Is It Really Possible To Be In Love With Two People At Once?
The Great Gatsby's Tom Buchanan, Jay Gatsby, and Daisy. Carrie Bradshaw, Big, and Aidan (still not sure who to root for in that one). Tons of books and movies feature love triangles for a reason (besides just the drama): Lots of people can relate to having feelings for two different people at the same time. But is it actually possible to love two people at once—or are the tortured souls who think they do just kidding themselves?
The answer is a resounding yup, says Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at UCLA. “We assume love comes in one flavor, but it’s really much more Baskin Robbins than that.” In other words, chocolate chip mint and strawberry are different, but they’re both damn good. If only love were as easy as ice cream.
RELATED: How to Have a Threesome—From Start to Finish
“We are complex and complicated beings, and it’s very possible that two different traits in two different people can both appeal to us,” says Durvasula. As you grow and develop as an individual, you might find yourself drawn to people who complement different aspects of who you are.
“Attraction is a very biological experience,” says Durvasula. You may be in an established relationship and meet someone at work who WHAM! makes your hormones crazy. Or you might be casually dating and find that two different people you've been seeing for a while both appeal to you.
RELATED: Should You Have a Threesome? 4 Things You Need to Consider
That overwhelming, whirlwind feeling people tend to describe as being “in love” is biologically synonymous with a surge in dopamine levels, says Durvasula. (Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that's connected to your brain's reward and pleasure centers—so a spike can cause you to feel like you're experiencing a natural high.) Even days later, just thinking about a great kiss can cause dopamine to release in your brain, and before you know it, you're falling big time. So while being monogamous or in a committed relationship is a conscious, logical choice, that loopy rush of hormones (and who makes you feel the ensuing effects of them) is entirely physical—and out of your control.
There's also a particular circumstance under which you’re more likely to fall for multiple people: when you’re most in love with yourself.
“When you’re going through a positive transition—anything from an exciting new job to a physical transformation—and are feeling happy with yourself, you’re more open to new experiences and new people,” says Durvasula. The more you embrace who you are, the more likely you are to explore and celebrate other people for who they are. So the more you fall in love with yourself, the more you fall in love with others, she says.
Feeling torn between two people can be confusing and emotionally exhausting—but it can also be fun.
Continuing to explore both love interests might be a valid option if all of the people involved are on the same page, says Durvasula. “Polyamorous and open relationships are gaining a lot of traction, but you need to be transparent about it.” Interested in exploring something like this? These rules for open relationships can guide you through the conversations and boundaries involved.
Granted, not everyone is up for an untraditional relationship setup, says Durvasula. If you want to commit to one person—or one of the people you love wants you to—that's perectly fine, too. But how do you do it?
“As awful as it sounds, make a pros and cons list,” suggests Durvasula. And be brutally honest with yourself when writing it. Something helpful to keep in mind when you're reviewing your list: “We get caught up in the passion and rush of feeling in love, but companionate love wins in the end." Think of it this way: Who is going to be 100 percent fine with throwing out your snotty tissues for you when you’re sick? Who would you still enjoy when you’re 90 years old and the flame of lust and passion has died down?
RELATED: 7 Things You Should Know About Your Partner Before You Fully Commit
If you need to, take a break from both relationships. “Take a trip," says Durvasula. "Do whatever you need to do to step back and remove yourself from the situation." Getting a little space can help provide you with some perspective.
Unfortunately, you can’t. There’s no mathematical formula for choosing who to make a commitment to. And the reality is that both individuals might be great, and both individuals might make solid partners, says Durvasula. But even if you're split right down the middle, you'll often have that gut feeling that'll give one person even just a slight advantage. Follow that intuition, says Durvasula. Is a little buyer’s remorse or “what-if” wondering normal? Totally. But when you do come to a decision, try to stick to it. When you choose a partner to pursue, cut your focus from the other and really give this new relationship its best shot at success. Celebrate the aspects of this individual that led you to choose them over someone else.
“The best thing you can do in this situation is to take the time to cultivate and love yourself,” says Durvasula. It’ll help you to be more aware of the characteristics in a partner that matter most to you and ultimately will make your decision a little easier.