On saying “I love you”

I don’t say “I love you” much. I am stingy with it, miserly. I hoard it to myself as if it might get used and old and dirty if I put it on the table.

I feel deeply and hard, but “I love you” is like taking out a huge knife and carving the words into skin, pain and blood spurting everywhere, cries of elation or hurt, his or mine, both sometimes.

The feeling comes slowly to me, I don’t trust it. I don’t trust it in others and I don’t trust it in myself. And when it comes easily, I don’t believe it either. I look upon it with suspicion. I know that makes it hard to say *to* me as much as it’s hard for me to say.

I am not damaged, I haven’t suffered from the words, but the reticence is there. I can come up with a million reasons why. I remember the first time my father told me he loved me. It was when I was leaving home. I remember being shocked by the words, not because he had never shown love, but because he never *said* it.

I remember a hundred random boys telling me they loved me, not because they loved me, but because they wanted something from me. They were saying “be mine”, or “don’t leave me”, or “have sex with me” or “kiss me” or “I don’t want to lose you” or “you owe me” or some other thing that wasn’t anything close to love, but about what THEY wanted.

I can’t bear to say it even if it’s true *right now* because the idea of somehow trying to take it back or the possibility that I might change in my feelings, the act of clawing the words back from the ether because they have become a lie, that feels like a terrible betrayal.

“Oh sweetheart, I meant it then, but not any more, I am plucking those words from the air, from your mind, from where they lodged in your heart. You don’t mind do you?”

I don’t feel like a romantic, but I have some old romantic notion of love being forever and if you are in love, it lasts. The idea that I mean it *now*, but not tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year, makes no sense to me. It hurts my feelings to put it out there and then have it slip quietly away, and what has become a heavy lie then sits leaden between us, made ugly and slippery and squirming on the floor.

I never told my boy that I loved him. I am not sure if I did love him or not, if I am honest, though it felt as much like love as I have ever had and at times I was sure. But saying it was too much, I wasn’t ready to wield the knife. I was waiting for it to solidify and I was waiting for it to end, wondering, almost, which would come first.

He told me in secret, he knew I couldn’t hear it, wouldn’t hear it, that it would go into some kind of void. He would send me snippets and hints, and leave it unsaid and hanging in the air between us. This song was his sneaky way of whispering it to me so he didn’t have to say the words himself out loud. And once, when we were lying in bed, he was spelling out words on my back with his fingertip, I was softly murmuring them back to him. When he traced “I love you” onto my skin, I closed my eyes and reached for his mouth and the sweetness without acknowledging that I had heard him and understood.

Why are you so far away? he said
Why won’t you ever know that I’m in love with you

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48 Comments

  1. For me, feeling like you do would be sad. But, I am not you…and I get it. It is special and you treat it that way.

    I also did not hear the words much as a child either. I am the opposite now. I say it all the time to those I love. Perhaps it began when I had children. They will never look back and say they did not hear it often. They heard it every single day (and still do). My slave hears it every day as well…and I was quite quick to tell him when I first realized.

    this reminds me of that writing I did about not be ‘mysterious’…lol. I am all out there, vomiting my feelings to all in my path. ;)

    Hell, I just realized I say it to my best girlfriend as well – fairly regular. Damn…I am just quite the affectionate bitch.

    It is just another way that you are fascinating, deep & serious. And the truth is – as you know from your childhood…the words are not nearly as important as the actions that show it.

    -MK

    1. *smile* I actually wondered if some people might find it sad, and I can understand why it might feel that way, but I think that because I *am* reserved in many ways, it makes me consider the weight and consequences of words that are meant to really mean something.

      To me, saying it out loud feels like a promise and I need to know that I can keep that promise before I make it.

      I think there are some people who have an almost infinite capacity to fall in love and saying so is a joyful sharing (I’m thinking of poly folks, or those who are so open that they genuinely fall in love easily and often and with their whole hearts). I have a kind of envy for those people. I know I am not one.

