Your Thoughts on Falling in Love
More than 5,700 of you took our survey on falling in love. Lots of you know what it feels like to be in love: 46% of our survey takers said they’re in love now or have been in the past. But an almost equal number (43%) said that, although they like someone, they’re just not sure it’s really love. And 11% said they’d never been in love (mostly because they haven’t met the right person yet).
So what makes it love? And when is it just lust?
Three main qualities go with being in love: attraction, closeness, and commitment. Relationships can be about any or all of these.
Attraction is the “chemistry” part of love. It’s all about the physical — even sexual — interest that two people have in each other. Relationships that are based on attraction alone are usually more about fun and infatuation than real love.
Guys: Stereotypes Aren’t Always True
Conventional wisdom says that, for guys in their early teens, relationships are mainly about physical attraction. That explains why some guys responded like Trent, 13, who told us the things he likes about his girlfriend are “her hair and body.” Experts say that it’s not until guys reach their later teens that they rate a person’s inner qualities as most important.
Our survey showed that this “conventional wisdom” doesn’t mean all guys fall into this mold. First, we saw that it’s not just younger guys who go mainly for the way someone looks or their physical attributes: We had a few older guys say they were most interested in looks. And most of the 13-year-old guys in our survey say they appreciate a person’s inner qualities, like kindness and intelligence.
For example, Marley, 13, said the reason he loves his GF is a combination of her inner and outer qualities: “She’s deep and has real emotions, she acts herself and doesn’t act fake,” he told us. “I also love her eyes. I get lost in them.”
Josh, 14, told us the things he loves about his girlfriend are, “Her attitude, her eyes, her smile and the way it lights up the world. Regardless of what people say about her, she’s beautiful in my eyes.”
Girls: Personality, Please!
As with guys, looks can also catch a girl’s attention. But when it comes to being attracted to someone, girls typically emphasize the importance of character.
Many girls in our survey felt like Jovin, 17, who told us, “The first impression is his look.” But after that, she says other things become more important, like “his personality and style, kindness and intelligence.”
Chey, 13 said, “I look mainly for personality. If he’s really nice then I might end up having a crush on him. But if he’s a jerk then I probably won’t like him.”
Kelsey, 16 said she’s attracted to a guy who is “cute, smart, honest, funny, and treats me great.”
Priscilla, 13, said, “They have to be honest, respectful, down-to-earth, won’t judge me, and love me for who I am. I hate the guys that just want to ‘hit it and quit it’ or want a girl with all the looks and clothes even though she might not be the nicest person.”
The Thrills of a New Relationship
Both guys and girls noticed that the excitement and newness of the infatuation stage is fun and thrilling. Like Brittany, 15, who told us, “When he kissed me it sent butterflies through my body like crazy.” But those butterflies often come with sweaty palms or a racing heart. Robbie, 13, confessed, “I blushed when I saw her. I didn’t know what to say.”
Sometimes a new relationship starts with attraction. A new couple might have fun together and enjoy the process of getting to know each other better. Some relationships don’t last beyond that phase, but other relationships deepen into love.
After a while, many people want to feel more connected to the person they’re with. Like Lexie, 13, who said, “When you have a crush you are afraid to talk to them and you have butterflies, and when you are in love you can talk about anything with them and feel comfortable.”
Closeness is the bond that a couple develops when they feel comfortable enough to share thoughts and feelings that they don’t share with anyone else. The connection between them deepens to include qualities like trust, respect, and honesty.
More Than a Crush
Caroline, 15, told us when she knew her relationship had grown into more than just a crush: “A crush is totally different than love because a crush is the feeling that you really like them because they’re cute. But love is like to trust, care, worry, and know each other better than anyone else. I’m totally in love with my boyfriend.”
Anthony, 16, said, “She gets me like no other person or any other relationship I’ve ever had. We just have this amazing connection between each other, we’re able to talk about whatever with each other.”
Davia, 17, told us “A crush is filled with infatuation. But you know it’s love when he sticks by your side when you get into a car accident, or even when your hair isn’t done, or when your clothes don’t match.”
