HARPER’S BAZAAR: This is Probably Why You’re Still Single

As a nation of discontented love addicts, we can spend hours in compulsive fantasy (either imaginary or online) fixated on a dream lover. We fill our head with thoughts of warm embraces, candlelight dinners, and mad, lustful sex; until finally we think we’ve found them: “The one I can’t live without.”

Though love doesn’t exclude lust (in fact, it’s quite the opposite), the pleasure of a new relationship can be all consuming, and the danger is that we will put its gratifications ahead of our survival. Women are hunters too; we just stalk our prey differently.

Which begs the question: can you be in love with someone after spending a month with them? Falling in love is a multi-complex mixer. No matter how we dissect and analyze it, the experience is unique for everyone. However, there are reoccurring qualifiers which can help you spot the difference for yourself.

The difference between love and lust:

Lust is how you open the door to a relationship; love is the prize. Lust is a potent enticer and an invitation for sex, and it has more to do with finding our dysfunctional match. Years of emotional abuse experienced from our former lovers and our parents lay hidden in the future mates we choose. We can’t resist them, and when our defective parts collide, it’s pure animalistic lust. It’s not something we consciously choose, we just surrender to it and it feels like home.

When we love someone, everything they do becomes uniquely admirable; every moment becomes precious and important. In love, we feel confident, validated and desired. Unlike lust, falling in love happens over time when we build trust. So what hope is there if we’re always attracted to the dysfunctional person of our childhood? Love is finding the “one” who will do the work with you. If erotic lust is a selfish act, the core of true love must be about giving.

“Lust is how you open the door to a relationship; love is the prize.”

I think too often it’s an extremist attitude of “it must be love!” that scares potential partners away. Being aware of lust (which is not yet love—though it could develop as such) is a crucial step in self-awareness. Lust comes; we feel it; we let it go or we see where it goes. Lust isn’t always going to end nowhere.

How to know if and when you’re in love:

Falling in love is the absence of self-loathing. You don’t feel those horrible feelings about yourself—like guilt, shame and loneliness. Almost everyone has experienced this phenomenon. Two or three months later the feelings are gone and we’re quick to say, “I’m not in love anymore.” What’s happening in actuality is that the lust spell has passed, and we’re starting to sense our usual feelings again. We mistake this feeling for “falling out of love.” Rather, it’s the end of the short-lived “honeymoon stage” we ached for.

Lust is an unspoken contract between two people where you don’t call each other on your crap. Falling in love is more like starting a new job, where you are on your best behavior for the first three to six months. We are neatly groomed and agreeable with that extra tap of patience. Every joke is funny, you share the same foods and you’re willing to entertain his or her annoying friends–you’re just happy to be meeting this person’s inner circle. You will do anything for this person to like you, but compromise like this may lead to straying into bad habits. Have you ever noticed why you don’t suffer from moodiness or PMS in this phase? The alpha mode in us is neatly hidden. When women are seducing, we’re on the hunt—a strong female instinct. Once we—and our partner—start to show our true selves, the seduction begins to subside and our sassy sides reappear.

How to maintain a healthy balance of lust once you’re in love:

Comfort and consistency can tend to take the impulse out of a relationship, and spontaneity is an essential characteristic and baseline of lust.

When you were first dating, why was the sex so hot? In the beginning you were on your best behavior, you were dressed and groomed to the nines. You waxed your legs and eyebrows, got your nails done, prepped your hair. You made sure your underwear matched your mood and pulled out sexy outfits and texted like a teenager while getting ready for your crush. Then, your feelings start to bring up all your baggage and the safety veil gets lifted. The best defense is to slow down! Take time to center yourself for an intimate act, like you did in the beginning when you first dated.

“Lust heightens into the best sex of your life, when it’s with the person you love.”

A woman who is in touch with her femininity radiates an aura of confidence. It creates a sensuality that can’t be denied and it is the ultimate calling card for your date. It’s the opposite of rushing to dinner with your disheveled hair and ensemble and a bad attitude. Slowing down and being present also helps you become more aware of the signals your partner is sending you. It is your choice to integrate love and lust. Lust heightens into the best sex of your life when it’s with the person you love.

Remember, your attitude towards love will merit equal and opposite results:

If you’re looking at someone and judging their relationship, watch out–your judgment is a red flag. It’s actually reflecting your own relationship to love. Love looks different for every couple, but your judgement is proof that it’s easier for you to sit on the sidelines and watch than to be vulnerable and engage in your own life. Social media has us all guilty of this. Why do they look so happy in their pictures? Because it’s extremely rare to post images of a breakup or fights.

Love is an intimate emotion, and like water, it seeks its own level. We have no way of ascertaining how deeply people love. The only thing we can control is what we attract to ourselves.

If you are not willing to do the work and pull back the emotional layers of vulnerability, you have not been in love yet. But if you have ever felt love toward a best friend or sibling there is hope. You’ve learned to experience love in a safe way. Take a look around you at the people who have lifted you–that is real love. This is a crucial pre-step to being in love with a romantic partner.

Finding balance between love and lust in a long-term relationship:

People who feel safe, loved, and comfortable expressing their emotions tend to have predominately healthy relationships. They believe in themselves, have important boundaries and don’t get overly confused about love and relationships. Life tends to fall into place for these people. When life gets hard, they weather through it. Happiness is not a goal–it is a state of mind that comes from a natural state of gratitude. Above all, you are entitled to be truly seen as the fabulous person you are. Remind yourself to set the bar high, stick to it and don’t be swayed off track by the first person who gives you some attention.

“Set the bar high, stick to it, and not be swayed off track by the first person who gives you some attention.”

Great lovers can be drawn to us. It’s not bad or wrong to lust for someone. But it should always start at home first, or we risk straying and emotionally cheating. The focus is our relationship with self and our willingness to connect. This will help us grow and discover these possibilities in our souls and our love mates.

If it’s just lust that you seek, there is no judgment here. But, be clear with yourself that with that mindset, there is also zero growth. No matter how many people you match with on a dating app, sex is just sex. Your orgasms will not deepen, and your heart will remain shut. Once an open heart connects with a deep eroticism, there is no higher high. Every love song ever written over the past half century is trying to explain what it’s like to have sex with a beloved. We can love and lust someone simultaneously.

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