31 People Reveal Their Definitions of Love

By Rosemary Donahue

Two women kissing on a shiny multicolored background one with pink hair wearing a light pink dress and one with purple...

What first drew me to language was its fluidity. Every word can have multiple meanings — not just in the vernacular at large, but also to different people depending on an individual's memories and associations . There’s something complex and beautiful about that, and it's a huge reason I wanted to become a writer and editor. Something else complex and beautiful? Love. You can roll your eyes at me now — actually, you should — but it’s true. Love is one of the words that probably has the most varied definitions since our experiences with it are all so intense.

Without spilling the sordid details, I'm experiencing quite the upheaval in my life right now (sup, Saturn return ) — so much so that I'm reevaluating everything I thought I knew about love. Many things I thought to be true are not, and I'm learning new things about what it means to love and be loved all the time.

But, for now, here’s what the concept means to me: when a song that sounds nothing like a typical “love song” has somehow become one to you ; folding all your shit Marie Kondo-style to free up a drawer in your dresser; someone getting incensed on your behalf when you’ve been wronged, who will also tell you if you’re the one who's wrong. It's closeness that also allows for space and freedom and room to figure out whatever those two words mean to you, because those definitions change as well. It's trusting that the person you love wants to be there, that their love is both a choice and a feeling, and feeling safe and excited in the knowledge that you can make whatever kind of relationship you want together. Love is also 143 pounds of Mr. Rogers (the weight he reportedly stayed his entire adult life, which he thought was God's way of telling him he was loved).

Sometimes love is wanting to do things for someone that feel like obligations when you're asked to do them for someone else. It's shared T-shirts, playlists, and appetizers. Right now I'm grappling with the fact that in these times, especially as a person with depression , love can sometimes make you feel like the folks who played music as the Titanic sank; it's gorgeous, selfless, and important, but it can be temporary and heart-wrenchingly sad at the same time. Love is also so much more.

Because I'm still figuring it out, I was interested in hearing from you about your ever-evolving experiences with this concept. I wanted to know what came up for you when you tried to intellectualize the thing that inhabits our every nook and cranny when we feel both the most at home and the most excited. I asked people on the Internet with a Google form what they thought about love (and asked for ages, pronouns, sexual orientations, and relationship statuses) — here’s what you had to say:

Love Is When You Build Each Other Up

"Love means enthusiastically answering my many, many questions with an unexpected level of depth, taking care of me when I am sick, indulging my need for spontaneity, making mundane chores manageable (if not fun), and truly seeing my light and looking to amplify rather than dim it." — Alia Stearns, 41, She/Her, Bi, Open Relationship With Boyfriend

"At its core, love requires the basics of care. It's people helping each other meet needs, like food and warmth and play. It's trust that my partner is an accurate and healthy mirror for self-reflection and knowing I’m the same for them. It's acting for one another as a framework and foundation for personal evolution." — Alice, 30, Unsure, Queer, Boo’d Up

"Love is like sinking into a warm bath at the end of an awful day. It’s being brave enough to give someone the parts of you that are messy, complicated, and not Instagram-perfect. It’s knowing that although they hold all the tools to break your heart, they’ll build you up instead." — Olivia, 22, She/Her, Heterosexual, Single

"Love is creation. Healthy love is generative. A healthy partnership allows those in it to be more of themselves, not less. Humility isn't necessarily humiliating. This game is a long game. Be gentle." — K, 31, She/Her, Queer, Domestic Partnership

Love Includes the Necessary Space for Pain

"When we say, 'I don’t know how we’ll get through this except that it will be together,' and I believe us." — Eric Mersmann, 40, He/Him, Bi, Married

"Love is a trust I place in someone. Love is a space for refuge, for pain, and for growth. Love is walking through a world of cold, dead pain and knowing there are human hearts beating somewhere and that one of them beats for me, and then my heart flutters like a dream come true." — Hellion, 27, She/Her, Queer, In Love

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"Love is when my partner asked me to go to the animal shelter on the anniversary of my mom’s death just to make me smile — and we took home two bonded cats." — Alaina Leary, 25, She/They, Queer, Engaged

A red vintage shirt on a background of multicolored flowers

"Love is my partner sitting beside me during a panic attack, not telling me to stop or change, not prescribing, just being there, grounding me. It's coming with me to my therapist’s office after a self-harm scare to make sure I was safe from myself, and my therapist saying, 'He really loves you.'" — Anna Swenson, 28, She/Her, Queer, Married

Love Is In the Smallest Things

"I'm not sure about romance, other than it's absurd. But my best friend and I sent each other the exact same e-mail this morning and if that isn't love, I don't know what is." — Elizabeth, 27, She/Her, Queer

"My emotions wheel says love is a feeling of lightness and security, but I’ve never felt that way. So, to me, love is being present, and the rare moments in the day when I become so absorbed in the sunlight or snowflakes or taste of my ginseng tea that I forget to feel anxious, unwell, or that I should feel like less of a person for taking up space in the world." — Christian, 34, She/Her, Straight-ish, Terminally Single

"Love looks like doing the dishes. I’m an 'Acts of Service' person and I hate doing the dishes, so my husband has taken it upon himself to never let a dirty plate fester in the sink. It’s selfless and humble and deeply loving, and I’m thankful he takes pains to show me love in the language I hear it." — Skye Sherman, 25, She/Her, Heterosexual, Married

Love Makes Room For Change and Growth

"Feeling safe to be a true, authentic person. Having room for individual and shared passions. Knowing when everything else gets stripped away, your partner will still hold you close." — Joy Overbrook, 30, She/Her, Pansexual, Married

"Love is when I am challenged, seen, excited, amused, provoked into thought, and most of all, safe. When someone wants to know me and remains curious and thoughtful. When I continue to be supported and support another, throughout healthy changes ." — Kate, 27, She/Her, Bisexual, Married

"Love is having total acceptance and the ability to trust and openly communicate, without the fear of judgment or rejection. That shouldn't just apply to romantic love but also to love among family and friends." — Rho Rho, 94, She/Her, Widowed

"Freedom is essential to love. Without the ability to be yourself and express the quirky, dark beautiful sides of your nature, love suffocates and quickly evaporates." — Lilly Harlow, 37, She/Her, Straight, Committed Relationship

"Love is looking at someone and knowing that who they are today definitely won’t be who you see tomorrow, or the next day, or 10 years from now, and loving them for that reason alone. To love, we have to embrace the fact that who we first became attracted to can, will, and should change. The best part of love is watching it grow in new ways as each person evolves and maturing your love language along the way." — Wandy Felicita Ortiz, 23, She/Her, Heterosexual, In a Relationship

Love Is Sharing Food

"Love is knowing that, for the first time in your life, you don’t have to apologize for feeling everything at once. Love is beginning to heal from past trauma and learning that being hurt is not a required part of the relationship package. Love is also guava and cheese pastelitos." — Ashley, 24, She/Her, Pansexual, In a Relationship

A bowl of chicken noodle soup on a wooden plate with a spoon and salt and parsley garnish on a gold paint background

"Love is when I press myself into your back at night and feel our future. And when you send 40 Diet Cokes via Postmates to my doorstep in Brooklyn after a bad work day." — Cortne B, 25, She/Her, Straight, In a Relationship

"Love is willingly looking after someone with the flu . The only time I envy people in relationships is when I'm full of fever and fending for myself. Bring chicken soup to my sick bed and I'll love you forever." — Jay Birch, 29, He/Him, Single

Love Is a Feeling of Comfort

"Love is not what I grew up thinking it was. Love isn't turbulent, it's no whirlwind; it's comfort, companionship, and acceptance, calm and quiet, and better to me than any great drama. It's the way I sleep best when I can hear their breathing, the way that I wake from a long nap with my hand still in theirs because they didn't want to move and wake me." — Artemis, 22, She/Her, Asexual/Homoromantic, Engaged

"Love means that I don’t feel pressured to add “haha” or “lol” to the end of every text message. I feel comfortable enough sharing my thoughts with the person I love, romantically or platonically, without attempting to cancel them out with some filler phrases." — Liz Sheeley, 29, She/Her, Straight, Single

"Love is sometimes forgetting you’re beside each other because it’s as comfortable to be with them as it is when you're alone. It’s praising them when they’re nowhere nearby; it’s wanting to share them (and pictures of them and their accomplishments and sweet actions) with every friend you have. It’s waking up without any questions. It’s dating someone in Queens when you live in South Brooklyn , tbh." — Caitlin, 23, She/Her, Straight, In a Relationship

Love Is When Someone Starts to Take Up Space in Your Mind

"Love is what gets us through this whole thing called life. It’s what and who we think about when we fall asleep. It’s what we feel in our most vulnerable and emotional moments. It’s everything." — Rebecca Rranza, 21, She/Her, Bisexual, Single

