We all know the feeling—that sudden surge in heart rate, euphoric lightheadedness, the magnetic need to close the gap between you and someone whose existence has now become your singular focus. But is it lust or love that’s exciting you? And how can you even tell the difference?
For starters, there are lots of ways in which love and lust can overlap. Lust can ‘feel’ very much like love, especially at the beginning of a relationship when new relationship energy is at an all-time high. But both feelings of lust and love also have plenty of qualities that distinguish them as well—and it’s important to tell them apart.
So to help you sort out your situation, here is everything you need to know about lust vs love, including common signs of each, how to turn one into the other, and everything in between.
What is lust?
Lust exists in the realm of the physical—it’s like putting attraction on steroids. Lust is powered by the desire for sexual gratification, typically presenting as a powerful urge to achieve it. And it’s due to that intensity that can make it confusing to distinguish from love. Lust can feel all-consuming, in the way that we expect of love, but there is still greater emphasis on physical appearance rather than the “essence” of who they are.
What is love?
Love can feel intangible, as the feeling is very complex. It’s a concept that humanity has spent its entire existence trying to capture in art, music, dance, and viral proposal videos, but it’s not impossible to define. Simply put, love reflects deep emotional attachment—a romantic connection that, while it includes sexual attraction, is not defined by it like lust.
And there are two main types of love. One is the infatuation type of love, the early stage of love. This is love marked by sexual passion, being preoccupied with that person, and even being mood dependent on what’s happening in the relationship.
Later on, comes attachment-based love. This is a stable, long-term bond rooted in partners knowing each other, experiencing deep intimacy, and having a shared history. This kind of love usually includes vulnerability and greater levels of commitment.
The difference between lust and love
It’s the infatuation stage of love that is particularly easy to confuse with lust, especially since that kind of love often incorporates expressions of lust. But although it seems impossible to tell them apart, there are some signs.
Start by looking at how you spend your time together. When every encounter turns to sex or some sexual activity, it is most likely lust and not love. People who are ‘in love’ spend almost as much time getting to know each other by doing things together other than sex, discussing their past, present, and futures, and enjoying each other’s company outside of the bedroom.
So if you observe a physical, emotional, romantic, and spiritual connection growing that you want to nurture and grow, you’re falling in love, my friend!
Can lust turn into love?
Experts say lust can last between three months to two years before our brain chemistry can no longer handle the intensity. It’s during this period that attachment-based love has room to form, and if it has been increasing, it will take over as the primary form of love for the couple.
This is not a prescription for love’s growth, this transition can happen quickly or very slowly. Rom-coms might have us thinking that hardcore crushes always yield commitments, but that’s not how the real world works. Because unfortunately, most of the time, lust never turns into love.
It can be painful to feel that intensity diminish or for it to not be reciprocated or even to invest time in a relationship that doesn’t evolve into something more serious. Your feelings are valid. Just remember that if lust never turns into love, it never was meant to be. Remember that you are likely to feel lots of ways about lots of people, and one lusty loss isn’t the end of your story.
How can you tell if the person you’re with is in love or lust with you?
Knowing whether you’re in lust vs. love with someone is important when it comes to getting your needs met, and knowing where your lover stands can help fill in the gaps. Figuring that out is as easy as asking.
It might be helpful to begin the conversation discussing what you want and how you’d like to see the relationship progress first, then letting your partner respond so they don’t feel on the spot or ambushed into the “what are we?” convo.
Regardless, having an open conversation leaves nothing to interpretation, so even if their answer is disappointing—either because they want less or more commitment than you do—it gives you an opportunity to redesign or end the relationship if everyone isn’t on the same page.