When I’m out with a guy, there are a ton of thoughts flying through my head at once. Depending on whether or not I’m interested, they vary from “How am I going to be as ladylike as possible while eating these wings?” to “The ‘Bachelorette’ finale is tonight; I wonder who she’ll choose.” In the second example, I’ve clearly been planning my exit strategy since the night began. In the first example, however, chances are I care what my date thinks and want to make a great impression. When I like a guy, he knows it. The signs are obvious: I laugh at his jokes, playfully touch his hand, and turn on the charm to seal the deal.
But do any of these signs mean I want a relationship with him? Not necessarily.
The reverse is also true. It can be just as difficult for me to tell what my date’s true intentions are. Does he see me as relationship material? Or is he just looking to have fun?
To navigate these tricky waters of love and lust, I turned to research—and found that science tells us quite a bit about the difference between the two. Here are five signs you can watch for to get a better idea of what your date is really looking for:
1. He gazes into your eyes.
According to new research from the University of Chicago, eye movement may reveal whether a person is feeling romantic love or sexual desire. In the study, participants were asked to concentrate on a stranger’s face to test visual patterns and analyze the difference between love and lust. Interestingly, researchers found that viewers who saw the person as a potential romantic partner fixated more on the face, whereas those who were feeling lust focused more on the body. This was true for both males and females.
So if he’s looking directly into your eyes, you can keep fantasizing about your wedding and future kids’ names. But if he’s looking everywhere else, you’re better off getting the check.
2. She shows affection—even when it isn’t leading to sex.
If the person you’re seeing touches you often without initiating sex, it’s very likely he or she is smitten. When you’re truly in love with someone, having sex isn’t the only way to maintain closeness. You share a connection that goes beyond lust and can experience emotional intimacy by holding hands or cuddling. “Loving touch focuses more on a healthy connection and a need to express true affection,” says therapist and life coach, Mila Mapp. “It can be expressed privately or publicly in a way that is gentle, appropriate, and warm. Loving touch respects boundaries and creates a level of comfort and pleasure for both parties.”
3. He wants to introduce you to his family and friends.
When you meet the people your date cares about most in the world, it’s a surefire check in the love column. It’s a sign that you’re an important person in his life and more than just a casual fling.
“Don’t wait for him to invite you to meet his parents. Take the bull by the horns and do it first!” advises Larry Wilson, founder and CEO of oppositesconnect.com. His suggestion? Invite him to a family party so you two won’t be the center of attention. “This way, after brief introductions are made, Mom and Dad will be busy entertaining and you two won’t be the main focus of attention. Then when the four of you have a more intimate meeting, there will be a familiarity between you all that will make everyone more relaxed.”
4. She talks about the future, and you’re in it.
Does she make plans for next month or next year that include you? If you notice that “we” is starting to replace “I,” that’s a strong indicator that she plans on sticking around.
“Partners who are committed to one another are comfortable talking and fantasizing about the future—next weekend, holiday season, or year,” says Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship. “It doesn’t guarantee a future to imagine what life could be like together five or ten years from now, but the absence of any such hopeful plans is not a good sign.”
5. You have deep conversations outside the bedroom.
Does he ask you questions about yourself and your life? Does she show interest in things you care about? When someone likes you, he can’t get enough and is always eager to learn more. On the other hand, someone who is purely interested in a physical connection won’t invest the time or energy in sharing personal details.
“Conversations within loving relationships are more exploratory, displaying a sense of curiosity and care,” says Mapp. “The couple wants to know more about each other—their families, childhood, careers, hopes and dreams, personal philosophies, and quirks.” Lustful relationships rely almost exclusively on flirtation, innuendo, or blatant requests for sex, she explains. These interactions create sexual foreplay at the expense of learning more about each other.
As romance novelist Danielle Steel once said, “Lust is temporary, romance can be nice, but love is the most important thing of all. Because without love, lust and romance will always be short-lived.” It can sometimes be hard to tell in the beginning stages of a relationship whether you’re headed for a long-term commitment or a one-night stand. In my experience, I can tell it’s real if he pays attention to the details—like remembering my favorite snack is popcorn or where my secret ticklish spot is. But sometimes the way he looks at me when he thinks I’m not looking is how I know he’s more than just a fling.
Do you think these signs accurately predict whether it’s love or lust? Do you have your own ways to tell if it’s lust or love? Tell us in the comments!