Why Falling in Love Feels So Terrifying

If falling in love is supposed to be so wonderful, why does it feel so awful sometimes? On one hand, colors seem so much brighter, and you just seem to float throughout your day. However, you can’t eat. You can’t focus. You can’t stop thinking about him or her. And you’re suddenly saddled with uncertainty and asking yourself: “Is this the real thing? Is she right for me? Will he leave me? Does she feel the same way? If I let myself love this person, will I lose myself? And when he mentioned he wanted to travel around India this summer, did that mean alone?”

In fact, a recent Iranian study of 100 newly-in-love young men and women who completed a series of questionnaires asking about their physical and psychological symptoms concluded that they were more depressed and anxious. “Romantic love is not entirely a joyful and happy period of life,” the authors wrote. “Rather, data suggests that for young adults, falling in love might be a critical life event also associated with uncertainty and unpleasant feelings.” (One bright spot: Love apparently helps you sleep better.)

So that’s why euphoria is accompanied by the sensation that you just might lose your lunch. Never mind all the recent research suggesting that romantic love can be addictive by flooding your brain with the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine and affecting the same region as cocaine.

The experience of falling in love is destabilizing, and for those of us who hate not feeling in control of our feelings, it can also be alarming. (Note the language we use to describe it, such as “He swept me off my feet” or “She put a spell on me.”)

Knocked off your center by someone special? Here’s how to tolerate the discomfort:

1) Ride the wave

Feelings are temporary, and even the most overwhelming ones pass. The good news is that that your ability to experience the joyful and unpleasant is evidence that you’re human with a deep capacity to love. You might forget to eat lunch for a week, but eventually you’ll get your bearings – and appetite – back.

2) Don’t worry about what anything means

When your brain is hijacked by love chemicals, you don’t have your usual perspective to sort through all the thorny issues that come up in early love. Try to resist the urge to over-think your relationship. You don’t have to know where it’s going right this minute. You don’t have to analyze his emotional availability based on the three things he’s told you about his divorce. You don’t have to wonder why she took two hours to return your text. You don’t even have to try to decipher if it’s just infatuation or the seedlings of a lifelong satisfying love affair.

The surest way to douse the excitement of a new romance is to inject a bunch of anxiety into it. Try to stay chill and accept that new love is supposed to feel uncertain.

3) Give your partner room to breathe

If you’re feeling out of sorts, and you think your new love interest likes you back, there’s a good chance he or she might be overwhelmed by intense emotions, too. Yet it’s important to remember that we all experience them in our own way. Some people enjoy being flooded by the whole spectrum of feelings, while others need frequent breaks and seek out distraction – that is, until love gets a hold of them again.

Of course, the romantic highs eventually make all the lows worth it. It just helps to remind yourself you’re in for both.

How have you handled feeling off-kilter?

About the Author:

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate, and Salon.

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