Mistaking lust for love.


A survey of some 3, 000 individuals have found that one in five adults claim to be “in love with someone other than their partner”. This other could be a friend or a colleague. I think there is a huge gap between love and lust and that many people get caught up in between two.

Lust is an initial physical attraction to another person. It is overwhelmingly powerful, although we are not generally aware of the pheromones which drive the feelings. When we are physically attracted to someone else, it is because we sense unconsciously that they would make an excellent genetic match, someone who would allow us to produce the strongest and healthiest offspring. It is not about long-term compatibility, about “happy ever after.”

Love on the other hand, isn’t an immediate feeling. It grows over time, love is more akin to friendship that to a coupling. To paraphrase the psychiatrist M Scott, love is the desire to extend you at whatever personal cost- for the purpose of nurturing the growth and furthering the dreams of another individual. It is effortful, it requires personal sacrifice and it grows slowly. When we separate “love” from “lust” in this way, it is less distressing to note that one in five people desire someone other than their partner. They are simply confusing lust with love.

Fair enough, you might say. But what about the fact that the respondents claim to have had these feelings for many years? Didn’t I just say that lustful feelings don’t last long? But people imagine that lustful feelings can by themselves hold a relationship together forever. And this brings us to reasons why so many people are dissatisfied in their relationships or rather in today’s society. We find it difficult to differentiate between what we have and what we imagine we could have. That is totally not surprising. We are constantly exposed to images of perfect bodies, and stories of “idyllic” relationships which, when they are no longer idyllic, can easily be traded in for another idyllic relationship. These images and stories, together with the advertising mantra that “you deserve better” has led many to believe that “better” is outside of us somewhere, if only we can find it.

Finally, the second reason why so many of us are feeling dissatisfied is that we are constantly reminded that “there is a whole world out there, just waiting for you”, and that if your current relationship isn’t working, you simply need to leave it, because there will be plenty of others to choose from. I can’t help but wonder why so many people continue to live their lives feeling so unfulfilled, when there is an alternative, a way to feel more content.

A better way to live, I believe, is to stop depending more on others. Stop searching outside of the self for someone who can “make” you happy. Happiness, satisfaction, contentment-call it what you will, is not something you will find it out there. Instead it starts with you. It is something you create when you decide to work with what you already have.

Written by Jolene Tshakane