      Also, I like ‘fascinating, deep & serious’ much better than ‘stingy’ *laugh*. Thank you!

      Ferns

  2. I played that song for C. this week. I, too, have been reluctant to say those words for as long as I have been alive. I can’t even tell my family. Now, I say “I love you,” to C. at least twice a day, morning and night. It’s not a conscious decision I make. I can’t keep it inside of me.

  3. You always have exactly the words to describe how I feel. I agree, taking the words “I love you” back is a terrible betrayal…one that I wouldn’t wish on anybody, especially somebody I care about at all.

    I say it to my friends all of the time, and I truly love them, but the romantic variety has never come from my lips…it’s too sacred to fling around.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

      I have said it three times in my life, and I still love all three of them. They are all still in my life, even if it’s in the periphery. The love has changed from the romantic kind into something else, but it feels right to me that it is still there in a different form.

      Ferns

  4. A very interesting post. I share your reticence for saying “I love you” but my reason may be slightly different.

    Like you, I never heard those words while growing up. It was usually just: “Shut up! *smack*”. As the whole idea of love was never really a big part of my growing up, I just had to make it up as I went along.

    Over time, I started to view love, not as a feeling, but rather as a decision. To tell someone that you love them is not telling them how you feel about them. It means telling them that you will support them, put their needs on par with yours, to be there when they need you and to provide for their comfort and safety… even at times when you don’t feel like it. This is a deeper commitment than the romantic feeling of being “in love”. I think that love can begin with affection and romance, but cannot be constrained by mere feelings, and while I have been “in love” and had crushes before, to take that next big step demands a level of trust that I am loath to commit to.

    On the rare occasion that someone tells me that they love me, I automatically see it as a shallow affectation and count it as a fleeting will-o’-the-wisp that could disappear as quickly as it came.

    Until time passes, and trust is built, I try to keep my feelings in check so as not to let them lead me into a situation where the thing I have come to think of as love is wasted in a no win situation.

    1. Now that *does* sound sad. Thank you for sharing it, and your reticence in saying it is understandable.

      “On the rare occasion that someone tells me that they love me, I automatically see it as a shallow affectation and count it as a fleeting will-o’-the-wisp that could disappear as quickly as it came.”

      *nod* And see, I want it to be abundantly clear that if I ever say it, the person I say it to can trust that I’ve not said it lightly or on a whim.

      Ferns

  5. I’m sort of in agreement here.

    Firstly the word ‘love’ is far too mushy and imprecise in a Western culture that has been dominated by Christianity’s interpretation of the word.

    The Greeks were more precise, and had at least six different words to cover different nuances and situations – philia, ludus, pragma, agape, philautia, and of course our old friend eros (all of which you can Wiki for a fuller explanation).

    Does it make sense to use the same word for a spouse, a child, a Mistress, a favourite food or author, a football team, or a political ideal?

    I once had to talk a potential suicide down off a roof because of lost ‘love’, and when I met her years later, we both wondered what all the fuss was about.

    I’ve got far more time for concepts like caring, mindfulness, and respect, because they’ve got a longer shelf life and are less conflicted.

    Priests in Portugal in the 16th and 17th century burned thousands of my people at the stake because they ‘loved’ them so much they wanted to save their souls. They could never have claimed that they respected them by so doing.

    As for my Mistress, I prefer the word ‘worship’ because that’s a much more accurate reflection of the emotion I feel, and what I’m prepared to do to prove it.

    1. Ahhh… a different take, thank you for it.

      I think the word *is* imprecise and many horrific things have been done in the name of love.

      “I love you, but I’m not *in* love with you” is the worst declaration EVER. There should just be a different word for each of them.

      I am not of the same mind as you about the concept of love though. I adore it, I believe in it, I feel it.

      My thoughts are more about placing importance on saying the words out loud and what that means to both the one who says it and the one who hears it.

      “As for my Mistress, I prefer the word ‘worship’ because that’s a much more accurate reflection of the emotion I feel, and what I’m prepared to do to prove it.”

