This is really tough to describe! And it got long...
I've been in romantic love. And while for me, the whole "you know it when you feel it" thing was actually true, it's extremely difficult to put my experience into words. I consider myself demiromantic (if that's even a thing), so I have to have platonic/friend feelings for someone before those feelings can change to romantic ones. Romantic attraction is a bit of a misnomer for me.
Having said that, it was sort of a progression. I really liked this person as a friend, so yes, I cared for him, enjoyed spending time with him, we had mutual interests, we challenged each other, etc. It was almost a focus-shift. It's not that I became 'fixated' on one person—that's not quite right—but he started to occupy my thoughts more often, and I found myself intensely looking forward to being in his company.
Sure, I always look forward to hanging out with my friends...but this was more of a longing to be in his presence, even if we weren't doing anything in particular. Being near him not only quelled this longing, it also brought a sense of warmth and comfort. Not quite like "oh, nothing bad can happen now, I'm safe"—more like a deep-rooted sense of calm. It's like my mind went, "Oh, good, it's you." We were very much kindred spirits, and the fact that I could recognize a lot of myself in another person—more so than any other platonic friend I've had—was really profound.
I'm not a touchy-feely kind of person either; I'm okay with (and sometimes even genuinely enjoy) hugs from good friends and people I know well, but I rarely initiate, and I really value my personal space. But with this person, physical contact felt natural. I didn't even think about it; my aversion to touch simply wasn't a barrier with him, like it never existed at all. And when he reciprocated, my initial reaction wasn't to recoil, but rather to lean in. Again, like my soul went, "Oh, hello. It's you." I didn't mind being close because he almost felt like a physical extension of myself, if that makes sense. I craved his touch and his arms because it felt like coming home.
Seeing him and being near him did give me the proverbial 'butterflies.' Like little thrills of excitement and affection that started above my belly button and rose upward into my throat. Sometimes I would picture it as a sort of invisible force that radiated from me and surrounded him, and I liked to think he could feel that. The fact that he reciprocated my love—and that I could "feel" this in return—only fuelled the fire.
Trust, sitting contentedly in silence, serenity, no fear of judgment, etc...yes, I feel those things with my platonic friends too, and I value all of them just as much as I did with the person with whom I was in love. But with him, the type of love was different, felt different, felt deeper. (Note: Not better, just not the same.) I adore my friends, but I don't want to cuddle with them, I don't want to spend all my time with them, I generally need longer periods of introvert-recuperation time, I don't feel like they are extensions of myself. I feel safe and comfortable around them, but I don't get that same sense of oh, it's you. I miss them when I don't see them, but I don't yearn for them.
Brain chemicals, I guess, man? Basically, it's all weird. I hope this made sense.
I think "A strong desire to spend time with the other person, and contentment doing just that regardless of the activity" is a lot of it for me. Craving the contentment and almost serenity of simply sitting in silence with the person you're attracted to, and just enjoying feeling their presence in the room is powerful. You don't have to be doing anything, and I get the sense that it can be more intense when that's all you're doing. Something I once heard and agree with is that it's the trust and willingness to be completely open with your partner, in a way you wouldn't be with anyone else. People who are more sure of their allo-ness, how'd I do?
For me it’s also a very weird feeling of the fact I can’t hate them, and I’m willing to put on effort to make things work. I had a crush on my friend (turns out he’s gay lmao) and I would totally accept to go out of my way for him. Like, take care of him if he’s sick or needs help, when I’d be shopping and I see something nice I’d say “oh I think he’ll like this!” And I think it would be nice to surprise with like a tiny cheap thing that I would think he’d like, if I went out shopping. And also, I told him a few times that I really can’t hate him even if I tried. Which is why I fought so hard to fix things when things between us got rough. He said he loves me too, and he cares for me. It’s confusing but he’s the first person I’ve liked in a very long time, and it was very weird for me. But I’m learning. And I hope I can become a stronger person. And now I’ve met this super cute mathematics student (I’m an engineering student) from a nearby college and I think I might be developing a sliiight crush on him. I’m excited to move on. But I still can’t shake off my feelings for the previous friend, mainly because we see each other fairly often and we enjoy each other’s company.
Have you ever experienced that feeling when you're driving over hills and your stomach sort of goes wOOoooOoOOp?
