When it Comes to Love, Where Did Red Come From?

I have three grown sons who’ve taught me everything that matters to me about love. The education started early and continues even now.

When they were toddlers (ages one, three and four), I remember my middle son giving his little brother a kiss and saying it made his heart all red. His reference to color and his emotion–at that age–was significant to me.

I asked him, “What color is your heart when you’re happy?” 

“Lello,” he responded, getting as close to “yellow” as he could.

“What color is your heart when you’re sad?” I asked.

“Blue,” he said.

“What color is your heart when you’re angry?” I asked.

“Black,” he said.

I was fascinated at the way he associated color with emotion, and it made me realize how early we, as humans, do this.

As a graphic designer, I have spent the better part of three decades studying how colors and shapes affect people’s emotions, and I remain utterly perplexed as to how we got the red heart shape that symbolizes love.

First, I’m not sure why we use the shape of two upside-down teardrops smushed together. TEARdrops! Second, I don’t know why we use red, the color nature uses to say "beware."

It’s such an incongruous combination to represent love.

When I think of colors that represent emotions, red and love just don’t seem right together. When someone is furious, we say, “He saw red.” The devil is red. Fire trucks are red. Stop signs are red. Brake lights are red. It’s a color of extremes, of danger and passion, of blood and fire.

Red is used to alarm, to alert.

Maybe somewhere along the way people chose red because they mistook passion for love.

If I were to associate a color with love, it would be white–pure, perfect white, maybe with highlights of gold, silver, light blue or pale pink. I think of love as the deepest, most profound emotion—infused and informed by all human emotions, just as the color white is a fusion of all visible light.

To me, the color of love should make us think of something as soft as feathers, or a warm steam that envelops you, filling every pore, drenching you in comfort. Love is a like wave that comes over you and carries you to your most contented place, where you need nothing, want nothing. Love is a mother’s kiss, a father’s hug, a knowing smile, an inside joke, and pancakes cooked just the way you like them.

For me, love is the sound of my sons’ laughter, the memory of them as little boys, and the anticipation of the good times we’ll have next time we’re all together.

This Valentine’s Day, I hope you experience pure white love with sparkly, golden highlights, love that leaves you feeling deeply contented, appreciated, happy, and whole.