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Love Versus Lust

July 17, 2010

This post is a follow-up to Illyria:

Telling the difference between love and lust is probably one of the most difficult lessons to learn in life, and one that many (perhaps most) never learn. Part of the reason for this difficulty is that most love is built upon lust– lust is initial sexual incentive, and love builds upon the emotional and spiritual depth that making memories (both sexual and platonic) will cause, at least in long-term relationships.

The difference between lust and love is that lust is built upon sexual desire and love is built upon bonding memories. But how do you know when mere lust has transformed into love, or if what you are feeling for someone is lust or love?

To know this, we must know what lust really is: a chemical addiction. When you feel lust, the feelings are often very similar in symptoms to “doping” oneself, and that’s because the effects are almost exactly the same.

When you are sexual attracted to someone (which trust me, does not necessarily have anything to do with their body– that’s part of why distinguishing love from lust is so difficult!) Your brain sends signals to produce endorphins, which in turn unblock the dopamine pathways. As a result, a person feeling lust (which in its more extreme forms is referred to as infatuation) will feel most, if not all of the effects and addiction of  being “high” on drugs.

For example, to quote from my Illyria post: “It was all very chemical– the “high” of which I admit I became addicted to. Every time I was around you my heart beat fast, and time slowed down almost to a standstill. It was surreal– not only time, but our very surroundings were irrelevant when I was with you.”

But lust is not love, clearly! So where do we know where to draw the line between the two? When does lust transform into love?

Somewhat surprisingly (for me at least!), It’s when all of the feelings that we thought were “proof” our “being in love”…go away. When a person is “in love”, in other words, what they are feeling is just infatuation. Until you stop feeling those symptoms: butterflies in the stomach, rapid heart beat, time slowing down, lightheadedness, endorphin rush, dreaminess, fantasies– until all those symptoms and feelings go away, you are not feeling love, but lust.

When all of those things go away, but you still feel strongly for that person– that’s when you will know that you lust has become a truer love. In this sense, then, love can be considered a lust that has matured. You still love them, you just don’t need sexual or chemical attraction to prove it.

In the beginning, lust is usually a necessity, to ensure that the connection between two people does not become dead. Just like a caterpillar craves food, people’s cravings for each other are often insatiable in the beginning stages of the relationship. But also as a caterpillar builds a cocoon and transforms into something free, independent, and mature, so must those that want to truly love another transform their own lust into love, that their love might be free and independent of sexual desire; only a love more refined and mature than what lust can provide will stand the test of time.

To quote Shakespeare, “Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle’s compass come”*

Note: in case you’re wondering, “rosy lips and cheeks” refers to lust, and “bending sickle” refers to manhood; the analogy here is that a man uses his “sickle” to “harvest” the beauty of women (obviously by penetrating them), whereas “compass” refers to women that a man would see as attractive. The idea is that whereas with lust, a man would given in over time by having affairs with other women who come his way (show up on the compass of his “sickle”), a man truly in love would not be “time’s fool”, and in spite of all the “rosy lips and cheeks”, would “bear it out, even to the edge of doom”.

Here is the full text, which I believe provides one of the most romantic definitions of love:

SONNET 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

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