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Love is something I have occupied myself with since my early teenage years, exploring bonds and relationships both in a practical and theoretical sense. Having mostly had healthy and long-lasting relationships has allowed me to better understand what makes a relationship good, and what pieces of less-than-satisfactory relationships can act as general red flags.

I figure people who really want to read a text written as pose will have already read my What Is Real Love article, so this will serve as a more compact and slightly divergent extension of that text. It will also carry over a few points from my text about respect, because healthy and real love will always encompass respect. But that’s enough intro: onto the pointers!

1. Love is not about possession or dominance, but instead about understanding, appreciation, and giving.

Love has nothing to do with imposing rights or expectations onto others. It has everything to do with appreciation and giving. No one owns another, and there are clear reasons that most of the world has abolished slavery. This is especially true in a romantic connection. A healthy relationship or connection cannot be based on confusing intimacy and ownership.

2. Love is not a passive feeling, not something you fall into, but something you stand up into.

As Eric Fromm so elegantly puts it in his “Art Of Loving”, love is not something one “falls” into but instead something one “stands up” into. Before you are prepared to take responsibility for your half of a connection and to acknowledge and appreciate what comes back, you will not be able to experience real love. The romanticized “falling” is based more on hormones than a multi-level love as we are discussing it here, and a successful relationship is based on a lot more than hormones.

3. Love entails going beyond your own walls and opening yourself up to new perspectives and experience.

Love isn’t about just doing things you already like and are comfortable with, but it is instead about having the security to venture beyond your walls. Appreciation and joy are drawn out of not just identifying and understanding someone or something else, but exercising these positive feelings in new contexts.

4. Love is not stable, and it requires energy and understanding to maintain.

No one has a good day every single day. Expecting this of yourself, or of others, is a guaranteed path to disappointment. Love is not a constant upward movement on a time-happiness graph, but instead simply a mode of increasing the average joy derived from every moment. There will be hard days, but they become easier when we know how to divide the load one carries on their shoulders, so to speak.

5. Love is about openness, not secrets.

Love is about sharing, and feeling safe enough to do so. Love is about letting others share, and understanding them even if we still need to speak criticism. Being able to voice criticism, and hear it from others, is as important as being able to share or hear positive things.

6. Love is a tool for spiritual evolution. A romantic connection is, metaphorically, very similar to a double-helix.

In the same way nature selects for things that don’t work, our ability to love allows us to better understand ourselves, others, and the connection between ourselves and others. A good relationship is like a double-helix, stabilized both by the (hydrogen) bonds between the bases and the backbone, with stronger bonds giving higher resistance to increasing temperature.

If your relationship is not helping you extend yourself and grow, then you need to either examine the bonds or your own backbone, so to speak. In the same way a helix turns, roles and positions within a relationship should be free to develop and change dynamically.

7. Most “love” you see in pop culture (Hollywood etc) is not healthy, nor is it remotely connected to real life love.

Building your understanding and expectations for love should not be obtained via pop culture. If no one has told you yet, there are quite a few emotionally unhealthy people who write both our movies and our music. Although romantic gestures are important, and sex is great too, that is not the entirety of love.

8. Trust and understanding are the first steps in experiencing real love.

Trust is not just something you can have in another person, but also in yourself and your actions. One requires an astounding amount of trust to create a unique and creative romantic gesture and give it to someone else: you have to trust both yourself to create something worthwhile and trust the other person to understand and accept your gesture. Trust is based on experience, and you cannot expect a wild romantic gesture to be understood by someone who doesn’t or hardly know(s) you. How can you love the world, the trees, and the birds, if you don’t trust them to exist as they are?

9. Love is not just an activity, it is a skill.

Being able to understand, experience, and share love are skills. They aren’t things people are born understanding. Many people who were not presented with functional models of these activities as a kid have a harder time understanding and expressing them as adults. Whether you are a veteran lover or someone with little experience beyond one-night-stands: we all have room for growth and improvement.

10. Love is more complex than any bullet-point list can capture completely.

Don’t rely on anyone, not even me, to tell you everything you need to know about love. Since we all have different experience with the different parts of love, our growth and improvement is unique. Although these are the points I think are most generally misunderstood, do not hesitate to go far beyond. Trust yourself to discover parts and dimensions of love that others have forgotten to mention.

11. Love doesn’t have to be connected with, or involve, sex.

This seems like a no-brainer, but I feel like it should be mentioned. Love can be expressed romantically with sex or sexuality, but love itself is not necessary connected to sexuality. The love of a parent and the love of a romantic partner share many parallels and both are referred to as love, but only the latter involved sexuality.

12. Love doesn’t require reciprocation: you don’t need to get back what you give.

To love something or someone does not require that they return or mirror this love. Although most of us are aware that it would likely be misled to expect a crow or spider to love you in the same way you love or care about it, many forget that this truism extends its veracity into relationships with people. This is clear to any parent that has ever had their kid express hatred for them, but maintained their love and support of the child. A lack of reciprocation is not an affront or insult, but part of the give-and-take nature of life, and the fact that our trust is not always well invested.

13. Love is multi-dimension, and we subjectively decide where we emphasize value.

Whether you are most thrilled by the abstract thoughts, caring nature, responsible demeanor, wild confidence, or whatever else, this is a personal thing. We all want, and need, different things. What we want is, ironically, not always what we actually need. It is insanely narcissistic to disrespect the individual preferences of another: love is experiences slightly differently by each of us.

14. You don’t need a special person in your life to experience love: you only need your mind.

Love is something we hold up and experience for ourselves. Feelings of love we have others has more to do with what we construct in our minds than it has to do with them. This is why we can never get mad at others for disappointing us in dimensions we never discussed, or for failing to conform to our view of them: this is as true for dealing with people as it is for dealing with nature. Love is something we carry inside of us, and we should not attribute it to others… if others mirror our feelings then we can rejoice, but that is in itself not a condition of love.