If youre in love with someone, surely that means loving them and loving them must be the same thing as being in love with them? Alas, love is a complicated affair.

Being in love is the easy part. Although it happens to you and you cant make it happen, all you really have to do is surrender. Its not a conscious act you cant force yourself to fall in love its almost accidental, thats why its called falling. So being in love is an adjective, its a state of being, like madness.

Falling in love consists merely in uncorking the imagination and bottling the common sense.

~ Helen Rowland

Being in love makes you stupid, giddy, silly and you dont care! Its like a dreamy, altered version of reality and most people would agree that it is pretty wonderful. It does something to your senses, all of them. In one way, you lose your senses but in another, everything seems brighter, sharper, more intense, better, sweeter and funnier. Life seems more full of promise and you cant help being more optimistic, more indulgent, softer, less cautious and yes, loving.

Nobody is perfect until you fall in love with them

Sorry to burst your bubble but its all chemical. This being in love bit is an evolutionary set up. Its natures wily little plan to get us breeding the next generation. A psychiatrist at the University of Pisa, Donatella Marazziti, discovered some interesting chemical changes in the brains of people newly in love. What she found was that they showed the same serotonin dysfunction as people with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).

This explains a lot like why you crave your love interest to the exclusion of almost everything else, why theres a significant shift of consciousness that is the certainty that our partner is the most extraordinary individual in the world and why people think that their particular relationship is so special and different from everybody elses. Marazziti calls it a sort of transitory madness which makes us willing to leave safety and hook up with a stranger and then invite them into our most intimate world of hopes, fears and dreams.

Along with decreases in serotonin, theres also an increase in adrenaline, which gives you the sweaty palms and the racing heart, and in dopamine. Dopamine is the principal player in the brains reward system and when it surges gives you the heady rush experienced from drugs like cocaine. This results in: increased energy, less need for sleep or food, focused attention and exquisite delight in smallest details of this novel relationship. So says Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who has been studying romantic love for 30 years.

Its all fun and games until somebody loses an eye

She explains why love is blind. Neural regions in the prefrontal cortex of the brain involved with decision making begin to deactivate or SHUT down when you are in love. She says love isnt really an emotion but a series of emotions from high to low. But it is basically a drive, emanating from primitive brain regions linked with wanting. We wish it was a decision. But often it just overtakes us.

According to Fisher, love is a bona fide addiction, as well as a universal craving. When its good (i.e. requited), its very, very good but when its bad (i.e. unrequited, or you are dumped or abandoned), its awful and can lead to depression, suicide and even murder.

When the chemicals wear off

The high intensity of romantic love cant last forever though or we would burn out. Generally speaking, it fizzles out after a year to three years. All those neurotransmitters normalize and the scales fall from your eyes. At this point, you may fall out of love completely, realizing that the object of your affection is just human after all. Otherwise, the altogether harder work of loving begins.

Of course when you are in love, loving comes naturally so its easy to confuse the two. Being in love is ultimately self-seeking behavior because your need for your partner is your need for your fix. Loving them after the euphoria has worn off is a whole different bag of popcorn.

Loving is something you do whilst being in love is something you are. Loving is a verb. Loving is a choice. Loving requires action, either doing things or refraining from doing other things. They say that a happy relationship needs two good forgivers. Sometimes loving can be the hardest thing to do because you have to be a grown up. You have to step out of your neediness and recognize that your partner cannot make you happy, just as you dont have the power to make them happy. You cant fill each other up thats codependence, but you can show support and compassion.

The dance of love

So loving is a bit of a dance where you give the other person the safe space to be who they really are without demanding that they be who you want them to be. Its allowing them to be happy without sacrificing your own happiness. Its give and take on both sides. Loving is not expecting the other person to fulfill all your needs. Its also having the courage to ask for the things they can give you without expecting them to read your mind.

Loving is not making assumptions. When your partner says or does something hurtful, loving them means you dont make it all about you. Loving is recognizing someones pain and imperfections and being ok with them, not trying to fix them or take responsibility for them. Loving is not taking yourself too seriously and remembering that tomorrow is another day and another chance to do things better and to learn how to live with someone else. Its tricky.

Some years ago I asked one of my mentors what it was like to love his wife. He answered that it was like being alone. This struck me as really odd at first but then I finally got it. What he meant was that there was such total and absolute acceptance in their relationship, it was as comfortable as being alone no judgment, no nagging, no criticism, and no expectations. They both knew that whatever they did, or didnt do, it would be met with equanimity. Whilst this seems like indifference at first, its more like heaven a place where you can be completely and utterly yourself and even more importantly, be able to count on it. It struck me as an amazing thing to aspire to.

Of course this only works if you accept yourself first. Loving someone really hinges on how much you love yourself so the relationship can consist of two wholes navigating the world together. And sometimes, the most loving thing you can do for both of you is to leave.