed about love, sex, and attraction – expectations that are quite possibly creating a barrier between you and the loving partner in your life – and learn the Love Laws and Loving Actions that will soften your fear walls, I would love for you to join me in my next round of Open Your Heart: A 30 day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner.

If you want to learn the healthy Love Laws and Loving Actions that grow love and attraction on a daily basis through daily practice, this is the program for you. Through this program and the principles which inform my work, hundreds of people have softened their fear walls and opened their hearts to be able to give and receive love with their loving partners (you can read many of their testimonials in the middle of this page). Are you ready to do the same?

37 comments to What Does it Really Mean to Be In Love?

  • Katie

    Lovely post, Sheryl, and a message I try to remember in my relationship each day. I read this article tonight, and thought others might enjoy reading it as well
    Love to all 🙂

  • lina

    This is a great article. A bit of a spike to me, but so wise.
    I just have this question..I had these exact feelings and emotions that were descripted by that woman ..as you called “infatuation”. And as my anxiety popped,they have vanished! And I can’t seem to understsnd what is going on with my emotions..
    Can it be that I just had that infatuation?
    After infatuation, can I trully love the man as described?

    • It’s extremely common to fall out of love so that you can fall back in love with more depth and clarity. There’s nothing wrong with infatuation, but we need to recognize that it’s a stage, and when that stage ends the work of learning about real love begins.

  • Angela

    Sheryl beautifully said.. I always look forward to your blogs. I totally agree with every word… I’m so glad I’ve been educated by you Sheryl between infatuation and real love. Nobody at school taught us the what the definition of real love is. We all have to learn it ourselves through experiences in relationships.. and not everyone is fortunate enough to find you and tell us the truth.. Thanks so much for being by my side.. So much appreciated for caring about me and people on here who you have enormously helped as well.. Xx

  • Kelly

    Sheryl, I know people have stated this in the past, but I want to state it again – it’s like you are reading my mind. I literally was just having this debate with myself over the weekend. Thank you for your blog. I also gain a wonderful understanding from the comments, so I can’t wait to read your readers experiences.

  • AshleyDevon

    Beautiful post Sheryl, thank you so much for writing this! It really touched me.

  • Valeria

    Thank you, once again, for the lovely post! I am a bit younger than most of the people subscribed to your blog (I’ll be 21 in 3 weeks), but I’ve been keeping up with your blog post for over a year now. I also thought that love had to feel “addicting” for it to be REAL love, and anything other than it was not genuine. That is why when I met my current partner, I used to have major anxiety over whether I was leading him on, wasting his time, and on my way to hurt someone who genuinely cared about me.

    Over the months I tried to break it off with him more times than I can remember, and although he struggled to understand why I was so paranoid, he stuck through my period of uncertainty. When I was having some major anxiety I’d always read your blog, and it would help to calm me down and remind myself on the type of love I should be really looking for.

    It has been over a year now, and my fear wall has dropped, and I have now experienced what it really means to love, and love return. It is stable, calming, and most of all, it is safe. Having had ex boyfriends who would drive me up a wall, make me cry, play power games, and a bunch of horrible other things, I can not imagine myself ever again putting up with that. After experiencing the genuine love of my current partner, I can NOT even father any different way of love. Having experienced what it truly means to selflessly love another person, what I thought to be “love” before pales in comparison to what I have now. I much rather be able to feel the freedom of being myself, on both good and bad days, around my partner, and knowing he won’t judge me or love me any less. There is a certain beauty to being told when you have a bad day “Sweetie, you are beautiful” and knowing that they mean it. Id rather a partner who I know will be there for me at the end of the day rather than anxiously waiting to hear from someone who does not consider my feelings. I’d rather a partner who will hold me and support me when I’m having a bad day, rather than someone who will only be with me during the good times.

    Amazingly enough, over time, after letting my fear wall drop, the butterflies I felt were initially missing started! They were not the butteflies of infatuation from someone exciting, but rather butterflies born out of love and caring, butterflies that come from deep within my heart and gush out with love, affection and appreciation for my partner and everything that comes with him.

    Even if I was to be alone and single tomorrow, I carry with me the safety of knowing what to look for in any potential future partner, and knowing that it is worth it to hold out for something good, something amazing, rather than date the first hot jerkbag that comes along the way and triggers my hormones.

    Sorry for the big rant… Just wanted to share with you my experience and how very grateful I am to you for having helped me throughout this journey, and come to where I currently am. If I had given into my initial anxiety, I would have never gotten to experience the beauty that is having a loving partner.

