Getting real love 14: love or lust? How to tell the difference

Getting real love 14: love or lust? How to tell the difference

At the beginning of a relationship intense sexual attraction is well-known for eradicating common sense and rationality in the most balanced of people. In fact, that beginning of a relationship has been likened by writers and poets as a kind of insanity at times; the so called “urge to merge” or feelings of limerence taking us over in a fire of chemical imbalance.


Well, lust is a kind of altered state of mind driven by a primal urge to procreate our species, but also because of the prevalence of social messages privileging sex. So, it’s a kind of nature and nurture that capture us at a very primitive level.

Studies suggest that the brain in this phase is much like a brain on cocaine: when lovers experience the powerful lust of physical attraction they’re as high as kites!

Also in the early stage of a relationship, when the sex hormones are storming, lust is fuelled by mutual idealisation, blind projection and our deep unconscious needs being met, needs that never before have been met this way; we feel complete and whole for the first time in our lives, and we see what we hope someone will be or need them to be, rather than seeing the real person, warts and all.

Getting real love, love not based on idealisation or projection, requires some time to get to know the other person.

Here are some ways to distinguish lust from love.



  • There are more of what the Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel calls “waves” rather than “anchors”. Waves are what keep the desire, the fire and the excitement going, anchors are what keep us grounded and probably in the relationship long term. Too many waves will sink us. We need both to make it work, but lust makes us feel as if we can’t keep our boat afloat and we’re crashing on big waves all the time
  • When we’re in lust were totally focussed on sex; the sex is primal and fierce at times, deeply caring at others but we don’t get into conversations, the mutuality of each other or really getting to know each other that well
  • We’re needy, and when the person leaves we feel a great big hole in our guts that threatens to -Alien like-break out
  • We’re jealous and we don’t feel we can really trust the person, our feelings are what are often known as emotionally “labile” or full of change
  • we don’t really know much about each other




  • we are building anchors as well as experiencing waves: we need both to keep our love alive with desire but we seek to create a kind of stability and safe house in the relationship
  • We feel built up, our self-worth is greater, we feel regarded and respected
  • we want to do more than just have sex with each other
  • we share a tenderness and vulnerability
  • we really start to listen and get to know the other person
  • we feel secure, trusting, and our emotions are more settled


lust is process of getting caught up in a chemical stew of driving emotions and feelings; nothing wrong at all in this, but it is only part of the journey we take in getting real love.




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