"I know we're all thinking about Mary Oliver lately, but I really do think attention is the beginning of love and devotion. Someone who loves me will notice the things that bother me or make me feel good, not discount them, and then alter their behavior accordingly. It's really, really hard to actually be thoughtless or cruel or indifferent when you're paying attention." — Caitlin VH, 28, She/Her, Bi, Single

A white house with blue shutters under a sun on a pink glitter background

"Love is lending a book. It's your roommate turning on the French press when they leave for work so it’s ready when you get out of the shower. Bringing flowers. Making a shared playlist. Being in a room full of people but — consciously or subconsciously — realizing that in everything you do, you’re turning toward someone." — Catherine, 22, They/Them, Lesbian, Single

"Love is when another person starts to naturally take up space in your mind, and their needs and desires start to matter more and more to you over time. It’s about prioritizing someone and delighting in the things that make them unique. It’s who you see in your mind as soon as you wake up and who you think about when you’re falling asleep." — Emily, 28, She/Her, Pansexual, Committed LTR

"Love is the difference between feeling lonely and being alone." — Finch, 25, They/Them, Queer, Spoken for

Love Feels Like Coming Home

"Celebrating each other’s successes and comforting each other through losses. Feeling like home to each other, like a refuge, a safe place to rest your head. Feeling seen and known, in all your authentic weirdness." — Kate, 26, She/Her, Bisexual, In a Polyamorous Relationship

"Love is the comforting, warm sensation you get from good wine, hearing the opening chords of your favorite song, sinking into a hug, curling up on the couch, or eating a really good meal. I wouldn't call it 'coming home' exactly — that's not it. It's more like having the assurance that there's a home to go to." — Kendra Syrdal, 29, She/Her, Queer, Committed and Content

"Love is comfort in uncomfortable places. The feeling of coming home after a long day." — Maggie, 20, She/Her, Bisexual, Single

Love Is a Fucking Mess

"Love is that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you don't know if you want to throw up or fall into a fit of happy tears. It makes all emotions fly to the surface, because you are finally comfortable enough to let go." — Missy, 23, She/Her, Bisexual, Single

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Word Lists

100 Words Associated With Love

100 Words Associated With Love

Love is a universal emotion that has inspired countless songs, poems, and works of art throughout history. It’s a feeling that can bring people together and bring joy and happiness to their lives. But love is also a complex and multifaceted emotion, and it can be difficult to express in words.

There are countless words and phrases that are associated with love, and each one captures a different aspect of this powerful emotion. In this article, we’ll explore 100 words and phrases that are closely associated with love. From the romantic to the platonic, these terms capture the many facets of this enduring emotion.

100 Words Associated With Love

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Whether you’re looking for the perfect word to express your feelings or simply want to better understand this complex emotion, this list has something for everyone.

100 Words Associated With Love Meanings

Adoration refers to the deep love and respect someone has for another person, often demonstrated through actions and words of admiration.

Devotion is a committed or profound affection for someone, often characterized by loyalty and selfless dedication.

Passion is an intense, enthusiastic, or compelling emotion or feeling towards someone, often associated with romantic love.

Desire refers to a strong feeling of wanting to have or be with someone, typically in a romantic or sexual context.

Attraction describes the magnetic draw or interest that one person feels towards another, which can be physical, emotional, or intellectual.

Infatuation is a state of being completely carried away by unreasoning passion or love for someone. It’s typically a short-lived and intense romantic feeling.

Fondness is a gentle and loving feeling you have for someone you care about, often used to describe friendship and romantic relationships.

Tenderness is a display of affection that is gentle, loving, and caring. It often indicates deep emotional closeness.

Caring refers to the act of showing kindness, concern, and consideration for others, often evident in relationships built on love and affection.

Affectionate is an adjective describing someone who is warm, tender, and fond of showing love to others.

Loving is a term describing someone who shows love, warmth, and affection towards others.

Adoring refers to someone who is very fond of and is usually very affectionate and loving towards someone.

Devoted describes a person who is very loyal and steadfast in giving love and attention.

Passionate is an adjective that refers to someone having or expressing strong emotions or beliefs, particularly in a romantic context.

Desiring is a term used to describe the act of longing or hoping for someone or something, especially in a romantic or passionate manner.

Attracted refers to the act of causing someone to have a liking or interest in something, or in this case, someone.

Infatuated describes the state of being intensely but briefly in love or attracted to someone.

Fond refers to having an affection or liking for someone.

Tender describes someone who is gentle, kind, and loving.

Heart is often used metaphorically to refer to the center of a person’s emotions, particularly love and affection.

Soulmate is a term used to describe a person with whom one has a strong affinity, shared values and interests, and often a romantic connection.

Partner refers to a person who is associated with another or others in some sort of mutual endeavor or relationship, often romantic.

Spouse is the term for a married person: a husband or a wife.

Girlfriend refers to a female partner in a romantic relationship.

Boyfriend is a term for a male partner in a romantic relationship.

Fiance refers to a man who is engaged to be married.

Fiancee refers to a woman who is engaged to be married.

Husband is a term for a married man, while wife is a term for a married woman.

Sweetheart is an affectionate term for a loved one, often a romantic partner.

Darling is a term of endearment for someone you care about deeply.

Love interest refers to a character in a story who is the object of another character’s romantic interest.

Romantic interest refers to an interest in another person that goes beyond friendship and has the potential to become a romantic relationship.

Crush refers to a brief but intense infatuation for someone, often someone unattainable or a person who is unaware of these feelings.

Fling is a short-term romantic or sexual affair.

Ludus is a term derived from Ancient Greek that refers to playful, flirtatious love.

Pragma is another term from Ancient Greek that refers to enduring love, such as the deep understanding that develops between long-term partners.

Philautia is a Greek term for self-love, which in its healthiest form refers to self-esteem and self-compassion.

Affair usually refers to a romantic or sexual relationship, typically a secret one.

Romance is a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love, often involving actions that express love in a passionate or affectionate way.

Courtship is the period of development towards an intimate relationship, where a couple gets to know each other and decides if there will be an engagement, often followed by marriage.

Dating refers to the stage of a relationship where two people explore a romantic connection by spending time together.

Relationship in a romantic sense is the way in which two or more people are connected, usually referring to an emotional and sexual association.

Commitment refers to the decision to stay with someone long-term, often through a marriage or other formal agreement.

Marriage is a legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship.

Honeymoon is a holiday taken by newlyweds to celebrate their marriage in intimacy and seclusion.

Lover refers to a person who is having a sexual or romantic relationship with another, often outside of marriage.

Beloved is a term of endearment for someone loved or cherished.

Dearest is a term of endearment for someone who is dearly loved.

Loved one is a term that refers to someone who a person loves or cherishes, often in a non-romantic sense.

Heartthrob is a term often used to refer to someone, usually a celebrity, who many people find attractive or desirable.

Love bug is a playful and affectionate nickname for someone one is romantically involved with.

Cupid is the Roman god of love, often portrayed as a winged boy with a bow and arrows. The term is often used colloquially to refer to someone playing matchmaker.

Valentine refers to a person to whom a greeting or gift is given on Valentine’s Day, typically a person one loves or is attracted to.

Sweetie is an affectionate term for someone one is romantically involved with.

Euthymia is a state of having a good, stable mood, often associated with a sense of contentment in a relationship.

Agape is a Greek term for love, referring to the highest form of love, often associated with divine love or love for mankind.

Eros is another Greek term for love, which refers to passionate, intense love that includes attraction and desire.

Philia is the Greek term for platonic love, referring to affectionate regard, friendship, or love without romantic attraction.

Sugar is a term of endearment often used for someone one is romantically involved with.

Treasure is an affectionate term for a loved one, often signifying that the person is highly valued and cherished.

Angel is an affectionate term for someone who is exceptionally kind, compassionate, and gentle.

Cutie is an affectionate term used for someone who is cute or charming.

Honey is a sweet term of endearment for a loved one.

Precious is an affectionate term for someone of great value or significance to the speaker.

Pet is a term of endearment, often used between couples or from an older person to a younger.

Lovey is an affectionate term often used between couples, or from a parent to a child.

Sweetie pie is an affectionate term for someone who is sweet and likable.

Sugar pie is a sweet term of endearment, similar to sweetie pie, often used for someone one is romantically involved with.

Muffin is a term of endearment for a loved one, often used playfully or affectionately.

Pumpkin is an affectionate term often used for someone one loves or cares for.

Anteros is the Greek god of requited love, often invoked in discussions about love.

Himeros is another Greek god associated with sexual desire.

Pothos is a Greek god of longing or yearning.

Baby is a common term of endearment for a romantic partner.

