Love and affection are two words that are intrinsically linked. They are of course similar in many ways: they are both feelings that we harbour for those of us in our lives who are most important to us.
Most of us don’t really think too deeply about it when it comes to these kinds of words, and we do have a tendency to just use them interchangeably. But they are actually quite different from each other in definition.
Although they are just words and we can kind of use them as we choose and be a bit liberal in our personal definitions, but when we look a bit more deeply into these actual sensations, we can see that there are two distinct feelings and that the different words are warranted.
This doesn’t mean that you are using the words wrong or that you should alter how you express your personal feelings, but it is interesting to note why we feel a certain way towards certain people and differently towards others.
Both of the words are expressions of endearment, and positive sensations which are based around strong relationships, so what exactly is it that differentiates the two from each other?
It’s somewhat complex:
Love is perhaps a word that we all use a little bit too liberally. We throw it around like it means absolutely nothing, when in truth, love is a feeling that means a whole lot, and that should be reserved for our deepest inclinations.
There are different kinds of love of course. The one we think about most is the love that we have for romantic partners, and the interesting thing about that is it’s the only one with which the use of the word is deemed very important.
When it comes to love that we feel for our family, our friends, or even for things that aren’t human or aren’t living, we don’t make any kind of big deal about saying it. We tell our family we love them from the first moment that we can speak.
We tell our friends that even if we don’t necessarily mean it, and that’s okay because a friend isn’t really a lifelong commitment or an obligation. We even say it about food. “I love Peking duck, even though I only tasted it for the first time five minutes ago.”
And that’s all fine, nobody really questions it, and if they do they’re kind of just being a pedantic jerk. But for your partner, when you choose to say the words “I love you,” it’s intended as a turning point in your relationship.
It’s the moment that it goes from something that’s primarily based around discovering shared interests and personality traits, going on dates, doing fun things together and probably a whole lot of sex, to a genuine commitment and an expression that you’ve fond something you want to last.
And all of us are capable of feeling that, though for some of us it takes a bit longer to find it. That all depends on a few different factors, like maybe it’s just because you like playing the field more than you like settling with one person and that’s absolutely fine.
Or maybe it’s because you are more guarded with your emotions and you struggle to let people in and that’s also not something to be ashamed of. But regardless of any of that, it’s a word that has power in romantic relationships.
And why is that? Well that brings us to what I believe sets love apart from other feelings such as affection, and that’s that it is reserved for something that is unconditional. What are you really saying when you say that you love your partner?
You are telling them that you want to commit to them, that you feel strongly that if you share your life with them, you will be happy. And going a little deeper, you are acknowledging their flaws, insecurities and whatever differences you have and accepting that you can look past them.
Love takes you over those hurdles, it gives you strength to resolve problems that you might face in the future which you may not be able to resolve if you didn’t feel so strongly for the person. It is constant and impossible to shake no matter how hard you try.
And you can feel this for your friends in a way that’s non-romantic and built on a foundation of trust and companionship, and you can feel it for a piece of entertainment or a work of art in a way that makes you feel like you can appreciate the beauty and enjoyment of it over and over again.
So in a way that is unconditional, but it doesn’t have the responsibility of a romantic relationship. You can drop friends you thought you loved if you don’t feel like they’re a positive presence in your life anymore, but that’s not as easy with someone you have a family or a home with.
In that way, it’s understandable why the word love is so much more powerful when it’s attached to romance than it is when used in any other context. And this brings us back to affection and what differs here.
Because affection is not unconditional. Affection is what you feel in those early days of a relationship that we discussed above when it’s not about all of the commitment and compromise that comes with a truly loving, romantic union.
Affection is light and fun. It’s hugs, it’s flirtation, it’s a one night stand after a few too many drinks and it doesn’t have to mean anything. That initial attraction you feel when you’ve been talking to her for a few hours and you want to reach out and hold her hand or make a joke so you can hear her laugh.
That’s affection, and that’s not unconditional. You want to hold her and kiss her but if you leave the next morning and never see her again, you won’t be hurt by that. And if you have an argument, you don’t feel an incentive to work through it.
That’s the real difference here, and it’s important for you to be able to separate these two feelings in your own mind. Love is lasting, patient and resilient in the face of adversity, whereas affection is spontaneous, energetic and can slip through your fingers with little consequence.