How Do we Know if we Love Someone?

Via John Kim
on May 13, 2014
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I used to believe that love was a light switch: Something flicks on.

We get an overwhelming sensation.

It hits us like a bag of bricks. Or a strong arrow.

When we know, we know. Right?

Not so much. After 38 years and an expired marriage, I don’t see love that way anymore. I’ve placed Cupid right next to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Love is a series of choices. The first choice is based on many many factors, including chemistry, principles, logic, humor, intelligence, body type, where we are in our lives, what we want/need…

The list goes on and on and the weight of each factor varies depending on the individual. Based on these factors, we either choose to begin the process to love or not. If we decide to enter this process, the action of loving can bring “light switch” moments. The way he looks at us. How hard she makes us laugh. The notes he hides in our purse. The way she makes us feel when we don’t feel anything.

But like an airplane flight, there is turbulence. The fights. The disagreements. The little things that bother us. His socks. Her shopping. We start wondering if we’ve made the right choice.

Once we are in doubt, we have to make another choice: to continue to fly with this person or jump out of the plane. This choice is based on a thousand other factors, again depending on the individual and where they are in their journey.

If we decide to jump, the scary free fall will either make us stronger (grow) or miserable (depressed). But sooner or later, we’ll find ourself back at the airport waiting to board another plane. Then we hit turbulence. Or maybe there is no turbulence. Maybe we’ve changed our mind about the destination. Either way, another choice: Fly or jump?

Love is making a choice every single day, to either love or not love. That’s it.

It’s that simple. Either to continue the process or not. We fall in and out of love. Even in relationships, especially in relationships. This doesn’t mean we don’t love the person. It means we are left with a choice. There is a difference between feeling love for someone (caring about a person) and loving someone (choosing to love that person). We may have love for someone forever, but that doesn’t mean we choose to love that person forever. The choice to love is not a feeling; it is an action.

That is why it is so difficult. It requires us to do something, and I’m not just talking about buying flowers. It might mean putting our wants aside. Also, like chemistry, the ability to love is not a constant: It is a variable. It fluctuates, depending on where we’re at in our life and what we’re struggling with.

Sometimes it is easy to love. Sometimes it is extremely difficult. But at the end of the day, it’s always a choice.

Although love varies, it also deepens. This means the longer we stay on that flight and embark on the journey together, the more fruit the process will bear. Our investment pays off. Our choices become easier. We not only become stronger as a couple, but also as individuals, assuming the love process is healthy—which means we are both doing work. The choice to love creates opportunity to hit notes in life that we could never hit alone, and this is what makes our choice worth it.

So, how do you know if it’s love? That is not the question to ask. The question is: Do you choose to love this person or not? Right now. Not tomorrow. Today. Make a choice. Yes or no. If the answer is yes, love as hard as you can. Love with everything you’ve got (your capacity right now at this point in your life). If the answer is no, promise me one thing.

Let the fall make you stronger.



What is Love? {Video}

To the Reticent Lover.

Bonus! Before you ask if you’re in love, ask if you’re happy with yourself:

Double bonus! Once you know, how to make it last:


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About John Kim

John Kim is a licensed marriage family therapist. In 2010, he started a blog. Partly to document his own journey but also to create a dialogue that may help others. Coaching people online was not his intent but by the end of that year, he had two clients.  By the end of the second year, he had coached over 100 people from all over the globe, treating individuals, couples and facilitating groups: All from his computer. Due to the overwhelming response, he quit his 9 to 5 and opened a “public” practice. He defines his practice as “public” because he does everything online, including individual sessions, couples, and group work using Google Hangouts.

Today, his website is not just a blog/practice, it’s a therapeutic community. It’s a place for you to rebuild yourself through others. Inside, you’ll find discussion forums on relationships, dating, love, career, life as well as live online  groups you can participate in from the convenience of your home.


59 Responses to “How Do we Know if we Love Someone?”

  1. Natalie says:

    "If the answer is yes, love as hard as you can. Love with everything you’ve got (your capacity right now at this point in your life). If the answer is no, promise me one thing. Let the fall make you stronger."

    Thank you so much for this.

  2. Mattie says:

    I think I've just become your biggest fan. Your words encompass wit, knowledge and logic in a manner that makes me feel like im sitting in a coffee shop with you , discussing the topic!!