      *smile* I’m glad you found a way of expressing your feelings that works for you and for your Mistress.

      Ferns

    2. Hello Grumpy!

      I was wondering about classical times too.

      Their gods were freer in their sexual relations than the people. Why? Because the people made up their tales about the gods when they the people themselves were freer in their sexual relations. Later when the people lived in towns life got more complex and strict. Life got civilised. Customs grew less free (at least for the women – not so much for the men) but poems about the gods record a more carefree time.

      Satan

  6. This hits too close to home (how do you keep doing that?). It’s one thing to confess fondness or desire or being smitten, even obsession or limerence, but the word love either means too much (apotheosis of romantic affection!) or hardly counts as a word since no two people ever seem to mean the same thing by it.

    An ex gave me a book (Written on the Body) that puts it well: “I don’t like to think of myself as an insincere person but if I say I love you and I don’t mean it then what else am I? Will I cherish you, adore you, make way for you, make myself better for you, look at you and always see you, tell you the truth? And if love is not those things then what things?”

    1. “…but the word love either means too much (apotheosis of romantic affection!) or hardly counts as a word since no two people ever seem to mean the same thing by it”

      *smile* Yes, I tend to think this way also. A big part of my reluctance to say it is about sincerity (not just now, but ‘forever’, and I kind of know it seems ridiculous) and the other is about *meaning*.

      I like your quote from that book: “If love is not those things, then what things?”

      Ferns

  7. I love (ha) to see how different people interpret the phrase. Outside of romance, I fling ‘I love you’s around, not – in my mind – casually, but easily and often. In romance, I avoid saying it because I appreciate that men may interpret it as a promise, a commitment, exclusivity, whatever. But apart from to their faces, I also frequently profess to love men. Maybe someday I’ll feel something crazy new and different for someone and write a song about it! But I can only feel what I feel, and to me, ‘love’ seems accurate.

    I’ve been told by close friends fairly often, actually, that I don’t ‘really’ love so-and-so, and this annoys me to no end. I’m quite sure most people who read this comment will write me off as ‘someone who’s never been in love’, and that annoys me less.

    1. “In romance, I avoid saying it because I appreciate that men may interpret it as a promise, a commitment, exclusivity, whatever.”

      Yep, shared meaning is huge. I mean, really nobody wants to follow “I love you” with a big discussion about “Yes, but what do you MEAN?”

      “I’ve been told by close friends fairly often, actually, that I don’t ‘really’ love so-and-so, and this annoys me to no end.”

      Ha! I’ll bet. I assume it’s because their version of love doesn’t match yours. And it really doesn’t matter if it does or doesn’t. It only matters that you and your paramour understand it in the same way.

      Everyone else can suck it!

      Ferns

  8. Another beautiful, thoughtful, introspective post as usual, Ferns. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us. I truly hope you find the relationship where saying “it” doesn’t seem so scary and iffy, but instead, just feels necessary.

    I think it takes most folks a while to get there (IF they care At ALL about the words that they say), and that it takes those of us that think a lot (and maybe that think too much… ;-P ), even longer! My wife of now 23 years was ready to dump me after our first 3 years together because I hadn’t proposed yet! I had to realize I couldn’t love anyone “more” or “better” than I did her, and that it would indeed be forever (Of course, she didn’t tell me this until AFTER I finally got around to proposing…) In spite of that conclusion to my extended thought process…there were still times after we wed that we’d look at each other like we had never met that other person before (sometimes for good, sometimes for ill), and yes, there are times we each question that choice to be forever, but I’ve found those times are fewer and farther between after surviving the first decade with one another!

    Cheers!

    p.s. I had to get off my lurking tower and write for a change, because this song (the original) is my favorite song of all time! The cover is a nice one, though!

    1. Thank you for delurking with your thoughtful comment and the lovely compliment.

      Congratulations to you and your wife for your 23 years. And I do like your conclusion that those of us who think a lot (too much!) are slower with weighing up things like that. It’s both a positive AND a negative trait at different times.