That's what romantic "butterflies" feel like. Like you just went into freefall and your body hasn't caught up yet.
It can be a very pleasant feeling.
It's not really comparable to feeling sick, at least in my personal experience.
Another thing that's different from platonic attraction is just how badly you want to be with that person.
Like there have been people that I REALLY want to be friends with, and you have this urge to get to know them and become closer. Dial that up to 100 and you get romantic feelings.
Rather than an urge, it feels like a need. You NEED to get to know that person. You NEED them to know you. The feeling of need can feel as strongly physical as hunger.
You think about them all the time, you imagine what you would be like together, you're always anticipating the next time you get to see or talk to them.
And this is all, like, when you're first developing a crush and first dating. When you've been with someone for a long time, the intensity levels of these feelings change.
And also this isn't to say that platonic feelings can't be as strong. They're just different. It's like hunger and thirst. You don't crave a hamburger when you're thirsty and you don't crave a glass of water when you're hungry. They're two different levels. Comparable, but undeniably unique.
For me, initial romantic attraction to someone I don't know very well yet feels mostly like being really, really excited about being friends with them. Honestly sometimes that makes it hard for me to recognize when something is romantic attraction vs., like, friendship attraction? But it does have a certain intensity to it that sets it apart from the normal feeling of "wow this person seems nice, I'd like to get to know them better." I find that I'm thinking about them all the time, there is often frequent Facebook stalking involved haha, seeing them totally brightens my day and if I have plans with them it's the biggest thing I'm looking forward to. All of these things are things that might happen with someone I wanted to become better friends with, too, but with someone I'm romantically attracted to it's just.....more. It's almost compulsive, like I couldn't stop thinking about them even if I wanted to.
When I develop romantic feelings for someone I already know and love, on the other hand, it's a much more profound yet relaxed sort of warmth deep inside me. Romantic feelings are very tied up in a sense of domesticity for me – when I developed romantic feelings for a long-distance friend, I desperately wanted us to live together, because I wanted him to be the person I came home to and caught up with about my day over dinner; and when he came to visit, all I wanted was for us to cook meals together, hang out in our pyjamas, that sort of thing. When I developed romantic feelings for a friend I already lived with, the romantic feelings were still very tied up in the domesticity of our friendship: everything from cooking to cleaning to doing laundry to eating dinner has developed from something that we're each doing separately but cooperatively to something that has a certain sense of togetherness. (I could go into more detail but I feel like this is already getting long!) There is also an element of physical intimacy for me as well – I tend to be very physically affectionate even with friends in whom I don't have romantic interest, lots of hugs etc., but when there's romantic feelings involved there's a desire for more intimate forms of physical affection (usually cuddling in bed) and it's also a much stronger desire that I think about much more frequently than with typical friendships. If something small reminds me of that person at a random moment during the day, I'll just sort of smile to myself and think, "I love them so much" – which, again, is something that might happen with a non-romantic friendship that I felt very strongly emotionally invested in, but probably not with the same frequency nor with the same weightiness to the sense of love.
I think it's also important to point out that you can even feel romantic attraction for total strangers. Like if someone cute smiles at me in a store sometimes I get that warm, fuzzy feeling and start thinking about what our lives would be like together (cute things we'd do together, getting married, raising kids, etc.). Whereas when I experience platonic attraction for a stranger, it's more of a feeling of "Wow, they look like a cool person, I'd really like to hang out with/get to know them. I bet we'd be great friends."
[In response to love being described as an illness] I think quotes like that are talking about having feelings for someone that you're not with.
The longing can feel very painful, and you'd think you'd want that to stop, but you don't. If anything, you do things that make the feeling stronger.
You don't want it to stop because you're longing for something that feels so good (being with that person), so even though it's painful (because you're not with them), the thought of getting what you desire fuels the pain.
So it's comparable to being sick, but only with the unspoken (but understood) caveat that you may eventually benefit from the illness. Imagine if every time you were sick, you got something you REALLY wanted (money, for example.)
Now if you know that you will never be with the person, the feeling gets much more painful, and at this point you do want it to stop. Like you got sick with the idea that you'd get a million dollars at the end, but then you found out you won't get the money, even though you're already sick. Now you would want the sickness to stop.