~ JULY 2022 ~
Your heart flutters when you see them, and you think about them every moment you’re apart. Do you love that person you feel so strongly for…or is it really lust?
Telling someone you love them can take your relationship to another level, which is why it’s helpful to put a name to those intense feelings you’re experiencing. Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference between love and lust—and while love and lust can overlap, they are not the same.
So before you drop the L-bomb on your partner, let’s explore the differences between love and lust, including the telltale signs of each emotion.
What do love and lust actually mean?
First, let’s define our terms so we have a baseline understanding of each. Merriam-Webster defines love (in part) as “affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests” and “warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion.” Meanwhile, it defines lust as “usually intense or unbridled sexual desire” or “an intense longing.”
Wondering where you fall with someone right now? (Or where you fell in a past relationship?) If you’ve never been in love, it might be hard to know. And if your connection has elements of confusion, your feelings may be cloudy.
Especially when people are younger, and don’t have life experience, their first so-called “love” actually can be a very lustful relationship, says Lena Derhally, an Imago certified relationship therapist and cognitive behavioral sex therapist. Because of this lack of experience, you can later feel that this kind of overwhelming attraction is love as opposed to an attraction more rooted in biological feelings.
Ready for more? Let’s get into our breakdown.
9 Signs of Lust
♥ You have obsessive thoughts. You’re constantly thinking about this person. You imagine scenarios, and replay moments, and it goes on and on.
♥ You want to be around them all the time. And though you’re not stalking them—please don’t—you want to see them as much as you can. “You can’t get enough of them,” Derhally says.
♥ You think they can do no wrong. Flaws? What flaws? You think this person is perfect for you. And you don’t take note of traits that may not be fit. (Yep, this is how you can end up idealizing someone totally wrong for you.)
♥ You don’t really know them but desire them. What’s their biggest accomplishment? What drives them? You don’t have the details but still crave the person. “That’s also why we say don’t get married to someone super quick,” Derhally adds, because things that you don’t like could come out “once those rose-colored glasses come off.”
♥ The sexual attraction is super strong. The heat is intense. The cravings are through the roof. And when you see them, wow.
♥ Your outlook is clouded. You crave their company, but also may feel confused. Is there something substantial there…or are you in a lusty bubble?
♥ You’re like a hunter on a mission. You’re not trying to build but trying to catch. It’s exhilarating. But what happens when you get what you want? (By the way, if you tend to continually catch and release people, that’s not cool—and can be cruel. Stop it. You’re dating, not fishing.)
♥ You don’t feel accepted. Maybe you sometimes feel uncomfortable. Or you’re afraid to truly be yourself, so you limit what you share and what they see.
♥ It’s all about you. You want what you want and don’t want to compromise. You also don’t want to put the other person before yourself and may not respect them as a whole person. If you have controlling tendencies, or attachment issues, take a close look at yourself here.
9 Signs of Love
♥ You have affectionate thoughts. You can fondly think about this person, but it doesn’t derail your day. They can make you smile, but you’re in no way obsessed.
♥ You want their company, in a balanced way. You still live your life but light up when you see them.
♥ You can see and accept their flaws. You know they’re not perfect, and that’s okay. You can accept their weird sock collection and that silly way they laugh.
♥ You understand them…and still like them. You get how their early years shaped them. You see what makes them happy and sad. You have the full picture and appreciate it.
♥ The attraction is there, but it’s not the only draw. Yeah, you feel sexual attraction. (If you question this, learn more about allosexuality vs. other types.) But you’re also drawn to other aspects of them, you respect them, and the pieces all work together.
♥ You can see things clearly. There may be a few issues, but you’re comfortable working through them. You don’t feel misled or confused, and things feel more calm than chaotic.
♥ You’re content with the process and want to build. This isn’t a game. You’re enjoying the chase but also learning about this person. And making plans that benefit you both.
♥ You feel known and accepted. They know about your crazy childhood adventures and have seen when you’re kind of a mess. And you’re cool with that. Hey, when morning breath isn’t a reason to avoid a morning kiss, that’s love, jokes David Bowers, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist.
♥ You can put the other person before yourself. Love is showing empathy and sacrificing, Derhally says. Maybe you consider how to stay together if someone has to relocate, she says. Or maybe it’s as simple as letting them finish your favorite dessert. Whatever it is, you work to improve the other person’s life, too.
What are the key differences between lust and love?
“When you’re in lust with somebody, you don’t really know them at all, and so you’ve projected and made up a story about who they are,” Derhally says. Real love can happen after you spend time getting to know a person and forming a deeper attachment.
With love, you’re also not so concerned about the image you’re producing for this person, Bowers says.
Derhally notes that in a long-term relationship, you go through a lot together. And while there is an early stage where you can experience intense attraction and craving—a.k.a. “the honeymoon phase”—the vast majority of people will fall out of lust between six months and two years, she says.
Another thing about lust? The focus is on the current obsession and attraction. And while attraction can be why you initially pursue someone, Derhally says you may be feeling lust (versus love) if you can’t see a long-term future because you’re focused on physical attraction.
In fact, some people may jump from person to person thinking they’ll find someone who they’ll feel lust with long-term, Derhally adds. But that can be problematic. “They may discard a relationship that could be perfectly good for them because they have the false notion that the butterflies can last forever,” she says, or they think once butterflies go away, the relationship “is a throwaway.”
So as you consider whether you feel lust or love—and what you want—know relationships will have ups and downs.
And if you’re still not sure how you feel, you can slow down and think about where you are, says Bowers. For instance, maybe you feel lust now, and maybe it could become love, he says. Just don’t mislead the other person.