Telling the difference between love and lust

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Love vs. lust

You’ve met someone amazing and you can’t wait to see them again. But is it real love that you’re feeling or just lust? And which is the most important? We investigate 

When dating, most people are looking for some chemistry or spark between them and their date – they want there to be a physical and chemical reaction that tells them that this person is a good match for them. Someone may look perfect on paper but if there is no chemistry between them then it is unlikely that a relationship will develop. But is it love or lust that you are feeling when you get that chemical reaction? Many of the feelings of are the same and it can be confusing here we look at some of the subtle differences.

Body language

There are a lot of different physiological factors which determine whether we will find someone attractive – pheromones – the colourless, odourless chemical signals given off by the body; their mannerisms and whether they are in harmony with ours; the dilation of their pupils or the plumpness of their lips etc. All of these things will play a part in whether we feel physically drawn to someone. If they are then combined with sparkling conversation, laughter, and shared interests you have an exciting, even intoxicating, combination.

When we do meet someone who we click with at this level is can be dramatic. Even the thought of seeing them again can make you weak at the knees and cause your heart rate to speed up. It would be easy to interpret these feelings as love, and they could certainly develop into that, but the physical sensations you experience are also the signs of pure animal lust.

Lust is necessary

Lust has an important role to play in developing long-term, intimate relationships. We need the physiological signs in order to move us into a sexual relationship with someone – it is nature’s way of ensuring the continuation of the species. While lust is necessary it can become a problem if it is all that you feel towards someone rather than part of the connection you have with them.

Lust has been shown to create an altered state of consciousness which affects the brain in much the same way as some drugs. MRI scans have shown that the same areas of the brain light up when a person is experiencing the lust of physical attraction as when someone takes cocaine. Like with drugs we can become addicted to these chemical surges because they feel so good.

Love can grow

Lust often lays the foundation for a relationship to develop – it is the springboard from which love can grow. Love needs to be present in order for a meaningful relationship to develop and last rather that a whirlwind romance that burns out quickly. The differences are subtle but here are some of the contrasts:

–          Love deepens as you get to know someone, you want to learn all you can about them and that takes time – time you are happy to give.

–          Lust can be almost instant (often mistaken for love at first sight) and is about physical attraction and idealisation. When you lust after someone you usually cannot see them clearly and even someone quite plain can seem very attractive.

–          Love makes you want to have conversations – to talk all night and find out everything you can about each other.

–          Lust makes you want to have sex – it is as simple as that – it is there so we will procreate.

–          Love will wait and wants to spend time developing the connection between you before moving onto developing a sexual relationship

–          Lust isn’t happy, or able, to wait – it is much more compulsive, a primitive drive to get physical which will make you override other rational responses and you may find yourself acting completely out of character.

–          Love is expansive and wants to bring the other person in to share your life – to give generously of all you have and make them the centre of your world.

–          Lust is exclusive, you want that person to yourself and you may find yourself wanting to keep your relationship secret from your family and friends.

–          Love is confined to specific individuals and can exist even if the person never loves you back.

–          Lust can move from person to person very quickly and is based on what an individual finds erotic or sexually attractive rather than individual people.

Neither love nor lust exist exclusively in a healthy, intimate relationship – if a relationship has love, but no lust, it will be more like a friendship or a brother/sister relationship. If there is lust but no love it is likely to be short lived and may be exploitative if one partner thinks it is more meaningful than it actually is.


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