True love is not something that happens immediately. I don’t agree with the old adage that true love takes work, but I do believe that it requires construction. Your relationship starts out with a strong foundation of attraction, respect, and an emotional and intellectual spark. As you go along, you add walls, floors, windows, and paint. True love feels like a house that will contain both of you, a base where all of your material and physical needs can be met.
True love is often mistaken as that jolt in your stomach, that flutter in your gut that signals first attraction. While butterflies are definitely titillating and fun, that anxious feeling associated with a new crush or when you are first falling for someone isn’t really true love. It’s infatuation — which can lead to true love, if you are both are willing to build something together. If your relationship doesn’t get past the point of infatuation, though, your feelings are real, but they might not be the same as true love.
Here’s what true love actually feels like.
True love cannot exist without safety. A relationship that puts you in a precarious place — whether that is emotionally or physically — cannot be true love, because true love implies that your needs are being met. In order to achieve that, true love starts with a union with yourself. In this union, you are able to recognize what you need to feel secure, how to ask for it, and to recognize when it isn’t being received.
In a truly loving relationship, you and your partner will respect one another’s boundaries because you understand that is what you both need in order to feel safe. You won’t ask one another to compromise those boundaries, because you know that would mean asking someone to compromise their safety or health for you. True love feels like knowing you are protected within the shared space of your relationship, emotionally, physically, and mentally.
True love feels like knowing that your partner will make space to sit and listen and hear you. You don’t ever feel like you have to wave to get your partner’s attention. If you have something that you need to work out together, they are able to sit with you, hear you out, and work constructively on the information you provide. They enjoy seeing you as much as you enjoy seeing them. True love feels like looking at the other, and knowing that they are really looking back at you, not a projection or the person they think you should be.
Recognition sometimes wavers within the confines of a relationship. Work, school, and your social life can sometimes get in the way of being able to truly see one another. Even when your gaze might be cluttered with outside distractions, you are able to return to one another and see one another again. True love feels like being able to rise toward one another, again and again, even if you need to momentarily fall back to tend to all the other things that life demands of you.
True love feels like security and stability. You don’t worry about breaking up or your partner leaving you abruptly. When they go out of town, you might miss them, but you are also happy for them, because you want them to travel and have new experiences. Your love has balance and no sense of suspicion or possession. You don’t worry about them hanging out with their friends. If you ever feel jealous, you are able to talk about it. You don’t feel like you are walking around on eggshells or like you’re going to move out after every single fight.
Stability also means that you are both able to meet one another’s material needs. If one of you is hungry and the other one has groceries, then they’re happy to feed you. In return, you’ll offer to make their bed in the morning or provide emotional care. These tasks are not completed with the expectation of receiving anything, because you both get something out of giving to one another. There’s balance in how much you tend to one another, and you find equity in the ways in which you express your love, tenderness, and care.
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