Lovey dovey is a term often used to describe couples who show their affection for each other in public.

Smoochie is a playful term of endearment for someone one is romantically involved with.

Snuggle bunny is a term of endearment for someone who is comfortable and cozy to cuddle with.

Sugarplum is a sweet term of endearment, often used for someone one is romantically involved with.

Love muffin is a playful term of endearment for a romantic partner.

Snookums is a playful term of endearment for a romantic partner.

Sugar daddy refers to an older, wealthier person who gives gifts or money to a younger person in return for companionship or sexual favors.

Sugar momma is the female equivalent of a sugar daddy, a wealthier older woman who provides for a younger partner in return for companionship or sexual favors.

Lovebird is often used to describe a person who is in love, typically used to refer to a person who is demonstratively affectionate or romantic.

Romeo and Juliet are iconic characters from Shakespeare’s play of the same name, often used to refer to young lovers or forbidden love.

Venus is the Roman goddess of love, beauty, and fertility, often invoked in discussions about love.

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We Are Defining Love the Wrong Way

meaning words of love

It is time to change the meaning of the word “love.”

The word is mostly used according to the first definition given in the dictionary: “an intense feeling of deep affection.” In other words, love is what one feels.

After years spent speaking with couples before, during and after marriage; and of talking to parents and children struggling with their relationships, I am convinced of the partiality of the definition. Love should be seen not as a feeling but as an enacted emotion. To love is to feel and act lovingly.

Too many women have told me, bruises visible on their faces, that the husbands who struck them love them. Since they see love as a feeling, the word hides the truth, which is that you do not love someone whom you repeatedly beat and abuse. You may have very strong feelings about them, you may even believe you cannot live without them, but you do not love them.

The first love mentioned in the Bible is not romantic love, but parental love (Genesis 22). When a child is born, the parent’s reaction to this person, who so recently did not exist, is to feel that “I would do anything for her.” In the doing is the love—the feeling is enacted. That is why we often hear the phrase “you don’t act like you love me.” We know in our bones that love is not a feeling alone, but a feeling that flows into the world in action.

Between human beings, love is a relational word. Yes, you can love things that do not love you back—the sky or a mountain or a painting or the game of chess. But the love of other people is directional. There is a lover and a beloved—you don’t just love, but you love at someone. And real love is not only about the feelings of the lover; it is not egotism. It is when one person believes in another person and shows it.

In Fiddler on the Roof , when Tevye asks Golde whether she loves him after a quarter century of marriage, her wry answer is exactly on point:

For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes Cooked your meals, cleaned the house Given you children, milked your cow She asks then, “If that’s not love, what is?”

Of course it is possible to perform all sorts of duties for someone and feel little or nothing for them. Love is not about being hired help. Love is not an obligation done with a cold soul. But neither is it a passion that expresses itself in cruelty, or one that does not express itself at all. The feeling must be wedded to the deed.

We would have a healthier conception of love if we understood that love, like parenting or friendship, is a feeling that expresses itself in action. What we really feel is reflected in what we do. The poet’s song is dazzling and the passion powerful, but the deepest beauty of love is how it changes lives.

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Are you really in love? How expanding your love lexicon can change your relationships and how you see yourself

meaning words of love

Associate Professor of Philosophy and Fellow of the University of Tennessee Humanities Center (UTHC), University of Tennessee

Disclosure statement

Georgi Gardiner receives funding from the University of Tennessee. She has previously received funding from the American Council for Learned Societies (ACLS) and the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS).

University of Tennessee provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

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Illustration of heart composed of multicolored, overlapping speech bubbles

What is love? Could those feelings you label as love be something else?

What about infatuation? Obsession? A passing fancy? Being smitten? Enthrallment? Beguilement? Lust? A crush? A squish ? Platonic admiration? Why do people categorize some attachments as romantic love but not others?

Suppose Holly meets someone on vacation. They quickly become romantically and sexually intimate and seem deeply compatible. Holly is from the U.K., where the term “ holiday romance ” is commonly used and part of her vocabulary. Because she knows this term, she can apply its social scaffolding to this relationship. She understands that the rapid emotional intimacy and apparent compatibility she experienced likely sprang from fleeting circumstances that aren’t meant to last.

Someone from the U.S., however, where this term is rarely used , might more easily interpret this rapid intimacy as a sign of deep, significant lifelong compatibility.

Judging that you are in love can be powerful . It can affect your feelings, relationships and even your sexuality. But how do people judge whether they are in love?

This, I argue, depends on your linguistic community . That is, how the people around you talk about romance, relationships and attraction.

I am a philosopher who studies categorization schemas – how, when and why people label things such as emotions, sexuality and health. I examine the effects of those labels on how people understand themselves and on their well-being, and how alternative taxonomies and labels can make people understand and shape the world differently.

What happens when a culture instills a broader, more encompassing definition of love, or a narrower, more restrictive definition? How does having a richer vocabulary of words in the neighborhood of love change how we understand it?

The social scaffolding of words

Self-ascriptions of love depend on two things . The first are introspective judgments about your feelings: Are you attracted to the person? Energized by them? Nervous around them? And the second is what you think love is: Does love require caring about the person? Thinking about them a lot? Sexual attraction? When how you feel about a person and what you think love is match up, you self-ascribe love. That is, you judge that you are in love.

Words provide social scaffolding. That is, they create expectations and norms that steer how you behave and react to other people. And vocabularies vary by culture and era.

Categorizing an attachment as a “holiday romance” doesn’t just describe it but can also change its course. The label affects what Holly notices and values about the time she spends together with another person and whether she is inclined to pursue a long-term relationship.

Silhouette of two people sitting on a swing in the mouth of a heart-shaped cave, watching the sun set over the ocean

Vocabulary is empowering . Having an even more expansive vocabulary would allow Holly to experiment with different labels, and these could shape her relationships in different ways.

For example, the term “ eintagsliebe ,” based on the German word for “mayfly” and translating to “one day’s love,” refers to an intense and brief relationship. “ Comet lovers ” have a deep romantic bond but see each other only intermittently, living far apart the rest of the time without much contact. A “ holibae ” is a perennial date that happens only when you’re visiting home for the holidays. See also “ zipcoding ” – dating someone only when you’re both in the same ZIP code.

The dictionary of polyamory

Words create possibilities, and the recent surge of interest in polyamory , or having more than one romantic relationship at a time, has introduced substantial amounts of new vocabulary .

An “anchor partner” is a central figure in your romantic life. A “nesting partner” is a partner you live with. And a “satellite partner” has emotional and physical distance from your home. Vocabularies sculpted by traditional monogamous relationships might not distinguish between these types of attachments because they see non-cohabitating partnerships only as temporary transition phases that end by breaking up or become serious by moving in.

By rejecting the mainstream social scaffolding about relationships, polyamory creates the need for more terms to describe innovative relationship structures. And those words in turn create more possibilities for how polyamorous people interpret and structure their attachments.

Backs of group of people with their arms links around each other, backlit by the sun

“ New relationship energy ” is the buzzing excitement of a new relationship. “ Established relationship energy ” is the comfort of a stable, long-term relationship. These emotions are especially salient within polyamorous relationships, where the excitement of a new relationship can arise alongside the comfort of preexisting relationships.

But monogamous relationships also benefit from these linguistic innovations. Monogamous relationships might also involve new relationship energy, established relationship energy, and nesting, anchor and satellite partnerships, even if they aren’t labeled as such. Such self-understandings affect the values, emotions, commitments and beliefs people use to forge relationships.

Conceptual tourism

Conceptual schemas, or the words and concepts we have for understanding ourselves and the world around us, have permissive flexibility : People can disagree about what words like “love,” “crush” and “bi-curious” mean. Disagreement doesn’t mean that someone is wrong. Rather, flexibility allows us to explore different ways to understand the world and ourselves. We can be conceptual tourists.

Suppose Nell develops an ambiguous attachment to a new classmate. She finds her charming, witty and pretty, but it isn’t a clear-cut case of romantic attraction. Nell can adopt a broad or narrow definition of the word “crush,” depending on whether her feelings meet how she defines a “crush.” Altering what she means by a “crush” would change whether she labels herself as having a crush. This, in turn, could affect whether Nell sees herself as queer or straight.

If she knows other terms to describe her feelings, Nell might interpret them as “ alterous attraction ,” which is the desire for emotional intimacy in a way that is neither platonic nor romantic. She might seek a “ queerplatonic relationship ,” which resembles a conventional romantic relationship but without sex or conventional romance. Or, if her feelings are intense, Nell might self-ascribe “ limerence ,” which is obsessive infatuation.

Two people sitting back to back on grass, hands loosely intertwined

Self-ascribing labels affects what people notice about themselves, how they interpret their feelings and what they appreciate about their attachments. What she pays attention to fuels particular emotions and can bolster certain attitudes, like profound gratitude, that might distinguish love from crushes.

