This could be the indefinable question – what is true love? How will we know if we’ve found it or not? What makes it different from other types of love? Is it even a concept that has a genuine existence other than a series of chemical connections in the brain to make us feel a certain way in order to further the evolution of humankind? Well, the idea of it has been around in every culture as far back as collective memory can be analysed and people can spend a lifetime seeking it out, so while it’s a question that near impossible to answer, it’s worthy of some exploration.
Some time ago, I attempted to put together some answers on the existence of true love and in doing so, asked a number of people their opinions on the matter. The results somewhat surprised me, even led me to question and change my own long-held and rather cynical views on the subject. A surprising number identified the notion of true love with that of love at first sight, even more equated it to the idea of a soulmate, whilst for others, it meant unconditional love, such as parents have for a child. Many even professed to have found it, and so for the purposes of this piece, I’m taking the angle of trying to determine what makes us decide that we’ve found true love and whether any common factors can be identified.
All of us at some point in our lives have experienced the overwhelming, all-consuming feeling of suddenly being completely and utterly head over heels in love with another person and if anything feels like it could be true love, then surely this must be it? It’s something completely irrational and impossible to quite put your finger on, but something about that person just affects you in a way that nobody else does. Interestingly, there are a number of ‘symptoms’ that everyone who admitted to experiencing or purported to have found true love identified with.
The first was a loss of appetite, with most saying that even when they were hungry, eating seemed to be almost impossible, especially when in the presence of the person they felt so strongly about. Knowing that food is subconsciously linked to emotion for a high number of people, this didn’t entirely surprise me, especially since I’ve experienced this myself. Some people can consume vast amounts of food when blissfully happy, others when down in the dumps; the ability to not seem to want it at all seems to be linked to extreme emotion – severe depression or at the other end of the scale, the state of bliss that we equate with finding true love.
Of course, we can explain this away analytically by saying that loss of appetite is nature’s way of ensuring that we subconsciously hijack our own bodies in order to look our best in a short space of time, making us appear more desirable to the object of our affection. But what of other common factors? Loss of appetite is more often than not accompanied by loss of sleep. This is far harder to explain away as having any real benefits that would help in attracting somebody – sleep deprivation makes you clumsy, unfocused and forgetful – hardly attractive traits when you’re tripping up the pavement and putting your shoes on the wrong feet in front of the person you’re most desperate to impress.
One interesting thing that everyone I spoke to about the subject said had happened to them was a sudden and unexpected disregard for their own preferences and choices in favour of pleasing the other person. One friend who is possibly the most uncompromising person I know inexplicably found herself attending football matches (and enjoying them!) after a lifetime of saying that nothing bored her more than sitting around watching any kind of sports. When asked why she changed her mind, she said that she simply didn’t mind what they did as a couple because just being around her new love made everything more exciting. Another friend suddenly found a new interest in painting World War Two figures and going all over the country to look at dioramas made by other World War obsessives – something she’d previously joked about as being ‘firmly in the realm of geekdom’. As the kind of girl who isn’t particularly interested in girly things myself (you’re far more likely to find me hitting strangers with foam weapons or test riding motorbikes for the sheer fun of it than the utter hell in a carrier bag that I think of as shopping) I’ve seen this happen more times than I can keep track of. But ultimately, the novelty of having a shared interest with a new love just because they happen to like something has a definite time limit before the fascination wears thin.
So, if the common ‘symptoms’ of finding true love are only temporary, how then, can we hope to explain what it actually is? We know that the initial attraction we experience that leads us to fall in love to such an extent that our normal behaviour patterns and even interests are affected stem from a series of hormones and chemical reactions that tell us that we’re physically most compatible with that person. However, once this wears off, there has to be something more with which to bridge the gap. Many have described knowing that real, true love is there when you know that you would gladly do anything to make that person happy and in return, the little things they do make you happy; when you can be selfless enough to care more for their needs than your own. The analogy that sums it up best for me is that of being in a relationship with your best friend. Initial attraction is a necessary part of finding love, but merely a temporary one. If you’ve gone through it, come out the other side and found that the connection formed is far deeper on many more levels than you could ever explain, then this might just possibly be true love.