Dear Thomas,
How do you know if you're in love instead of just loving another person? How do couples know when they want to get married and spend the rest of their lives together?

Dear Uncertain,
Being in love is an altered state. Suddenly your life is focused on another person and you can't bear being separated from him or her. You are in a bubble of fantasy, feeling overcome and giddy. Love for another person, in contrast, is closer to appreciation and affection.

Love is fairly reasonable, while being in love is more like a prolonged seizure, not literally sick or crazy, but one of those ordinary, positive ecstasies that take you out of ordinary life and introduce you to something new.

Some people think that being in love is an illusion and that it only leads to catastrophe because you can't make a good decision from that place. But I think that being in love is one of the great joys of life. It brings people together and gives them the kick they need to get over obstacles in their developing relationship. Yes, you can make bad decisions because of love's blindness, but you can also make good ones. We all need an extra jolt of passion to get over our inhibitions and move a step further into what life has to offer.

It's helpful to know the difference between loving someone and "being in love," and it helps to do both in a relationship.

  • If you can't stop thinking about the other person, you're probably in love or getting close to it.
  • If you can imagine a family, work, and life together, you may be moving toward a steady love of the more meaningful kind.
  • When you're dating, you have to be patient and make your decisions during moments of clarity. Usually the blindness lasts only for a certain period, and then gradually it is replaced by the realities of making life decisions and getting along with the person on an everyday basis. It's possible to nurture both kinds of love in a relationship, and often it's deeply satisfying, though I would say not necessary, always to feel at least a little in love.

    Couples sometimes worry that they are losing the love that brought them together, but love changes tone and color all the time. People make a mistake in thinking of love as a constant, unchanging emotion. What may feel like loss of love may be its ripening. Being in love can transform into a deeper, steadier desire to be together and share a life. But, as everyone knows, being in love doesn't always turn into a lasting relationship. That's all right, too, because each time we love and separate, we are initiated into love's ways, provided we allow ourselves to feel our emotions and talk about our experiences honestly with friends and family.

    To assess whether you and the person you're in love with are ready for a serious relationship, you can ask yourself some key questions: Has your relationship been tested by differences of taste and opinion? Can you talk seriously and openly to each other? Can you imagine enjoying raising children together, sharing a life, and appreciating your differences? The pleasant potion on Cupid's arrow works instantly, but the working out of a relationship takes years.

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