What is love? Not plutonic love in the classical sense, nor love of your neighbour in the biblical sense but romantic love. Love is often regarded as a universal emotion, even a virtue, if an emotion could be said to be virtuous then love is a prime contender, but in reality it is neither universal nor eternal. It was invented, it is a cultural perspective arising from a specific place and time; Europe in the medieval era. It is for this reason that translating love into different language is difficult. Historically, the term “romance” comes from the aristocratic medieval ideal of chivalry as portrayed in literature of that era. Launcelot and Guinevere are prime examples, their love is forbidden, it is dangerous and is therefore shrouded in uncertainty and emotional anxiety, the defining aspects of romantic love. Romance has existed historically at the boundary between marriage and eroticism.
Globalization in the modern era has exported cultural norms across borders and continents, so that the old European conception of love really is becoming more universal. Human relationships are altered by cultural conceptions of normality; one such example was explored by Giddens who wrote that homosexuals have historically engaged in more open relationships and that these kinds of relationships have influenced heterosexual relations.
In China the traditional Confucianist conception of love is characterized by actions and duty, this is a far cry from what is meant by the Western hippies in the sixties who called for “peace and love.” But there is a Chinese translation of the Western concept of love in modern China, Ai (?).
One Japanese conception of love is Amae (??), but Japanese translation cannot render this as a substitute for romantic love in most situations because this word is associated with child-rearing and refers to an “indulgent dependence.” There are, however, some couples for whom this word might be an appropriate description.
In Islam, the word Ishq (???) refers to love, but in a divine sense. Sufis regard love as a manifestation of Allah in the universe. This word describes a mystical definition which would be inappropriate as an Arabic translation of the Western concept of love.
The sexual aspects of romantic love more closely resemble love as expressed in Hinduism as kama (???) where it denotes love of a sexual nature. Kama is manifested in a divine form as the god of human love and desire, Kamadeva. In Hinduism, Kama is regarded as the third of the four goals of life, so is both carnal and divine but does not necessarily carry the connotations of taboo and anxiety that romantic love does.
These examples serve to illustrate that love, as a vague binding force that brings human beings together, is universal in one form or another, but the specific conception of romantic love that Westerners are familiar with, is not as widespread as you might imagine.