Real Talk: What Is "True" Love? Readers of All Ages Weigh In

Updated 08/18/17
What Is True Love
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Join us in a round of 21 Questions: What is true love? What makes true love, well, true? Can love really be measured in truth? Does true love have longevity, or can it burn too brightly to last? Is it a feeling or a concept? Who cares, as long as we have it? Lucky for you, we'll stop at seven questions and try to get to the bottom of it since it turns out that a lot of us do indeed care. In fact, according to Google Trends, 1262 people have asked the internet what true love is in the past month alone.

And they're definitely not the first to grapple for a definition of the ever-elusive subject. That's why as a species, we've spent centuries trying to understand it and come up with language that encompasses the experience of true love. While we probably won't ever be able to pin it down in language—and perhaps that's the beauty of it, that even those of us with a true love for words seem to run into a barrier when trying to describe it—it's a worthwhile pursuit.

With that in mind, we decided to look to philosophers, literary greats, and modern folk alike for some insight. Read on to hear what they have to say about true love.

True Love According to Philosophers

"Great are the heavenly blessings which the friendship of a lover will confer upon you … will send you bowling round the earth during a period of nine thousand years, and leave you a fool in the world below." — Plato, Phaedrus

"It is not love that should be depicted as blind, but self-love." — Voltaire

Explanation by the tongue makes most things clear, but love unexplained is clearer.

"Here and there on earth, we may encounter a kind of continuation of love in which this possessive craving of two people for each other gives way to a new desire and lust for possession—a shared higher thirst for an ideal above them. But who knows such love? Who has experienced it? Its right name is friendship." — Nietzsche, The Gay Science

"However much we describe and explain love, when we fall in love we are ashamed of our words." — Rumi

True Love According to Literary Greats

"You don't love because: you love despite; not for the virtues, but despite the faults." — William Faulkner, "Mississippi" in Essays, Speeches, and Public Letters

"Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.” — James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room

"You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal." — E.M. Forster, Room With a View

"It was the usual struggle between one who loves by accepting burdens and one who loves by refusing to be one." — Helen Oyeyemi, What Is Not Love Is Not Love

That love is all there is is all we know of love.

"He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking." — Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

"When you can see the beauty of a tree, then you will know what love is." — Miranda July, Nobody Belongs Here More Than You

"She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order." — Toni Morrison, Beloved

"No matter how much you crawl all over each other it won't be enough, and when your hunger dies down a little then you think how much you love her and that starts you off again, and her face, you look over at her face and can't believe how you got there and how lucky and it's still all a surprise and it never stops, even after it's over, it never stops being a surprise." — Lydia Davis, Break It Down

True Love According to You

"When you love someone so much, you are willing to compromise and give and take no matter what the circumstances, and you are passionate but remain best friends at the end of the day." — Bill, 84

"I think true love comes in many forms—friendship, romantic partnerships, family ties, even pets. But I think what characterizes it across the board is a deep intuition and connection to the state of being of the other person. You feel sad if they're in pain. You feel absolute joy when they're joyful. Your soul cares deeply for their soul." — Abby, 23

"When you 'truly love' someone, you push them to do what's best for their well-being and dreams even if it's not in your own best interest. In part, at least." — Zoe, 22

True love is a feeling that makes your heart humid. It's a sensation that reveals who you want to be. True love makes both people feel alive and free.

"When you would do anything for the person you love irrespective of the consequences for you. You love them irrespective of their shortcomings, or you don't even see them." — John, 69

"Being able to feel safe but also excited and challenged but also supported. And but shouldn't be a but. It should be an and." — Mallory, 27

"True love means you know deep inside you always travel alone but your companion gets that too and will hold your hand as he travels with you." — Lisa, 56

It's a lot calmer than I ever imagined. I think when you are a young girl, you imagine true love to be this never ending fiery road. And it is like that sometimes—it can be unpredictable and maddening and breathtakingly incredible, but the biggest part for me is how safe I always feel. Also, always wanting to end the day by sleeping next to him.

"You don't care if they are beautiful or ugly, fat or skinny, rich or poor. They respect you as you are, as you do them." — Zonia, 66

"True love is about sacrifice and never about what you can gain." — Natalia, 29

"Waking up next to someone and being okay with how bad their breath smells.” — Evan, 23

What do you think true love is? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. 

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy $1
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No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July $9
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The History of Love by Nicole Krauss $8
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Love Poems by Pablo Neruda $8
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Collected Works by the Brontë Sisters $175
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Collected Works by Jane Austen $225
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Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez $12
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What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi $10
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Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë $10
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