Q: I always seem to think I am in love, but when the relationship is well underway, I realize it’s just lust. How can I tell the difference before I am in too deep?
A: Ah, the age-old question. Is it love or is it lust? There is no hard and fast way to tell if you are dating your soul mate or just a cute guy, and that’s part of the fun of dating. After all, it’s all about the exploration and excitement of unpeeling each new layer to get to the heart of whom that person really is. But, at the same time, it can be a bit of a dangerous game. As you say, it is not uncommon for people to get in too deep and suddenly realize, “Oops, I don’t think he’s ‘the one’ after all!”
A good way to make sure that you don’t fall into this trap is to sit and think about what you really want. Maybe the reason you aren’t meeting Mr. Right is because you are choosing not to. In other words, you might just be in a dating phase in which you want to sample the merchandise without making a lifetime commitment. That’s completely normal, but you might find yourself getting serious because you think that is what you are “supposed to” do. There are no “supposed to’s” in life, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. If you are in a lustful fun stage, embrace it! As long as you practice safer sex and respect your body and your heart, this can be a good growing experience and help you uncover what you need in a future partner.
If you are ready to settle down and get serious, then you should think about what you are really looking for in a partner. Think beyond the physical. Attraction is important, but it’s often something that can’t be put down in black-and-white. For instance, instead of saying, “He has to have a great body,” why not say “I want someone who is physically active and takes care of himself.” (Word to the wise: If you want to meet a guy who goes to the gym regularly that means you have to get your butt to the gym, too!)
You should also think beyond the superficial level. For instance, instead of thinking, “I want a man who makes six figures,” why not “I want a man who is ambitious and knows how to work hard.” At the end of the day, finances come and go, and in this economy, anyone can go bust. But if you are with a man who has a good work ethic and perseveres, then you won’t ever have to worry about paying the mortgage by yourself. (Again, if you want a man with a good work ethic, you’d better show some of that same initiative and drive as well! Like attracts like.)
When you take the focus off the obvious and look past the fleeting things in life (the six-pack abs and the corner office), you’ll be able to ask yourself: Are you sure that you like the person? Is he going to make you laugh at the end of a bad day? Is he going to take care of the kids when they are sick or remember your favorite candy at the supermarket? It’s often the little things that end up being the big things, and these are often the traits that separate lust from love. Remember, a great body will eventually age, but a great sense of humor is ageless!
— Dr. Laura Berman