In 'Once upon a time' series there is the myth of true love.

Rumplestiltskin declares himself really interested to it:

I'm a fan of true love, dearie. And more importantly... what it creates.

since it is the strongest magic of all:

Love... is the most powerful magic of all - the only magic I haven't been able to bottle. If you can bottle love... you can do anything.

However, it is not so clear to me how you can state what is a true love in an imaginary world like the one described in this tv show.

One could say that the "classical fairytales couples" are all creating true love, e.g.:

  • Snow White and Prince Charming
  • Aurora and Philip

Others come with proof but are not clearly stated: for instance, Rumplestiltskin and Belle should be in true love, since they are just a transposition of another classical couple (i.e., Beauty and the Beast).

Others are not in clear position:

  • is Hook Emma's true love just because they found out to love each other? Is it sufficient to state that if a couple is in love?
  • what about Robin Hood vs. Marian vs. Regina? The Green fairy states that Regina could find true love in Robin Hood, but Marian was Robin's first true love. Can one have multiple true loves?
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    Based on the title, I can see this question getting to the Hot Network Questions list very soon... Jul 25, 2014 at 10:08
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    True love is the most wonderful thing in the world. Except for a nice MLT, mutton lettuce and tomato sandwich. Jul 25, 2014 at 10:27
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    Certainly not! Keep it, great title. :) Jul 25, 2014 at 10:34
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    @Wikis: Imagine how I found this question....
    – Ellesedil
    Jul 25, 2014 at 15:37
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    Apropos of nothing, in the words of the Impressive Clergyman: "Wuv! Twu Wuv! Wiw fowwow you fowevah!"
    – CGCampbell
    Jul 25, 2014 at 18:47

5 Answers 5


I'm a bit disappointed no one has answered this from the perspective of the Once Upon a Time yet.

"True love" in Once Upon a Time is a quality, not a person. When Tinkerbell shows Regina the man with the lion tattoo, she claims to have found her soul mate, not her true love. She does claim that she and her soul mate would share love (presumably true love).

True love is shown to be that quality which one holds toward another person that leads the subject to trust, hope, or protect that person unconditionally. It is not clearly defined because it is almost the entire point of the show: true love is this mysterious quality that some have and others seek to discover the secret. It is a quality one learns by giving of themselves, and it cannot be bought or coerced.

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    I'm a bit disappointed no one has answered this from the perspective of the Once Upon a Time yet. So was I, until I read your answer :) I think it could be improved with more examples and citations though. For example there are a lot of points in the third paragraph that could be expanded and clarified. Jul 26, 2014 at 11:33
  • And also addressing the specific examples at the end of the question. Jul 26, 2014 at 11:34
  • @starsplusplus This is a good point. I'd like to use actual quotes when I get the chance. Jul 26, 2014 at 13:09
  • Nice answer (the only one talking about the show) but maybe it can be expanded a bit like suggested by @starstarplus?
    – Eleanore
    Jul 26, 2014 at 13:22
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    The two times the curse was broken in OUaT, and the one time it appeared in the Wonderland spinoff, are probably the best examples, IMO
    – Izkata
    Jul 26, 2014 at 17:43

True Love is a narrative device which conveniently sweeps away any problems of plausibility or character development.

  • Cinderella has one dance with the handsome prince, and knows she must marry him. It probably beats scrubbing floors for her stepmother, but is he a kind person? Will they be happy together? Doesn't matter, it's True Love!

  • Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) has been asleep in a castle for a hundred years, and she marries the first man who finds her. She knows nothing about him except that he has the creepy habit of kissing sleeping girls he has never met before. How do we know they are compatible as husband and wife? Doesn't matter, it's True Love!

  • Buttercup (the Princess Bride) is pining after Westley. This is a man who let her think he was dead for five years without bothering to send a letter, and admits that as a successful pirate he killed and stole from a great many innocent people. How do we know he's a better choice of husband than Prince Humperdinck? Doesn't matter, it's True Love!

On the other hand, Robin Hood and Marian have known each other for most of their lives. If they get married, they have a pretty good idea what they are doing. This is love, but it's not True Love in the fairytale sense.

More recent fairytale stories, such as Shrek and Frozen, have cottoned onto this and had fun subverting the concept of True Love.

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    Exactly! In OAUT they say that it can be associated with friendship, family, love.
    – Eleanore
    Jul 25, 2014 at 13:01
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    Modern subversions aside, the traditional True Love of fairytales practically demands the subjects know little or nothing about each other. Otherwise, it stops being True Love and becomes ordinary realistic love. It has some interesting parallels with the medieval concept of Courtly Love. Jul 25, 2014 at 14:28
  • To be fair most six year olds aren't interested in trying character development.
    – djechlin
    Jul 25, 2014 at 15:46
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    Just wanted to point out that the Princess Bride is also a subtle satire, so the true love thing there is intentionally over the top.
    – Kai
    Jul 25, 2014 at 17:01
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    Isn't the asker asking specifically about what it means in the OUAT universe? Jul 26, 2014 at 11:31

Permit me, please, to explain this from a psychological standpoint.

When one is said to love another, it is for one or both of two reasons: Concupiscence and Projection. Concupiscence has more to do with the subject's physical appearance and ability (and standing), though not much to do with the actual person, or perhaps as we say, their soul. Projection is unconsciously projecting one's own inferior traits on another person (in our case, at least). Jung termed this projecting his anima (feminine, which a male projects on a female or on children) and animus (masculine, which a female projects on many males). Together they make the the syzygy. Keirsey explains somewhat similarly, though using his four intelligences instead.

