What Does “Love” Even Mean These Days?

I am in the most amazing, secure and satisfying relationship I have ever been in but there is just one so-called “problem”; after nearly a year and a half, neither of us have said, “I love you.”

Now I know what this probably sounds like to some, or possibly even most, of you. (Believe me, I see it in the facial expressions of concerned friends and hear it in the tone of their strongly worded reactions.) There is obviously a clear issue here, right? Well, actually, I’m not so sure.

Now, to be honest, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that part of me (the part that sometimes, uncontrollably slips into this cliché, fairytale, chick flick inspired way of thinking that all love stories have basically 1 of 3 plots) at times wishes one of us would just find the courage to come out and say it already. I mean, it’s been long enough! And the pressure from friends and family who act like this is the biggest thing in the world to be concerned about, only adds fuel to this flame.

However, my usual, more sane, more rational and level-headed reaction to all of this is, “Who really cares?” Is actually saying that phrase really as significant or necessary as everyone our age makes it out to be? I mean, isn’t it true that actions should speak louder than words?

We are currently in a world where nearly every word in the “relationship dictionary” is rapidly being redefined. Take the word, meaning and supposed “sacredness” of marriage, for instance. It’s being entirely altered by things like the exceptionally high divorce rate (and the never ending publicity about celebrity divorces and adultery in the press). Or what about the many different names have we come up with in the last decade to define the new, modern, complicated relationships that keep arising: open relationship, no strings attached, friends with benefits, just hooking up… the list continues. Who even knows what the proper meaning and context of monogamy and love is these days.

It seems silly that no one would take a step back from all this to take the time to redefine the word love in its modern sense. I mean, I don’t think it’s necessarily unreasonable to think that with everything that’s going on in today’s world it’s practically inevitable that the word and definition of love is taking on a very different meaning as well. But it doesn’t seem people view it that way. It is still constantly being used, seen and heard by everyone, everywhere: in the songs on the radio, on television, in movies, and in real life, of course. I find it troubling when everyone throws the “L-word” out there so quickly and carelessly in their relationships; it makes it hard to take the word seriously anymore.

I think young people need to wake up and realize we’re not in high school anymore. Love should no longer mean the same trivial thing as it did then, a time when I too used the word so frequently and freely in all my silly little relationships. I’m no longer calling my boyfriend at all hours of the night, trying to convince him to sneak out to be with me or sending him passive aggressive texts about his rude and standoffish behavior. Instead, there is respect, trust, mutual understanding. It is obvious that we care a great deal about each other. I’m not sure I’m ready, or that it is necessary, to use the word love so loosely as I have in the past. I don’t need it in order to feel closer to him or to try and make our relationship stronger or more serious. I am completely satisfied with where we are in all those areas. So, if it is as monumental of a word as everyone makes out to be, then I don’t think it’s wrong to assume that choosing to wait a long time in order to exchange these precious words with your significant other—choosing to not make that substantial of a promise and commitment so quickly and easily—may not be such a bad thing. Perhaps it could even be considered advisable to some.

So help try and clarify something for me here; I must be missing something. Does using and exchanging this phrase help to somehow legitimize the relationship to both the participating members and its observers? And if so, why? Should that really be the case?



  1. rox says:

    I agree with you.There is a difference between puppy luving someone and being in loving, mature relationship. I also think that waiting to say those words makes an enormous difference in their value… Hearing them after several months of getting to know each other makes them so much more powerful than throwing them out within weeks..

  2. Eimear says:

    I don't think she means love only in the sense of partner relationships. I think it's more in general for all relationships. I know myself that I tell my family and my close friends that I love them, and although it's not the same type of love as in a partner relationship, it still means just as much. I agree that people are losing the meaning of the word. You hear 13 year old's declaring their love for their significant others after a week? And while some people may think they're in love, it may not always be the case. I know when I was in a relationship at 15, I believed I was in 'love', when all it really was was puppy love. And there has to be a difference. Not many people that age can understand real love.
    And kudos to you for not saying it until you're ready! I think that shows true feelings for someone when you're willing to wait to say it, rather than throw it out because you feel pressured to say it.

