Most of us crave the kind of love that’s portrayed in Hollywood movies. You know the one, where two people meet each other, fall instantly in love, and give up their whole former lives to be together.
Except that’s not love. That’s lust.
In real life, it can be difficult to differentiate between lust and love — especially if you don’t have much experience in relationships. For example:
- Having butterflies in your stomach isn’t (necessarily) a sign of love
- Your heart beating faster every time you see your partner/they call you/they send you a text isn’t (necessarily) a sign of love
- Wanting to see your partner every day/being unable to imagine your life without them isn’t (necessarily) a sign of love
If you’ve caught yourself wondering if it’s lust or love between you and your partner (or in case you start wondering sometime in the future), here’s how you can tell the difference between them.
The Overwhelming, Superficial Feeling of Lust
If someone asked me to give a synonym for the word “lust” I think a suitable one would be, “intense desire”.
Lust is usually associated with attraction, sex, and porn, but the truth is we can feel lust about objects and circumstances too — e.g. the lust for power.
When it comes to relationships, however, we could explain lust as an intense form of enthusiasm, an overwhelming sexual attraction to your partner, that overpowers any other emotions you might have about them.
As clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst Mary Lamia explains in her article:
“Lust may be experienced as intense desire, ardent enthusiasm, or unbridled sexual longing. This passionate craving is attention directing and a motivational force as is the experience of any emotion. When untethered, lust can lead to actions that may appear irrational.”
The most interesting part is that the intensity of lust can be compared to the intensity of the cravings an addict gets for drugs.
As Judith Orloff explains in her article in Psychology Today:
“Lust is an altered state of consciousness programmed by the primal urge to procreate. Studies suggest that the brain in this phase is much like a brain on drugs. MRI scans illustrate that the same area lights up when an addict gets a fix of cocaine as when a person is experiencing the intense lust of physical attraction.”
Signs it’s lust and not love in your case:
- You’re more interested in having sex with your partner than any other activity
- You rarely have meaningful conversations with your partner
- Every time someone asks you what you like most about your partner, all you can think about is their looks
- You don’t feel comfortable talking about your feelings with them
- You think your partner is perfect — you’re unable to notice any flaws in them
- You don’t make any plans for the future with your partner
- You feel less excited about your partner than you did when you first met them
The Sweet, Intimate Feeling of Love
Here comes the tricky part. What is love? How we define it? Can we define it?
The feeling of lust is based on attraction and sexual desire. Love, on the other hand, is based on personal ties and emotional connection. Besides that, however, even know psychologists struggle to come up with a general definition of love.
Of all the hundreds of theories regarding love, the one that’s probably the more prevalent is the triangular theory of love.
American psychologist Robert J. Sternberg developed the triangular theory of love, which proposed that love can be understood in terms of three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment.
Clinical psychologist Lisa J. Cohen analyzes these three components as:
“Intimacy involves closeness, caring, and emotional support. Passion refers to states of emotional and physiological arousal. This includes sexual arousal and physical attraction as well as other kinds of intense emotional experiences. Commitment involves a decision to commit to loving the other and trying to maintain that love over time.”
Signs it’s love and not lust in your case:
- You like having sex with your partner but you’re equally interested in engaging in other activities with them
- You’re willing to talk about feelings — both yours and your partner’s
- You often have meaningful conversations with your partner and catch yourself getting lost in them
- You want to become a better person because of your partner
- You make future plans with your partner
- You are fully aware of your partner’s flaws and weaknesses — but you accept them either way
- You feel more attached and connected to your partner than you did when you first met them
The Difference Between Lust and Love Boiled Down to Simple Comparisons
I’ve worked in summer camps for three years in a row. The past summer would be my fourth time, but unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the camp’s owners decided against opening it.
During those summers, I spend 24/7 around kids, who asked me the most weird/original/interesting questions. One question I got asked often was, “what real love looks like?”
Of course, I doubt (and hope) most of them knew what “lust” even meant, but in order to answer them, I had to compare love and lust in my head, and came up with simple comparisons that highlight the differences between them:
- Lust is overwhelming and superficial. Love is sweet and intimate.
- Lust is quick and impulsive. Love is conscious and slow.
- Lust is about physical connection, whereas love is (more) about emotional connection.
- Lust decreases with time whereas love becomes only stronger.
- Lust is about perfection (thinking your partner is perfect) whereas love is about acceptance (recognizing and accepting that they’re not)
- Lust is mostly about taking, whereas love is mostly about giving.
Sometimes it’s easy to rush and assume that there is love between you and your partner and make some faulty decisions based on that assumption.
Make sure you give yourself time to contemplate your feelings before walking around and screaming you love your partner or making any major decisions.
Because the most important thing that tests the love (or absence of it) in any relationship is time. With time, lust gets weaker, love becomes stronger, and feelings become clearer.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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