Nathan Jolly

Love, Lust, and the Problems in Between

Whether waiting for love or reveling in lust, the steps you walk to bridge the two are often the most brutal.


Love is the best. That giddy rush, that tragic crush, that casual brush. Trying to fall in love, however, is the worst. It’s the most hollow of feelings when you catch yourself in motion. You shoot like an eager arrow towards anyone that fits within your parameters until you find yourself yawning and lazily editing obscurities and extremities and talking about work and how quiet it is in here for a Saturday night. Unless it’s extremely crowded, in which case you’ll probably be talking about how crowded it is in here, even though it’s a Saturday night and you did expect people to be out, but you didn’t expect this many people to be out, have you been watching Mad Men?

At first, it isn’t like this at all. You are excited enough that you tripped into a boy-girl situation and that it is playing out in an endless succession of beaches and cinemas and dates and the fumbling, clumsy heat of it all, because television has long taught you that real love is either a) instant and immediate: a slow-motion, Spector-soundtracked series of mixtapes and ice-cream kisses or b) a slow shuffle from curiosity to attraction, through finding then inventing then dismissing faults, towards realizing you simply cannot do without them in your life—that shift from finding them breathtakingly beautiful to undeniably knowing them to be so. The truth is that falling in love is both a) and b) simultaneously with some c) having to go places when “going places” is the thing you spend most of your energy trying to avoid (shoved in unceremoniously between the Spector-soundtracked, ice-cream-kiss bliss).

When it matters more to you that they feel a bit sick than it does that they just sprayed vomit all over you, that’s love. John Donne said something similar. The problem is, once you are aware that this is how love actually feels and happens and not just how it looks on Home and Away, then that leap between lust and love seems less like an arbitrary milestone you hop over and assume you are feeling now because, “Gosh, has it been six months?” and more like an impossible leap over a chasm of blank glares and angry stares and missed-GilmoreGirls references and “Oh, any style of music, really” and stories about coworkers you will never meet and all of the uncles and aunties you will meet and all those things that aren’t there or don’t matter once you are with someone “because” not “despite.”

Of course love and lust aren’t mutually exclusive. But they can stand alone. The best type of love, and the type that is being hereby and thereby referred to as “love” in this article, is the type where love and lust collide—the slide from a warm drug into a warm hug, where you feel cocooned and Siamese and like a new team seeing new shapes and hearing new sounds: an unstoppable, world-beating, code-talking, sunshining team, but-stop-leaving-your-wet-towels-on-top-of-my-jeans!

When you simply aren’t going to make that leap from lust to love, you know it for a while before you admit it to yourself. … Wait for love, or revel in lust. What lies between is infinitely more depressing and should never be confused for either.

Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together” struck me as a singularly beautiful line from Simon and Garfunkel’s America, before I fell in love for the first time and found this would never, ever be a conversation between lovers, but only between those caught on the other side of that chasm, standing on the edge, shaking their knees and pretending they are trying to build the willpower to jump.

Self-preservation is a marvelous thing. It drives necessary wedges and it filters out the extremities that linger where loneliness lies and which too easily raise their heads and shake their ghosts and cause all sorts of trouble when liquor and lipstick get involved. Lust can be dangerous and thrilling (often the same thing) but only momentarily misleading. When you simply aren’t going to make that leap from lust to love, you know it for a while before you admit it to yourself. From that first point it is about keeping your world black and white—even if you aren’t yet admitting to yourself that’s what you are doing. Not black and white in a cinema-newspaper-bowler-hat way, but by keeping things separate and simple and bland, by making the dead-center of your city your neutral meeting point, your Switzerland. It’s a convenient meeting place and too commonplace and disconnected to belong to anyone. These are places that live on postcards and tea towels bought by tourists for relatives back home. Every city is full of easy landmarks: proof of that summer, that winter, that year crumbled and hidden when you first got your heart broken. We cannot make this city our own, because it has belonged to millions of people who shuffled in and out and never left their mark. The nooks and laneways and art galleries and punk clubs and patches of grass in parks are to be reserved for another, and when you know-but-don’t-yet-know this is the case, you will steer well clear of carrying out the relationship in any place that could be in danger of developing its own private personality for the two of you. This anonymity means that you can never affix memories to tripped-out alleyways or windows in libraries overlooking those red roofs where you would joke about buying that cream-colored house and digging up that horrible garden and that Italian rock-bed which is oh-too-easy to make jokes about while you waste your entire summer on a winter fling.

The mind loves to apply sentimentality to mundane occurrences. A halfhearted lunch, a bottle of wine, a patch of grass, and a gust of wind that was never in danger of carrying music along with it …. The mind erases the bindis, the arguments, the beating sun, the sweat stains, the green ants, the crippling wind. The hangover that would rather be under blankets and sheets with another. Wait for love, or revel in lust. What lies between is infinitely more depressing and should never be confused for either.


Sydney Is For Strangers is a series of interlocking stories about life, loneliness, and searching for love in a big city. The debut book from The Big Smoke writer Nathan Jolly.

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Nathan Jolly

Nathan is a Sydney-based journalist who has written for numerous publications over the years including Junkee, This Recording, New York Post, The BRAG, SBS, Triple J Mag, Channel [V], and He used to be pretty good at hitting three-pointers and can still cartwheel although he never learned how to swim, drive, or manage money.

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