Lust Vs. Love: How To Tell The Difference

Updated November 29, 2019

Reviewer Karen Devlin, LPC


Sometimes we can confuse love and lust. We may think we're head over heels in love with someone, but it is really nothing more than lust. But how can we truly tell the difference between love and lust?

Love Vs. Lust

The chief difference between love and lust is whether you care about the person for who they are, or if you are more enchanted with their body. For instance, if all you think about doing with this person is having sex with them, rather than spending quality time with them that does not involve some sexual act, that is lust.

If, however, you care about the other person's feelings, and you want to do everything you can to make that person happy, then that is love. It may be especially difficult to tell when we're younger if it is lust or love but, more than likely, when we're in our teens and early 20s, we're probably experiencing lust, rather than love.

If all you think about is getting physical with the other person, but you have no interest in meeting his or her family, that's lust. If you find yourself enjoying being intimate with that person, but you can't leave the house fast enough after the act is complete, this too is lust. Lust is more about the physical experience with no interest in anything more, while love is more about being interested in setting down a foundation with that person and building toward the future.

Give And Take

Here's another great way to understand the difference between love and lust: lust is all about taking what you can get when you can get it, while love is all about giving more to the other person and not caring if/what you get in return. In other words, if you're lusting after your partner, you may be more interested in finding ways to obtain more pleasure for yourself. If you're in love, you're more interested in showing your partner how much you love them by doing things for them, even making sacrifices when necessary.

You may want to give the relationship time, however, since many new relationships start out as lust and then turn into love later on. You can reevaluate the relationship after the initial honeymoon period is over and decide if things are going in a direction that you are comfortable with. If you feel that you and your partner are not on the same page, then you may want different things. If so, then it may be a good time to cut your losses, appreciating what you've had together, and move on.


Understanding Early Emotions

Sometimes, when we're in the early days of a new relationship, it may be difficult to tell whether it's love or lust because we're so interested in the physical aspects and the rose-colored newness of it all that we're not really thinking about putting up stakes and investing in our future. We're more interested in seeing where this new thing takes us as we float along on a cloud of ecstasy.

However, there are limits to the "honeymoon period," and even during these early days it is possible to answer the question of: "is it love or lust?" For instance, during the honeymoon phase, we all gush to our friends and family that our new paramour is simply "perfect." The difference is whether we truly believe that person is perfect, or if we understand that person has flaws and we are still interested in spite of those flaws.

You can also tell whether it's lust or love by how much effort you put into your appearance before meeting up with your new beau. Do you go all out, putting on makeup, fixing your hair, and choosing only your best threads? Or are you thrilled that you can wear no make-up at all, just a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt because you are confident that your partner likes you for who you are? You see where this is going…

A good thing to remember is that lust is all about living for the moment. You don't want to discuss the future with this person because you don't want to "ruin a good thing." You'll even overlook the things you know you shouldn't because you don't want anything to get in the way of the dynamite sex you're having. This is a surefire sign of lust, and of a relationship that isn't meant to last.

Love, Lust, Or Run

No, this is not the time to discuss Love, Lust or Run, the reality show on the TLC network, hosted by fashion consultant Stacy London. Instead, we're going to be looking at some signs of when to end a relationship before it even really starts.


There are some things you can forsake for the time being so that you can still enjoy being in a relationship with no strings attached (lust). There are things that you know you'll have to end the relationship over because you know that these things are deal-breakers that will prevent the relationship from ever turning into love. And then there are things that you should flat-out run away from, no matter how carefree the relationship may seem.

Some people show their true colors right away or, at the very least, they show signs of the jerks they're going to turn into if you don't run away fast enough. For instance, no matter how good the sex is if he or she hits you, they're gone. End of story.

If the sex is bad, but you find the person incredibly attractive, it's not going to get better from here. It will only get worse. This doesn't mean that it can't get better if he or she simply lacks the skill or know-how to please you. What this means is that if he or she is selfish or abusive in bed, it's going to feel like rape even if it doesn't start out that way. End things now before things get worse.

Other signs to look out for are if the person shows one side of their personality at home and another when you're out with friends; if the person is trying to control everything you do and everyone you see; or if the person is a pathological liar, then it doesn't matter if you're in lust or love with this person. You need to end things before the situation takes a turn for the even worse.

Friends And Family

Have you involved your friends and family in your new relationship? If it's a relationship you'd rather keep a secret, then this is another sign that you are in lust, rather than love. The bigger clue, of course, is your family. You may love dishing to your friends about the hot new number you're dating, but if you're not cluing your family into the latest news on your love life, then perhaps it's because the person you are dating is someone you have no interest in ever introducing to your family. This is a sign that the last thing you want is to take things seriously with that person.

However, if you do introduce your friends and family to this person, whether it's love or lust, and they suggest that this person may not be the right one for you, it's normal to become defensive and not want to listen to what they have to say. But it's important to keep in mind that these are the people who care the most about you and who want what's best for you, so it may be worth it to listen.

After all, you may still be in the honeymoon phase and think this person is perfect. You may, therefore, be blind to the signs that you might have otherwise picked up on if it was one of your friends dating this person. Those closest to you may be picking up on negative vibes that you're either missing or ignoring, so try to put aside any bitterness and heed your friends' and family's warnings.



When you're in love, you don't want to date anyone else, and you certainly don't want the object of your affection to date anyone else either. So, if you two are not exclusive, and you have no interest in becoming exclusive, then this is another sure sign that you are in lust, and not in love. When you're in love, you're always looking for ways to make the relationship bigger and better (introducing the person to friends and family, planning your own family with them, etc.). When you're in lust, all you care about is today with no plans or worries at all about tomorrow.

You'll also be able to gauge whether your partner is serious about you by the amount of time that passes in between dates. If he's already calling you the next day to plan your next date, then he's probably pretty serious about you. But if you're only just now hearing from him after a week of silence, then he probably considers you to be a casual fling. If you're okay with this, great! If not, then you probably need to reconsider whether the relationship is still worth it to you to pursue.

Are you in lust or love with someone, and you're having difficulty coping? Consider reaching out to one of our counselors, who are available whenever you need someone to talk to and to ask for advice.


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