Sharing Similarities, Respecting Differences
Most of the time we grow close to people who have the same values and beliefs, or people who have qualities that we admire. This is something that experts call consensual validation. It means that we seek out people who mirror who we are as a way of reaffirming our values, beliefs, actions, and opinions.
The deeper bonds that are part of feeling really close to another person go beyond simply liking the same music and TV shows, supporting the same sports team, or other superficial things. True closeness is about sharing similar beliefs — for example, following the same religion. It also means having the same principles — like valuing honesty or showing respect.
Misbah, 13, told us how important it is to share the same religion as her boyfriend: “Well, he’s a Muslim, so yah! He’s really close to the religion and he’s HOT at the same time!!! He has respect for the female race, for his family, and ME.”
Growing close also means seeing past things that might seem different on the surface. Musaka, 17, told us about his experience overcoming superficial differences: “It was this girl at my school. I really felt something was similar between me and her. I know I’m black and she is white, but we are more similar than I thought. And now I really love her.”
It takes time to learn about each other and discover the deeper connections. Amanda, 17, said, “We had so many things in common and we didn’t know about them until we started to hang out.”
But closeness is not all about what you have in common. Ironically, when two people are really close, they are better equipped to deal with the things they don’t agree on.
Tyesha, 16, told us she and her boyfriend understand that every person is unique, that no two people are completely alike. “He respects all my decisions and choices that I make,” she said. “We have our opinions about things.”
Pippa, 15, said, “We talk about anything and he doesn’t get mad if we disagree on something. If something bugs him he tells me and doesn’t try to play it off. It’s the same on my side. I tell him what I think and we work it out.”
Closeness in a romance is like closeness between best friends — but with the added spark of physical attraction. Lots of you told us you’d either fallen in love with a friend, or the person you fell in love with became your best friend. Dez, 15, told us that being in love was “like having a best friend as a boyfriend.”
Rebecca, 17, told us how she fell in love with a guy who was her best friend: “After I broke up with one guy I was having a really hard time.” She says that her guy friend “offered an ear to listen with a shoulder to cry. In my heart I just knew he was the ‘one.’ It’s almost been a year now.”
Matthew, 15, said, “My ex-girlfriend and I were in love. Today she is one of my best friends and we always are there looking out for each other. We love each other and even though we aren’t together now we still have deep feelings for each other.”
Breakups are painful — especially if you’re new to feeling in love. Niki, 13, said, “We connected in a special way and when we broke up it felt like there was an elephant sitting on my chest.”
Some of you are realistic. You realize that people change so much in their teens that love can end — so you’ll appreciate the uniqueness of every relationship while it lasts. “We have been going out for almost 7 months, and I just came to a realization that I love him,” Hannah, 16, told us. “I am not sure if I am going to spend the rest of my life with him, but I can see us being together for a whole lot longer than I had first ever intended or imagined.”
Couples who connect often choose to deepen their relationships through commitment.
Commitment is loyalty. Together you’ve made a decision to stick with each other through the ups and downs that are part of any relationship. Lots of you mentioned the things that you see as important when a relationship reaches this stage: honesty, fidelity, trust.
Jayde, 13, said she looks for, “Personality, honesty. Someone who won’t be looking around or cheating, etc.”
William, 18, told us that his girlfriend “was able to be by my side, even in my worst condition.”
Kaitlyn, 15, said, “We’re always there for one another and have always kept our promises. For Christmas he gave me a promise ring, and that’s a serious deal. “
Learning From the Good (and the Bad)
Perhaps you’re dating as a way to fit in with the social scene, like Darian, 13, who is, “happy because I am not single.” Or maybe your relationship is mostly about fun and flirtation, like Sierra, 13, who told us, “I just want to be around him all the time, you know, just to hang out — we love basketball games!”
Or perhaps you’re in a serious relationship, like Thomas, 16, who says, “I love feeling like someone loves me (who’s not my parents) and will always be there.”
Whatever you’re looking for right now, relationships are a great way to learn about love, and what you may want in the future.
Our relationships — current and past — become part of who we are. Whether they last for weeks, years, or forever, they provide us with memories, mostly happy ones. Breanna, 17, told us, “I know he loves me for who I am. He is my first love, and I will always have a special place in my heart for him.”
Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD