Everybody knows what love feels like. Surely!
I used to think that…
Until I went on my own journey of discovering that what I thought was love wasn’t really love at all.
Like most people, I’d picked up my views on love from songs I’d heard on the radio, shows I’d seen on TV, married couples I knew, my family and cultural beliefs.
It wasn’t until I did a deep dive into the research on love—what love looks like to psychologists, therapists, social workers, anthropologists—that I realized that there was a huge difference between what love was supposed to feel like…
And what it felt like for me.
It turned out that the “love” I’d gotten for most of my life didn’t seem to fit what these researchers were talking about.
What they were talking about seemed too good to be true. I’d never seen anything like that.
And I’m going to take a guess that some of you might be in the same shoes.
This Isn’t Love
I often hear from women who are in really difficult relationships. Their boyfriends are angry. These women have gotten used to being accused of all kinds of things and told they’re all kinds of things. They just want it to stop.
But they keep tolerating his behavior, because part of them thinks that maybe they deserve it. They know they’re not perfect. They do bad things, too. They accept that he has the right to criticize them.
And I understand that, because I spent much of my childhood feeling that way. Adults being angry, being yelled at, feeling like I was a bad person.
So when I got into relationships as an adult, where my partner got mad at me and yelled at me and said horrible things, well, that’s just what happens when two people love each other. Isn’t it?
This Is Love
Love doesn’t feel like getting yelled at and being told you’re a bad person.
Love feels like this extraordinarily generous thing.
It’s better than you think you deserve. It’s unbelievable, really.
It’s an unconditional gift that doesn’t rely on you being perfect, never making mistakes, and always measuring up. You get it for life, and it can’t be revoked.
Love is a much better deal than the deals most guys offer you, so in this article I want to show you what real love feels like.
By “real love,” I mean the kind of love that’s there for a lifetime.
Most romantic love fizzles out. If we want to see real love, we have to look at those relationships in our lives that have endured.
And sometimes we’ll see that our friends, family, even our pets have taught us more about what it means to be loved much better than the men in our lives.
Here are 5 signs it’s real love…
Sign #1. It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
Two of my greatest teachers about love were my grandmothers.
My first grandmother taught me about love when I was a little girl. I would go over to her house, and she’d let me play with her beautiful delicate things: little figurines made of glass, china teacups.
Because I was little, I would inevitably break something. I would cry and cry and cry, because I ruined it. And she would say, “That’s okay!” She promised to glue the pieces back together, and it would be just fine.
But that wasn’t enough to stop me from crying, because I was ashamed of myself. Here I’d broken this beautiful thing, even though I’d been so careful.
She would tell me that she always used to break things as a girl, too. Her family nicknamed her “Messy Bessie,” because she always spilled things and dropped things and broke things.
Here I was, a little girl who felt like I couldn’t do anything right, and here was my strong grandmother, saying that she’d been a little girl just like me.
Her love taught me that I could make mistakes—horrible, irrevocable mistakes like breaking something beautiful—and it was okay.
In love things get broken, and they can always be glued back together.
Sign #2. Love Doesn’t Keep a Balance Sheet
My second grandmother taught me that love doesn’t keep score.
When you love someone, you delight in seeing them happy, even if there’s nothing in it for you. You take pleasure in their pleasure.
In my twenties, I didn’t understand this. I’d been taught growing up that everything was quid pro quo. If someone did something nice for you, that created a debt, and you had to do something nice to pay them back. You ended up not wanting anyone to do anything for you.
So when my grandmother was generous to me—and she was SO generous, she would put homegrown roses by my bedside, she would get up early to pick me raspberries for breakfast—I felt uncomfortable that she was doing all this nice stuff for me when I hadn’t done anything to deserve it.
It took me years to understand that it pleased her to please others.
She loved feeding people, because she delighted in seeing them enjoying themselves. She never would have even thought of expecting something in return. She did what she did because she wanted to.
Sign #3. Love Doesn’t Punish You for Changing
The third thing I learned about love was from my best friend, who I’ve known for decades.
We’ve been through so much together and individually. She has changed, and I have changed, and we’re very different people to who we were.
But our friendship has remained strong, because it doesn’t require us to stay the same. No matter how much I change, she’ll still be my friend. No matter how much she changes, she’ll still be my friend. We don’t judge each other for changing; we just make room.
I grew up in an environment where people were judging people all the time. There were good people and bad people, and you didn’t want to end up on the bad side. As a result, there was only one narrow way to be, and if you stepped out of line or changed too much, you weren’t welcome back.
So it was incredible to me to find out that love doesn’t judge.
Love is spacious. There’s lots of wiggle room to try on different ways of being. Love can always accommodate.
As a parent now, I know this to be true. No matter how much my child changes, no matter how different she becomes, my love will reshape itself to fit her.
Sign #4. Love Apologizes Every Time It Hurts
The fourth thing I’ve learned about love is from my daughter.
We get really mad at each other sometimes, and then we apologize as soon as we’re capable. Every time, like clockwork.
It’s the first relationship I’ve ever had where both of us try really hard to be good and kind and respectful to each other at all times.
It’s not easy. Because we’re two people living together—and mother and daughter to boot—we frustrate each other sometimes. We say the wrong things, and we get mad.
But what both of us can count on is that, as soon as we calm down, there will be an apology. We know when we’ve said something hurtful, and we want to make it right again.
An apology can’t take away the hurt, and it can’t erase the fact that we shouldn’t have said those things in the first place, but it can get those feelings out into the open.
Acknowledging that you’ve hurt someone is important. Adults have to do it just as much or more than children, because our anger is bigger and our words cut deeper.
Sign #5. Love Feels Safe
The final thing I learned about love comes from author and life coach Martha Beck.
She wrote the most beautiful description of feeling loved I’ve ever read.
She had taken her daughter Katie to watch fireworks from the top of a steep hill. They lay on the roof of their van and watched the showers of light explode on the valley below.
Afterwards, they lay there in the dark and the quiet, just soaking in the experience, and her daughter Katie said, “Fireworks make me feel like I’m home.”
She explained, “I mean, I feel like I’m home, and I’m safe, and it’s okay to go to sleep.”
When I read that, I was like wow!
Have you ever felt that way with someone?
Like you’re home, you’re safe, and it’s okay to go to sleep?
That is what real love feels like. It feels safe.
It welcomes you and embraces you and feels familiar and happy.
You can let down your guard and drift off to sleep, knowing all will be well.
Very few relationships feel like that.
But what I hope for you is that you hold out for those that do.
Sometimes, if we can’t find it in our romantic partners, we have to find it in each other.
The love you give matters. Even if the people in your life never say so, they feel the way you love them, and it reminds them they deserve a love that good.