About a year ago, I fell in love for the first time. It's still the only time I've been in love. It was a slow gradual pull, a distant tugging towards the person I had already been with for a year at the point I fell in love with him.

He and I may now no longer be together, as we broke up not long after I realized I was finally in love with him, but ten months later, and I still feel that love hibernating in my heart.

It got me thinking: how do other people know when they're in love? How do others define and feel love based on their own experiences? Is there a difference in what love means to a person when we all live such different lives? Or is love universally defined?

I didn't understand what was happening to me when I fell in love a year ago. I had to base my own experience of falling in love and defining love based on other peoples' experiences. Eventually, I began to understand it as it related to me. And I still feel this love every day towards him, whether he is still in my life or not. But I do understand that love is defined based on the person, and it struck me that love is defined differently by me than a friend or family member.

And there are so many kinds of love, but to me, the love that strikes me most is romantic love. And I wanted to see what other people gravitated towards first about love. So, I messaged many people out of the blue, men and women, younger and older, to see how they open-handedly defined "love".

I messaged them,

"Could you explain to me what you think 'love' really is?"

Below are the responses:

Female, 25

"Love is unconditional; that you love the person they are and accept them. That when there is rough times, you go through it together, that you don't just give up. Love is a never ending learning experience. Love is supposed to be forever. Love is that you don't just give up and stop trying; it's always going to be work; it's a work in progress for the rest of your life. And the heartbreak we go through are just learning experiences."

Male, 23

"I think it's multi-faced. It can be emotional, in fact very emotional. One person can feel love for another in a strong way, the same way we can feel hate or sadness or joy. It can be action: patience, being kind when that person is kind, not bragging or taking all the credit, and liking that person for who/what they are without them wanting to be more. Finally--and I think this is the part almost everyone forgets--love is a promise. [You] do the right thing (most of the time at least) because [you] made a promise to love and cherish and protect [the other person]. Love is a special thing between two people that needs to be built and earned, but I also think love exists between people not in a romantic relationship."

Female, 52

"Love is the strongest feeling of emotion in which a person can experience. It is the feeling you have for another being in which all flaws are forgiven and that allows you to continue to breathe and exist. It is the feeling of instinct in which one must protect and shield the person or thing (animal, etc.) they love from hurt and danger and that when something happens to the person or thing they love, they absorb the same feelings and hurt alongside them. Likewise, it is the feeling of joy when the person or thing they love accomplishes a task, feat, success, etc."

Male, 29

"I think love is a set of decisions you make. These decisions are initially motivated by your positive feelings about a person or thing, but, if you can do it right, can transcend your narrow self-interest and take on a more altruistic life of their own. The biggest part about it to me is the element of the decision-making. You can choose to love or not love someone, and I think people make those decisions (or not) every day, about things ranging from the most minute and mundane decisions to life and world-altering stuff."

Female, 23

"Love is unconditional and sacrificial. It's not necessarily always clean or always right or always getting along, but it is forgiveness and grace even when things aren't spotless. It's also unconditional because no one did anything to deserve it. We weren't shown love because we met a goal or didn't screw up...it's still there because [they] love me and not the things I do. I see it in my relationship and it's a first in my life. It's really amazing when you see people operate with that mindset."

Male, 24

"In short, love is to me when someone else's happiness is truly your happiness. When you innately want the best for the other person, people, idea, or thing. When you're comfortable being yourself because, with love, you know they will accept you. And that comfort is a fucking gift."

Female, 19

"I think love is something that constantly changes. Each time you fall in love is different: sometimes it's painful, sometimes it's euphoric. It's easy to fall in love, but definitely harder to stay in it. Love takes time and love takes work. It takes effort that a lot of people don't want to work for and don't understand. Love isn't supposed to be easy, but you certainly can make it easier on you or more difficult. It's important to understand when it just isn't working out and never will. Some things are worth fighting for, but just because a relationship doesn't work out, doesn't mean it's not meant to be. If it weren't meant to be, then a relationship wouldn't have happened in the first place. I think that love is something fluid and should never be defined as 'finding the one' or any other idealization that we, as a society, have pushed onto ourselves."

Male, 23

"Love is when you care about someone more than yourself. Love is doing nice things for someone, even when they didn't ask. Love is a mutual absolute trust in the other person. Love is appreciation for another to just be part of their life, without any expectations."

Female, 25

"It's indescribable. It cannot be defined because love is experienced through many ways, and it is individual. There are so many forms of love which can and cannot really be expressed. You can have love for an object, infinite being, your pet, a loved one. It's a feeling but more than that, an emotion, and at times it can be fleeting and requires work in your heart and mind. Love is like a magic trick, but the master or creator of love is out of our reach. So we experience it as it comes to us, always fighting to understand it and what it truly means, and why we experience it in the first place."

Female, 37

"Love is a choice, not a feeling. I don't believe in falling in and out of love. If you love someone, it means choosing to love them even when you don't feel like it. It's seeing their mess and flaws and loving them anyways. Love is unconditional. Love is not making someone happy or putting the responsibility on someone else to always make you happy. Love is a partnership, being on someone's team, no matter what. Love is seeing the best in someone and believing the best of someone; it always encourages and builds up. Love gives and doesn't seek to take. Love makes you the best version of yourself. Love has to be fought for and protected because so many outside forces seek to destroy it. It means sacrificing what you want because it's more important to you what the other person wants. When you love someone, you want what's best for them and you protect them. Love isn't easily angered or self-seeking. Love always hopes and believes."

Female, 50

"My answer comes from the Bible because that is how I best know what love is: 'This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.' 1 John 4:10"

Male, 20

"It's a very relative thing. Definitely varies from person to person. To me, it's support, friendship, guidance. Good ole stuff."


It seems that, in the end, love has very similar meaning to each individual, but it is still painted and colorized based on that person's own experiences with love. How I paint my definition varies from a friend and a relative, though I find commonalities in each of these peoples' definitions. It's just that we add our own spark to the definition as we live and experience the emotion.

So how do I define what "love" really is?

I define love, in the simplest way I can--the romantic love especially--as...

Female, 20

...the overwhelming feeling of someone always on your mind in a positive way. When you think of that person, it brings a smile to your face, and their happiness makes you happy. You hear their voice, see them, and you feel yourself light up inside. Love is trusting the person, even when times are rough, and caring so deeply about the person that you want to do whatever you can to make their life better. Love is accepting the person as they are, flaws and all, and supporting them through their endeavors. Love does not judge, love does not envy. Love accepts and forgives and fights for the other person.