Valentine’s Day. It’s the highest holiday of love known the world over for centuries. Images of hearts and roses and poetic missives inflate our romantic expectations.

Some will be thrilled with fulfillment. Others might crush unrequited.

With so much talk about what love feels like, it seemed fitting to also ponder its guises.

What does love look like? The Ancient Greeks were among the first to qualify its different states, feelings and attitudes. From friendship and desire, to kinship and divine, they grasped love’s varied emotions and gestures. And while the topic has provoked rich debate through the eras, those savvy philosophers had a good first handle on its nuances.

For a contemporary view, The Kissing Expert turned to her cadre of wise women and men of all ages. The girls’ eye view was specific to images and actions. Among them:

Love written in fire

  • The earthly elements: Fire, eternal flames, a warm, blue ocean… vast and endless, a warm sunny beach, flowers.
  • The warm ‘n fuzzy: “Spooning,” playful puppies, baby animals, even frogs, weddings.
  • Children: The tops of their heads (probably because they were kissed a lot), their angel wings and devils horns.
  • Thoughtfulness: Small considerate gestures which speak volumes.
  • Adoration: Even in the most vulnerable and raw state, like chapped lips, tired eyes and mismatched socks.
  • Acceptance: Letting someone be who they are without needing them to show up for you in a particular way

The fairer ones also had unexpected responses. One dazzler referred to love as “road kill” – a wee harsh, but apt considering how the flipside can leave brave hearts eviscerated on the battlefield. Another recounted a lover who told her love looked like being enclosed in a “golden enchilada,” maybe for its enveloping warmth? Something to chew on…

The gents, meanwhile, demonstrated that those who might believe their Y chromosome hinders their ability to express themselves, is, in the words of Bridgett Jones’ Mark Darcy, “laboring under a misapprehension.”  

Quoting from the poetic to the sassy:

  • “What does love look like? To borrow from St. Augustine, it has the hands to help others, the feet to hasten to the poor and needy, the eyes to see misery and want, the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows.”
  • “Love is forgiveness, which avails itself in a myriad of sizes and colors. It is compassion and understanding…Love is a non-recourse loan.”
  • “Love is that aura that is the manifestation of respect, trust, desire and needs…lingerie helps too.”
  • “Love is a willingness to understand and change oneself for the benefit of another.”
  • “Love is falling in love (again) every time you see him/her after an absence.”

Commonalities between both sides of the survey also came through. Men and women both described “passages of love” that change as we mature:

Ms. “Love looks different as I’ve gotten older… At 50, love looks comfortable and content, but still magically wonderful.”

Mr. “In the beginning, it is exciting, heart-stopping and a little intimidating. As it matures, it looks like peace, happiness and fun. Warmth. Comfort. With kids, it looks like purity. Joy, without any constraints or boundaries.”

…and identified a physical sensation/energy, and palpable aura that’s love:

  • “An electric current that shocks you to your very core, and leaves you exhilarated.”
  • “That funny feeling in your stomach, especially just before the kiss.”
  • “That warm buzz you get in your innermost… it washes over you leaving a warm glow.”
  • “A flutter in the heart that goes down to your stomach.”

Smiling couple

The most iconic image of what love looks like was echoed by both in an expression viewed as the most powerful of human gestures given its potential for the highest emotional content – the smile. Qualified by scientists to be more satisfying to the brain than chocolate in the way it stimulates our reward center, The Kissing Expert believes a smile is a physical manifestation of love that literally swells up out of our hearts to be seen by the object of our affection as a reflection of our predisposition. That stellar songwriter Burt Bacharach was truly onto this notion when he penned that fantastic song: The look of love is in your eyes, the look your smile can’t disguise.

As for what the gang had to say about that upturn of the mouth made so famous by Mona Lisa:

Gals: “When looking at someone or something, or the thought of someone or something, and it warms your heart and makes you smile, and maybe even brings a tear to your eye.” “Love looks like two people smiling.”

Guys: “Love looks like her smile.” “Love looks like a smile… an entirely natural and completely genuine smile.” 

With love being so ephemeral, a smile is a tangible mark of the emotion, almost as evidence of its existence.

Love can look like so much more, be it cleaning a sick friend’s house, or hiding a piece of candy in someone’s pocket. Ultimately love looks like doing your best to take care of someone else’s heart through compassion and acceptance.

So in the spirit of Valentine’s Day love, and feeling good, The Kissing Expert encourages a “Coke and a Smile”, along with lots of kissing. It could help make the world a more beautiful place.

Andréa Demirjian is The Kissing Expert and author of KISSING. When not thinking, talking and writing about kissing, she runs an independent marketing business. Andréa believes truly and simply that kissing is the key to peace on earth. For more kissing tips, find her on Facebook/kissingexpert.