If I was making copies and he happened to walk by and make eye contact with me, I would get a rush throughout my body that would make my cheeks flush and my knees buckle. With every text message he sent me, I would get a flutter of excitement in my stomach.
At age 20, I assumed the intensity of these feelings was a good sign ― isn’t this what the early stages of falling in love are supposed to feel like? Now, nearly a decade later, I realize I was just completely infatuated with this guy and that those intense feelings had a lot more to do with lust than love.
In the 1990s, a team of researchers led by biological anthropologist Helen Fisher examined the science behind lust and love. They divided romantic love into three distinct categories: lust, attraction and attachment, each associated with their own brain chemistry.
They found that lust, which is fueled by a yearning for sexual gratification, releases hormones like testosterone and estrogen that increase a person’s libido.
Attraction describes an infatuation that goes beyond sex ― for example, you can’t stop thinking about someone, you find yourself daydreaming about getting to know them and spending time with them, etc. That’s when neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine are released, which can lead to feelings of elation, loss of appetite and decreased need for sleep.
The third category is attachment or “companionate love.” When compared to lust and attraction, attachment tends to be more secure, grounded and lasting. It releases bonding hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin.
Brain chemistry aside, how can you tell if the sensations you’re feeling are more aligned with love, or with the more fleeting lust and attraction? To better understand some of the differences between them, we reached out to relationship experts. Here’s what they told us:Lust is about a physical connection. Love is about an emotional connection.
“Lust feels like you intensely want to have sex with someone. Love feels like you want to have sex with someone and be emotionally close to them, too. Love means you want to spend time with your partner and listen to his or her needs and emotions to feel connected. You also are interested in meeting your beloved’s friends. Lust means you’re more interested in having sex than having intimate conversations or meeting the person’s friends.” ― Dr. Judith Orloff, psychiatrist and author of The Empath’s Survival Guide
Lust is impulsive. Love takes time.
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