  3. Lisa Gravelle says:

    I'm sure this article will switch many lights on …. thank you John

  4. jadescastle says:

    i've been wondering what to tell myself about an ending. i was the choice that She stopped making. Thank you, John.

  5. sharon says:

    Really great article, and since I am in a three year and still going relationship, this encouragement is especially appreciated: "We not only become stronger as a couple, but also as individuals, assuming the love process is healthy—which means we are both doing work. The choice to love creates opportunity to hit notes in life that we could never hit alone, and this is what makes our choice worth it" Thank you!

  6. Shayna says:

    Thank you.

  7. Kanela says:

    Falling in love is not so much of a choice, not for me at least. I cant order my heart who to love or not. Once I fall in love is different, I belive staying in love is a constant and conciuos choice.

  8. Jayne says:

    Thank you. This is just what I needed.

  9. White Stone Natural Therapies says:

    Brilliant. Just Brilliant.

  10. loveyogalivewell says:

    So, so well said. I needed to read this

  11. I love this. Two months ago I found myself at the airport, boarding a Turkish physicist, and now we are wanting to move in together, we are in "love" and it's sooooo fast. And it's very different this time. After much experience at 38 and a dissolved marriage as well. This time it feels like a choice. My feet are on the ground even when my head is in the clouds, and I'm able to choose moment by moment to love him. In two months we've already been through a few heavy things together, but we keep steadying ourselves after the turbulence and I keep choosing to be all in. He joins me. It's a jet ride toward a very stable commited relationship and without having my head about me, I'd be fighting the doubts (this is too soon…there's soooo much I don't know…)but I have my head about me and can see and connect with exactly what you are saying. Very well written, thank you.

  12. Leigh says:

    Very grounding. Echoes ideas similar to M. Scott Peck in A Road Less Travelled. Thank you

  13. jessica says:

    this was what i needed to hear/read…its hard to make the decision constatntly every day. Should making the decision be easier?

  14. Mel says:

    I am currently divorcing a partner after 24 years of being together. I'm lucky because we helped each other achieve many things in that time we would not have done alone (our kids, our businesses, etc.) However, I chose to take a different path because after 24 years, I realized that I wanted someone who was happier, less angry, less judgmental – I wanted someone who wanted to to choose to live in joy.

    Without exception, even as the divorce is so negative (he is VERY angry) – I feel so good in my decision; everything is opening up to me and finding me more and more in a right place. Surprisingly, I've already met a new man, and though I insist on going slowly, it only underscores what I had been hearing in my heart for a long time… when you have to work SO hard to choose to love someone – it just might be the wrong someone.

    Yes, there is work. Yes, it is a choice. But no, it should not feel HARD – it should feel worth it.

  15. Teresa says:

    I loved your comment! Thank you!

  16. twoprettychords says:

    I went through the same thing Mel. .. left after 24 years. He was angry. But felt I HAD to. I'm glad you are happy with your decision and have found the right love.

  17. twoprettychords says:

    Beautiful article. Thank you.

  18. Ron says:

    I spoke to a person who lives outside the usa – they feel that we (in the usa) spend too much time focusing on "did I pick the right person", instead of making a commitment to the relationship itself. IE: When both decide to make a go of it, they focus on the building of the relationship and less on if they are having a "bad day" with their own feelings. Interesting concept I think – to build the relationship, almost as a third person – both focusing on the health and welfare of "it". What do you think?… RJ

  19. Amy E says:

    Beautifully written! In Western cultures, we make decisions based on the fickle notion of "Love", according to the Eastern and other cultures. I believe that is what sets us apart. I understand the practicality of arranged marriages, but, we Americans are risk takers. Pain and pleasure are opposite sides of the same coin. It's hard to appreciate the highs without the lows. I am a hopeless romantic. I believe in love. Yes!

  20. Mel says:

    I really appreciate you telling me that. I understand exactly what you are saying – I actually fought against the choice my heart made, tried so hard not to listen and to keep on "working on it" and staying – when I finally just let go – it all fell into place… I had to go, because I was already gone.

    With it, the universe has brought so much to me – and I am still growing stronger with the man that showed up, even as i continue to try to keep it slow… that is the beauty of love, isn't it – it always shows up, inside of you and outside of you – when you finally listen.

  21. Kate says:

    What a great piece! This is right to the heart of love. Great analogy!

