Love is a many splendored thing, so said William Shakespeare and a few more besides who have borrowed this quotation to use in film and music. I have often wondered what the word love really means.
Now the question is, is there a word stronger than love?
‘Love’ as a descriptive word is powerful but sometimes misused – it seems to convey different things to different people and I think can be rather generic. Is love suffering from word exhaustion?
I think the word ‘love’ is often used when there is a better, more precise alternative. Stop bandying love around! Here are my choices for your romantic vocabulary which might just hit the mark better than love, actually.
Let’s get physical! Initial attraction is usually a physical sensation and the science is there to prove it.
Attraction is chemical and its all in the mind, regulated by the hypothalamus in the brain which controls the sex hormones. Now you understand why that perfect match on Tinder just didn’t excite you in the slightest when you met. There was no chemistry.
Freud believed that sex drive was the most powerful governing force in the life of the human being. So when we say love at first sight, are we actually referring to something chemical and should we be saying, lust at first sight? The pink haze of love is seen firmly through rose-tinted glasses. Some pundits believe that the concept of love at first sight is retrospective, the early encounters in people’s minds, a warm interpretation colored by reminiscence.
Lust is such an onomatopoeic word though. It might be a word you use to describe your feelings to a third party, not directly to the one you actually lust after. “If they substituted the word ‘Lust’ for ‘Love’ in the popular songs it would come nearer the truth.” Thank you, Sylvia Plath for that truism.
Affection is a subtle word, bypassed these days for louder, more vivid sentiments. But the subtlety of affection can make it the perfect bon mot on the right occasion.
Affection conveys feelings of warmth, depth and an intimacy created by a deep underlying love that has matured like a fine wine. Affection is the ultimate expression of love and a deep love that endures the trials and tribulations of life.
Affection is not so much a word you might use but us borne out by demonstrable actions.
Affection can be the smallest but most significant token. Barack and Michelle Obama always displayed their affection for each other publicly, a clear demonstration of the strength of their relationship and a deep, powerful love. Now say you can’t make time – if the former President of the USA can then you can!
A thoughtful gift doesn't have to be expensive, how about always giving your partner your full attention when it is something that matters to them and my personal favorite, touch. Just a casual brush of the hand or stroke of the cheek or a ‘for no apparent reason’ text or email.
These little touches, literally, won’t cost you anything in terms of time or money. Affection resonates, it is the glue that bonds two people together. Relate, the marriage guidance people, call it ‘love language’ and emphasize how important it is to any relationship.
This word is my personal favorite. I just can’t say ‘desire’ without injecting a tone of voice and resonance that wouldn't’ sound out of place in a television audition for a costume drama. You know the type of thing, smoldering looks, provocative bodices and heaving bosoms.
Desire speaks volumes in an understated yet powerful language. It is more comprehensive and multi-faced than lust. Desire suggests both a mental and physical engagement, a sublimation of all the senses and emotions, is desire the herald of true and meaningful love?
The word ‘desire’ conveys a strength that ‘love’ also just one syllable cannot. Desire is often combined with adjectives such as ‘burning’ or ‘powerful’. Desire relates to both an emotional and physical connection, an all-encompassing overwhelming emotion. George Bernard Shaw said, “There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire.”
Desire or Desiree believe it or not used to be a popular choice as a girl’s name. Perhaps more commonly seen in the States than in the UK, this possibly harks back to the popularity of the name amongst the Puritans of New England. And you thought it was just the name of a type of potato or an American streetcar!
La Grande Passion! For the liqueur connoisseurs amongst you, this might hark back to the later decades of the last century and a vague memory of a select tipple from the makers of Grande Marnier and Cherry Marnier. And the title has also been used by Andy Warhol rather disappointingly to depict a painting of that very liqueur rather than something more romantic. Both, it would seem, command a very high price but what does ‘la grande passion’ convey in the true meaning of this phrase?
Passion is not just used in the context of love but has a real connection to suffering so perhaps an anguished love. In religious terms, Christians refer to the Passion of Christ, a love so great for mankind that he gave up his life. Passion means self-sacrificing possibly even pain, love so powerful that it hurts. The derivation of the word comes from the Latin, pati, which means to suffer, to endure and in modern parlance, the use of ‘passion’ has moved away from this heartfelt sense of anguish into something a little more limited. There is a distinct vein of madness in real passion as coined by William Wordsworth, the English romantic poet, in his ballad, ‘Strange fits of passion have I known’. Passion implies a temporary suspension of sanity and reality, a momentary blindness. 5
Perhaps in the sequence of phases, ardor should sit before lust and after desire. Ardor implies a sense of earnestness, a zeal, an intensity to pursue and to woo. There are a fervency and pace about ardor which makes the word ‘love’ seem rather static in comparison.
Ardor might apply to the early stages of a love affair, the heady ascendency of the chase and early engagement before the deep plunge into the tumult of a really passionate affair.
Ardor is a rather old-fashioned word, both emotional and emotive and seems to sit alongside, ‘amour’ which is French for love and ‘arbor’ which is used to represent a peaceful, shaded area in a garden where lovers might meet. Arbors have become very popular at weddings, particularly ceremonies taking place in the great outdoors where there can be a lack of physical focus or centre. Even couples getting married in church may opt for an arbor at their wedding reception, to act as a focal point for photographs and when guests gather.
I guess the thing about ardor is that it doesn’t have to mean love in a romantic context although this is where it is usually employed. Ardor can mean zeal or enthusiasm for a cause that has nothing to do with affairs of the heart. Because of this, ardor might suggest a disconnected love, an unrequited affection that is not even known about, a totally anonymous devotion. It has connotations of reverence and admiration which indicate a love on a higher plane.
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Someone commented to me that ardor is merely a sub-division of love, a word that describes a type of love that is already present. Never has the ardor of young love been captured more effectively than by William Shakespeare in his famous play, Romeo and Juliet the purity of which is depicted in savage contrast to the tragedy which unfolds later.
Perhaps ardor is just descriptive of a type of love therefore or a characteristic of a love developing between two people.
Being a bit of a word snob, I have an inherent distaste of using the wrong word in a particular context. I believe that the word ‘love’ is overused, devalued in word currency when a better selection could convey more accurately what you feel. Hasn’t the word ‘love’ become just a bit passe?
There are different phases of love, the chemical lust followed by overwhelming desire, the almost tangible pain of a deep passion and the grounded affection of a meaningful and established love. These words all convey more appropriately the different chapters of love. Perhaps you can think of a better word?. Add your comments below and share with your friends to see what they think. ‘Love’ is a collective term, there are far better individual choices within cupid’s bucket.
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