Certain dating circumstances can bring out passionate feelings that have nothing to do with the L word. Here’s a guide to five common feelings that people often confuse with the thrill of falling in love.

1. Random Reinforcement

Laboratory rats that get food every time they press a lever only press the lever when they’re hungry. When lab rats press a lever and nothing happens, they stop pressing. But rats who get food only sometimes, not every time they press the lever just keep pressing it all day long. Scientists call this phenomenon random reinforcement, and if you’ve ever been to a casino you’ve felt its allure.

The same thing happens in dating. You meet someone attractive and have a great time. You eagerly anticipate the next meeting, which isn’t for a while. Then he calls and says he can’t wait to see you. Then he disappears for weeks or months. Your feelings for him may be more intense than ever, but they aren’t true love.

The man who’s right for you will show up consistently, day-in and day-out, but to make space for him in your life you’ll have to walk away from the slot machine. Join the witness protection program if you must, but resist the intermittent call of the random reinforcer. You deserve a lot more than the occasional thrill followed by a deafening silence, after all.

2. Forbidden Fruit

I’m not saying Romeo and Juliet weren’t in love, but their passion was probably mightily enhanced by their forbidden relationship. Trying to keep things under wraps––an affair with a married man, someone your family would disapprove of, or an office romance that would be frowned upon—creates an element of excitement that has little to do with the thrill of meeting your soul mate.

One client dated a man of a different faith–a match that was forbidden by her parents. She lied to her mother about him, and made elaborate plans to avoid being seen together. It was months before she realized she didn’t really respect his intelligence. Sneaking around together had masked myriad qualities that she just didn’t find appealing.

Sneaking around can do that.

3. Oxytocin

Remember how in chemistry class, when you mixed certain elements together they formed a bond? That’s what happens during sex—only you as a woman bond a lot more than he does. That’s because you release oxytocin (the same chemical that bonds mother and new baby) when you have sex. He does too, but you release thousands of times more than he does––thousands! Doesn’t that explain a lot?

After you’ve been physically intimate with him you may think about wedding colors and baby names, but he’s thinking about what he’s going to have for breakfast–right after you leave. No matter what his character, now your body desperately wants things to work out.

A sexual bond creates a powerful pull, but that’s just chemistry. Instead of letting your body make that decision, consider making sure your heart and mind are on board (and his are too) first.

4. Dramatically Dramatic Drama

If you’re fighting a lot and missing the party because you pulled over to talk (read: yell), you may feel like you’re falling in crazy, stupid love. That’s because it’s such a high when you make up from fighting you think it has to be something wonderful making you feel that way. The highs feel really high because the lows are so low. It might not be the other person that you’re so excited about, but just the resolution of the drama.

This combination of pleasure and danger is both compelling and exhausting, but it’s not love. Break-up-to-make-up is a fun ride half of the time and a miserable struggle the other half. Don’t confuse it with feeling desired, cherished and protected.

5. The Lure of The Long-Distance Lover

Despite Sleepless in Seattle, long-distance romances don’t usually have happy endings. That’s because we tend to fill in the blanks about people we know only a little with rosy projections. Just as with impressionist paintings, you’re likely to color in details in ways that you find pleasing–only to be shocked when you realize he snores, has a terrible temper and has ESPN blaring 24/7.

While you’re imagining life with the far-away stranger, you feel an exquisite longing to be with him–by which you mean the him you’ve imagined. There’s still nobody there to say, “Bless you” when you sneeze, scratch your back or make sure you came home safely. Even worse, there’s a great possibility for heartache when the geographically undesirable guy turns out to be different than you’d imagined.

Dodging these common relationship pitfalls will help you improve your chances of finding the real deal—which not only exists, it’s everything it’s cracked up to be.

Have you ever fallen into faux love? How did you get out of it? What did you learn from the experience?

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Laura Doyle

Laura Doyle is the New York Times best-selling author of The Surrendered Wife and The Surrendered Single. She has appeared on The CBS Evening New, Dateline NBC, The Today Show, Fox, BET, The Early Show and The View. Her work is translated into 15 languages in 26 countries. Laura lives near Los Angeles, with her husband, John Doyle, who has been dressing himself since before she was born.
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