The following is the full transcript of Terri Orbuch’s talk: Is It Lust or Is It Love? at TEDxOaklandUniversity.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Is it lust or is it love by Terri Orbuch at TEDxOaklandUniversity
Dr. Terri Orbuch – The Love Doctor
I’ve been studying the romance and relationship patterns of literally thousands of people for the past 28 years, and one thing I have found, or one thing I know, is that most of us have experienced that wild and out-of-control feeling at the beginning of a new relationship. You know what it’s like, where you can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you can’t get anything done, because you’re constantly thinking about this person. Your heart’s racing, you feel that adrenaline rush when you see the other person, and basically, you just want to be with that person. It’s almost like an obsession.
I bet if I asked you to close your eyes, you could definitely think back and remember that powerful and amazing feeling that affects us physiologically. I know I can, and I’ve been married for 22 years. But when we’re in that heightened arousal state at the beginning of a new romance, many of us step back and ask the question: “What am I feeling? Am I in lust or am I in love? Is it lust or is it love?”
What if I told you that you’ll never have to wonder again, because there are four specific signs that differentiate lust from love, and the two states, lust and love, are completely different from one another. That would be wonderful, right?
So let’s start with lust. When you’re drawn to someone based solely on physical and sexual arousal or attraction, that’s lust. You’re filled with sexual desire that doesn’t stop, and all of those sex hormones are being produced in your body at an alarming rate. You have sex on the brain.
Also, when we’re in that heightened state of arousal at a new relationship, or in a new relationship, we glorify or idealize our partner. We don’t see them for who they really are. And in fact, we see them for who we want them to be or need them to be. You’ve heard the phrase “love is blind”? Well, at the beginning of a new romance, lust makes you blind. You’re impressed by everything and anything your partner does or says. And in fact, it doesn’t even matter that she has all of her stuffed animals on the bed, plus a few pillows, or that he has absolutely no idea what a hanger is used for. You don’t see it. It doesn’t bother you.
But as time goes on in a relationship, those same behaviors, those exact same behaviors, become annoying and irritating to you, and it’s at that point in time that you begin to see this other person for who they really are: flaws, faults, and everything. And by the way, yes, we all have flaws or faults. None of us is perfect. But at this point in time, lust declines. And I’m really sorry to disappoint you, but my research shows that lust declines in all romantic relationships. It’s an inevitable part of all romantic relationships. I know. Sorry about that. Don’t shoot the messenger.
But can lust be reignited in a long-term loving relationship? Absolutely. My work with couples confirms that, and we’re going to talk about how to do that in a few minutes. But for the moment, it’s just important to understand that lust declines in all romantic relationships, and if you stay with that relationship, lust can turn into love.
Now love is also a profound emotion, and has a physiological foundation as well. When we’re in love, we produce the hormone oxytocin, which triggers relaxation and promotes emotional bonding and closeness. But that’s actually the opposite to those wild-sex hormones that ignited all that lust in our body.
Besides the hormonal differences between lust and love, there are also four cues that you can use to distinguish lust from love. The first sign is what I call connection. When you’re in love, you want your partner to connect with all the important people in your life. You want them to spend time with, to like, hang out with your friends and family. You want to show off them to your friends and family, and you want your friends and family to be impressed by this other person.
Also, you don’t keep them to yourself, but you bring them out and introduce them to your interests again and the people who are important to you.
The second sign is when you use ‘we’ language rather than ‘I’ language. It turns out that when two people are in love, their lives are intertwined, and they begin to think of themselves not as separate individuals anymore, but instead, as a couple. And the more intertwined these two people’s lives are, the more overlap in their lives, their friends, their interests, and in their circles in this diagram. And the more overlap between their lives, the more mutuality.
And mutuality is when we refer to ourselves as a couple, as an ‘us’ or ‘we’, rather than as an ‘I’, or this other person. So, for example, if I asked you what you were doing last weekend, if you were in love, you would tell me, “We went out to dinner”, “We went to the movies”, or “We went up north for the weekend”, rather than, “I took Sandy to the movies, and then I went out to dinner”, or “I went up north”. So, if you want to distinguish between lust or love, look at your language, and the degree to which you use ‘we’ versus ‘I’ statements.
The third sign is self-disclosure, what you tell this other person about you. Love motivates us to reveal extensive information about ourselves to this other person. When we’re in love, we want to tell this person about our dreams, our aspirations, our goals, the past, the future. Sometimes we tell them confidential information, and sometimes we tell them all of our secrets that we’ve never told anyone before.
When we think about self-disclosure in a relationship, you want to think about an onion. The outer layers of an onion represent the superficial aspects to us as an individual, and as you peel away the layers of the onion, you get at the core of who you are. You get deeper, and there’s more information about you as an individual person and intimate information. So, when you’re in lust, you only peel away a few of those layers. You tell this other person maybe about your interest, your hobbies, movie, or music preferences, but that’s it. You don’t go to the deep core of you.
When you’re in love, you go straight to the core. You share information that has more breadth, more topics, but each topic also is deeper, more personal in nature. You go straight to the core. So, if you want to distinguish between lust and love, look at what you’re talking about and how many topics with this other person.
Now the last and fourth sign is that you influence one another. When two people are in love, what one person does or wants to do, influences the other person in meaningful and strong ways. For example, if you were thinking about moving to a different state because of a new job, or you were considering any big change in your life, you would want to go to your partner before you make a decision.