15 Key Differences Between Lust And Love

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When it comes to our friends, we can normally tell a mile off whether what they’re feeling for someone is lust or love. When it comes to ourselves, however, we’re never able to see things quite as clearly. We can’t see the wood for the trees.

The saying goes that love is blind, but this rings true for lust too. We’re blind to any defects in the object of our affections, but when we’re high on lust, we can also be blind to signs that what we’re feeling might not actually be the real deal.

Love is a deep feeling of affection that you have for another person. It’s a lasting attraction that goes beyond the surface and turns into emotional attachment.

Lust, on the other hand, is basically a physical attraction that leads to an overwhelming feeling of sexual desire thanks to a rush of hormones.

While lust can grow and morph into love, and some people call it the first stage of love, that’s not always the case.

If you’ve got butterflies doing laps around your stomach and you’re not sure if what’s stirring them up is really love or just sexual chemistry with no real substance to it, you need a way to tell love apart from lust.

Well, if it’s the beginnings of love you are feeling, the following things will apply:

1. You can’t stop thinking about them.

It’s true that lust can do this to us too. If you’re in lust, however, you may well spend all your time thinking about them, but you’ll be daydreaming about the physical aspects of the relationship or their physical features.

Those in love won’t be able to get the other person off their mind either, but they’re more likely to be caught daydreaming about something witty the object of their affections said and marvelling over their mind or the things they have in common.

That’s not to say that their thoughts will be entirely pure and they won’t get flashbacks to the physical side of things too, but they won’t be the main focus.

2. You want to open up to them.

It’s natural to have your guard up a little bit most of the time. Nobody lives their life being completely open and vulnerable with every stranger they meet. Instead, you reveal different amounts of yourself – your thoughts, feelings, and past – depending on who you are with.

Love prompts us to lower that guard somewhat and let the other person in to see the real and raw side of you. The more love builds, the lower than guard falls, until it almost disappears completely.

You feel able to do this because love involves a great deal of trust. You trust that the other person won’t take advantage of your relaxed defenses or use the information you share for their own personal gain.

Lust doesn’t have the same effect. It may encourage you to open up a little bit more than you would to a general acquaintance – especially around what you like in the bedroom – but you won’t sense the level of comfort and trust needed to reveal your innermost thoughts and feelings. You’ll hold back quite a lot so that you can’t get hurt.

3. Your feelings grow the more you experience them.

Love is a self-reinforcing emotion that grows stronger the more you experience it. For every fun or caring or sensual interaction between you and another person, the love you feel for them increases.

That increase is steady at first. As the years pass, your love is so great that each interaction adds just a tiny bit more, or possibly tops up any love that might have been lost due to complacency or conflict.

But lust is almost the opposite. The more you indulge in the physical acts that accompany lust, the less exciting it becomes. At first the decrease is small, but after the 10th or 20th intimate liaison, the desire you have to see them again begins to drop off a cliff.

It’s almost as though you’ve had your fill of them and spending time with them – even in a physical sense – becomes less appealing.

Of course, if love grows as the lust subsides, it can transform a no-strings relationship into something far more committed.

4. You want to spend all night talking.

Two people deeply in lust can easily stay up all night enjoying themselves in each other’s company, but it won’t be the stimulating conversation keeping them awake.

Two people in love, however, are just as interested in each other’s minds as they are in each other’s bodies. They can easily lose track of time when doing nothing more than talking to one another.

They’re never stuck for a topic of conversation and, even if they don’t agree on everything, they’re intrigued by each other’s minds.

5. You are keen to plan ahead.

When you are in love with someone, your mind will naturally turn to thoughts of a potential future together. You will imagine how life might look if they became your long term partner.

And you will actually plan things that are weeks or months into the future because you are confident in your feelings for them and know that you’ll still want to see them at that point.

You might talk about moving in together or going on vacation as a couple. You even start to use the terms ‘we’ and ‘our’ and ‘us’ and make arrangements with these collective pronouns instead of making singular plans by yourself.

Lust doesn’t give you that same forward-looking mindset, other than wondering when you are next going to get your hands on the other person to satisfy your needs. Because you aren’t so sure about them, you would never commit to anything too far in advance.

6. You know they’re not perfect but accept them as they are.

In our rational minds, we know that no one is perfect, but we can easily lose sight of that when we’re blinded by hormones and desire. When you’re lusting after someone, you have an idealized picture of them, and you don’t see them for who they really are, warts and all.

We all tend to present an idealized version of ourselves when a relationship is first starting to bud. You don’t really get under someone’s skin unless you put the time in.

As you get to know someone, they let their guard down and start to show their true colors. It’s only then that you get to know them for who they really are.

That can either put an end to a blossoming relationship, meaning it never makes it past the lust stage, or that it grows and morphs into real love. If you love someone, you’re conscious of their flaws and love them in spite of, or maybe even because of, them.

7. You are willing to give more than you take.

Love is generous and kind. It makes a person willing to put a great deal of time and effort into a relationship. You may even end up giving more to the other person than you receive back.

Whilst it’s good to have a balanced relationship where both people give and take equally, that’s not always possible. Sometimes one partner will need to lean on the other because they are going through a situation that takes a lot of their time and emotional energy.

That is often temporary, but loving relationships can even survive when there is an imbalance on a near permanent basis, so long as that imbalance isn’t too great.

