Bed over the heel?
II’m a 29 year old guy with a “casual” relationship history, but I can’t stop thinking about this new girl at work. I don’t want her to date anyone else, nor do I want anyone to hurt her or make her sad. No other woman has ever made me feel this way. How do I know if this is lust or the beginning of falling in love?
It is easy to believe that you are “in love” when all you are really into is horny. To be fair, lust is a form of love … when you expand the field to things like “I love, love, LOVE your boobs in this inappropriately tight sweater”.
In other words, lust is animal attraction, so the “inner beauty” that is fundamental to loving someone is immaterial. I know this firsthand as I have consistently been the target of large and small inter-species sex predators.
A giant billy goat chased me across my friends’ farm and tried to mount me – while my friends watched laughing. A former pervert was six inches tall and green: a friend’s lorikeet (a kind of parrot). He ran on his little bird’s feet behind me through another friend’s apartment and screamed the oh-so-sensual announcement: “Otto, Vogel! Otto, Vogel!” I stormed into the bathroom, slammed the door, and refused to come out until he was behind bars. #beaktoo
Make it difficult to unravel “love or lust”? Another important question is: “Love or infatuation?” Falling in love is not love. It’s infatuation – an intense, usually lust-driven obsession with our idea of who a person is: a projection of our hopes and romantic fantasies that often has little relation to who they really are. That is, the sheer strength and intoxicating nature of being in love – like being blind drunk on some romantic possibility instead of Jim Beam – often leads to premature feelings of “We are perfect for each other!”
People tend to believe that the more they learn about a new person they like, the more they will be in love with them – à la “to know them is to love them.” However, psychologist Michael I. Norton notes that when we are keen on someone we barely know, we tend to read ambiguities – foggy, incomplete information about them – as a sign, the person is like us. These (perceived!) Similarities reinforce our “preference” for them – next.
Over time, however, we cannot help but notice that all of the dissimilarities surface, which leads to our liking them less and less – a la “To know them is to hate them.” In other words, falling into a lasting relationship is what dreams are made of – if you have always dreamed of being financially and emotionally cremated in a grotesquely ugly divorce.
“Buyer beware” in love is best practiced in two ways: The first is “Buyer Be Seriously Slow”. Consider putting the person you’re dating for a year (or more) on secret probation. This gives you time to see not only the best in it, but the much-needed society: insights into the worst.
Second, investigate whether your compatibility with any person is superficial – “I love sushi! She loves sushi!” – or sustained deep. The ideal tool for judging this is the best definition of love I have ever read, and by “best” I mean the most practically useful. It’s from Ayn Rand. (And no, I’m not the glassy admirer of everything she’s ever said or written, but she got it to the point.)
“Love is an answer to values,” writes Rand. “You fall in love with a person’s attitude to life – with this essential sum, this basic attitude or way of facing the existence that is the essence of a personality. You fall in love with the embodiment of the values that shaped a person’s character, which are reflected in their broadest goals or smallest gestures. … Your own attitude towards life, which recognizes your own basic values in the other, acts as a selector.
Using this “values model” to determine compatibility requires some preliminary work: Find your own values, the principles that are most important to you – the benchmarks for the kind of person you want to be. When you are in the “must start” phase and you realize what is not love – these dear forgers, lust and infatuation – should help you not slip into the nightmare zone of the committed relationship.
Ultimately, love is nautical: it’s both the ship that launched a thousand cheesy clichés and, more importantly, a lifeboat. In lifeboat form, it takes romantic partners through the worst of times, major and, um, a little less major – like when your bae spends their entire appointed night searching Hulu for a movie to watch. Love drops your phone in the fishbowl to keep you from whispering, “Hey Siri, what’s the legal line between murder and negligent homicide?”