Love or Lust?

Ok, you know you like him. You really, really like him. But your raging hormones have left your head (and your heart) spinning. Is it love at first sight or just a temporary overload of the pituitary gland? Deciding whether your feelings are the product of cupid’s arrow or your garden variety crush isn’t always as easy as you might think (especially since some of the same hormones that trigger lust are involved in falling in love). And when you’re caught in the throws of one of those L-words it can help to ask yourself a few key questions when deciding which one.

Something to talk about
Do you want everyone to know about him? It could be lust. Want everyone to know her? We might be talking love. While we can’t stop talking (or thinking) about any new flame, it’s a good sign that you’re headed for the real thing when you want your friends and family to get more than a dose of her charm or a glimpse of his biceps. As social creatures, we’re inclined to weave our contacts into networks or tribes. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to invite your eye-candy into that circle, particularly if the only thing that draws you to that person is sex appeal. Those contacts are usually temporary, and on some level you know that. They don’t belong in your core social network and as much time as you may spend with your object of lust, it’s not comfortable to welcome them there. When you’re falling in love, however, you’re struck with the persistent notion that everyone you know should love your beloved, too. He or she has become a real part of you and it’s only natural to want to imbed that partner deeply into your tribe.

The test of time
Powerful lust is intoxicating, and it can feel very much like being in love. But lust is the hundred meter dash to love’s marathon. The adrenaline rush alone can make you feel like it will last forever, but most of the time those feelings play themselves out long before the distance finish. Whether you’re positive it’s only a fling or certain you’re headed for long-term romance, take your time before making that call. Love at first sight looks a lot like lust once you’ve spent your second wind.

Perchance to dream
Find yourself daydreaming about your someone at odd moments? Of course you do! Whether we’re talking about a hot date or your soul mate, those thoughts are likely to take up a good portion of your idle time, and some of your not-so-idle time, as well. But pay attention to the way you dream about him or her, and you might find a clue to the root of your attachment. Lustful fantasies are fair game for all attractions, of course (It’s not like we stop thinking about sex once we start getting serious), and those newly infatuated dream up all kinds of emotionally charged scenarios. You might find yourself running to her imaginary rescue or comforting him though a fictional crisis. It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to read into what those mean — daydreams are wish fulfillments for feeling admired, powerful, needed, appreciated or forgiving and can be excellent clues as to what you crave from another person. So, when your dreams start telling you that what you wish for is love, take heed. It could be in the conversations you have, in daydreams about the future or about quiet nights at home, but it will be about what love means to you. When your fantasies start getting deeper, it’s a solid clue that your feelings have, as well.

Turning the tables
Can lust turn into love? Actually, this is very often exactly how it works. Lust isn’t just nature’s way of encouraging us to reproduce, it gives way to a bond designed for lasting companionship, a partnership for survival and a team equipped to raise and nurture children. The hormones involved in sexual attraction, touch and orgasm facilitate those bonds, which is how it’s possible for a casual partner to transform into someone we want around when the lights are on, too. And because we are more than a cocktail of hormones and impulses, we also invite our brains into the mix of influences. If we genuinely like that person on an intellectual level, we begin to think alike and to value the perspective of those we once saw only through lustful eyes.

The reality is there’s no one point in which lust magically transforms into the stuff of fairy tales. It’s not a threshold event, but a wide spectrum from base sexual attraction to trusting, lasting partnership. Sometimes we move along it quietly; sometimes the transformation is shocking and thunderous, and yes, sometimes our feelings never move forward at all. I guess that’s why no matter how many times you’ve fallen in love, it’s still hard to recognize when it comes along again. It also explains how each new connection can be so scary, so exciting and so reliably unpredictable.

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