    Bless you!

    • Thank you so much for sharing, Valeria. It sounds like you’ve done great work on yourself. There are actually many younger people on my site and forums; it’s wonderful that the true meaning of love is sinking in for the younger generations. It will save you all a lot of heartache!

      • Valeria

        Oops guess that was just me assuming from a lot of other posts! And yes, I agree with you, many of my fellow friends are in situations where they are looking for the wrong type of person – but I’m sure most of us can relate to their struggles! Hopefully one day they’ll all run into your blog like I did, haha. Have an awesome day!

        • T.l

          Valeria, this post really struck a chord with me. Thank you so much for sharing.

          How long did it take you for your fear walls to drop? Did you make a conscious effort to appreciate your partner, or was it a gradual realisation? I am just curious to know what made you stay, I guess because I want reassurance in my own relationship. I have always wondered where I stand because I had infatuation for my current boyfriend a few months before we dated, but got over it before a relationship happened. So we both ‘missed out’, but are trying to see it in a positive light like you do, and work towards something truly meaningful!

  • Katherine

    So beautifully said! I had a moment much like yours this past weekend. I was singing at a wedding and my partner came to listen and be with me so we could spend our Saturday evening together. While I was setting up my things I looked at him as he leaned against the wall and couldn’t believe how blessed I felt to have someone that wonderful in my life. I also couldn’t help but wonder if I hadn’t walked through my fear, fear that had once run rampant on my life with him, I wouldn’t be able to feel what how wonderful it is to soften the walls around my heart. You and your Open Your Heart program have helped and continue to help me so much! I cannot thank you enough, many many blessings to you 🙂

  • Jennifer

    I feel myself pulling away from my partner, as I always do around this time in the relationship. I feel a sense of boredom and routine & I like to blame them and say that it’s over because my feelings fade away. But in this situation I don’t want them to again, Sadly I don’t how to stop it from happening. The anxiety covers up my emotions I think from the start I told myself that the relationship was never going to last when I met him. But over the last three years I had to do a lot of growing I’m hoping I can overcome this board thing because he’s the most wonderful man I have ever met. Thanks again Sheryl 🙂

  • P


    Great post as always! I agree love is not always a feeling it’s a decision. My religion teacher Ms. Frank would always say this and I never understood her, until now–smart lady! I think I get it now, and will continue to understand more as I experience life.

    I want to add something though that I think I read in your book, The Conscious Bride, or in the book Transitions by William Bridges. It was stated something like this (forgive me if I get this all jumbled up…) Love and the feeling of love is most possible when you, yourself are creative and learning new things. This to me was very eye opening because it takes the spot light off of the other person and it places it on yourself–forcing you to ask yourself “what am I doing to make myself feel happy, and love myself thus in turn open and willing to love my partner?”

    I’ve been monitoring my self since the beginning of January. For awhile there when my husband (we’ve only been married for 2 months, yay!) would come home from work I would gripe at him and get really agitated because he’d just want to relax and do nothing, while I had already been home for a couple of hours cooking and preparing dinner. So in January, he told me about this great article that basically stated exercise was the cure all. I am an anxious and stress-filled person in general with acne problems since I was 15 so I thought, okay, I’ll start making it more of a point to exercise. This has made a big difference, I come home, go for a 2 mile run or do a short zumba session on the x-box and it makes me feel great! I’m less stressed, less agitated when he comes home and it makes me feel great because I’m doing something for myself.

    I also started blogging on teaching English Language Learners, since I’m a teacher and all. Having things I do for myself like a project and exercise really help me love myself and open to loving my partner.

    Cheers to all of us on this life filled with transitions!


  • macy

    This article is perfect Sheryl 🙂 Perfect timing. Thank you!

  • Tina

    “Where being infatuated comes from emptiness, truly being in love comes from fullness.” Love this. Thank you. <3

  • Rae

    Part of the growing process for me has been being able to challenge the ways I am selfish in love. I have historically focused more on what I was getting or not getting or how my partner didn’t live up to my idea of how I thought he/we should be. I have realized that it wasn’t just about finding an emotionally available partner, but it is about becoming an emotionally available partner in return.

    What your work has really taught me Sheryl is that ESPECIALLY when I am feeling critical, closed off, walled up, anxious, doubtful, or otherwise disconnected, the loving actions I take can snap me out of it and bring me closer to the experience of real love I crave. Sometimes the loving action has to do with how I tend to my Self and other times it is what small kindness I can show my partner. It really does work.

