It Doesn’t Matter Who You Love or How You Love, But That You Love

John Lennon? Rod McKuen? Sally Jessy Raphael? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular meme/quotation on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr:

It matters not who you love, where you love, why you love, when you love, or how you love, it matters only that you love.

This saying is attributed to the famous musician John Lennon of the Beatles, but I have not found it in his writings or song lyrics. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that John Lennon employed the above expression. Lennon died in 1980, and the words were linked to him by 1997.

Rod McKuen was a singer-songwriter and poet who achieved a remarkable peak of popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. He performed a large number of well-attended concerts, and he often delivered an emphatic and empathetic message to his fans at the end of a show. In April 1971 “The New York Times” profiled McKuen, and reported his message which was a concise version of the saying listed above. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

He has no solutions to offer, no panaceas to propound and makes no claims to cosmic insights. “I’m not preaching. I’m just talking about the things that move me.” Still, at the end of every public appearance recently, he’s been admonishing his listeners that “it doesn’t matter who you love or how you love, but that you love.”

This, apparently, is a message a great many people want to hear, whether it’s stated directly or merely implied in the way McKuen talks or sings or writes about the things that matter most to him.

QI conjectures that the statement attributed to Lennon was derived from the words of Rod McKuen via extension and elaboration.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In April 1971 a reporter for an Australian newspaper who was based in New York reported on McKuen’s adage and noted that the musician was “very much in vogue”: 2

As he tells his audience at the end of each performance: “It doesn’t matter who you love or how you love, but that you love.”

Shades of the overly romanticised film “Love Story,” the basic theme of which is “love is never having to say you’re sorry.” (In fact, McKuen is very much in vogue with the return to the simple romance, and is probably currently outselling even Erich Segal’s “Love Story.”)

In June 1972 the columnist Bob Considine presented a set of definitions for “love” that had been collected by a representative of the greeting card company “Hallmark”. The passage from McKuen extended the statement given above: 3

CARY GRANT: “Love is the best, the most joyous feeling one can have.”

GLORIA SWANSON: “Love is the Creativity of the Life Force.”

ABE BURROWS, Broadway playwright: “This may not seem to be a very romantic definition of love . . . But I think it’s a true one. It’s love, when another person’s needs are as important as your own.”

ROD McKUEN, poet and lyricist: “It doesn’t matter who you love or how you love but that you love. For in the end the act of loving any man is the act of loving God. The good in men is all the God there is and loving is a contribution to that good and to that only God.”

In October 1972 a concert performed by McKuen in St. Petersburg, Florida was reviewed in the local newspaper. The artist invited the audience to ask him questions after the show: 4

Are you basically a happy person?

“I like to think so. I’ve just come through a down period. Now I’m on my way up.”

McKuen left the audience with the thought, “It doesn’t matter who you love or how you love but that you love.” A delightful, one of a kind evening.

In 1973 a student in a Massachusetts high school selected an instance of McKuen’s expression as a yearbook quotation: 5

“It doesn’t matter who you love or how you love but that you love. For in the end the act of loving any man is the act of loving God.”

In 1979 a columnist in a Reading, Pennsylvania newspaper collected and printed New Year’s messages. McKuen offered another version of his saying: 6

Rod McKuen: I’d like to live long enough to see the one day within my lifetime when one man wasn’t killing another man for some reason anywhere in the world, and that is all I could wish for. I would like to leave your readers with one thought if I may.

The thought that I always end my concerts with — I firmly believe it even stronger in this day and age. It doesn’t matter who you love or how you love, but that you love, and you’re not living unless you’re loving.

In 1995 Sally Jessy Raphael, the television and radio talk show host, employed the saying without attribution at the end of her TV show, but she used a different wording that began with “It matters not”: 7

Sally Jessy’s closing comment: “It matters not who you love but that you love.” When in doubt, go for the cliche. And the applause sign.

In 1997 an elaborate version of the saying attributed to John Lennon appeared in an electronic discussion group. It was posted into a Usenet newsgroup which was a gateway for a Listserv electronic mailing list. No supporting citation was given: 8

John Lennon

In 2012 a newspaper in Steinbach, Manitoba noted that the saying credited to Lennon continued to circulate: 9

“It matters not who you love, where you love, why you love, when you love, or how you love, it matters only that you love.” (This meme often appears with a photo of, and is attributed to, the late John Lennon, ex-Beatle, famous for the song Imagine.)

In 2015 the obituary of Rod McKuen published in “The Guardian” mentioned the adage that he had spoken many times: 10

Rod McKuen, who has died aged 81, was, at his peak, a cultural phenomenon whose massive success as a songwriter and singer saw him become America’s most popular poet, dubbed The King of Kitsch by Newsweek magazine. . . .

One of his most famous lines was that “it doesn’t matter who you love, or how you love, but that you love”.

In conclusion, Rod McKuen can be credited with the remarks in the citations dated April 1971, June 1972, and January 1979, Based on current evidence Lennon did not make the remark under investigation. Instead, it was constructed directly or indirectly from the simpler statement by McKuen.

(Great thanks to Shelley Barnow Sutherland whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks to John Simpson who pointed out that “Gary” was supposed to be “Cary”.)


  1. 1971 April 4, New York Times, Says Rod McKuen: ‘It Doesn’t Matter Who You Love or How You Love, But That You Love!’ by William Murray, Start Page SM32, Quote Page SM33, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1971 April 25, The Sun-Herald (The Sydney Morning Herald), The Poet of a Thousand Songs by Don Riseborough in New York, Quote Page 79, Column 1, Sydney, Australia. (Google News Archive)
  3. 1972 June 16, Lowell Sun, Love — definitive definitions by Bob Considine, Quote Page 7, Column 3, Lowell, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1972 October 31, The Evening Independent (St. Petersburg Independent), Rod McKuen: One of a Kind Poet by Perry Fulkerson (Independent Reviewer), Quote Page 3B, Column 8, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Google News Archive)
  5. 1973, School Yearbook: Regulus, Quotation selected by student Nancy M. Cooper, Quote Page 121, Published by Newton South High School in Newton, Massachusetts. (Internet Archive
  6. 1979 January 7, Reading Eagle, New Year’s Desires: Stars Make Wishes by Dick Maurice (Copley News Service), Quote Page 69, Column 4 and 5, Reading, Pennsylvania. (Google News Archive)
  7. 1995 April 23, Orange County Register, Edition: Morning, Need a laugh? O.J. to the rescue, by Vance Durgin (Orange County Register), Quote Page F33, Column 3, Santa Ana, California. (NewsBank Access World News)
  8. 1997 February 28, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroups: bit.listserv.dsshe-l, From: Tim Bigelow @ZEUS.CC.PCC.EDU, Subject: Re: caffeine intox., (Google Groups Search; Accessed February 21, 2016)
  9. 2012 October 25, Carillon The (Steinbach Carillon), Apologia by Hendrik van der Breggen, Quote Page 7C, Column 2, Steinbach, Manitoba. (NewspaperArchive)
  10. 2015 February 1, The Guardian, Rod McKuen obituary by Michael Carlson, Guardian US: Guardian News and Media Limited, US and UK. (Accessed on February 21, 2016) link