Q:When does “like” become “love,” and how do you know when the love thing happens? I’ve been with someone for six months. We connect really well. I have fun with him. I can share things with him, even bad things, and I know he will listen. We both have lousy families, so we have that in common. His mom is in rehab for the third time. My dad just got out. Growing up in families where a parent is addicted isn’t easy, but that’s not what drew us to one another. We bonded over music at first. Neither of us has said the “I love you” thing, but we’ve talked about it. We both want to really mean it when we say it to someone for the first time. So … my original question. I know we like each other. How do we know when we love each other? We’ve both heard adults in our lives say “I love you” to people and then abandon or hurt them. He knows I’m writing you. We loved your sex ed classes. Can you help?
Mary Jo’s response: Your courage humbles me. Growing up with addiction is certainly not easy. You’re a survivor, and so is your partner.
Love is tough to quantify. As an emotion – a deep feeling – it’s hard to define. I believe if a person feels they are “in love,” then they are. No other person can tell you how you will feel if your relationship has moved from like to love. The challenge is in finding out if your love is mature or immature. Here are some hints:
• Mature love can be other-directed. In a mature, loving relationship, one person may need support, and the other person will be there. For example, you may need help preparing for an exam. At the same time, your partner may be having stress at work. In a mature relationship, you would both communicate your needs and sort out how to support one another. In an immature relationship, one person would be angry for not receiving attention in a time of need.
• Mature love nurtures. Two people who are in a mature love relationship will support each other’s dreams.
• Mature love doesn’t try to change a partner. Too often, we think we can change a person because we love them. Untrue. Two people may grow and evolve together, but a love relationship based on trying to “fix” a partner isn’t good for anyone.
I applaud your openness and the way you and your partner communicate. I’m especially pleased by your hesitancy to cheapen the words “I love you” by insincerity.
Here are my thoughts:
• Do you think of the loved one often? Do you wonder what the loved one needs or how the loved one would react to something you encounter? Or, is your connection an obsession, where you feel you must always know what the loved one is doing (This works both ways).
• Do you imagine this person as part of your future? Can you picture growing old with this person?
• Do you value each other’s opinions and respect them? Are you able to disagree with dignity? How do you bounce back as a couple after a disagreement?
• Do you seek out this person’s support or advice when facing a big decision? Is your loved one the first person with whom you want to share something wonderful, or something bad?
• Are you a better person when you’re with your loved one? Is your partner? Do you bring out the best in each other?
• Do you see your loved one’s flaws, but are OK with them? Is your partner able to accept your shortcomings? People and relationships are perfect in Disney movies, not in real life.
Your shared history of challenging families does connect you; I’m glad it is not your only bond. I hope to start an Alateen group at our Common Ground Teen Center in January. I’ll keep you informed. I wish you both a wonderful life.
Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email at email@example.com.