Falling in love can be like a real-life fairy tale. From the sparks you feel when you’re with that special someone to the butterflies you get when they look at you, it’s truly exhilarating. However, recognizing those signs when they first come can be kind of tricky. For instance, is your closest colleague just a good friend, or do you treat them like your significant other without even realizing it? Do you see your BFF as a sibling, or have you secretly developed romantic feelings for them? And if you’re in a relationship, are you really in love with your partner, or are you just infatuated with a version of them that you created in your head?
Regardless of your situation, it’s safe to say that figuring out your feelings can be confusing AF. But thankfully, we’ve got science to help us make sense of our emotions when it comes to romance. Check out these scientifically proven signs that you’re definitely falling in love with someone.
16. You feel like you’re high when you’re with them
It might sound crazy, but Kesha was on to something when she sang “Your Love Is My Drug.” Falling in love gives you that awesome rush that can be both exciting and scary, and before you know it, you’re way too hooked to quit. Ever wondered why that was? Well, according to Lucy Brown, a clinical neurology and brain anatomy specialist, our brain cells release larger amounts of a hormone called dopamine when we feel love, which helps regulate our movement and emotional responses. What’s crazier, though, is that a study found similarities in brain activity between people who were in love and those who had used cocaine. …WHOA.
15. You can’t stop staring at them
Did you know that most of the neurons in our brain is used for our vision? That means we rely a lot on our eyes to create love connections in the brain, so it’s no surprise why we’d choose to gaze at that special someone for no particular reason. But here’s another cool fact worth noting: Studies have shown that when people lock eyes with someone (even a stranger!) for long periods of time, they can develop romantic feelings. Pretty crazy, right?
14…And looking at them actually gives you physical pleasure
In one study by the Journal of Neurophysiology, researchers examined the brain activity of 17 people while they looked at random pictures of their significant other. And according to their findings, it activated the striatum (a region of the brain that’s usually called the “pleasure center”) and the insula (a region that helps us process information to create emotional context). We should probably note that the subjects claimed to be “intensely in love,” so if you think you’ve fallen hard for someone, you might find that a random selfie of them can instantly boost your mood.
13. Your pupils dilate when you look at them
It’s true – they don’t just dilate in the dark. Studies have shown that our pupils naturally expand when we get really excited about someone (and that could definitely include just looking at them). As for why this happens, it turns out that when we get aroused, our pupils dilate to take in more of what we’re seeing. So if you notice that your crush’s pupils look bigger than usual when you make eye contact, they just might be falling for you, too.
12. Painful experiences aren’t as painful anymore
In 2010, researchers from Stanford University discovered an interesting link between love and pain. They gathered 15 college students who claimed to be deeply in love and then tracked their responses to pain under three conditions. The first involved looking at a picture of their significant other, the second involved looking at a picture of an acquaintance, and the third, completing a challenge as a distraction. It turned out that looking at a picture of a loved one reduced moderate pain by 40 percent while severe pain was lowered by 10 to 15 percent. So before you get your next bikini wax, you might wanna consider carrying a pic of your S.O. or crush… Just sayin’.
11. You think about them almost all the time
You might think it’s weird that most of your thoughts revolve around this person, but if it’s any consolation, it’s not just you. According to Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University and author of Anatomy of Love, many people who are in love spend over 85 percent of their average day thinking about that special someone. And when this happens, your brain releases a neurochemical called “phenylethylamine” (also known as the “love chemical” or the “love drug”). It actually causes you to become even more infatuated with the person.
10. Making physical contact with them helps calm your nerves
Believe it or not, holding someone’s hand when you’re under a lot of stress can help calm you down. And even better, the more you love that person or connect with them emotionally, the greater the effect.
Neuroscientists from the University of Wisconsin and the University of Virginia studied 16 married couples. They looked at the brain activity of the wives, who were told that they’d be getting a mild electric shock. It was clear that they were scared, but as soon as they held their husbands’ hands, they were way less stressed. Dr. James A. Coan, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, explained: “The effect of this simple gesture of social support is that the brain and body don’t have to work as hard, they’re less stressed in response to a threat.”