  3. thefunkyjunkie says:

    I agree that the "L" word is thrown around and can cause a great deal of hurt in many cases–I myself have been there.

    I also do agree that the word is not necessarily needed to 'legitimize' a relationship, because if you are still unsure, you shouldn't say it just for the sake of saying it. However, when I started dating the man I just recently got engaged to, I was finding that my feelings towards him were enormously different from any 'puppy love' I had experienced in the past. In addition to your typical puppy love feelings (butterflies in the stomach, excitement about our first kiss, my heart skipping a beat when his name showed up on my phone) I found that I had a whole new level of feelings for him. They were much deeper– and while I know how cliche it sounds, I knew that I loved him. After the hurt we had both experienced in the past with other people, saying "I love you" to each other was a huge step and a leap of faith, which we both realized. It was at that point that I realized it was truly something special.

    If you've been dating the same guy for a year and a half, I'm just wondering what you're waiting for. I'm not saying you should just go ahead and say it, but if your relationship is "amazing, secure, and satisfying", why not take that leap of faith? Love may not mean the same thing to everyone, but when it happens to you, you will know.

  4. Allie says:

    I understand your point in the sense to agree. The word love is an expression– not an expression as in a saying, but a resemblence of your feelings towards one another. If love is the word you use to represent your feelings and actions, then so be it. If there is some other word or phrase or even an action you both do, that's fine too. They all represent the same thing… the strength, bond, caring, and feeling you have with your significant other that makes you feel so incredibly close to them.

  5. Leah says:

    i think if you feel it, you say it. i used the word pretty early on in my relationship, because i did love him- i wasn't necessarily in love, though. they're definitely two different things. but if you don't feel it.. or feel it needs to be said.. there's absolutely no need to complicate the feelings that you guys have going on. i'm so with you.

  6. Megan says:

    I know a couple that recent became engaged and while he was proposing to her he told her that he loved her, and it was the first time he had said it. It was very powerful, and now the word has a definite meaning to them. They are going to marry and have a family, they are going to live through it all together.

  7. Uhleese says:

    I definitely agree with you. Love is thrown around in younger years, and we never really knew what it meant. To most, it was just something that they felt conceptualized the infatuation they had for the other person, or maybe they were just saying to be polite back to the first person who said it. Regardless, I believe that love involves really putting someone above yourself, and while you two care deeply for each other clearly, there is no reason to say that word when its said too casually today anyways. I have always wanted, or thought I wanted, that chick flick love at first sight proclamation from mountain tops type of love, but in retrospect thats not currently what I want or need. Don't let pressure from your friends make you feel as though something is missing. They are not in the relationship, so if you're happy thats all that really matters.

  8. Steph says:

    I have the same deal with my boyfriend! We've also been dating for about a year and a half, and have only said once or twice. At first I thought it was a courage thing too, then when I said it to him, and he reciprocated, it was nice in that moment, but I'm glad we haven't formed a habit of it. I actually think it's nice not to feel the need to say it, because it gets rid of the whole "he didn't say i love you once this week" sort of thing, and I don't think a relationship needs to be legitimated by saying those dang three words. My boyfriend and I are really tight and care for each other so much, and I don't think not saying that to each other every time we say good bye on the phone or what have you makes any different. Actually, I think it's proof of a more solid bond: we don't need to reassure each other of our love by saying these things often! It also makes it more meaningful when it is said, even if it's only once in a blue moon. I personally am glad to hear someone else is in a, for lack of a better word, "situation" like this…my friends thought it was so weird…but never really needed their approval I guess. However, I'm with you sister! Best of luck with the beau ;)

  9. DSuede says:

    I'm confused. It seems like you're waiting for your relationship to be legitimate enough to warrant the 'I love you'. So "love" does legitimize relationships. Unless you plan on never saying it at all. I think most adults wait until they feel what they think it is before they say it. Perhaps an indefinite future together? People are just shocked that you've been in a relationship so long where you care for each other enough but not to the point of 'I love you'. Hm?

