What to Do If You Have Strong Feelings for Multiple People at Once
When we think of love — true love, romantic love, passionate love — we tend to think of two people who mean everything to each other, ultimately blocking out the possibility of anyone else entering into the picture.
And if a single person claims to be “in love”with two different people they aren’t currently dating, it’s easy to write that off as just two separate crushes of similar intensity. For many people, the notion of being in love precludes it being applied to two people at once — to them, love is necessarily a feeling you can only feel for one person at any given time.
But is that accurate? Is it possible to be in love with two people at once, to feel intensely, madly, passionately about more than one person? To help get to the bottom of it all, we spoke with a handful of dating and relationship experts to see what they have to say about the possibility of loving two people at the same time.
What Does It Mean to Be in Love With Someone?
Before getting into whether it’s possible to be in love with two people at the same time, it’s important to try to define what “being in love” means to begin with. Love is a big concept with a long history, and it’s hard to imagine a culture without a term for it, or a person who’s never uttered the phrase “I love,” no matter how fleeting or small or strange. In that vein, it’s not only possible, but easy to simply love many people at once.
“It is certainly possible to love several people at once,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of “Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today.” “Think of family members, children, dear friends; you hold all of them in your heart at once.”
Meanwhile, it’s also possible — and, again, easy — to be attracted to multiple people at once. But it’s important not to confuse the two, even though they can certainly overlap.
“Love is different from chemistry,” says Laurel House, a dating and relationship coach and host of the “Man Whisperer” podcast. “Chemistry is a short-term chemical reaction inside your body that actually creates an intensely felt drug that makes you lose sight of clarity of thought, and can trick you into thinking you’re in deep love, when really you’re in superficial lust.”
But being in love with someone — experiencing, as House describes it, a “deep heart connection” — is a little bit different than either simply loving or being excited by someone. Being in love with someone implies not just a deep appreciation or a passing excitement for them, but a lasting, all-consuming passion.
“Love, in my opinion, is not the same as sexual excitement,” says Tessina. “It develops over time, and will probably wind up being only one person.”
Is It Possible to Be in Love With Two People at the Same Time?
Taking the difference between “being in love” or “having a crush on” into account, being in love with two people simultaneously is certainly not the most common thing. It requires a depth of feeling and investment in romantic relationships that can be difficult for most people to maintain for more than one person at a time.
That being said, according to NYC-based dating coach Connell Barrett, it’s far from impossible.
“You can absolutely fall in love with two people at the same time,” he says. “Walt Whitman was right — you contain multitudes. Someone might bring out your confident, sexy side and you’ll love them for it. A second person might make you feel safe, loved and deeply connected, and you’ll also fall for that person. Suddenly, your brain is cranking out dopamine for both of them because they make you feel special and loved in different ways.”
However, the accidental-seeming aspect of the phrase “fall in love” when it comes to the two-person scenario is still something to call into question.
“You can be in love with one person because of who you see and honor in them, and simultaneously be in love with someone else for their very different yet equally resonant being,” notes House. “That being said, love is a choice. You don’t ‘fall’ in love. Instead, you choose to open your heart and see the beauty, feel the vulnerability, allow your guard to drop and your heart to open, and give yourself permission to feel and be in a state of love. Therefore, if you are in love with one person, it is up to you to choose to turn your red light on and turn yourself off to the possibility of being open to letting someone else in.”
Can You Be in Love With Someone While Already in a Relationship?
Being in a relationship with someone else doesn’t make you exempt from feeling something another person, unplanned or otherwise.
Of course, it’s possible to develop intense feelings for two people simultaneously without ever actually dating or being in a couple with either, but in the majority of cases, that’s probably a strong crush masquerading as love rather than the real thing. It’s a bit trickier when you start out in a relationship where you love your partner, only to suddenly feel love-like feelings for someone else.
