Did you just madly fall in love but you’re afraid that the relationship won’t survive beyond the sexual connection? Is it real love or infatuation? Does it look like lust or like the romance portrayed in all those Hollywood movies? Do you feel secure in the relationship?
Lust vs. love.
If you feel an intense sexual attraction that keeps drawing you to another person and this magnetism is fueled by your projections and idealization scenarios, you’re probably experiencing lust. When this happens, you are unable to see the reality of person and the situation and you expect for this infatuation to be ongoing in a long-term relationship. This is a dangerous misconception that can set you up for unhealthy attachments and suffering. In the best-case scenario, lust can become the glue that allows you to develop a deeper physical connection with your partner.
Love on the other hand is more complex and it is what keeps us bond to those who matter most for us. When we’re talking about a romantic attachment, love implies a level of trust and acceptance that makes us want to be with the other person despite their flaws and all. Love is a deeper connection, a basic human need but unfortunately it activates the same neural pathways in the brain as lust so sometimes is hard to discern between them. They both involve the idea of happiness, some goal-directed behaviors, the way we see ourselves and a rewarding but in the same time addictive response.
You can have love and lust, love without lust, lust without love or any combination to varying degrees and great fluctuations among these states over time.
How to tell if it’s love or lust.
If you are worried that your relationship is only based on lust, these questions might help you make the distinction between these two feelings and decide if you can think of a long-term relationship or not.
- Why are you interested in the relationship?
When your partner is only interested in you sexually, we’re talking about lust. When he wants to know you better over time, love might be involved.
- Are you open to the hard work?
Do you want to keep your relationship on an ideal level are you ready to expand and explore painful emotions through difficult conversations?
- How do you feel about the person’s flaws?
Do you lose your interest when you discover the other’s person flaws or are you ready to accept them with their positive and negative features?
- Does the relationship get better over time?
Are you looking for immediate gratification or do you have patience to develop trust and commitment over time?
- Where is the thrill coming from?
Do you enjoy the excitement of your interaction and all those projected fantasies or are you ready to be vulnerable and open yourself so the other person will fully know you?
- How secure do you feel in the relationship?
Are you mostly impulsive and obsessional and do you feel desperate in this relationship or steady and secure?
- Do you feel “obsessed”?
Is this new relationship consuming your whole mental space? Do you rather feel obsessed? Because love is more balanced and allows you to maintain a healthy, steady life.
- Is there longevity?
Lust vanishes over time. Love persists.
Stages of romantic love.
We’ve been thought that romantic love starts with this strong attraction we call lust but the truth is that the whole process is a bit more complicated and it usually involves a negotiation of factors such as similarity, intelligence, physical appearance and resources. So although there are people that experience an instant sexual attraction, others need to develop an emotional bond that will gradually develop into romantic attraction.
Regardless your love starts, this quick guide can help you understand and move along through the stages of romantic love.
It all starts with lust that fires up your sex hormones. You will feel intensely attracted to the other person and you will want sexual gratification from them. Remember that intense feeling of wanting to tear your partner’s clothes off? That happens when the estrogen and testosterone levels are supercharged and it is a sign that you’re in the lust phase.
Do you feel like your whole life has been transformed by the other person? Did they take such an important space in your life that you want to spend all your time with them and can’t stop obsessing about your partner? You’re not feeling hungry and you have trouble sleeping? This is the attraction phase when the increased levels or dopamine drives your goal-directed behavior and the depleted serotonin makes you think obsessively about the other person. Here are the main signs of the attraction phase:
- You can’t stop thinking about your partner and you want to be close to him all the time
- You can’t eat, sleep or think straight and you can’t focus to your daily activities
- You get butterflies in your stomach when you meet your partner
When the strong emotions you felt begin to calm down and your life is normal again, but in a way better, you are already in the phase of commitment and growth. There is trust between you two and your relationship became stable and makes you feel safe no matter what life throws at you. In this stage, your body releases vasopressin, the monogamy hormone and oxytocin, the cuddling hormone. Now, besides sex and excitement you’ll feel the need to intimacy and bonding. Here is what you feel when you’re in the attachment phase:
- You think about your partner but not all the time
- You are calm and happy and you’re mostly focused on growing together with your partner.
- You can easily make eye contact with them and openly express your anxieties or needs
Love vs. lust: Is it even the right question?
Do you find yourself in a sea of feelings that overwhelm you and you need to get to the heart of the matter? Do you feel anxious and seek a sense of control and safety or what makes you ask this question? We know that every romantic experience can make you feel vulnerable but maybe the issue is that you do want a committed relationship and you’re afraid that yours won’t develop in that direction. It happens to you often to want more after just a sexual fling? It is important to know your needs and properly communicate them to the other person.
The truth is that in love matters we can’t talk about norms, rules, shoulds or the right way to get things done. There are people that fall in love after just one passionate night, there are people that are friends for years and find themselves head over heels with just a single change of perspective and there are people that experience years of steamy casual sex with another person without falling in love. All the above situations are possible and everything in between can transform in love in time.
But if your question is rather focused on the idea of investing or not in the relationships maybe it’s better to check within yourself how do you feel in it instead of trying to label it. Think of how this person makes you feel, if you feel free to be yourself with them, if you share the same values and dreams, in short how do you experience yourself with this person.