'Love Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry:' What Does The 'Love Story' Line Mean?

By Penny Chavers
Ali MacGraw as Jennifer Cavalleri and Ryan O'Neal as Oliver Barrett IV in a scene from 'Love Story', directed by Arthur Hiller, 1970. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

It's one of the most-quoted movie lines of all time: "Love means never having to say you’re sorry." Love Story, a 1970 film based on a novel of the same name by Erich Segal, is the source, and while the quote is pretty clear on what love means (hint: never having to say you're sorry), people have often struggled to figure out what the quote as a whole means. 

For instance: Does love mean never having to say you're sorry because lovers never (or should never) disappoint each other? Or is it because apologies are unnecessary when two people love each other? What is so special about this line? And why is it so annoying?

It may be annoying simply because it sounds like one person condescendingly telling another person what love means. And while it may be someone's idea of a philosophically beautiful definition of love, it also sounds kind of like a pointless rule or a scold. Clearly Person A feels they need to say they're sorry, and Person B is correcting them.

And what is this dread of having to say you're sorry? Don't people often say they're sorry for good reasons? What sort of person has the hubris to go through life feeling they need never apologize?

The award-winning film Love Story starred Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, and it was a real heart-wrencher. The quote occurs twice in the film -- the first time comes when Oliver Barrett (Ryan O’Neal) gets upset when he can’t find Jennifer Cavalleri (Ali MacGraw), so he apologizes -- but she tells him “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” In the second scene, this time it was Oliver who repeated the quote to his father after his father’s response of “I’m sorry,” when he learned of Jenny’s death.

Oh, spoiler alert: It's one of those death movies. In fact, the second-most-famous line is "What do you say about a 25-year-old girl who died?" Well, we don't know what you say about that, but we're pretty sure what you don't say. Don't you dare say "I'm sorry."