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Updated: Apr 12, 2020

You Know WhatTheySay... “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

"The 1970 movie Love Story, based on the novel of the same name by Erich Segal, tells the story of star-crossed lovers Jennifer and Oliver, who marry against their parents’ wishes. This movie is the source of one of the most famous aphorisms ever to come out of Hollywood: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

The line occurs twice in the movie. Jennifer says it the first time, when Oliver tries to apologize to her for losing his temper. Oliver repeats the line at the end of the movie, when his father attempts to repent for having disowned his son. Spoiler alert: Jennifer has just died, you see, and the line is a real tear-jerker.

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I just never got it. I was always told you should apologize when you hurt another person. I was also taught to forgive the other person—if the apology was heartfelt and contrite. So why is it you don’t have to apologize when you hurt the ones you love?

I sought the wisdom of the internet, and this is what I found. Barbara Rose, Ph.D., on the website, explains in a post appropriately titled: “Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry”:

True love is unconditional. It is transparent, where we can accept, understand, and allow the other person to make every mistake, falter, stumble, and give genuine heartfelt compassion when they are trying their best, even if their best is can be “better.”

Since there’s no love between us, I guess I can say: “I’m sorry, Dr. Rose, but I just don’t agree with you.”

Is it really true that we should love others unconditionally? I think in some cases we absolutely must, but in most cases, we should not.

Parents do need to love their children unconditionally. Decades of research—as well as common sense—tell us that children who do not receive unconditional love from their parents cannot grow into well-adjusted adults. I also think that children love their parents unconditionally, at least when they are young and dependent.

As adults, children of neglectful or abusive parents will struggle for years with low self-esteem, guilt, and depression. With the help of counselors or loving others in their lives, they may find a way to love and accept their parents. But it certainly won’t be unconditional.

I also contend that friends and lovers do not love each other unconditionally. Nor should they get stuck in the mindset that unconditional love is the norm for these kinds of relationships. We enter into relationships with a spirit of trust and mutual benefit. We also let go of those who repeatedly take advantage of us. Maintaining such a relationship in the name of unconditional love merely sets us up for abuse.

This doesn’t mean that the first transgression spells the end of the relationship. We’re all imperfect people, and we inevitably hurt the ones we love. Whenever there’s been an infringement in the relationship, both the victim and the perpetrator bear considerable psychological burdens until the atonement-redemption cycle is complete. In other words, the apologizing-and-forgiving process is the cement that mends the broken relationship."


Cited. Ludden, David. “Does Love Really Mean Never Having to Say You're Sorry?”Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 10 Apr. 2016,

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