Love is a bad word.
I don’t mean it’s a four-letter word, a curse or something… it’s just not a good word. English is a confusing language, full of broken rules and embarrassing double-meanings; the word love is a prime example.
Consider this: Girl X tells Guy Y that she loves him. What she means is that she feels a deep emotional connection to him, and that what he says to her has a pronounced effect on her mental state. Guy Y responds in kind: "I love you." What he means, however, is that he is physically attracted to her, and that he thinks about her all the time. X and Y smile at each other in that drippy romantic comedy kinda way, assuming that I love you means one thing.
This is a problem.
Even outside of the I love you context, love does not have a solid definition in everyday speech. Primarily, people use it to refer to being in love, the strange, inconsistent array of feelings tied to intense affection. Affection is a much better word for what most people think of as love. However, love has a much more sexual overtone; this is where we find the heart of the problem with the word. Love is sometimes used to refer to nothing more than intense lust, which, in my book, is hideous.
Lust is an expression of desire. It’s a statement: "I want you." It has little to do with the person lusted after, and more to do with getting what you want. What does that have to do with love?
I define the word love thus: concern over the wellbeing of another, or a desire to do what is best for someone. Also, I agree with d.c. Talk: love is a verb. Love is not a barrage of fleeting, up-and-down feelings. Love is what you do. It is manifest in a thank-you card, a hug, a kind word… something real. It’s something you do because you care, independent of your feelings. Love can be both, or either, as I define it: concern, or action. I still use the phrase I love you, meaning specifically that I have a deep, abiding affection for someone. That they matter to me.
Being in love, I think of as a different concept. This is the vernacular love everyone is so worried about – the mish-mash of overpowering emotion which drives people to previously unseen heights, and never-deeper lows. Being in love is the stuff of sitcoms, and movies starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. I try to give it as little weight in my life as possible, since it seems to have more to do with lust than love. It’s a sick world indeed where those two concepts can be confused.
Lately, I’ve found myself clarifying what I mean when the word love comes up in conversation. Try it sometime.