Here's How to Tell If You're Feeling Love or Lust
It can be next to impossible to decipher the difference between love and lust when you're wrapped up in the moment — especially at the beginning of a relationship during that coveted and beloved honeymoon phase. But in order to build a lasting, healthy relationship, you're going to need a lot more than lust. But when there is palpable chemistry and undeniable physical attraction, it's easy to confuse those feelings with love.
So we turned to the experts to find out how to decipher between love vs lust, as well as some tips for distinguishing your own feelings.
What's the Difference Between Love and Lust?
Like many things in life, the definitions for both of these concepts are not black and white. In fact, dating expert and CMO of online dating app OkCupid, Melissa Hobley says there are many different types of love that date back to Ancient Greece. But in modern times, experts and researchers have narrowed it down to two main types of connections: lust and love.
"Lust is exactly what you think it is," explains Hobley. "You want to physically be with someone, you want to touch them, you want to make out. It's often found in the early stage of a relationship where there's intense attraction, excitement, and passion!"
On the other hand, she says love is a "deeper romantic connection" with your partner — one that probably involves commitment, loyalty, and trust. "I think love means passion and compassion," Hobley tells us. "Compassion is what motivates a person to go out of their way to be there. When someone loves you — be it a friend, a parent, a partner — they will go out of their way to support you. That's not one of the components of lust."
Both feelings do involve a physical attraction, but Hobley says the main difference between the two is that this is where the connection stops for lust. With love comes affection, compassion, and an interest in their life, family, and job. She adds that your brain also has a different chemical reaction for the two as well.
"With lust, you're feeling attraction, and your brain will release 'feel good' chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine," she says, adding that these are actually some of the same pathways "associated with addictive behavior," which explains why lustful relationships are oftentimes obsessive.
"With compassionate love, the brain is releasing chemicals like oxytocin and vasopressin," Hobley explains. "These are linked to pair-bonding."
Here's How to Figure Out If It's Love or Lust
If you find yourself confused, author, historian, and Professor Emerita at Loyola University Chicago Barbara Rosenwein says there's a good reason why. To start, she says that lust is a "subset" of love and sex is also a huge part of any relationship. She also believes that love goes hand-in-hand with a lot of other emotions like "joy, pain, wonder, confusion, pride, humility, shame, tranquility, even anger and jealousy" making it sometimes difficult to pinpoint your exact feelings.
In order to decipher your feelings, you'll need to take inventory of your relationship. Rosenwein says you'll need to "recognize all your feelings, see where they come from, and be open to the fact that your partner also has many different feelings." The first step in this process is taking a step back and talking to your partner about where you're both at.
Hobley also suggests running through a list of a few questions (answer honestly!) that can help you decide if something is turning into love. "Do you want to meet their friends? Do you look forward to the conversations? Do you want to know more about what they love? Are you opening up to that person and sharing things about your life? Being vulnerable is a good sign that it's more than lust," she says.
But according to Hobley, there are a few signs to look out for that indicate your relationship is just lust and passion, like being intimate every time you're together, neither party making plans for the future or making introductions to friends and family, and lack of desire to get to know each other beyond the physical connection.
But even if you are currently just feeling the lust towards someone, Hobley says there's nothing wrong with keeping it that way, as long as you're both on the same page. "If you want passion and you don't want anything serious, that's OK," she says. "It's hard to find physical chemistry, and so many folks are craving it [after] COVID, so enjoy those hot make-outs!"
If you start to become too attached, Hobley advises re-evaluating the relationship. Have a conversation with your partner about where things are headed if you start to want more.
"If you want a deeper bond, try having that conversation," she says. "I've seen thousands of relationships that have started pretty steamy and turn into real deep connections."
Should You Have Both Love and Lust In Your Relationship?
It turns out, lust isn't all bad. It's actually a very important part of a healthy relationship that also involves love. Hobley says a healthy relationship is made up of both lust and love, but you'll want to have a strong foundation to support you in moments when the passion fades.
"It's completely normal for passion to ebb and flow in a long-term relationship," she explains. "In the movies, we often see couples who are passionate for years and years, but that's just not reality."
While Hobley says that "there is no one right answer to how you should feel in a relationship," happiness and feeling supported by your partner are hallmarks of a healthy bond, as well as the presence of trust, vulnerability, and interest in and knowledge of things going on in their life.
The Bottom Line: "Compassionate Love" Is the Key to a Successful Relationship
If you're struggling to identify your feelings, take a step back and ask yourself those key questions. Reassess if you want something more than the physical. At the end of the day, Hobley believes that love is the combination of "compassionate love" and "passionate love", but it's important to distinguish if there is a deeper connection and foundation beneath the passion. "With love, the connection and interest is beyond just the physical," says Hobley. "It means there's compatibility. There's a bond beyond the bedroom."