We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.
~W. Somerset Maugham
You live long enough, as I have, you start to think you know a thing or two about a thing or two. You also realize over time, at least in my case, that you don’t know a thing or two about a thing or two…or twenty or forty or (keep doubling until you get the point or collapse from exhaustion). It’s an interesting intellectual dynamic, a swing of the mental pendulum, with knowledge serving as fuel for the furnace that is your brain, burning bright and giving off enlightened energy, but also creating a need and a desire to replenish the supply to keep the pyre roaring.
If that mangled metaphor makes any sense at all, I’m grateful and please take a bow on behalf of your cognitive and clarifying powers. If not, I’ll turn to Aristotle who said what I’m trying to say so much better: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”
Which brings me to the topic at hand, Love vs. Lust, something, as my beginning salvo argues, I know a little, and not too much, about. But ignorance is bliss, and with the joy of befuddlement on my side, I push forward with my take on these wondrous, miraculous, and yes, sometimes disastrous, feelings.
To start, I will narrow things down, more for my focus than for yours, and pick two of the many definitions found in Webster’s for these words:
Attraction based on sexual desire: affection and tenderness felt by lovers
After all these years, they are still very much in love.
Usually intense or unbridled sexual desire: lasciviousness
He was motivated more by lust than by love.
As these entries attest, I’m concentrating on how these feelings are perceived and experience within the framework of intimate, consenting, sexual relationships — short and long-term. And why, you may ask? Because over the years I’ve known and talked to several men about the difficulties distinguishing between love and lust in these terms, and how this confusion has interfered in their ability to start or sustain a mutually meaningful and beneficial romantic union. Again, to condense, I’ll keep to the two issues most expressed in these discussions as, well, issues.
Lust Fades: This is a very common occurrence in romantic relationships, and thankfully so, as the passion and heat often accompanying new sexual beginnings, to be sustained say, for years if not decades, might entail a near perfect combination of physical and mental health on the part of both parties, let alone a lack of stress, overwhelming job and familial responsibilities, and most likely a limiting of carbs and adherence to stomach crunches, to keep up the pace. So really, lust fading is not the problem.
But panic about the loss of this frenetic friction is. At least in the subset of men I’m using for this treatise, the normal reduction of lust made them think that the person they were with was wrong for them, that there was a major divide in the relationship that was not salvageable, or not worth salvaging, and thus a break up and search for someone new and able to keep up a continuous high rate of carnal coupling warranted. Love, in this case, was buried in lust, smothered by the notion that they are mirror images of each other, symbiotic to the extreme, and to lose one means to lose the other, i.e. “If lust has faded, it must mean I never loved this person, or will never love them. Time to update the profile and log on to Tinder!”
Love Eludes: This is trickier. While it’s easy for most men to know when lust fades, it’s much harder to make the same claim about love. I believe this so because it’s a much more complex feeling than lust, and because of the myriad of external, commercially-driven ideals of love. The bar is set high by our society about what love means in a relationship, and when that meaning is not experienced by a person in a relationship, a panic might ensue that that the relationship is doomed and a break-up is necessary. While this may be the case in some cases, it might also not be case in some cases. If you are unsure what love feels like, or if it feels different than what you think it should feel like, or are being told what it should feel like, isn’t it difficult, even risky, to make a decision about a relationship based on the love factor alone?
But this is what most men I’ve known do when it comes to judging their intimate relationships: “I just wasn’t in love with….” “I don’t think I was ever in love with….” are utterances I’ve heard often about sputtering relationships or ones already deceased. To this I say, how can you be sure?
You see, I believe love is undefinable. There just is not an equation that can be created to ensure that we are in love, or out of love, no equivalent to E=MC2 to prove what is not provable. But some men I know have tried, including such drastic takes as: “If I am willing to die for a partner, it means I love them. If I won’t, I don’t.” Such benchmarks only serve to create horribly high emotional ceilings to paint.
To close, I will share some words of wisdom once given to me by a very wise man. He said: “There are some problems that can be solved with the mind, and some that can only be solved with the heart. The ones that can only be solved with the heart take more time, but once resolved, they usually stay resolved and the rewards are endless.”
I think it’s good advice if you are presented with problems related to lust or love – let your heart figure it out and be patient and confident that it will.
But please remember, what do I really know about anything.