For example, if Nell interprets herself as having a crush, she may become more attuned to the excitement she feels around her classmate, which can fuel those emotions in a feedback loop. If she labels her feelings as platonic admiration, she might instead interpret herself as being nervous about impressing her new classmate.

Nell can experimentally adopt different labels – alterous attraction, queer, crush, limerence, straight and more – to see which fit best. Some labels might better match her emotions. And those labels might also change her emotions and become self-fulfilling prophecies .

Conceptual tourism can be a valuable cognitive skill. It requires the mental dexterity to inhabit rival conceptual schemas and try on new interpretative terms. Doing so can increase your self-understanding, cultivate self-determination and even help steer your heart.

Culture unavoidably provides a lexicon of attachment that shapes how you relate to other people. A culture that is more deliberate about the words it uses for different kinds of attraction can help people bond in new and more open-minded ways.

It’s also a great motivator for education: Learning new words can help you improve your love life.

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noun as in adoration; very strong liking

Strongest matches

  • appreciation
  • infatuation

Strong matches

  • amorousness
  • devotedness
  • enchantment
  • inclination
  • involvement

Weak matches

noun as in person who is loved by another

verb as in adore, like very much

  • be attached to
  • be captivated by
  • be crazy about
  • be enamored of
  • be enchanted by
  • be fascinated with
  • be in love with
  • have affection for
  • have it bad
  • lose one's heart to
  • put on pedestal
  • think the world of
  • thrive with

verb as in have sexual relations

  • look tenderly
  • take into one's arms

Discover More

Related words.

Words related to love are not direct synonyms, but are associated with the word love . Browse related words to learn more about word associations.

noun as in great respect

  • approbation
  • glorification
  • idolization
  • recognition

noun as in illicit sexual relationship

  • carrying-on
  • extracurricular activity
  • hanky-panky
  • playing around
  • relationship
  • thing together

noun as in strong fondness

  • friendliness
  • predilection

noun as in greeting

noun as in strong desire for success

  • earnestness
  • fire in belly
  • get up and go
  • right stuff

Viewing 5 / 125 related words

Example Sentences

Every now and again, we come across a love story that touches our hearts in more ways than be.

Again, I didn’t think much of it as a 15-year-old, but I just had a love for food.

Ideally you should be growing and evolving at similar rates and speeds for romantic love, I should say.

She’d met me in 1986, at a party for returned Peace Corps volunteers and had fallen in love with the guy who’d just spent two years teaching in Swaziland.

To be a real home cook, the kind who put love and attention into each dish, was to make everything yourself.

What happened to true love knows no boundaries and all that?

“I love my job and I love my city and I am committed to the work here,” he said in a statement.

And we have a lot of great guests this season: Greta Gerwig, Natasha Lyonne, Olivia Wilde, Steve Buscemi is back—I love that guy.

You just travel light with carry-on luggage, go to cities that you love, and get to hang out with all your friends.

Terrorism is bad news anywhere, but especially rough on Odessa, where the city motto seems to be “make love, not war.”

In this case, I suspect, there was co-operant a strongly marked childish characteristic, the love of producing an effect.

The well-known "cock and bull" stories of small children are inspired by this love of strong effect.

Women generally consider consequences in love, seldom in resentment.

And as she hesitated between obedience to one and duty toward the other, her life, her love and future was in the balance.

Nothing but an extreme love of truth could have hindered me from concealing this part of my story.

When To Use

What are other ways to say  love .

Love may apply to various kinds of regard: the charity of the Creator, reverent adoration toward God or toward a person, the relation of parent and child, the regard of friends for each other, or romantic feelings for another person, etc. Affection is a fondness for others that is enduring and tender, but calm. Devotion is an intense love and steadfast, enduring loyalty to a person; it may also imply consecration to a cause.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is another word for love .

Where do we begin? Love is often classified and categorized in terms of what type of relationship is being discussed, such as with terms like romantic love and platonic love , or with fancier words like eros or agape .

People who love each other romantically are said to be in love . Instantaneous love is called love at first sight .

Love is often described in terms of how serious or deep it is, as in terms like true love and unconditional love , or whether it’s reciprocated, as in unrequited love .

Synonyms for love that can imply varying levels of intensity or intimacy include fondness , affection , devotion , and adoration .

Love is also used as a noun in the sense of a person you love or have loved romantically, as in She was my first love or It’s a story of two loves reunited . The word lover is sometimes used in the same way, but this typically implies a sexual relationship. The word love is also often used in the context of sex in euphemisms like make love .

In more general contexts, we call the people we love loved ones . You might call someone my love as a term of endearment, much like my dear or my darling . Someone who is well loved is often described as beloved .

As a verb, there are a few synonyms that are sometimes used for love , such as adore , admire , cherish , and even treasure . But many words don’t really capture the fullness and depth of what love can mean.

For that, we usually look to the poets.

Among the wisest said that Love is a battlefield . Others have said that Love is all you need ( all you need is love ). If you’ve been to a lot of weddings, you’ve heard that love is patient , love is kind — love never fails . Shakespeare didn’t say that Love is a many splendored thing , but he did say that Love sought is good, but given unsought is better .

Love is a lot of things. Love is a four-letter word . LOVE is a sculpture in Philadelphia (the city of brotherly love —not to be confused with the other City of Love ). In tennis, love is nothing . In life, love is everything .

Some people see love as a feeling , an emotion . Others see it as an action . In this sense, perhaps the closest synonym for love is work . That’s what’s meant when it’s said that Love is a verb— love is a doing word .

Sometimes, there’s no other word for it, no better way to say it: love is love .

What is a stronger word for love ?

Synonyms for love tend to capture only some aspects or elements of love .

The verb adore means to feel intense love for someone—and adoration can be mutual.

Still, despite how common the word is, and how easily it gets tossed around, love is often the strongest word you can use. I love you may be a set phrase, but there really is no equal for it. Perhaps the strongest way to use the word love is not just to say it, but to prove you mean it by showing it.

Of course, love is also commonly used as a way of saying you really like something, as in I love your shoes! In this case, love is the stronger word. Perhaps an even stronger way to say this is by avoiding a love/like construction altogether. For example, instead of saying I love your shoes , you could say Your shoes are fabulous! or Your shoes are EVERYTHING! or however you want to express how amazing they are.

Synonym of the day

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On this page you'll find 294 synonyms, antonyms, and words related to love, such as: affection, appreciation, devotion, emotion, fondness, and friendship.

From Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition Copyright © 2013 by the Philip Lief Group.

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in a way that is natural, often sudden, and not planned or forced

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The most romantic ways to say 'I love you', from the romance experts

Debbie Elliot

Debbie Elliott

Ahead of Valentine's Day, we ask romance writers and advice columnists for the best or most memorable lines that say "I heart you."


Valentine's Day is just a few days away. Trying to figure out how to tell your honey how much you love them? Well, movies can help, maybe.


TOM CRUISE: (As Jerry Maguire) You complete me.


JULIA ROBERTS: (As Anna Scott) And don't forget I'm also just a girl standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.


INGRID BERGMAN: (As Ilsa Lund) But what about us?

HUMPHREY BOGART: (As Rick Blaine) We'll always have Paris.


BILLY CRYSTAL: (As Harry Burns) I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

ELLIOTT: But this is NPR. We have to consult the experts. Novelist Allycie Rye loves this section from Mary Oliver's poem Coming Home, she says it sums up how it feels when the world isn't quite a right fit for you, but you are the right fit for your special person.

ALLYCIA RYE: (Reading) And what we see is a world that cannot cherish us but which we cherish. And what we see is our life moving like that along the dark edges of everything, headlights sweeping the blackness, believing in a thousand fragile and unprovable things.

ELLIOTT: Lovely but maybe a little long? How about this?

CASEY MCQUISTON: (Reading) You pierce my soul.

ELLIOTT: That's romantic comedy writer Casey McQuiston, quoting from Jane Austen's novel "Persuasion."

MCQUISTON: I think that is absolutely devastating in the most wonderful way.

ELLIOTT: For a lot of our experts, love really means what you do or say in the moment. John Paul Brammer writes the column Hola Papi on Substack.

JOHN PAUL BRAMMER: I mean, for me, the most romantic thing you can possibly do is tell me that you picked up food for me and that it's waiting back home. Oh, my goodness. I would melt.

ELLIOTT: Allycia Rye remembers when her partner said the perfect thing at the perfect time.

RYE: We had kind of a tumultuous birth and labor and everything. And he just looked at me, and he said, wow, you are, like, the toughest person I have ever met in my life. And I thought that was wildly romantic.

