There’s a scientific reason why it can be difficult to tell the difference between love and lust. Sex releases all sorts of feel-good chemicals in the brain, which can lead to a craving for the other person. It’s easy to confuse the sexual craving for wanting to be around someone because of a strong emotional connection. Here, marriage and family therapist Racine Henry, PhD, and couples and sex therapist Corrin Voeller both explain the difference between the two, and how to figure out exactly what you’re feeling for someone you’ve been dating.
Keep reading to see the difference between love and lust.
The literal differences
“Lust is about a physical or sexual attraction whereas love might encompass lust, but it’s more emotional and is about actually caring for the other person,” Dr. Henry explains. Voeller puts it this way: “You know when you’re sitting next to someone at the movie theater and you’re super aware of their body? You know exactly where their hand is without even looking. And maybe your shoulders touch each other and you feel an electric current run through your body? That’s lust.” Love, Voeller explains, is deeper. “You’re emotionally attached to their wellbeing and outcome,” she says. Both experts say that lust typically comes more readily than love, because it can take a while to connect with someone on a deeper, emotional level.
There’s a common belief that lust always fades over time. However: “Lust and love can both fade over time if they aren’t nurtured,” Dr. Henry says. She explains that there are many reasons why lust can ebb and flow: stress, exhaustion, bad days…Similarly, she says love needs to be nurtured by making a continued effort to care about what is going on in each other’s lives.
“Lust can transform into love, but it doesn’t always,” Voeller says. It’s possible, she says, to have a strong physical connection with someone but not really care about their emotional wellbeing. “On the other hand, some people feel a deeper sense of lust when they’re in love,” she says. “For some people, feeling totally secure and emotionally connected to someone makes the sex more satisfying.”
Signs that it’s likely lust versus love
It’s probably lust if…
1. You crave the other person physically. Does your heartbeat quicken when they grab your hand? Do you get the butterflies when you kiss? Do you feel a sexual craving for them? According to the experts, these are classic signs you’re in lust, my friend.
2. When they text you that they had a bad day, you don’t feel the urge to find out why. If you find yourself ignoring texts from the other person or tuning out when they tell you about your day wondering when you’re just going to start making out already, the experts say it’s a good indicator that you’re in lust, not love.
3. You enjoy spending time with them, but don’t daydream about your future together. If you’re enjoying the moment but don’t have a desire to introduce them to your friends, family, or include them in important moments of your life, it’s a sign that while you’re into the physical connection, love isn’t part of the equation.
It could be love if…
1. When they’re sad, you’re sad. If the other person is going through a hard time and you find yourself suffering right along with them, that’s an indicator that your emotional wellbeing is intertwined.
2. You want to include them in events that are important to you. Maybe you’re thinking about how you want to use your vacation days and you can’t imagine traveling without the other person, or you have a big event at work coming up you want them to attend with you. These are signs that you want to share moments that mean something to you with someone you (wait for it) love.
3. You aren’t afraid to get vulnerable. Both experts say vulnerability is a key marker of love. If you feel safe and secure with the other person and you aren’t afraid to share your personal feelings—and you want to hear theirs—you’re likely in love.
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