  10. Lucy says:

    To me, it sounds as if you're almost rationalizing the situation by saying it doesn't matter–when deep down it really does. I know it's important not to obsess over relationships, especially in our younger years. However, I believe that EVERYONE wants someone they can say, "I love you," to..sincerely. If you haven't had that, don't rationalize the relationship, find someone better that you can really love!

  11. Jesse says:

    I don't know what love is, have never received a satisfying explanation, and I'm lucky enough to not have family and friends who pressure me to say it.

    That said, my current relationship is more meaningful and stable than most of the people around me who *have gotten married*.

    We have coined a word to mean "I like you a lot for both your personality and looks, and I'm glad you're in a relationship with me" — "skronk." We use it all the time because we know what it means.

  12. OldFashioned says:

    Sounds like you are waiting around for him to say it and now you're rationalizing why he won't. It's ok to say that you love someone. This article sounds immature. If you're upset that he won't say he loves you then be upset about it! But don't go telling other people that saying it is stupid. If you love him why don't you tell him? I don't see why you can't just tell him. And if he doesn't reciprocate then he doesn't love you. Your friends look on in horror because they know that this is not a happy ending relationship

  13. Charlotte- University of Birmingham says:

    This is really interesting.
    I think you really understand love as you get older. I am just entering into a new relationship now and I think I understand it much better than when I was 18.
    Good luck to you both. I hope you say it when you're ready.


  14. […] -Or maybe you’re in that relationship gray area.  You know, where everything is perfect and lovely and wonderful…except you haven’t said those three little words yet.  Maybe that’s not so bad… […]

  15. vibes says:

    I know a couple that recent became engaged and while he was proposing to her he told her that he loved her, and it was the first time he had said it.At first I thought it was a courage thing too, then when I said it to him, and he reciprocated, it was nice in that moment, but I'm glad we haven't formed a habit of it.

  16. Kaz says:

    I've been out with countless guys who say the L-word in the first week of a relationship. As soon as it's said i know that the relationship isn't going to last long as no one can mean it in such short a time. I personally won't say it until i know it's how i really feel. It's no big deal not saying it, it's the other things that make a relationship.

  17. criolle johnny says:

    The "L" word does get thrown out too easily is western culture. For some women it is a possessive term. For some men it is a surrender.
    For entirely too many Western Women, expectations rise immediately and exponentially with the use of the word.
    These and other concepts may account for the desire of Western Women to HEAR the word, and for the reluctance of Western Men to USE the word.
    Waiting for hate mail …

  18. Bonnie says:

    Men are from Mars..Women are from Venus

  19. criolle johnny says:

    No. We are both from EARTH. If you think you are from another planet, go back to the mother-ship.

  20. […] – What Does Love Even Mean These Days? […]

  21. Annie says:

    Great article! I think in time there may be a redefinition of the word Love and maybe we can find a word to better describe what we DO before LOVE so that way people still see love for what it is: a deep connection and profound level of care and emotion invested in another person. While we may care about our 10 boyfriends of the past, did we ever REALLY love them the way we love our sister? Do we really love them the way we will love our husbands?

    We added this article to our Links We Love! Section of our site this week :) Check it out!

  22. Anonymous says:

    I've been in a place where I wanted to say "I love you" to legitimize a relationship. Actually, I've done it a couple of times. I didn't feel worse the day after or the day after that. It was a cumulative effect. I started feeling as if I had to live up to the words and I had no idea what it meant. The real trouble was that she thought she felt love, but it was really just a pretense of love that began when we started saying it. It's awfully difficult to break up with someone when you're in that position.

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