Lust vs. love

My boyfriend's out of town, and I'm getting the urge.

By Cary Tennis
Published September 22, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I've been dating a sweet, intelligent, cute, funny guy for four years. We started dating after being friends for years, and I know him better than anyone else. He's the absolute best and I adore him. He is a graduate student and I work in an engaging and wonderful job. He moved across the country for his research five months ago and plans to return in about eight to 10 months to finish up school and graduate. Now, I have been quite poor at maintaining any relationship, be it romantic, friendly or familial when I don't see the person. A problem, I admit, but not one I've been successful at addressing. So I went into this geographic separation with a bit of anxiety above and beyond the normal unhappiness and distress. However, I had a plan: telephone lots, write and e-mail often, be encouraging (but not nagging) about his research, keep myself busy with other activities, and visit frequently. So far I have done all this successfully. He and I are still very close and still very much in love. Fantastic! Alas, there's a problem...

I have a guy friend who over the last few months has maneuvered into my core group of friends. He is super nice, entertaining, and shares many of my interests. He and I started hanging out a lot more, usually with lots of other people, at the bars, sporting events or hiking trips. Over time we started hanging out more one-on-one as well. A coffee after work, a movie when other people fell through, a drink to celebrate his promotion. I should have seen the trouble brewing ... but maybe I didn't want to admit it. In any case, he developed a thing for me and told me that he thought I would be better off with him.

I kindly but firmly let him know that he had no chance because I was in a happy, strong, sustaining relationship. I then did the right things: I stopped hanging out with him alone, I informed my boyfriend of the development, and I'm trying to reshape our friendship (if possible). I certainly enjoyed the romantic attention, who wouldn't? It's nice to feel attractive and desired. But I started to think about how it would be, you know, if I were single. Boom. Huge, crushing, lustful desire. Now when we do hang out I can't seem to stop myself from thinking about how good it would feel to be kissed by him ... or do other less PG activities. I really don't seem to have the ability to shut down these thoughts. I'm a nice, good girl and this is terribly out of character ... so what does this mean?

I know the difference between lust and love. This is lust, with all its heady, consuming passion. With my boyfriend I have love, caring, sweet and good (but not as intoxicating). How can I lust after one guy and love another? Why is lust such a powerful emotion ... so skilled at manipulating your rational mind? How do other long-distance couples do it? How do they stay lust-free and uncomplicated? Clearly, my love for my boyfriend and the strength of our relationship isn't enough to kill the lust. I don't want to screw up things between us. Although I haven't done anything other than think lustful thoughts, should I tell my boyfriend? Other than convincing my boyfriend to move the heck back so I can get some regular sex, what's the cure? So, um, yeah, "self-love" isn't doing the trick ... nice as it is.

Lusty yet in Love

Dear Lusty,

These are big questions you ask. Just because you can ask a question doesn't mean there is an answer, or that the answer will help you in your situation. Sometimes it's a good idea to limit your questions to the ones that have answers. That way you can at least decide what to do.

In this case, if you want to keep your boyfriend, you can decide to not sleep with this other guy. You don't need to understand all the intricacies of love and lust to make that simple decision. And if you want to keep your boyfriend, don't tell him you're having lustful thoughts about somebody else. That won't help matters any. While you're going through all of this, try to focus on what will actually improve the situation. Try to keep things on an up note with your boyfriend. Tell him how much you miss him. Send him things. Concentrate on that relationship.

In spite of your attraction to this other guy, I think you ought to tell him to back off. Horning in on you while your boyfriend is away is a little uncool. He knows you have a boyfriend. He's trying to break it up. That's not the honorable way to go about winning your heart. When your boyfriend comes back, see how things work out. If they don't work out, then maybe this guy could have a shot. But take things one thing at a time.

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