  22. Rosdubh says:

    Thank you for this! I recently had a relationship end with someone also in their late 30's, and as they told me "they just were not sure it was love" as they didn't get the constant butterfly feelings. Said person had told me constantly I was everything they wanted in a woman on mental/physical/emotional/interest levels, but past relationship baggage led to some pretty selfish behavior which when I called on it led to this conversation. Essentially, they weren't sure they were willing to continue to stop having to make selfish choices in order to nourish the relationship. At that point I told them thank you for letting me go, and despite the heartbreak of it all (given that I had put my everything into it) I would rather that than continue to delude myself otherwise with someone who had an unrealistic vision of "love".

    Despite them agreeing with me when I said: isn't that something you haven't felt for awhile since you were teenager/20's? (i.e. infatuation beyond the new relationship phase) , it is what they are wanting and previous to me had been lighting from one woman to the next I think in some effort to capture that.

    Infatuation is only one small part of the connection that becomes love. To me love is thinking of their happiness even when it is in areas that are not within your comfort zone, and coming together in a way that creates a mutual complement to each other.

  23. JULIE says:

    Mel……..I too am in the middle of divorcing a VERY angry negative man……….We have a wonderful daughter…..whom is he is also destroying…..I know in my heart it was time………even ..I still love him ..but not in"love" with him. It's a scary world out there……..I have yet to meet…..or have started that processes……….BUT….I am willing to do the work…and make the right choice!!!!!!!! Take that NEW "JOURNEY"

  24. Jason says:

    I like that, you let your intuitions guide you.

  25. piccolamonalisa says:

    Choosing right now I can agree with that, and isn't then commitment a choice to love the person in the future?

  26. slurfje says:

    Thank you for this.

  27. Katja says:

    beautiful, true. just yesterday i came to the same conclusion, you just put my thoughts into wonderful words. thak you so much for this article!

  28. Liz says:

    Thanks….I really needed to see this…to have what is going on with me put into words…I needed to read this.. 🙂

  29. Deb says:

    You have a point Ron…but I think both partners need to be committed to making it work!

  30. Gary Croft says:

    I once attended a 'Human Sexuality' class at the University of Washington. One day a student asked the professor, "How will I know if I'm truly in love?" The professor was obviously prepared for this question, because he responded without missing a beat, "You'll know you're really in love when your beloved is sitting on the toilet farting and picking her nose and you feel a rush of love and affection …" (true story)

  31. gofasterrabbit says:

    "Love is making a choice every single day, to either love or not love." You're 100% right! That's it! So much truth in that one little sentence. Beautiful straight-up article! Love is definitely an action.

  32. Tracey A.Gridley says:

    This brought me to tears – in a good way! The last paragraph is one to live by. What stops most folks from doing so is fear: fear of rejection, fear of being " too emotional" fear…???

    The timing of reading this is nothing short of perfect! I thank you for your words and for the heart you put into them!


  33. Martha says:

    That was exactly my the thinking process thinking when I met and then married …and all thru during my 13 and counting tears of marriage with my husband …i loved to see it in words.

  34. Roberta Smith says:

    I can only say…. I love you at this point… You've given me hope where I couldn't see hope… Your amazing and I'm bloody happy ☺️

  35. Roberta Smith says:

    Know exactly how you feel x

  36. KSRM says:

    I find myself a little perplexed but this helped. I just got out of a three year relationship. I admit I created much of the turbulence in the early stages of the relationship. Never having been in a serious relationship I was naive and muddled up a lot of things. But always stayed faithful, but was harboring a lot of resentment and anger that I’ve carried much of my life. Then after a series of serious health scares that threatened my passions in life, I found myself in a negative mindset and it took a toll on the relationship yet again. Both of us wanted for it to get better but constant fighting and us never having space created a huge rift and it wasn’t improving much, at times it would but we seemingly never recovered from it. I tried to find the support I needed throughout the relationship and eventually did but the damage is and was done. The more I tried to hang on the further she drifted away. We tried to be friends but the time was too soon obviously as I wanted more. One must wonder though if you truly love someone how do you decide that you have to walk away. Just because its better at the time or maybe because both parties are no longer willing to work at it. It baffles me I must say that people who were together for 10-45 years through bad and good and everything in between can split like they do. As a mere three years almost destroyed me, but we must let go in order to move on & be stronger. It is as he said we make a choice to love or be in love. Thanks for the great article

  37. Beth Alta says:

    One of the best pieces I've read here so far! Thank you for the positivity~

  38. Amy Tazza Wilk says:

    Amazing article ! So well said !