9. You feel more stressed out
Several studies have proven that when we’re falling in love, our cortisol (or the “stress” hormone) levels are way higher than usual. And when cortisol levels are high, our serotonin (aka the mood stabilizer) levels drop. So if you’ve been freaking out about future hopes and what-ifs, or if you’re simply stressing out because it’s all kind of new and overwhelming, you can blame that on the cortisol. We know, it totally sucks.
8. You have more mood swings
In addition to low serotonin, the attraction you feel also causes increased dopamine levels. This can make you feel like you’re walking on sunshine in one moment (while everything is going well) and wallowing in sadness the next (when things aren’t so great).
In the earlier stages of romantic relationships, people tend to put a lot more focus on their potential partner because they want things to be perfect. So since their attitude and behavior are usually directly influenced by that relationship, they’re more prone to mood swings.
7. You have a strong emotional connection with them
If you and this person have made it through thick and thin or you’ve managed to overcome a huge hurdle together, that not only strengthens your bond but it also intensifies your feelings. Research has shown that experiences like this (where the reward is delayed) leads to an increase in dopamine, which helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Of course, it’s also possible to have this kind of connection with people you’re not into romantically. But if you are in the process of trying to figure out your romantic feelings, then this might be a good place to start.
6. You’re trying new things
This should come as no surprise, but in new relationships, both parties are usually open to trying new things that their partner enjoys. A study even found that people had a wider variety of interests and personality traits after they started their romantic relationships. So if you find yourself willingly tagging along for tons of activities that you wouldn’t normally engage in or even getting a little more ~creative~ in the bedroom, then it looks like cupid’s arrow found its target.
5. You’re not at easily grossed out
Have you caught this person picking their nose without freaking out about it? Have you seen them laugh so hard that snot flew out of their nose but laughed anyway? Have you ever comforted them while they puked in a toilet after a wild night out?
Again, these are quite typical of a BFF, but this is something you should mull over if you think you have feelings for someone. A study by the University of Groningen actually revealed that feelings of sexual attraction can override the feeling of being grossed out. So if you’ve been super lenient with the gross habits, it could be a sign you’re in love.
4. Your heart-rate synchronizes with theirs
Emilio Ferrer, a UC Davis psychology professor, discovered that people in a relationship can “share experiences at a physiological level.” He worked with 32 couples and had them connected to monitors to measure their heart rates. They were seated a few feet away from each other and they couldn’t talk or make physical contact. And by the end of the study, he saw that the couples got their heart rate in sync and that they breathed at the same intervals. Isn’t that cool?
Now, since we don’t all walk around sporting stethoscopes like TV doctors, it’s tough to tell if or when this even happens. But it’s safe to say that if you feel a deep enough connection and you enjoy being perfectly in sync when you do things together, it could also be a sign that you’re falling in love.
3. You go out of your way to keep them happy
One of the biggest signs you’re in love is when the happiness of that person becomes a bigger priority. Whether that means rearranging your schedule to spend some more time with them or staying up extra late to keep them company, even though you’ve got an early morning ahead. This is what researchers refer to as “compassionate love,” where you practice empathy, offer support, and go out of your way to make that person happier. This actually increases satisfaction and can lead to a long-lasting, healthy relationship.
2. You love their quirks
Well hey, it’s what makes them unique! A study actually found that someone’s quirks, rather than their physical appearance, can make a person fall deeper in love with them. So if you find yourself smiling at the same weird habits that used to annoy you or turn you off before, you are totally lovestoned.
1. You feel like you’ve lost control
In her book Love and Limerence, Psychologist Dorothy Tennov surveyed over 400 people about romantic love. And what she found was that most of them felt helplessness because their feelings were involuntary and their obsession felt too irrational. “Obsession” might be too strong of a word in this case. But it still goes to show that we can’t always control how we’re feeling. Falling in love can be quite messy. It can be overwhelming and confusing and weird AF. But we promise this doesn’t mean that you’re losing your mind. You’re just falling for someone!