When I was twenty-three years old I moved to Milan to study at university. Within a month I met a guy. He was the most striking human being I had ever seen. He was slightly taller than me, long brown hair, voluptuous lips, golden tanned skin, a strong Roman nose, beautifully lean body and the most impeccable style for which Italians are famous. He was the epitome of an ‘Italian Stallion’ and an example of the way that I had imagined all Italian men to look before I had moved to Italy. The first time I locked eyes with him, I felt his gaze reverberate through my entire body and I remember thinking to myself that this was what love at first sight felt like.
Milan being a small city meant that we frequented the same parties and places and on the weekends I would regularly spot him walking the streets of my neighborhood. On one fateful evening in my favorite club, Plastic, I finally gathered the courage to approach him. We spoke and danced and drank and immediately the sexual chemistry was palpable. That evening began a year long ‘relationship’ (and I use that term loosely) that taught me lessons to which I still refer today. He triggered a range of emotions inside of me that I had never felt before and as a result I behaved in a way that was completely out of character for me. Instead of being the confident, stable minded person I had always been, I turned into a lovesick puppy that craved his attention and affection. I thought of him as a drug. When I ‘had’ him I was on a blissful high but when he left me, the euphoria faded and I would crave him until I could have him again. It would often take days or weeks before I could have my next fix of him. Occasionally we would unexpectedly cross paths in a club or restaurant and I would spend the rest of the night pining over him and watching him from across the room. If we left together then I would be content but when we didn’t my heart would shatter and I would punish myself by listening to depressing love songs and crying myself to sleep. I’m not sure if he knew the power he had over me or the way that I felt about him but I imagine that the song lyrics I emailed him or the way that I looked at him were clear enough indicators. In retrospect, the manner in which I acted makes me cringe with embarrassment but at the time I was convinced that I was in love. But it wasn’t love. It was lust. I was in lust with him and it took a broken heart to come to that realization.
It is so easy to confuse love and lust, especially when we are younger, as they are both powerful feelings that can be easily mistaken for one another. Love and lust make our hearts beat faster, they are similar feelings that can overwhelm us so much so that we do things that we would never do and much like love at first sight, so too can we fall in lust at first sight. The difference between the two is that lust grows stronger the less of it you receive back from the person with whom you are in lust while love grows stronger the more of it you receive back from the person with whom you are in love.
Lust is sexually driven while love comes from a deeper place within one’s soul. Lust speaks to our egos, our bodies, our animal side and our insecurities. Love speaks beyond the physical, transcending basic instinct to a place of peace. Lust is not a peaceful state of being. Lust is unstable whereas love is the foundation of everything.
As gay men we often mistake lust for love and this is why so many of our relationships are doomed to fail before they begin. We have been influenced by gay culture, porn, popular gay magazines and even each other to think that sexual attraction and outward appearance are the most important foundations of a relationship. Social media goes one step further by reducing us down to a two dimensional image that yearns to be lusted over. The more images we see of handsome gay guys from around the world, the stronger our sexual drive becomes and the harder it is to distinguish between what is lust and what is love in reality. This is why so many of us believe that we’re in love, when actually we are not. Why do many gay relationships not last longer than six months? Because lust fades much faster than love and while it burns strongly in the beginning, it’s not resilient enough to go the distance.
It takes mindfulness to approach relationships from a grounded place where lust does not cloud our vision. This is not to say that sexual chemistry and desire are unimportant but rather that they are but two parts of many others that form the foundation of a strong relationship. For me, it took an addiction to a man and a broken heart to learn the difference between love and lust and although it was a painful journey, I am so grateful for that lesson.
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