  39. kathy says:

    When I was 19 I met the man that would become my husband and the dad of our 4 kids! We have always loved each other and been there for each other but there were times that we fought, said nasty things to each other and wondered what the hell we were doing together, but I can't imagine being being anywhere else! Sometimes he's selfish, sometimes I'm selfish, living with either of us is no cake walk! Sometimes I apologize even when it's not my fault, and so does he but that's okay, because we don't keep score! We do for each other, sometimes I do more, sometimes he does, it depends on the circumstances! Has it been easy…hell no…have we always looked at each other with love in our eyes…hell no! It's not supposed to be easy, life's not easy, you have to work hard at loving hard!! Commitment is everything!! We've been married almost 41 years and every day has been an adventure I wouldn't have missed for anything!!

  40. hugo says:

    well, it seems a very rational way to look into love… however, love is far from being rational… let alone, being a choice. If to love is related to a conscious choice than “Our investment will pay off ” !?!?!… how can one talk about love in those terms? for me love has everything to do with uncertainties, ungraspable reasons and unexpected magic… we do not choose who we love, all we can do is decide to embrace it or not… but the feeling has a life of its own. The funny thing about it can be understood when we “decide” to walk away from that experience, because at that time we know we use all our rational tools to “explain” the “reason” we are parting… however and deep down, the feeling remains unchanged and after a while we train ourselves not to express it…. and finally the title of this article is misleading as the author acknowledges it… which raises an issue of seriousness…

  41. Laureen says:

    Thank you for sharing this wise perspective on relationships and love. I feel more empowered and validated for the way I love. ❤️

  42. Yi Mei says:

    Thank you. Your post have given me an answer to that lingering uncertainty I have always had. Now I understand what I need to do for it to go away.

  43. ewannic74 says:

    I think Erich Fromm has some really good insights to the nature of what it is to love

    “Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision.”

  44. Bright says:

    I was wondering if anyone here can help me. I’m in a relationship with this girl for four years and 6months. But this past few months I’ve been wondering if I’m still in love with her or I just needed her. Everytime I tell her that I love her, something’s telling me that it’s not right. I want to tell her about it but I don’t want to hurt her because I promised myself that I will never do that. But I’ve been wondering, is it really my choice to make her feel that I lover her the right thing? I don’t want us to break apart. But is it really up to me? Can I just ignore what my heart is telling me?

  45. Karmen says:

    And what happens when you’re the one left in the plane? The destination hasn’t changed, you chose to love, and you’re left riding solo, because the other person chose to jump?

  46. Jim says:

    I admit I’ve grown disillusioned with this site, because so many “articles” are simply opinions based on a rant, or nothing more than self-therapy for the author. I really enjoyed this read, it helps me understand that it’s not all black and white with emotions, that where you are in life can be the difference between really being in love or simply thinking you are. It helps the author seems to have found an audience as a therapist as well. Hmm, maybe I’ll keep following this blog after all and continue on this journey. Have a great day!

  47. elephantjournal says:

    Hey there! We have tens of thousands of articles written by people from all backgrounds. What are some that you love, or don't? Do you want to write yourself? Submit at if so or send feedback to [email protected]. Thanks for your comments and support. – Ed.

  48. Nicola O'Hanlon says:

    Really great perspective at a perfect time for me. Thank you.

  49. tiffany says:

    I disagree. I do see the point that love is somewhat of a choice, but not all of us have that choice. Many of us wish to not love someone when we inevitably do, and it is not our choice. Many of us with to love someone when we inevitably do not, and it is not our choice.
    This is article is true for many people, but for many others it is pure bullshit. For many of us, we cannot choose whether we love someone or not. It is engrained in us to love or not love people, and we have no choice in the matter.
    We do have a choice whether to avoid them or not, but we have no choice whether we love them or not.
    Keep your mind from being so narrow, please. It is truly insulting to read articles like this.
    Despite the fact that you obviously think more with your mind than your heart, remember that there are many of us who think more with our hearts than our minds.

  50. Stephen says:

    This is brilliant John…the attraction thing is always a slight of hand experience…always partly an illusion…we are never attracted to who a person actually is but to an image of who we think they are that we project onto them..invariably, this illusion breaks down and the reality of who they are becomes apparent…that's when we are faced with the choice…the choice of mature love….you've nailed it perfectly…