  • T.l

    Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you so much for this post. I have just started a break with my boyfriend of three and a half months, after my anxiety about love picked away at the meaning of certain moments, and unravelled all experiences since the start of the relationship. I hurt him badly by comparing my emotions for him with a friend I fell in love with last summer, whom we are now both friends with. I would say ‘I could so easily say I loved him but I can’t say that to you easily, I don’t know why’. Over time this has damaged the relationship but I don’t know why I’m doing it! My wounded self tells me ‘you don’t love him enough, you’re just scared of hurting him’. But if I look back to this definition of past love that I am so sure of, I realise it was always felt for unavailable partners. Some in which there was no relationship at all. This relationship is fi

    So, now I have space without communication from him I am going to focus on myself and my studies, and fill myself up with joy whilst also reflecting on the past few months with a ‘happy’ outlook. I truly recognise this is a problem in myself, and thanks to your blog will be hoping and praying he comes back to me and we can start again, with me in a better frame of mind and a more mature outlook on the relationship.

    • It sounds like you’re approaching this time with a great deal of consciousness and responsibility. I’m sure it will prove fruitful for you.

      • T.l

        Thanks, Sheryl.

        The issue for me right now is working past the longing for an infatuation stage, as the relationship didn’t start with that. I was infatuated for about three months, a time in which no emotion was returned. I dropped this infatuation, then a few months later we got together, with that infatuation gone. It makes me sad to think I ‘missed out’ on an anxiety-free stage to the relationship, and I know my boyfriend wishes that he’d seen me in a romantic light sooner so that we could have both enjoyed that stage together. He has convinced me that even if anything romantic did happen between us at that time, that it wouldn’t have developed into what we have now. Though I doubt this obviously, as I know he falls easily, and in the past formed romantic attachments for girls who had once been casual.

        How can I try to move past this? I am reminding myself that the infatuation stage would have faded anyway and that he’s still the same person underneath, so really it is a blessing that I even felt this way for him in the past!

        • T.l

          I should add, because I am aware he is convincing himself of this ‘nothing would have developed’ view it becomes hard, because I have to cling to that notion to feel safe now! I just tell myself that we were both in different places mentally. Though the sadness is in knowing that he wants (admittedly for his ego/pride) to have felt ‘chased’ or adored, and I want to have felt that helplessness of infatuation. I know it all sounds silly, but it’s been a weird start to a relationship! I just wonder if anyone else here has gone through a similar thing.

  • Macy

    I am in a similar situation to you T. I. Except I never had the infatuation phase at all ( not even before the relationship began)…and I am in a relationship with my first boyfriend since I was 13 years old. It is hard because my anxiety picks at that fact and picks at the fact that maybe in the beginning I wasn’t with him for the right reasons and that I just stayed to make other people happy. But I try and tell myself that just because it started wrong, doesn’t mean that it didn’t turn out right in the end, that what we have now isn’t good.

  • Macy

    I meant: “it doesn’t mean that what we have now isn’t good”

  • Gerry

    For those of us who are young and in relationships (early 20’s), how do you know when you’ve simply “fallen out of love” and when you are just going through this transition? I am having having devastating anxiety over this sudden feeling that I no longer am happy in my relationship, when it came in the time where I thought we were the absolute happiest. The feeling was so painful that I started questioning every little thing that happened throughout the almost three years (including that the last week I had been feeling frustrated, and a little fight we had a month ago), and I got so nervous and anxious that I said I wanted a break, and slowed down contact almost completely, when everything before this suddon feeling was fine?

  • MJStegemann

    Thank you for posting this. I came across this at just the right time. Cheers and blessings.

  • There’s one thing that continues to come up when talking to my dad, and that is “You need to date more people, you can’t know what you want in life by just dating one or two.”

    Yes, I’ve only dated two guys. One guy for two months and another guy for nine months. I am happy with the guy who I am with. We’ve been together nine months and going strong. We have a lot in common and share the same values. We can talk about anything and everything and I don’t want to loose him.

    Is it true you can’t just date two to know who you want to be with? What do you guys think?

    • I don’t subscribe to that belief at all, Christy. In fact, what I’ve seen is that many people who have had multiple relationships endure multiple heartbreaks and it’s that much harder to open their hearts again. Our hearts are vulnerable and tender, and it’s not just early childhood experiences that build the walls but early love experiences as well. Celebrate that you’ve found someone wonderful and trust yourself over your dad.

  • I’ve enjoyed your wisdom and perspective quite a bit over the years Sheryl. This article continues to enlighten us all. Healthy love is what we should all aspire to indeed!
    Namaste <3

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