But if all you are doing is lusting after someone and enjoying physical pleasure with them (or longing for that pleasure if you aren’t actually being intimate with this person), you probably aren’t willing to over-exert yourself to come to their aid when they need you. If it feels like it’s becoming hard work, you are likely to break things off with them instead of committing to them.

8. You see what you have as a union.

When you feel love for a romantic interest, you begin to view your relationship as a genuine union. You are two people who are coming together, not to complete each other, but to become something more than the sum of your parts.

You feel like a couple; like two halves of a larger whole but where each of you are whole in yourselves too.

You think and act with them in mind because their wants and needs are as important as your own in relation to the partnership you have.

If it only lust you are feeling, you would consider yourself more like ships passing in the night, not having too much interaction other than at those times when you are together. You don’t see the need to think about how your actions might affect them because you are responsible for you and they are responsible for them, and that’s how you like it.

9. You try to see things from their perspective.

Whilst empathy doesn’t always mean love is present, where there is love, there is empathy. When you love someone, you try to step into their shoes and understand why they are behaving in a particular way or what their struggles are.

You want to understand them so that you might be able to help them. This is compassion, which is where love and empathy meet. It’s a lot easier to know what to do when you can see something from their perspective.

But lust is a very self-centered emotion. It’s all about what pleasure you can take from being with the other person. It doesn’t compel you to put yourself in the other person’s shoes because you are too busy thinking about getting into their pants.

Their problems are not your problems and you don’t want to concern yourself with trying too hard to help them out.

10. You want to grow as a person.

The deep and lasting emotion of love is a catalyst that pushes both partners to want to improve themselves. They want to become better people so that they can be better partners to each other.

Love inspires us to see our flaws and act to eliminate them as much as we can. It also inspires boundless support for our partner in their efforts to grow and develop as a person. We want to be there to help lift them up as they attempt to reach new heights.

Lust has no time for growth. Growth takes time whilst lust is looking for instant gratification of a physical and sexual nature. Lust alone will never push you to put in the hard work that is required to better yourself.

11. You want them to be happy.

How the other person feels matters deeply to someone who is in love. Though it’s not healthy to be too enmeshed and experience every emotion each of you has, it is natural for their happiness to contribute to your happiness.

You want them to be happy because knowing that they are happy is good for your own emotional well-being. Likewise, when they are not happy, you may take on some of their stress or sadness or anxiety or grief. You will want to help them heal, even though you know that it is their emotion to deal with by themselves at the end of the day.

A person in lust isn’t so bothered by the emotional state of their sexual partner. Once they get what they want, they tend not to stick around long enough to concern themselves with how the other person is doing deep down.

12. You want to meet those important to them.

Much as you’ll be interested in seeing the object of your lust, you won’t have much of an interest in meeting their network of family and friends.

Love, however, means you want to get to know all sides of someone. You can tell an awful lot about someone by the people they surround themselves with and those they count amongst their good friends. If things get serious, their family are likely to become a big part of your life.

If what you’re feeling is love, you’ll want to build relationships with these people too. You’ll see it as a vital part of developing your relationship with your partner.

In return, you’ll be excited and proud to introduce them to your best friends and family, and anxious for them to adore your new partner almost as much as you do (but in a different way – obviously!).

13. You stick around after an argument.

When you care deeply for someone, you accept that there will be times when they really get on your nerves. And some of those times will result in an argument.

But you are in this relationship because you value having this person in your life. You can handle the bumps in the road and won’t run at the first sign of trouble.

You know that even the healthiest of relationships will involve some disagreements and that this is not always a bad thing because it teaches you more about each other and where your boundaries are.

Lust, on the other hand, is all about pleasure. And when that pleasure is diminished by conflict, you struggle to find a reason to stick around. You know that you can probably get that pleasure – or some different pleasure – elsewhere, and so you swiftly exit the relationship.

14. You are patient with your feelings.

I hate to break it to you romantics out there, but love at first sight doesn’t exist.

Of course, you can experience lust at first sight. You can experience a strong attraction at first sight that feels like a lightning bolt with fireworks going off in your head when they kiss you. This can easily be confused with love, especially if the relationship does go on to develop.

Love in its true form, however, just isn’t something that can appear instantly. In order to love someone, you have to spend quality time with them and truly get to know them.

15. It’s all in the science.

The different ways that we behave when we’re experiencing desire and love are the result of what’s going on under the surface in our complex brains.

A recent study tried to get to the bottom of what happens in the brain when we experience sexual desire and love. It showed that, although they are very much linked, they activate different areas of a part of the brain known as the striatum.

The area linked to desire is lit up by things we gain instant pleasure from, like food and sex. Love, however, is linked to another area that’s involved in a conditioning process through which we begin to attach value to the things that we associate with pleasure or reward.

If our sexual desires are rewarded with pleasurable feelings consistently, love can develop. That’s why you can’t fall in love instantly. As we go through the process of moving from lust to love, our feelings move from one area of the striatum to another.

Turns out that, on a basic level, and without wanting to sound too depressingly un-romantic, love is essentially a habit that we develop when our sexual desires are rewarded.

The same part of the brain is associated with drug addiction. Anyone who’s ever been a bit crazy in love will understand that.

Still not sure if it’s lust or love you’re feeling? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.

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About Author

Katie is a writer and translator with a focus on travel, self-care and sustainability. She's based between a cave house in Granada, Spain, and the coast of beautiful Cornwall, England. She spends her free time hiking, exploring, eating vegan tapas and volunteering for a local dog shelter.