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Lust vs Love – Can the Two Coexist in A Relationship?

by eharmony Editorial Team - April 26, 2024
This article has been reviewed by Dr Lalitaa Suglani, an eharmony relationship expert. The content has been checked for accuracy and legitimacy based on the qualifications of our expert prior to publication.Reviewed by Relationship expert Dr Lalitaa Suglani

Lust vs love – are they opposites? Can one experience both feelings? How are they described? One the one hand, lust can be simply defined as an intense desire or attraction. It is the intense physical affinity towards someone. On the other hand love is defined as something more real – it involves care, respect, commitment, and growth. Love is patient, kind, and healing and hence is not as easy as lust.

A psychological look at love vs lust

Lust is simply the psychological state of desiring sexual contact with another person. Lust is, at its core, about the here and now. Young relationships are often characterized by lust and infatuation.

Real Love is something that develops over time. It deals with passion, commitment, trust and intimacy. Experts dispute its exact nature, but we know from a neurological study from The Kinsey Institute that it more readily activates reward and pleasure centers in the brain1.

But when we look at love vs lust, and how the former gradually becomes the latter we have to consider the continuum as split into three stages: lust, attraction and attachment.      

Lust is the initial sexual stage of desire and is largely hormonal. Attraction is what one might call passionate love. This is where you start to focus on a specific partner. Serotonin and dopamine play a huge part in this. Attachment is essentially the love stage and oddly is the most neurochemically inert of the stages, being replaced by emotions of calmness, comfort and emotional security2.

But how can you tell the difference between love and lust in your everyday dating life?

Love vs lust: Does one matter more than the other?

In relationships, it often happens that it starts with lust, and later it develops into deep love. Nevertheless, no one can control the order of these feelings. Irrespective of what matters the most, the good news is love and lust can coexist.

When you’re in love with someone you share the moments of passion and these moments can be highlights of your relationship. It’s that intimate and emotional connection that feeds your relationship so that it continues to thrive. Let’s look at the characteristics and differences between love and lust.

Love and lust – The thin line in between

Both love and lust can be strong, passionate, and exciting.  But the difference is that only some share real love while most people mistake lust for love. Though lust is superficial, the feeling is strong, and it even has the potential to transform into love.

Lust vs love: The literal differences

So, what’s love? Love is more emotional and is about actually caring for the other person, whereas lust is about a physical or sexual attraction. The common belief is that lust always fades over time. However, lust and love can both fade over time if they aren’t nurtured.

Lust is selfish. Love isn’t  

Love is selfless – you want your partner to be happy, content, and progress in life. However, lust makes you downright selfish. You crave to satisfy your own needs. You are just obsessed with the other person.

Lust is temporary. Love is consistent.

Have you ever wondered why the thing that once drew you towards someone does not excite you anymore? Probably you were just attracted to their personality. Over time, the sparks fade away. People experiencing this feeling usually get distressed when their relationship goes awry. Love, on the other hand, involves a lot of meaningful connections. It makes you comfortable being vulnerable around them. Love stays even at bad times.

Lust is chaos. Love is acceptance.

In love you accept the other person as they are and build a relationship on trust; there is also compromise and sacrifice. While lust can at times run off the rails and create chaos in our lives.

Lust vs Love: in a nutshell

OutlineIs all about physical attractionIs about emotional compatibility along with the feeling of excitement and passion when you’re with that person
Signs and SymptomsYou experience intense emotions – fantasy, desire, and sexual attraction.You share visions, goals, and support each other. There is an emotional connection.
Time frameIt may deepen or vanish with timeIt is consistent and grows stronger
ResultIf lust is satisfied we call it as passionate love. If not, it can lead to sadness or frustration.It can bring peace and happiness. It leads to a secure and meaningful relationship.
Sum & substanceLust can develop into love but it is also conditional and can fade away.  Nurtured love is unconditional and true.

Do you know what love is?

We have heard of people saying love is beautiful, sweet, pure, unpredictable, and painful all at the same time. So, what is love? The simplest definition of love is the connection and comfort you share with someone.

The 5 different signs of love and lust

They both ignite the fire within you and you always crave for more. Love vs lust, here are some clear signs of lust and love that will help you recognize the difference.

1. You often go on real dates

Dating is an important part of a romantic relationship because it can bring two people closer in a very intimate capacity. Your memories from your dates can be the highlight of your relationship. It is something you will cherish for a long time.

However, if the two of you are just lust buddies, there will be a lack of attachment and you don’t go out on real dates at all. You don’t connect on an emotional level. All you can think of is the titillating moments you spent in each other’s company. And these are the only memories you have of that person.

2. You cannot stop thinking of their looks and believe them to be perfect

Be sure, this is a relationship based on lust alone. You’re so drawn towards their looks, charm, or material possessions and often ignore their flaws. You’re bewitched by their beauty and you’d like to believe they are perfect for you. You’ve mistaken attraction for love.

If you compare lust vs love, you know that In love, you look beyond physical appearances. You admire their uniqueness. You don’t look for perfection and accept your partner’s flaws.

3. You don’t know each other well enough

Mysterious is their middle name – sometimes, several days go by without any communication. Is it easy to just forgive and forget about his/her shortcomings?  It is a clear indication of lust when you two have just casual interaction. You don’t spend quality time and don’t really make personal investments in one another. You’re okay with even keeping lots of secrets from one another. You just care less about each other.

But, if you’ve achieved intimacy without intercourse it is a sign of true love.

4. You’ve meaningful conversations with your partner

You and your partner are comfortable with each other – you share your problems, hopes, dreams, and your life, in general. There’re fights, there is jealousy, but you also rely on each other. There is loyalty and friendship through good and bad times. Do you want your partner to be able to see the best facets of your personality? Contrasting love vs. lust, these are clear signs of a meaningful love relationship.

If you spend all your time with each other having sex and don’t discuss your feelings (unless they are about sex), then be sure it is lust.

5. What does the future look like?

At some point in the relationship, couples talk about future plans. They merge their social circles. They even say the ‘L’ word to each other. Can’t see any of these happening? Then it’s just lust.

When you’re compelled to know each other better, it means you’re genuinely interested in one another. You try to introduce your partner to your family and friends. But if something is holding you back it means it is not a serious relationship. It’s probably based only on attraction.  

7 Questions to ask yourself to find out what you feel – lust vs love

Try to ask yourself the following question for a self-reflection test:

  • Am I just looking for a commitment-free relationship?
  • Has this started to feel more real than I signed up for?
  • Am I ready to talk about what’s happening between us?
  • Am I comfortable being my true self and sharing my personal details?
  • Do I feel real chemistry to do things together?
  • Do I want to introduce this person someday to my folks? Or do I want to bring him/her to my bed only?
  • Do I fantasize about a future with him/her?

It is easy to distinguish between lust and love, isn’t it? When you have an answer to these key questions, you will be sure of your feelings.

Love is a real connection and eharmony your gateway to a meaningful relationship

To sum up, lust can create an illusion of love. But love is not superior to lust and both feelings can coexist. A healthy, intimate relationship requires both. When you’re looking for a long-term serious connection, the only way to know your feelings is via self-exploration. Try eharmony when you’re ready for love – the matching algorithms ideated by the platform are based on science and compatibility. You’re sure to get matched with someone who connects with you on all levels. Subscribe today for a great dating experience!

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