The idea is, since we are strong in one but weak in another (or, according to Jung, because it is unconscious) we project in on another person who is strong (or conscious) of those traits, and we develop ourselves through the other person. Being the other person is the subject of part our own self, we come very close to the other person, seeing them as part of ourselves. Whereas by concupiscence almost anyone will do and we feel in control of it, by projection, few people become the subject of our projections and we do not feel in control of it. Strong projections, much like strong desire, hurts when it is not satisfied. Unlike desire, it takes another person to willingly satisfy it.

When two people project on each other, they are drawn together unconsciously. Being they do not know why (projections are by definition unconscious (there are many levels of awareness)), they feel "drawn" to each other and "not in control" of it. This "unknown force" is often given a name, such as fate or love, the latter more common in Xian circles where love is held in such high regard.

The Xian aspect is important. Xian belief is love is a virtue but concupiscence is (at least related to) sin. Hence, people may want to make sure their love is "pure" or "true", that is, free from being based on concupiscence. With this, the love is considered special. Paradoxically, this does not preclude concupiscence from the relationship, just from being a basis of it.

Rumplestiltskin was (and possibly still is) an immature person who is scared of anything or anyone that he cannot control. When he became the Dark One, he had more power than anyone else (at least in the first season) meaning he was now in control, or at least, noone else could control him. When Belle came along, everything changed, because he projected his own frailties onto her and therefore loved her as he loved himself. That's why he won't kill her, why he let her go free, why he wants her to think he trusts her, and why he is, at times, at her mercy. Being out of control, he calls it true love, and would have been "cured" by it, until he asserted control and kept her at a distance. For reference to Keirsey, Rumplestiltskin as the Dark One is an INTJ, and Belle is an ENFP. The NT and NF are drawn to one another.

Similarly, Hook can be Emma's true love, if they would stop asserting control. They do have strong affect on each other and even act "out of character" accordingly.

Can one have multiple true loves?

Yes. People can project on many people.

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    This is more of a theological explanation. Modern neuropsychology would explain "love at first sight" in rather more prosaic terms (basically, hormones and the biological urge to reproduce) and doesn't really have a concept of "true love" at all. Jul 25, 2014 at 15:02
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    @RoyalCanadianBandit Even if that were true, it would not preclude the psychological underpinnings. Jul 25, 2014 at 15:29
  • @BrianTkatch: Or rather, the older psychological explanations/guesswork at the concept of love has bio-chemical underpinnings. Indeed we're starting to find out that a lot of things has chemical underpinnings.
    – slebetman
    Jul 25, 2014 at 19:19
  • @slebetman Correlation does not equal causation. Jul 25, 2014 at 23:55
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    @BrianTkatch: Ah, correct. Just because love causes the release of certain hormones doesn't mean that love is the principal drive. Sometimes it's the hormones that drive what we feel.
    – slebetman
    Jul 26, 2014 at 2:42

From a living breathing human and not an imaginary character, there are very few that I knew and grew up with, who have truly experienced it, but if you are one of the lucky ones, you will know it with every fiber of your being that the person standing next to you for the rest of your lives that you have endured something so powerful that no one else can describe it.'

I just spent the last thirty years of my life with my one true love and then I lost him to a horrible disease. I know he was my true love because everyday I lived and breathed the same air as he did and I felt complete, whole even. We shared everything during our lifetime. When you can tell that person your deepest darkest secrets and not be ashamed and feel at ease because they aren't judging you but guiding you in the same direction they may be heading. True love is something far stronger than all of us. It is a connection to another persons life force and you walk this earth in tune with them. Everyday you feel them, think about them, miss them when you are away for even the shortest of times.

That infamous line of Once upon a time is nice when you open a book and leave the real world for the imaginary one like those being discussed...In those stories anything can happen and usually does...but in the real world it takes patience, understanding, compromising, enjoying life and living in the moment. You will also experience a great heartache together as life throws them your way. You really feel that unique love when they start to slip away out of this world and crossover into one you are not allowed to follow them yet. You feel them leave you behind and the longing and tears don't stop for months on end waiting for him to come walking in the door.

Your true love is the person that makes you laugh, and cry, he goads you into getting in trouble with him while you both live carefree and dare to take risks them.

They are your true love when you marry them and not for a day or a month or a year...but for a lifetime and you managed to remain next to the others side never once giving up on whatever life had to throw at you.

In the beginning i couldn't live without him...Now I know different...i really have no choice in the matter...because my true love left me behind when he took his last breath. I cant feel him....And God do I want to but it goes against everything that is natural.

and so I wait for the moment I find him again.


'True Love' is the kind of love which is able to live and prosper through any kind of difficulties. In fairy tales (where it is way more probable to find it), it uses to imply that the tale will end with a marriage.

So, when Orpheus was able to go into Hell to grab Euridice back to the World, that was almost True Love, but not really True Love since he was not able to wait all the necessary time to see her.

When Buttercap waits for Westley even when there is no hope that he could come, and Westley comes from death to rescue her, that is True Love in that sense.

Back to Snow White and Prince Charming, in the series we see that they try hard to be together and to continue being together even when their memory is erased, so that fits the definition too.

Note that it doesn't must be any kind of obstacles to True Love for it to really be True Love. The definition carries the ability to overcome them all, not the necessity. It may be that Grandpa John Doe and Grandma Jane Doe have True Love in their softly farm in the country. That may be True Love, but you can not be sure since you do not have the needed proof.

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