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Judith Orloff MD Headshot

The Difference Between Lust and Love

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LUST LOVE

As a psychiatrist, I've seen how intense sexual attraction is notorious for obliterating common sense and intuition in the most sensible people. Why? Lust is an altered state of consciousness programmed by the primal urge to procreate. The brain in this phase may be much like a brain on drugs. MRI scans illustrate that the area that "lights up" (becomes active) when an addict gets a fix of cocaine is the same area that "lights up" when a person is experiencing the intense lust of physical attraction. Also, in the early stage of a relationship, when the sex hormones are raging, lust is fueled by idealization and projection -- you see what you hope someone will be or need them to be -- rather than seeing the real person, flaws and all.

In my book "GUIDE TO INTUITIVE HEALING" I discuss the difference between lust and love as well as techniques to enhance sexual wellness. Pure lust is based solely on physical attraction and fantasy -- it often dissipates when the "real person" surfaces. It's the stage of wearing rose-colored glasses when he or she "can do no wrong." Being in love doesn't exclude lust. In fact, lust can lead to love. However, real love, not based on idealization or projection, requires time to get to know each other. Here are some signs to watch for to differentiate pure lust from love.

Signs of lust:

  • You're totally focused on a person's looks and body.
  • You're interested in having sex, but not in having conversations.
  • You'd rather keep the relationship on a fantasy level, not discuss real feelings.
  • You want to leave soon after sex rather than cuddling or breakfast the next morning.
  • You are lovers, but not friends.

Signs of love:

  • You want to spend quality time together other than sex.
  • You get lost in conversations and forget about the hours passing.
  • You want to honestly listen to each other's feelings, make each other happy.
  • He or she motivates you to be a better person.
  • You want to get to meet his or her family and friends.

Another challenge of sexual attraction is learning to stay centered and listen to your gut in the early stages of being with someone. This isn't easy in the midst of hormones surging, but it's essential to make healthy relationship decisions. Here are some tips to help you keep your presence of mind when you're attracted to someone. This needn't pull the plug on passion, but it'll make you more aware so you don't go looking for trouble.

Four negative gut feelings about relationships:

  1. A little voice in your gut says "danger" or "beware."
  2. You have a sense of malaise, discomfort or feeling drained after you're together.
  3. Your attraction feels destructive or dark.
  4. You're uncomfortable with how this person is treating you, but you're afraid that if you mention it, you'll push him or her away.

Over the years, I've spoken at women's prisons and domestic violence centers. My talk, "How Listening to Your Gut Can Prevent Domestic Violence," focuses on showing women how to identify and act on their inner voice. The gut senses a potential for kindness and violence. Many women who'd been in abusive relationships admitted, "My gut initially told me something was wrong -- but I ignored it." The pattern was consistent. They'd say, "I'd meet a man. At first he'd be charming, sexy, sweep me off my feet. The electricity between us was amazing. I'd write off the voice in my gut that said, 'You'd better watch out,' as fear of getting involved. When later the abuse began, I was already hooked." Some gut instincts though, are anything but subtle. On a first date, one woman landed in the hospital with an IV, retching from "psychosomatic" abdominal pain. But did that stop her from seeing the guy? No. From these women we gain a real-world lesson: no matter how irresistibly attractive someone appears, close attention to your gut will enable you to see beneath exteriors.

It's so much nicer to be involved with someone your gut likes. Then you're not always guarding against a basic suspicion or incompatibility. You must also give yourself permission to listen to your gut when it says, "This person is healthy for you. You are going to make each other happy." To be happy, take a risk, but also pay attention to the warning signs I presented. This allows you to wisely go for the fulfilling relationships you deserve.

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