The Meaning of Love

Fifty-six percent of men say the words, “I love you,” for the first time by accident.  According to a study published in March in Britain’s Daily Mail, for over half of men the words just slip out of their mouths.

Twenty-three percent of those surveyed blamed alcohol.  Thirteen percent said it because of sex.  Eight percent reported saying these three words, “Because she was crying.”

Like Joan Baez sang, this makes love sound like just another four-letter word.

Three men have said, “I love you,” to me in the last six months.  Not one of them heard me cry.

Two of them said it in a public place (a bar and the lobby of a theater) and one said it over the phone, so sex wasn’t a motivator.

One of them was drunk.  He grinned at me as he said it with emphasis on the word “I,” as if to say, “The rest of the world may be coldly indifferent, but I love you, Georgia.”

I assumed he was speaking of love in the platonic sense.  Given his intoxicated state, asking for clarification would have been pointless.

How did I feel as the recipient of this declaration?  At the time, oddly unmoved.  Although I liked him and was having great fun that evening, even an expression of platonic love from me would have said more than I felt.

Given his subsequent distant behavior, I doubt he meant the words in any sense. The next morning he probably didn’t even remember saying them.  In that case, it’s good for the vixen divorcee that sex wasn’t involved.

Then there’s the man who said it in the theater lobby.  Ours is a newer friendship, one that I define as clearly platonic.  Perhaps he was influenced by the play we’d just seen, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, with its themes of troubled and misunderstood love.  Take this bit of dialogue (more or less)  between the older couple in the play:

Big Mamma:  I’ve loved you for 40 years, everything about you.  I’ve even loved your hate and your anger.

Big Daddy:  Wouldn’t it be funny if that were true.

Whatever the reason, my companion gave me an especially warm, enveloping bear hug and said, “I love you, Georgia,” before heading off to his car.

His slight emphasis on the word “love” gave me pause, as if he were saying, “I don’t just like you.  You mean more to me than that.”

How did I feel as the recipient of those words from that man?


The third man to say these words to me was Alan, my former husband.  He said them during a  long telephone conversation.  Here’s the man who, given the chance to rebuild our damaged marriage, chose to leave me for another woman.  He still lives with her, yet he says he loves me.

What did I make of that?

First, what did I use to make of those words, before the day I learned of his infidelity?  I took them to mean that he felt more intimacy and connectedness with me than with anyone else in the world, and that my continued presence in his life was essential to his sense of wellbeing.

That’s what love meant to me then, and he treated me as if that’s what it meant to him.

When I heard those words over the telephone lines recently, across a thousand miles, I believed that he loves me.  I certainly love him.  But what those words actually mean to either of us and to our lives, I have no clue.

Odd that in none of these instances did the words fill my heart with joy.  Love is a more complex, nuanced concept that it was in my youth.

I don’t remember the exact circumstances when I first heard those words addressed to me.  I do know who spoke them.  My first lover, the young man who was a senior my freshman year at college, set my heart singing when he said those words.  He would not have been drunk, I would not have been crying, nor would he have to say them to blackmail me into having sex with him.

They were not spoken by accident.  They came from the sweetness of his heart.  Just like this love song by the Beatles, his words spoke of a fresh, simple feeling that was new and intoxicating for both of us.

That was then and this is now.  What do these three words, “I love you,” mean to you?


13 thoughts on “The Meaning of Love

    • Hi Julie: Can I just carry you around in my pocket, for those moments when I’m feeling far from sensitive, sweet or wise?

  1. I think there is no such thing as an “accident” with these words…
    Stupid moment – maybe. Euphoria – probably. Love, hopefully. Then there is the question of what kind of love, friendly, worldly or intimate? In the end, sincerity.

    • Hi Bob: I’m beginning to think you’re one of those lucky “glass is half full” kind of guys. I’m not entirely convinced all three were sincere. Thanks for the positive thoughts.

  2. Gloria Estaphan…once sang…”Words Get in the Way”. I hear that in some languages there are many different words used for the various emotions we lump into “love”. Wonder why English got stuck with one?

    • Hi Currious: I believe the Greek have three words for love, although only two are coming to mind – eros and philia. Does anyone remember the third? Each man in my story expressed a different one of the three.

      • Hi Georgia,
        The third word is Agape
        Eros is passionate love, with sensual desire and longing. The Modern Greek word “erotas” means “(romantic) love”. However, eros does not have to be sexual in nature. Eros can be interpreted as a love for someone whom you love more than the philia love of friendship. It can also apply to dating relationships as well as marriage. Plato refined his own definition. Although eros is initially felt for a person, with contemplation it becomes an appreciation of the beauty within that person, or even becomes appreciation of beauty itself. It should be noted Plato does not talk of physical attraction as a necessary part of love, hence the use of the word platonic to mean, “without physical attraction”. Plato also said eros helps the soul recall knowledge of beauty, and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth. Lovers and philosophers are all inspired to seek truth by eros. The most famous ancient work on the subject of eros is Plato’s Symposium, which is a discussion among the students of Socrates on the nature of eros.
        Philia , means friendship in modern Greek, a dispassionate virtuous love, was a concept developed by Aristotle. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. In ancient texts, philia denoted a general type of love, used for love between family, between friends, a desire or enjoyment of an activity, as well as between lovers.
        Agape means “love” in modern day Greek. The term s’agapo means “I love you” in Greek. The word “agapo” is the verb “I love”. In Ancient Greek it often refers to a general affection rather than the attraction suggested by “eros”; agape is used in ancient texts to denote feelings for a good meal, one’s children, and the feelings for a spouse. It can be described as the feeling of being content or holding one in high regard.

        From my humble perspective, the meaning of “I love you” can only be understood in the context within which it was said. If there is that magic ingredient of connection between two people which results in intimacy, understanding and longing; the words ” I love you” take on its deepest meaning.

        Thanks for making us think Georgia.


        • Hi John: Good to hear from you. Thanks for your answer. The moment I saw the word “agape” it came to me why I didn’t remember it, which is that I’ve never understood the distinction between eros and agape. Your explanation gives enough nuance that I can see the differences between all three.

  3. There is a website called The Story People … and they proffer mini-storys (just a few lines each) …. this is my very favorite and pretty much says what the “word” love means to me … it’s title is …

    I read once that the ancient Egyptians had fifty words for sand & the Eskimos had a hundred words for snow. I wish I had a thousand words for love, but all that comes to mind is the way you move against me while you sleep & there are no words for that.

    Thank you, my friend, for yet another thought provoking blog …!

  4. After sharing with my son my shock at how quickly some men say “love”, he replied, “there’s all different kinds of love, just enjoy it”. How did he get to be so wise?

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