AMANDA MORRIS: I was interviewing a couple where the woman in the relationship was very, very sick.

ELLIOTT: Amanda Morris is a disability reporter for The Washington Post.

MORRIS: One of the first things her partner said to her was, I'm here for you. Like, I'm not going anywhere. That's, like, so powerful because he could have said, shall I compare thee to a summer's day? And yada yada yada. And no offense to Shakespeare here, but, like, just simply stating what your intentions are and how you actually feel about somebody is just, I think, the most powerful thing you can do.

ELLIOTT: It is. And you can still quote Shakespeare if you'd like. Or you can channel Nicolas Cage from Casey McQuiston's favorite movie, "Moonstruck."

MCQUISTON: I love you not like they told you love is. Love don't make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. And this is my favorite part. We aren't here to make things perfect.


NICOLAS CAGE: (As Ronny Cammareri) Not us, not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die. I mean, the storybooks are [expletive]. Now I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed.

ELLIOTT: So have a happy Valentine's Day, no matter how you say it or what you do about it.


Copyright © 2024 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

What is love? Definitions from great thinkers throughout time

Poets, philosophers, psychologists and more offer choice perspectives on the matter.

meaning words of love

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There's virtually no area of human art or study that isn't, at least sometimes, about love. In his own Metaphysics of Love (1851), philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote "We are accustomed to see poets principally occupied with describing the love of the sexes. This, as a rule, is the leading idea of every dramatic work, be it tragic or comic, romantic or classic, Indian or European. It in no less degree constitutes the greater part of both lyric and epic poetry." But it's not only the poets who are writing about love. So do the the philosophers, the scientists, the song-writers and astrologists. They've been doing it for centuries, and somehow haven't run out of things to say. This is because love is a complex thing that nobody quite agrees on and that looks different at different times in our lives. With the arrival of Valentine's Day, we've gathered some of the choicest perspectives on the meaning of love from different disciplines.

Novelists, poets, playwrights

My love is as a fever, longing still For that which longer nurseth the disease, Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill, Th' uncertain sickly appetite to please. - William Shakespeare

Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Romantic love is an illusion. Most of us discover this truth at the end of a love affair or else when the sweet emotions of love lead us into marriage and then turn down their flames. - Thomas Moore

Love is the word used to label the sexual excitement of the young, the habituation of the middle-aged, and the mutual dependence of the old. - John Ciardi

There is love, of course. And then there's life, its enemy. - Jean Anouilh

Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind. - Toni Morrison

Love is not a victory march It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen


Love is a madness. - Plato

That which men desire they are said to love, and to hate those things for which they have aversion. So that desire and love are the same thing; save that by desire, we signify the absence of the object; by love, most commonly the presence of the same. -Thomas Hobbes

It is not only unrequited love that leads frequently to a tragic end; for requited love more frequently leads to unhappiness than to happiness. -Schopenhauer

There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness. - Nietzsche

Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness. - Bertrand Russell

Falling in love automatically tends toward madness. Let to itself, it goes to utter extremes. - José Ortega y Gasset

The word "love" is most often defined as a noun, yet...we would all love better if we used it as a verb. - bell hooks

Provided it isn't conceived only as an exchange of mutual favours, or isn't calculated way in advance as a profitable investment, love really is a unique trust placed in chance. It takes us into key areas of the experience of what is difference and, essentially, leads to the idea that you can experience the world from the perspective of difference. - Alain Badiou


Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism. - Sigmund Freud

What is love except another name for the use of positive reinforcement? Or vice versa. - B.F. Skinner

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. - Carl Gustav Jung

The first step to take is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine or engineering. - Erich Fromm

Contained within the small circle of the wedding band are vastly contradictory ideals. We want our chosen one to offer stability, safety, predictability, and dependability… and we want that very same person to supply awe, mystery, adventure, and risk. - Esther Perel

Romantic love is not only a very strong addiction but a universal craving. Just about 100 percent of all humans experience romantic love at some point. That is not true of other addictions, such as gambling or substance abuse. Romantic love, at its best, is a wonderful addiction. At its worst it leads to depression, suicide and even murder. - Helen Fisher

Love is a canvas furnished by nature and embroidered by imagination. - Voltaire

When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one's self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance. - Oscar Wilde

If you can stay in love for more than two years, you're on something. - Fran Lebowitz

Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage. - Ambrose Bierce

Falling in love consists merely in uncorking the imagination and bottling the common-sense. - Helen Rowland

Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby — awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess. - Lemony Snicket

Clifton Mark writes about philosophy, psychology, politics, and other life-related topics. Find him  @Clifton_Mark  on Twitter.

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8 Greek Words For Love That Will Make Your Heart Soar

  • Greek Words For Love
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What is love? People have had a hard time answering that question for a lot longer than you might think. In Ancient Greece, love was a concept pondered over by some of history’s most famous philosophers, including Plato and Aristotle. Greek philosophers attempted to explain love rationally and often categorized the different kinds of love people could feel. Because we love them so much, we brought together some Greek words—and a Latin one, for good measure—for the different kinds of love you might find out there.

Original Greek: ἔρως ( érōs )

Eros is physical love or sexual desire. Eros is the type of love that involves passion, lust, and/or romance.

Examples of eros would be the love felt between, well, lovers. Eros is the sensual love between people who are sexually attracted to each other. In the Bible, eros was synonymous with “marital love” because husbands and wives were supposed to be the only people having sex. Eros was also the name of a love god in Greek mythology—better known by his Roman name, Cupid —and was the guy responsible for shooting magic arrows at people to make them fall in love.

The word eros is still used in psychology today to refer to sexual desire or the libido . The words erotic and erogenous , which both have to do with sexual desire or arousal , are derived from eros .

Why do we express our love through valentines?

Original Greek: ϕιλία ( philía )

Philia is affectionate love. Philia is the type of love that involves friendship.

Philia is the kind of love that strong friends feel toward each other. However, it doesn’t stop there. The Greek philosopher Plato thought that philia was an even greater love than eros and that the strongest loving relationships were ones where philia led to eros : a “friends become lovers” situation. Our concept of platonic love—love that isn’t based on physical attraction—comes from this Platonic philosophy.

The word philia is related to the word philosophy through the combining form philo- . Philia itself is the source of the combining forms -philia , -phile , and -phily , all three of which are used to indicate a figurative love or affinity for something.

Original Greek: ἀγάπη ( agápē )

Agape is often defined as unconditional , sacrificial love. Agape is the kind of love that is felt by a person willing to do anything for another, including sacrificing themselves, without expecting anything in return. Philosophically, agape has also been defined as the selfless love that a person feels for strangers and humanity as a whole. Agape is the love that allows heroic people to sacrifice themselves to save strangers they have never met.

❤️ Did you know ... ?

Agape is a major term in the Christian Bible, which is why it is often defined as “Christian love.” In the New Testament, agape is the word used to describe the love that God has for humanity and the love humanity has for God. Agape was also the love that Jesus Christ felt for humanity, which explains why he was willing to sacrifice himself.

Original Greek: στοργή ( storgé )

Storge is familial love. Storge is the natural love that family members have for one another.

Of all of the types of love, storge might be the easiest to understand. It is the type of love that parents feel toward their children and vice versa. Storge also describes the love that siblings feel towards each other, and the love felt by even more distant kin relationships, such as a grandparent for a grandchild or an uncle toward a niece.

Original Greek: μανία ( manía )

Mania is obsessive love. Mania is the kind of “love” that a stalker feels toward their victim.

As a type of love, mania is not good, and the Greeks knew this as well as we do. Mania is excessive love that reaches the point of obsession or madness . Mania describes what a jilted lover feels when they are extremely jealous of a rival or the unhealthy obsession that can result from mental illness.

The Greek mania is the source of the English word mania and similar words like maniac and manic . It is also the source of the combining form -mania , which is often used in words that refer to obsessive behavior such as pyromania and egomania .

Original Latin: Bucking the trend, the word ludus comes from Latin rather than Greek. In Latin, lūdus means “game” or “play,” which fits with the type of love it refers to. One possible Greek equivalent is the word ερωτοτροπία, meaning “courtship.”

Ludus is playful, noncommittal love. Ludus covers things like flirting, seduction, and casual sex.

Ludus means “play” or “game” in Latin, and that pretty much explains what ludus is: love as a game. When it comes to ludus, a person is not looking for a committed relationship. People who are after ludus are just looking to have fun or view sex as a prize to be won. A “friends with benefits” situation would be an example of a relationship built on ludus : neither partner is interested in commitment. Of course, ludus may eventually result in eros —and hopefully not mania —if feelings of passion or romance emerge during the relationship.

The Latin lūdus  is related to the playful words ludic and ludicrous .

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Original Greek: πράγμα ( prágma )

Pragma is practical love. Pragma is love based on duty, obligation, or logic.