“You can be passionately in love with someone while you’re in a relationship with another,” says Barrett. “A relationship is a logical choice. Falling in love is involuntary. It’s an arrow to the heart — you can’t help it. This often happens when your relationship has become more of a friendship, so you fall in love with someone who re-ignites the dormant passion within you.”
That’s often how infidelity happens, too. “Oftentimes, a long-term relationship can become more like a sibling relationship, and the sexual connection fades if the couple don’t know how to keep it alive,” says Tessina. “That opens the door for falling in love (or at least, lust) with someone else.”
For some people, seeking out a sexual outlet is where the cheating begins and ends. For others, it leads to developing real feelings for another, whether or not the affair is physically consummated.
“You might be in an emotionally cold or distant relationship, within which you have chosen to close your heart, or never felt comfortable fully opening it in the first place,” says House. “And then you meet someone who makes you feel safe, seen and sexy, and with them you become vulnerable, real, emotionally connected and in love.”
What Does Being in Love With Two People Say About You?
Feeling like you’re in love with two different people at the same time can be nerve-wracking.
For starters, our society tends to instill in people that it’s not even possible, let alone a desirable state to be in. Add in the fact that it often takes the form of some form of cheating, along with the possibility that if either person knew about the other, the whole thing would come crashing down, and you’re likely left with a pretty stressed-out person.
“If you’re in love with two people at once, forgive yourself,” says Barrett. “It simply means you’re human — that two people are both meeting desires you have for connection, love and companionship. Yes, it’s complicated, but there’s no cause for shame.”
Instead of seeing your feelings as a manifestation of something bad within yourself, it might be more useful to see them as a sign that something in your current relationship isn’t satisfying you. Then, you can interrogate the relationship on that basis, rather than making it about the other person specifically.
For instance, if you feel like you’re in love with two people, it might be a sign that “you don’t do intimacy well,” according to Tessina, and that “you don’t know how to negotiate the deeper parts of a relationship, so instead you get distracted by someone else. It’s really a way to avoid intimacy and bonding.”
Basically, if you have enough free time and emotional openness that you start falling for someone else, it implies that you’re not fully invested in the person you’re currently with.
Rather than being in love with two different people, really, you’re likely not actually in love with either. You might feel love for your original partner and you might be in lust with the new person, but neither of those meets the criteria for being in love.
What Should You Do If You’re in Love With Two Different People?
If you feel that you’re in love with two different people, don’t act rashly.
You might feel compelled to tell both people about your feelings, to break up with your current partner or to begin an affair with the newer one, all of which are likely to have unpleasant consequences for you and the other two people.
Instead, you should consider going to see a therapist, suggests Tessina, to get at the root of what’s really going on inside you.
“It’s not about the other people, it’s about your relationship with you,” she says. “If you’re commitment-phobic, there’s a reason. Why not work through that reason in therapy, learn to understand yourself, learn what intimacy truly is and you’ll save yourself, and those you love a lot of heartache. Once you understand what’s going on in your own heart, you’ll be more able to communicate it to other people.”
Of course, given the way monogamy is increasingly giving way to more flexible alternatives, it can be tempting to imagine that you could work out an arrangement where you can be in a relationship with both people without it being cheating.
Even if your partner has generally favorable views of polyamory, kicking things off by announcing that you’ve already fallen for someone else is unlikely to meet with a great response.
“Polyamory is possible, but pulling it off is as easy as drawing a straight flush,” warns Barrett, especially if your current relationship has been going on for a long time. “What you don’t want to do is spin a web of lies, keeping both relationships a secret. This leads to stress, heartbreak and anger. If you want to consider polyamory, have an honest, transparent — and separate — conversation with both parties to see if they’re open to it.”
Love is a powerful feeling, and most people understand that enough to use it to describe situations where they genuinely do feel powerful emotions.
However, if you feel like you’re in love with two people at the same time — particularly if you’re in a relationship with one of them and developing feelings for the other — you owe it to yourself and the two people you’re thinking of to explore what it is that’s really going on with you, emotionally.