I recently watched an episode of The Joy Behar Show with Whoopi Goldberg and they were discussing the “thin line” between friendship and love. It got me thinking about the difference between the two and I respectfully but vehemently disagree. The line is not thin at all; the gap is great and the difference is distinct.
Friendship is a wonderful and powerful social bond; it provokes a host of rich emotions and can involve deep love but it does not feel like romantic love and those who confuse the two have likely not experienced the intense highs and chemical responses involved with falling madly in love.
But that invites scrutiny of yet another important and relevant contrast – that between love and lust.
Here is where people tend to get confused and mistake one for the other, to deleterious effect.
Lust is primarily concerned with physical attraction and sexual gratification. It is a potent response to another person predicated on physical desirability. It creates a yearning for sex with the desired other but seldom goes beyond that. Lust’s goals are finite and short term. Love, too, involves yearning; but for the whole person, not just for the corporeal experience. Love invites long term thinking, planning and dreaming.  In lust, sex is the end in itself; in love, sex is only one manifestation of intimacy and often leads to many others.
We should be able to discern the difference when we think past the immediate temptations and into our broader social spheres and projected aspirations.  If we want to introduce that person to our friends and family, if we fantasize about sharing a future, if we desire talking to them as much as having sex with them, chances our we’re in love. Lust is defined by passion while love incorporates passion into a much broader array of feelings, which include tenderness, protectiveness, sharing, and interdependency.  Several studies indicate that lust provokes hopes for  self gratification while love generates the desire to give of yourself and consider someone else’s desires. Love invites us to nurture and be our more generous selves. In all cases, it is important that the relationship is not one sided, and that the feelings are mutual.

The differences are not confined to our ideas, however; there are distinctions based in science. Different chemicals are released in the brain depending on the emotional or physiological trigger. Lust is driven by androgens and estrogens. But once the attraction begins to expand beyond the purely physical and immediate, dopamine and norepinepherine levels significantly increase. And once love is established and attachment sets in, a sense of peace and calm are fueled by oxytocin and vasopressin.
Lust is powerful, and friendships are critical. But nothing beats being really in love.

Above: Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood Below: Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff, Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stephani


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