Pragma is the unsexy love that you might find in the political, arranged marriages throughout history. This businesslike love is seen in relationships where practicality takes precedence over sex and romance. For example, two people may be in a relationship because of financial reasons or because they have more to lose by breaking up than staying together.

Pragma may even involve a person tolerating or ignoring their partner’s infidelity , as was common in politically motivated royal marriages in much of world history. Pragma may not sound all that great to many, but it is possible for pragma to coexist alongside other types of love, such as ludus or even eros .

As you might have guessed, pragma is related to pragmatic , a word that is all about practicality.

What’s the difference between pragmatic and dogmatic ?

Original Greek: ϕιλαυτία ( philautía )

Philautia is self-love. No, not that kind. Philautia refers to how a person views themselves and how they feel about their own body and mind.

The modern equivalent of philautia would be something like self-esteem (good) or hubris (bad). People with high self-esteem, pride in themselves, or a positive body image practice a healthy version of philautia . Of course, philautia has a dark side, too. Egomaniacal narcissists who think they are better than everybody else are also an example of philautia , but not in a healthy way. The duality of philautia just goes to show that love, even self-love, can often get pretty complicated.

Take the quiz

Now that you have learned the language of love that goes beyond “sweet nothings” and heart-shaped candies, head over to our quiz on these words for a hearty challenge.

Learn more about 9 words that came from Greek and Roman mythology.

meaning words of love

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love noun 1

  • Show all quotations

What does the noun love mean?

There are 24 meanings listed in OED's entry for the noun love , six of which are labelled obsolete. See ‘Meaning & use’ for definitions, usage, and quotation evidence.

love has developed meanings and uses in subjects including

How common is the noun love ?

How is the noun love pronounced, british english, u.s. english, where does the noun love come from.

Earliest known use

Old English

The earliest known use of the noun love is in the Old English period (pre-1150).

love is a word inherited from Germanic.

Nearby entries

  • lovable, adj.¹ a1400–
  • lovable, adj.² c1422–1728
  • lovableness, n. 1824–
  • lovably, adv.¹ ?a1425–85
  • lovably, adv.² 1826–
  • lovage, n.¹ c1300–
  • lovage, n.² 1489–1523
  • lovanenty, int. 1824–
  • lovastatin, n. 1986–
  • Lovat, n. 1895–
  • love, n.¹ Old English–
  • love, n.² 1865–
  • love, v.¹ Old English–
  • love, v.² Old English–
  • love-adept, n. 1820–
  • love affair, n. 1598–
  • love amour, n. a1500
  • love-and-idle, n. 1630–
  • love-and-tear-it, n. 1880–
  • love apple, n. 1578–
  • love-awe, n. ?c1225–1500

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Meaning & use

Pronunciation, compounds & derived words, entry history for love, n.¹.

love, n.1 was revised in June 2008

love, n.1 was last modified in December 2023

oed.com is a living text, updated every three months. Modifications may include:

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Revisions and additions of this kind were last incorporated into love, n.1 in December 2023.

Earlier versions of love, n.1 were published in:

OED First Edition (1903)

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Citation details

Factsheet for love, n.¹, browse entry.

Neel Burton M.D.

  • Relationships

These Are the 7 Types of Love

... and how we can ignore the most available and potentially fulfilling types..

Posted June 25, 2016 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma

  • Why Relationships Matter
  • Find a therapist to strengthen relationships
  • Romantic love is a modern construct that emerged in tandem with the novel.
  • Parents' love for their children, as well as one's love for friends or for nature, constitute other types of love besides romantic love.
  • Love can be playful (Ludus) or practically oriented (Pragma).


[Article revised on 21 October 2022.]

Most of us seem to be hankering after romantic love. But few of us realize that, far from being timeless and universal, romantic love is a modern construct that emerged in tandem with the novel.

In Madame Bovary (1856), itself a novel, Gustave Flaubert tells us that Emma Bovary only found out about romantic love through "the refuse of old lending libraries."

...were all about love and lovers, damsels in distress swooning in lonely lodges, postillions slaughtered all along the road, horses ridden to death on every page, gloomy forests, troubles of the heart, vows, sobs, tears, kisses, rowing-boats in the moonlight, nightingales in the grove, gentlemen brave as lions and gentle as lambs, too virtuous to be true, invariably well-dressed, and weeping like fountains.

But there are, of course, many other ways to love. By preoccupying ourselves with romantic love, we risk neglecting other types of love that are more stable or readily available, and that may, especially in the longer term, prove more healing and fulfilling.

The Ancient Greeks had several words for love, enabling them to distinguish more clearly between the different types.

I’m now going to guide you through seven types of love, each with a name from Ancient Greek.

These seven types of love are loosely based on classical readings, especially of Plato and Aristotle, and on JA Lee’s 1973 book, Colors of Love .

Eros is sexual or passionate love, and most akin to the modern construct of romantic love. In Greek myth, it is a form of madness brought about by one of Cupid’s arrows. The arrow breaches us and we "fall" in love, as did Paris with Helen, leading to the downfall of Troy and much of the assembled Greek army.

In modern times, eros has been amalgamated with the broader life force, something akin to Schopenhauer’s will, a fundamentally blind process of striving for survival and reproduction. Eros has also been contrasted with Logos , or Reason, and Cupid painted as a blindfolded child.

The hallmark of philia , or friendship , is shared goodwill. Aristotle believed that a person can bear goodwill to another for one of three reasons: that he is useful; that he is pleasant; and above all, that he is good, that is, rational and virtuous. Friendships founded on goodness are associated not only with mutual benefit but also with companionship, dependability, and trust.

For Plato, the best kind of friendship is that which lovers have for each other. It is a philia born out of eros , and that in turn feeds back into eros to strengthen and develop it, transforming it from a lust for possession into a shared desire for a higher level of understanding of the self, the other, and the world. In short, philia transforms eros from a lust for possession into an impulse for philosophy .

Real friends seek together to live truer, fuller lives by relating to each other authentically and teaching each other about the limitations of their beliefs and the defects in their character, which are a far greater source of error than mere rational confusion: they are, in effect, each other’s therapist—and in that much it helps to find a friend with some degree of openness , articulacy, and insight, both to change and to be changed.

Storge ["store-jay"], or familial love, is a kind of philia pertaining to the love between parents and their children. It differs from most philia in that it tends, especially with younger children, to be unilateral or asymmetrical. More broadly, storge is the fondness born out of familiarity or dependency. Compared to eros and philia , it is much less contingent on our personal qualities.

People in the early stages of a romantic relationship often expect unconditional storge , but find only the need and dependency of eros , and, if they are lucky, the maturity and fertility of philia . Given enough time, eros tends to mutate into storge .

Agape ["aga-pay"] is universal love, such as the love for strangers, nature, or God. Unlike storge , it does not depend on filiation or familiarity. Also called charity by Christian thinkers, agape can be said to encompass the modern concept of altruism, as defined as unselfish concern for the welfare of others.

meaning words of love

Recent studies link altruism with a number of benefits. In the short-term, an altruistic act leaves us with a euphoric feeling, the so-called "helper’s high". In the longer term, altruism has been associated with better mental and physical health, and even greater longevity.

At a social level, altruism serves as a signal of cooperative intentions, and also of resource availability and so of mating or partnering potential. It also opens up a debt account, encouraging beneficiaries to reciprocate with gifts and favours that may be of much greater value to us than those with which we felt able to part.

More generally, altruism, or agape , helps to build and maintain the psychological, social, and, indeed, environmental fabric that shields, sustains, and enriches us. Given the increasing anger and division in our society and the state of our planet, we could all do with quite a bit more agape .

Ludus is playful or uncommitted love. It can involve activities such as teasing and dancing, or more overt flirting , seducing, and conjugating. The focus is on fun, and sometimes also on conquest, with no strings attached.

Ludus relationships are casual, undemanding, and uncomplicated, but, for all that, can be very long-lasting. Ludus works best when both parties are mature and self-sufficient. Problems arise when one party mistakes ludus for eros , whereas ludus is, in fact, much more compatible with philia .

Pragma is a kind of practical love founded on reason or duty and one’s longer-term interests. Sexual attraction takes a back seat in favour of personal qualities and compatibilities, shared goals , and "making it work."

In the days of arranged marriages, pragma must have been very common. Although unfashionable, and at a polar opposite of romantic love, it remains widespread, most visibly in certain high-profile celebrity and political pairings.

Many relationships that start off as eros or ludus end up as various combinations of storge and pragma . Pragma may seem opposed to ludus , but the two can co-exist, with the one providing a counterpoint to the other. In the best of cases, the partners in the pragma relationship agree to turn a blind eye—or even a sympathetic eye, as with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, or Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson.

