We can't blame ourselves for feeling utterly confused when it comes to figuring out the difference between being in love and loving a person. Based on what we see in popular culture, including songs and movies, "in love" is the exciting, passionate stage of a relationship, the one that makes you want to rip off your partner's clothing and make beautiful babies together.
And then there's plain old love. You love your mother. You love yourself (we hope). Love means never having to say you're sorry (ugh, hate that quote) because you've been in a relationship with your partner for 100 years and you're more willing to put up with his nonsense at this point in your life. Love means doing someone's laundry because you don't have a choice. Being "in love," on the other hand, means folding every sock that person owns with the greatest of care and then rolling around on top of those socks because you just had to take each other right there in the laundry room.
"In love" eventually sinks to "love" or "hate" and that you either learn to deal with the fact that you don't want to have sex three times a day or you get a divorce.
Nothing could be sadder — or less true.
Relationship coach and author Adrienne Gusoff says most people have it all wrong when it comes to love.
"'In love' is something you feel within yourself," Gusoff said. "It's an emotion. But 'to love' or 'to be loving' is a verb, an action, a set of behaviors, for example, a willingness to accept people as they are and see the humanity in them, even if, at times, you don't necessarily 'like' them."
One aspect of being "in love" is totally what we think it is, according to Gusoff: It only lasts as long as our feelings last. But that's because it never was really about the other person at all — it's about how that person makes us feel.
"Love is active and 'in love' is passive," Gusoff said. "There are plenty of people who consider themselves 'in love' but do not behave in a loving way. And, of course, one can exhibit loving behavior even to complete strangers or to the world in general."
Once our insides stop shaking like Jell-O every time our new partner comes around, and once we cease expecting them to constantly give us what we need and fulfill our expectations in exchange for our 'love,' that's when we can start actively loving them, Gusoff said.
It's an easy distinction to make: If we're only interested in a person when he is acting in ways that we deem "romantic" or that fulfill some idea we have about perfect relationships, chances are we're "in love." Once we forget about ourselves and put that person's needs ahead of ours at necessary times (which isn't to suggest it is healthy to do this all of the time), we are actively loving.
Remember all that stuff you heard growing up about how "the greatest love of all is inside of you" (thanks, Whitney Houston)? Self-love is also the first absolutely essential component of any other loving relationship.
"It is not the obligation of others to fulfill our dreams, expectations and fantasies," Gusoff said. "It is our responsibility to keep our expectations in line with reality so we are not disappointed. It's possible that, because of irreconcilable differences, the relationship may not survive. In this case, if you have truly loved, the love will still survive. This is why it's necessary to love oneself before one can find true love."
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