Think you know for sure?
It’s highly unlikely you’ll make it through life having conversations about love and relationships without the experience of someone shrugging and say as a given, “Well, all is fair in love and war.”
But what does “all’s fair in love and war” really mean?
After all, when repeated too often, even the most inspirational of motivational quotes and sayings may wind up losing their impact and significance.
When you’re single, dating, and hoping against hope to find and fall in love with your dream man or woman and yet another well-meaning but seriously annoying person says, “Don’t worry. The one for you is right around the corner,” or, “You’ll meet the love of your life when you least expect it,” … it’s facepalms for everyone.
So, where did the saying, “All is fair in love and war” come from?
“The earliest known origin of the sentiment ‘all is fair in love in war’ is found in poet John Lyly’s novel ‘Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit,’ published in 1579. The novel … includes the quote ‘the rules of fair play do not apply in love and war.
“The first [known] appearance of the quote worded ‘all is fair in love and war’ is in English author Francis Edward Smedley’s 1850 novel ‘Frank Fairleigh.'”
What does it mean?
When people casually use this phrase, they’re usually trying to justify their own bad behavior in the romantic arena.
It could be a single woman who’s dating a married man, a not-so-close friend you just found out is dating your bestie’s recent ex, or you to yourself when you’re considering dating your ex-boyfriend’s brother, but a person who calls on this turnkey phrase is doing so to excuse themselves form any form of repercussions.
They should be immune to relationship karma, they believe, because they are simply sticking to this universal “truth” about love and relationships.
Personally, I’m not buying it.
Yes, there are those who take the perspective that this phrase means only that love knows no logic and sees no race, gender, or financial status.
But by and large, here’s what experience has taught me people get wrong about what “All is fair in love and war” means — and the truth about how things usually play out.
1. You can’t love recklessly and get away with it
When you think of love in these terms, you are conceptualizing love as a competitive sport. You’re saying that it’s OK to cause a few bruises and break a few hearts in your quest to find your one true love.
Like many things in life, this saying is subjective and can be interpreted in many ways. But when people use it as an excuse to behave badly, things rarely, if ever, turn out well.
2. No one ever wins a war
Love and war typically require the involvement of at least two parties.
Love is easy when things are going well, as it’s easy for both people to take credit for their contributions to the relationship, but it’s when things get tough that love is really tested.
No one wants to raise their hand and admit they started a war or a fight, and it’s important to remember during the lows in a relationship that most arguments and conflicts are caused to some degree by both people (abuse and domestic violence excluded, of course).
And even more important to note is that wars have no winners.
The sooner you can identify and acknowledge your role in a fight with the person you love, the sooner you can both put your egos aside and focus together on finding a solution to the problem.
3. The meaning of fairness is subjective
What’s ‘fair’ in love and war is subjective and dependent on a person’s values.
While others may not agree, some people think it’s perfectly “fair” to consider men or women to be “free game” whether they’re single or in a committed relationship.
And you may not agree, but your boyfriend or girlfriend may think it’s “fair” to bring up past arguments to support a new one.
It’s important to acknowledge that other people’s version of what’s fair can be valid, even if you don’t accept their definition within your own system of values.
When it comes to love and war, logic doesn’t always come into play.
Relationships can be riddled with gray zones and unchartered territory, and we all need to forge our own map through the journey.