7. Philautia

Philautia , finally, is self-love, which can be healthy or unhealthy. Unhealthy self-love is akin to hubris . In Ancient Greece, people could be accused of hubris if they placed themselves above the gods, or, like certain modern politicians, above the greater good. Many believed that hubris led to destruction, or nemesis .

Today, "hubris" has come to mean an inflated sense of one’s status, abilities, or accomplishments, especially when accompanied by haughtiness or arrogance. Because it does not accord with the truth, hubris promotes injustice, conflict, and enmity.

Healthy self-love, on the other hand, is akin to self-esteem , which is our cognitive and, above all, emotional appraisal of our own worth. More than that, it is the matrix through which we think, feel, and act, and reflects on our relation to ourselves, to others, and to the world.

In everyday language, "self-esteem" and " self-confidence " tend to be used interchangeably. However, self-esteem and self-confidence do not always go hand in hand. In particular, it is possible to be highly self-confident and yet to have profoundly low self-esteem, as is the case, for example, with many performers and celebrities.

People with healthy self-esteem do not need to prop themselves up with externals such as income, status, or notoriety, or lean on crutches such as alcohol , drugs, or sex. They are able to invest themselves completely in projects and people because they do not fear failure or rejection. Of course, they suffer hurt and disappointment, but their setbacks neither damage nor diminish them. Owing to their resilience , they are open to growth experiences and relationships, tolerant of risk, quick to joy and delight, and accepting and forgiving of themselves and others.

In closing, there is, of course, a kind of porosity between the seven types of love, which keep on seeping and passing into one another.

For Plato, love aims at beautiful and good things, because the possession of beautiful and good things is called happiness , and happiness is an end-in-itself.

Of all good and beautiful things, the best, most beautiful, and most dependable is truth or wisdom , which is why Plato called love not a god but a philosopher.

Neel Burton is author of Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions .

Flaubert G (1856): Madame Bovary. Trans. Alan Russell.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethic X.

Plato, Lysis.

Plato, Phaedrus.

Plato, Symposium.

Neel Burton M.D.

Neel Burton, M.D. , is a psychiatrist, philosopher, and writer who lives and teaches in Oxford, England.

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Reader's Digest

14 Love Stories That Prove the Meaning of Love in 100 Words or Less

A s Valentine’s Day approaches, what better way to celebrate love than by delving into sweet and romantic love stories ? We asked readers to share their tales of love, from fleeting glances at their crush to the moments true connections were built.

Reminiscing about your own love story is a Valentine’s Day activity that can remind you to celebrate those romantic moments every day. So we hope these real-life stories resonate with you and remind you how Cupid, the Roman god of love , shoots his arrows and weaves love into the ordinary moments of our lives.

Get Readers Digest s Read Up newsletter for more real-life stories, humor, cleaning, travel, tech and fun facts all week long.

License to wed

One summer day in 1957, we headed to the courthouse for a marriage license. My husband-to-be, Steve, asked the clerk for a fishing license. She advised him that a fishing license cost $1.50 and a marriage license cost $2.50. With some thought and a smile, he chose the marriage license, and so our life together, later filled with two children, began. Whenever we had a disagreement, I would remind my husband that he could have saved money had he chosen a fishing license, and it would have expired in a year. The extra dollar cost him 53 years of wedded bliss. Donna Kelsey, Lake Nebagamon, WI

Mirror image

In mythology, humans had four arms, four legs and two faces. Fearing them, Zeus split them into two, forcing an eternal search for their other half. Zeus failed. When my (now) husband arrived at my house for our first date, I opened the door to my other half, dressed exactly like me, head to toe: aviator Ray-Bans, Levis, Timberland boots, the same yellow ski jacket. After our amazed laughter, he said, One of us has to change. I changed my clothes but not my mind. I knew wed be together forever. Elana Pate, Palm Bay, FL

My shining light

I volunteered at Ground Zero after hometown firefighters responded but never returned. Lt. Timothy Higgins was one of them. I felt Timmys presence during dark moments, guiding me along every path. Working in sight of the burning piles, I met a fire marshal named Steve. I told him I was from Freeport. Steve said hed been a firefighter with a guy from Freeport. I asked, Who? He replied, Tim Higgins. I followed this path and married Steve in 2005. I think of Tim every day. He must have been a shining light. Certainly, he was my beacon. Deborah Kahn Schreck, Sayville, NY

Destiny at the dentist

Having just cemented a new bridge, my dental-assistant mother said to her patient, Your girlfriends going to love your new teeth. He replied, Im between girlfriends right now. She said, Dont go anywhere. I have two daughters, Kathy and Vicky. Let me get their pictures from my wallet. Dan was still reclined in the dental chair with his bib on and wasnt going anywhere. Rushing back, she showed him her daughters photos, saying, Here is our phone number. Give Kathy a callshes the older one. He called, and weve been happily married for 39 years. Thanks, Mom! Kathleen Curran, Canyon Country, CA

A mutual calling

Brian and I have been married three years, but weve been together 10. We met as AmeriCorps volunteers on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Porcupine, South Dakotaa tucked-away place with a scattered population of 1,000. He taught computers and played guitar. I taught English and wrote poetry. In the volunteer house, we courted each other by making a phone out of tin cans and a string. I still remember his voice in my ear. Automatic goose bumps. A year later, our mothers discovered we were born in the same hospital in New Jersey, 1,600 miles away. Lauren Belski, New York, NY

A beautiful romance

He left a single red rose on my windshield. He wasnt allowed to send me flowers at work, since my husband had died only six months before. When the time was right, he sent me flowers on my birthday, Valentines Day and eventually every anniversary. The guys at work told him he made them look bad. They were joking, but he wasnt. He kept sending me flowers. He made me breakfast in bed. But most important, he invited my daughter and her three children to move in with us after she split from her then-husband. Whats more romantic than that? Carmen Marden, Campbell, NY

Love boat reunion

The moment I met Denise aboard the Love Boat, I knew she was someone special. She became my first love, but we lived 90 miles apart. After the cruise, we maintained our love affair through handwritten letters . Eventually, geography took its toll. We went on to separate lives, yet I thought about her quite often. Thirty years later, we reunited in Grand Central Station. I hired a violinist to play our love song as we held each other for the first time in three decades. After wishing to be with her all those years apart, we finally married. Rick Bennette, Tequesta, FL

He found me

I was thinking I’d be alone forever after a terrible time in my life, when there he was. While I sat soaking in the fresh air after a two-week bout of bronchitis, he stood watching the waves roll in. He asked if he could sit next to me. Sure, why not? I said. We people-watched and talked about which dog breed was our favorite. We watched the sunset together. I didn’t know it then, but I’d found my husbandor rather, he had found me. We now return to that spot every year on our anniversary. Sandra Dopierala, San Marcos, CA

The best bad-hair day

The air smelled strongly of salt. My boyfriend had asked me to meet him at the beach. I love the beach, but today the sea breeze really wasnt helping my hair. I grumbled as I made my way to the shore.I saw the light of candles in the distance, but couldnt make them out, as Id forgotten my glasses. Why couldnt he have picked another place for dinner ? I walked up to him and was about to open my mouth to complain, when he suddenly got down on his knee and said, Will you marry me? Saveeta De Alwis, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Call of destiny

For most couples, it’s love at first sight. For me and my wife, it was love at first sound. She called my apartment in a huff at 1 a.m., looking to tell off my roommate, whom she had just started dating. My roommate wasnt home, and I happened to be standing by the phone, so she vented to me, the faceless stranger. We ended up talking for two hours, learning a lot about each other and falling in love . Twenty-seven wonderful years later, her voice is still music to my ears! Louis Corio, Mount Airy, MD

Our romance began with sparks. But over the years, our passion shape-shifted into smoldering resentment, periodically erupting into fiery altercations. Our two sons were in middle school when I moved us away from the inferno. We settled in my old hometown. My husband wrote me a letter filled with animosity for leaving. Then one day, everything changed. My husband called. I realize now that nothing in life is more important than family, and I will do everything I can to keep ours together, he said. Please come home. So we did. That day was Sept. 11, 2001. Krista Swan, Columbus, OH

Sometimes I tend to think about what I dont have: a house on the ocean, a big career I could use to impress people at my high school reunion. Then I hear his car in the driveway. I think well grill tonight. Later well watch some reruns of sitcoms from a long time ago that remind me of when we were young. Hell doze off, and itll be time for the day to end. Well say good night to the cats. Were all still here, a miracle. When Im very old, I will wish for a day like this. Kathy Cornell, Haddam, CT

