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Your heart races when you see them, and you think of them every moment you are apart. Do you love this person you feel so strong for…or is it really lust?

Telling someone you love them can take your relationship to another level, which is why it helps to put a name to those intense feelings you’re having. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between love and lust – and while love and lust may overlap, they’re not the same.

So before you drop the L-bomb on your partner, let’s explore the differences between love and lust, including the telltale signs of each emotion.

What do love and lust really mean?

First, let’s define our terms so that we have a basic understanding of each. Merriam-Webster defines to like (in part) as “an affection based on admiration, kindnessor common interests” and “warm attachmententhusiasm or dedication.

In the meantime, he defines lust as “generally intense or unbridled sexual desire” or “intense desire”.

Do you wonder where you fall with someone right now? (Or where did you fall in a past relationship?) If you’ve never been in love, it might be hard to know. And if there are elements of confusion in your connection, your feelings may be cloudy.

Especially when people are younger and have no life experience, their first so-called “love” may actually be a very lustful relationship, says Lena Derhally, Imago Certified Relationship Therapist and Cognitive Behavioral Sex Therapist. Because of this lack of experience, you may later feel that this type of overwhelming attraction is love as opposed to an attraction more rooted in biological feelings.

Ready for more? Let’s get into our breakdown.

9 signs of lust

♥ You have obsessive thoughts. You constantly think about this person. You imagine scenarios and re-enact moments, and it just goes on and on.

You want to be around them all the time. And even if you don’t stalk them, please don’t, you want to see them as much as you can. “You can’t get enough,” Derhally says.

You think they can’t hurt. Defaults? What flaws? You think this person is perfect for you. And you don’t take note of traits that may not fit. (Yes, that’s how you can end up idealizing someone who isn’t a good fit for you.)

You do not have really know them but desire them. What is their greatest achievement? What motivates them? You don’t have the details, but you still want the person. “That’s also why we say don’t marry someone real fast,” Derhally adds, because things you don’t like might come out “once those rose-colored glasses come off.”

The sexual attraction is super strong. The heat is intense. Cravings are through the roof. And when you see them wow.

Your outlook is clouded. You crave their company, but you may also feel confused. Is there anything substantial there…or are you in a lusty bubble?

You are like a hunter on a mission. You are not trying to build but trying to catch. It’s exhilarating. But what happens when you get what you want? (By the way, if you have a tendency to continually catch and release people, that’s not cool and it can be cruel. Stop. You’re dating, not fishing.)

You don’t feel accepted. Maybe you sometimes feel uncomfortable. Or you’re afraid to really be yourself, so you limit what you share and what they see.

It’s only about you. What do you want you want and don’t want to compromise. You also don’t want to put the other person ahead of yourself, and you can’t respect them as a whole person. If you have control tendencies or attachment issues, take a close look at yourself here.

9 signs of love

You have loving thoughts. You may think of this person fondly, but that doesn’t derail your day. They may make you smile, but you’re by no means obsessed.

You want their company, in a balanced way. You still live your life but you light up when you see them.

You can see and accept their flaws. You know they’re not perfect, and that’s okay. You can accept their collection of weird socks and that silly way they laugh.

You understand them… and you still love them. You understand how their early years shaped them. You see what makes them happy and sad. You have a complete picture and enjoy it.

The allure is there, but it’s not the only draw. Yes, you feel sexual attraction. (If you’re wondering about this, learn more about queer versus other types.) But you are also attracted to other aspects, you respect them and the pieces all work together.

You can see things clearly. There may be some issues, but you are comfortable working through them. You don’t feel misled or confused, and things seem more calm than chaotic.

You are happy with the process and want to build. It’s not a game. You enjoy the chase, but you also learn about that person. And make plans that benefit you both.

You feel known and accepted. They are aware of your crazy childhood adventures and have seen when you are a little messy. And you’re cool with it. Hey, when morning breath is no reason to avoid a morning kiss, it’s love, jokes David Bowers, Ph.D., marriage and family therapist.

You can put the other person before yourself. Love is about empathy and sacrifice, Derhally says. Maybe you’re thinking about how to stay together if someone has to move, she says. Or maybe it’s as simple as letting them finish your favorite dessert. Either way, you’re also working to make the other person’s life better.

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What are the main differences between lust and love?

“When you’re in love with someone, you don’t really know them at all, and so you’ve projected and made up a story about who they are,” Derhally explains. True love can come after spending time getting to know a person and forming a deeper connection.

With love, you’re also not so concerned with the image you produce for that person, says Bowers.

Derhally notes that in a long-term relationship, you go through a lot together. And while there’s an early stage where you can feel intense attraction and craving — aka “the honeymoon phase” — the vast majority of people will fall out of desire between six months and two years of age, she says.

Another thing about lust? The focus is on the current obsession and attraction. And while attraction might be the reason you initially pursue someone, Derhally says you might be feeling lust (versus love) if you can’t see a long-term future because you focus on physical attraction.

In fact, some men may jump from person to person thinking they’ll find someone they’ll have long-term desire with, Derhally adds. But that can be problematic. “They may abandon a relationship that might be perfectly good for them because they have the misconception that butterflies can last forever,” she says, or they think that once the butterflies are gone, the relationship “is a disposable”.

So if you are wondering if you feel lust or love, and what you want, know that relationships will have ups and downs.

And if you’re still not sure how you feel, you can slow down and think about where you are, Bowers says. For example, maybe you feel desire now, and maybe it could turn into love, he says. Don’t mislead the other person.

If you’re confused about a loss, also understand that pain can happen even if the situation was (or is) ambiguous, Bowers adds.

In the future, you will experience at least some signs of lust and love. And be better prepared if you fall into either.

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