Nov. 26, 1975. I was at a party with friends playing ping-pong. I was 15; she was 16. Her name was Joanne. I ripped a portion from a paper bag and wrote, Can I kiss you? She nodded yes. We left the party and went to our hangout spot. It was 6:30 p.m. and already dark, with huge snowflakes falling. I kissed her for the first time and saw fireworks. We married Aug. 4, 1979, and this Nov. 26 will be the 39-year anniversary of that first kiss. I still see fireworks! Greg Hajduk, Valparaiso, IN

Wakeup call

I was flying with C-130 cargo planes for several months, moving cargo all over the world. I would be gone for two to three weeks, home one day, then gone again for several weeks. Upon returning home late one night, I knocked on our front door. Who is it? my wife called out. Pat, I answered. Pat who? she snarled. I got her point and applied for a desk job the next day. Pat Ferry, Mesa, AZ

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The post 14 Love Stories That Prove the Meaning of Love in 100 Words or Less appeared first on Reader's Digest .

pink typewriter with bouquet of flowers coming from the top

8 Uncommon Words Related to Love


Definition: a song or poem of lovers parting at dawn

Many a poet over the centuries has endeavored to write an aubade. Some contemporary aubades hew close to the definition of aubade mentioned here (such as “ Aubade ” by Amber Flora Thomas and “ Aubade ” by Mark Wunderlich) while are encapsulated more by aubade ’s broader sense of “a song or poem greeting the dawn” (such as “ Aubade ” by Camille Rankine and “ Aubade to Langston ” by Rachel Eliza Griffiths). Popular songwriters love aubades, too. A favorite earworm of ours happens to be “Angel of the Morning,” written by Chip Taylor and recorded by a number of artists, perhaps most notably by Juice Newton. We can hear her crooning its chorus now: “Just call me angel of the morning, angel / Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby.”

Handel’s opera “Flavio” opens with an aubade, “Ricordati, mio ben,” a morning duet between lovers as one of them leaves their bed. — Anne Midgette, The New York Times , 8 Apr. 2003


Definition: to snuggle or nuzzle

This Is Just To Say

we have looked up the word snoozle that is in our dictionary

and which you were probably wondering what it meant

Forgive us it is perhaps a blend of snooze and nuzzle so sweet and so cute

Squealing with pleasure. Joe snoozled his face up to the baby’s which the mite tried to avoid hilariously. But suddenly it reached out and grabbed Joe by the moustache, wildly with a spasmodic jerk. Joe’s head went along involuntarily, he could not pull away. — William Carlos Williams , White Mule (New Directions, 1937)

osculate couple kissing

Definition: to kiss

Osculate turns up mostly in humorous contexts as a fancy word meaning “to kiss.” The Latin noun for “kiss,” osculum , is also the diminutive of the Latin noun os , meaning “mouth.” Our adjective oral also comes from this root. Osculate (or its related noun osculation ) might be used as an alternative to kiss to avoid repeating the latter word, or to bring an ironically clinical connotation to a common action for which slangier alternatives like smooch exist.

I’m not against kissing as such. After all, we’ve been doing it for a long time. Are we at root indulging in a mastication ritual when we osculate? Grooming each other? Eating those we desire? Who knows? The point is that it needs to be reined in. — Robert Dessaix, The Byron Shire Echo (New South Wales, Australia), 26 Dec. 2016


Definition: excessively fond of or submissive to a wife

The etymology of uxorious is straightforward: uxor is the Latin word for “wife,” and the English language sure does love slapping an -ious suffix on words whenever it gets a chance. The definition is perhaps less straightforward and dependent upon the eye of the beholder, i.e. is it even possible to be excessively fond of or submissive to one’s wife? Tread carefully when answering this one, friends.

Considering Plutarch’s “Life of Antony,” she [Judith Thurman] notes that it was “contemporary with another ancient biography based on scant evidence and hearsay: the Gospels.” Zing! She’s got Nabokov’s number, too: Reading his uxorious letters to Véra, Thurman shrewdly diagnoses “the ostentation of a love that can be hard to distinguish from self-infatuation.” — Hermione Hoby, The New York Times , 8 Jan. 2023



Definition: a love letter

The French language has from temps to temps been called “the language of love,” and indeed the English language has borrowed quelques words and phrases from French that pertain to love, including paramour , amour propre , amour courtois , amour fou (“mad love; obsessive passion”), and billet-doux . In French, billet doux means “sweet letter.” English writers first fell in love with the word during the 17th century and have been committed to using it as a romantic alternative to “love letter” ever since. Isn’t that doux ?

Had Grace been entirely uninterested in the writer, she would have thought the flattery and inflated language of this epistle absolutely disgusting; but we are all apt to excuse the folly which we imagine proceeds from excessive affection for ourselves. The billet-doux was locked in a secret drawer, with feelings that certainly widely differed from disapprobation; and the ring, ornamented by a single sapphire, surrounded with pearl, was placed upon her finger. — Lydia Maria Francis Child, The Rebels; or, Boston Before the Revolution (1825)


Definition: transitory love or affection often experienced by young people

The term puppy love is more commonly used than calf-love these days, perhaps owing to more people raising pets than cattle. But both refer to intense yet often fleeting affection experience by young—especially teenaged—couples.

Her adorers were divided between the longing to lie down under her feet and to fold her protectingly in their arms. Calf-love is an undying element in human-nature, a shame-faced derogatory name for the romantic, self-immolating emotion woven from fancy, yearning and the infection of other’s ardour. Love of this foam and flame quality, too tender to be mere aesthetic absorption in a beautiful object, too selfless to be sensual, too intense to be only absurd, rose up towards Madame Okraska and encompassed her from hundreds of hearts and eyes. — Anne Douglas Sedgwick , Tante (1911)


Sheep's eye

Definition: a shy longing and usually amorous glance —usually used in plural

Perhaps casting sheep’s eyes (as defined in our unabridged dictionary) at someone is a precursor to calf-love? Or perhaps hog heaven ?

The pertinacious Miss Boreman was not wrong in her suggestion that the Major was a calf, and a calf he was, nodoubt, but still we all seemed to think that he cast sheep’s eyes at the sacred person of Mrs. Staunchingzele. Designing man! — Edmund Frederick John Carrington, Confessions of an Old Maid (1828)


Definition: relating to or indicative of love

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Elizabeth Barrett Browning came up with eight ways to express her love in her sonnet ; we offer six ways, or rather six words, to describe those expressions of love. Besides the familiar amorous there’s the less familiar synonym amative , as well as amatory , amoristic , amatorious , and amatorial . What we love about this list is that all the words stem from Latin amāre , meaning “to love.”

She claimed to have been tutored in the amative arts by an angel named Soph, the spirit of a deceased suitor she had once spurned. — Mathew N. Schmalz, Commonweal 25 Apr. 2011


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    Love is the word used to label the sexual excitement of the young, the habituation of the middle-aged, and the mutual dependence of the old. There is love, of course. And then there's life, its ...

  21. 8 Greek Words For Different Types Of Love

    Original Greek: ἀγάπη ( agápē) Agape is often defined as unconditional, sacrificial love. Agape is the kind of love that is felt by a person willing to do anything for another, including sacrificing themselves, without expecting anything in return.

  22. What is another word for love?

    What is another word for love? Need synonyms for love similar words from our thesaurus that you can use instead. Contexts Noun Denoting a strong feeling of emotional attachment An intense attraction or profound likeability A person who is loved, especially in a romantic or amorous relationship … more Noun

  23. love, n.¹ meanings, etymology and more

    There are 24 meanings listed in OED's entry for the noun love, six of which are labelled obsolete. See 'Meaning & use' for definitions, usage, and quotation evidence. Christianity (Old English) physiology (Old English) law (Old English) classical mythology (Middle English) gambling (late 1500s) costume (early 1600s) silk (early 1600s ...

  24. These Are the 7 Types of Love

    6. Pragma. Pragma is a kind of practical love founded on reason or duty and one's longer-term interests. Sexual attraction takes a back seat in favour of personal qualities and compatibilities ...

  25. 14 Love Stories That Prove the Meaning of Love in 100 Words or Less

    GetReadersDigestsRead Up newsletter for more real-life stories, humor, cleaning, travel, tech and fun facts all week long.. License to wed. One summer day in 1957, we headed to the courthouse for ...

  26. 8 Uncommon Words Related to Love

    Definition: a love letter The French language has from temps to temps been called "the language of love," and indeed the English language has borrowed quelques words and phrases from French that pertain to love, including paramour, amour propre, amour courtois, amour fou ("mad love; obsessive passion"), and billet-doux.In French, billet doux means "sweet letter."

  27. What Beyoncé's '16 Carriages' Song Lyrics Really Mean

    (Chorus) Sixteen carriages drivin' away While I watch them ride with my dreams away To the summer sunset on a holy night On a long back road, all the tears I find Sixteen carriages drivin ...