      I have said I love you once in every decade since my teens. I have a few years left before I run out of time in this one *smile*.

      I actually love (heh) this version of the song even more than the original (heresy!).

      Ferns

  9. Great post, Ferns. It resonates well with me – my last few partners we rarely (if ever) said the dreaded three-word-phrase, and I haven’t given it quite as much thought as you just did.

    I sometimes wonder if you’re helping me form new opinions, or if you are just describing opinions I’ve already had! (Insidious!)

    Your last paragraph there, about the drawing on skin… It’s tender and sweet, but also heartbreaking in a way. *gets sand in eye*

    1. Thanks Andy, I’m glad you could relate.

      “my last few partners we rarely (if ever) said the dreaded three-word-phrase, and I haven’t given it quite as much thought as you just did.”

      I think a lot of people avoid saying it and I think there are a million different reasons why.

      I think I have been lucky in that I can’t remember it ever being an issue in a relationship, but I can imagine cases where it might become a huge source of tension.

      “I sometimes wonder if you’re helping me form new opinions, or if you are just describing opinions I’ve already had! (Insidious!)”

      Ha! I am just plucking them straight out of your brain, fucking with them a bit, then shoving them back in! Insidious indeed…

      “Your last paragraph there, about the drawing on skin… It’s tender and sweet, but also heartbreaking in a way. *gets sand in eye*”

      *smile* Yes, absolutely heartbreakingly sweet! Here, let me get that sand for you…

      Ferns

  10. Oh Ferns, I don’t think it’s sad at all.

    It’s rather heroic really, to bite your tongue until you feel you can stand behind those words.

    I’ve felt the brunt of those words taken back and it’s bitter as hell. I would much rather be told them by someone who really means them (and is willing to stand behind them). It makes “I love you” taste all that much sweeter.

    You’ll know when the time is right to whisper that phrase into yet another eagerly waiting ear.

    1. “Oh Ferns, I don’t think it’s sad at all.”

      Good! It doesn’t *feel* sad. It feels like integrity (even if it’s a skewed kind).

      “I’ve felt the brunt of those words taken back and it’s bitter as hell.”

      *nod* Yes, I can imagine.

      I remember asking my first love years after it was over whether what we had experienced was love. We were young when we were together, and she fell in love again before I did, so she had something to compare it to. I needed to know that it was real, that I hadn’t got it wrong, that I hadn’t lied about it when I said it out loud. She reassured me that yes, it was. I felt.. relieved, which even at the time I found strange, but that’s what it was: relief that I what I had felt was true and that I hadn’t lied.

      Strange really.

      “You’ll know when the time is right to whisper that phrase into yet another eagerly waiting ear.”

      *smile* I will, I’m sure!

      Ferns

  11. IMHO, I think saying “I love you” is very important. It is a practice My family has.

    Those were the last We shared, that night before I closed My eyes for sleep. The very last words He ever spoke.

    And for His son, as he went off to boyscout camp, he heard them too, the last thing his Daddy would ever say to him.

    For Me they are easy words to say to the people I care about. There are different kinds and degrees of love, but they all are important.

    One never knows when it will be the last words to say or be said.

    Jewels

    1. Oh, I’m so glad that you and his son both said it often and heard it often. I am sure that’s a comfort to you, and to him.

      And I agree, there are different kinds of love and they ARE all important.

      I’m glad it comes easily to you and that it has served you and the ones you love so well.

      Ferns

  12. I often wonder if it’s our upbringing that influences how we feel about saying “I Love You”

    I know I’m more along the lines of Jewels.. saying I love you is very important to me. It’s not a phrase I throw around casually, but once I know the feeling is there… I use it freely and often with that person.

    But I also think loving someone and being compatible for a long happy life together are two different things. Love isn’t a promise to me, it’s not a till death do we part kind of thing to me. Love is an emotion I feel towards a person. Once I feel it, I say it.

    But then, I don’t “take back” love. I may end a relationship for various reasons, but it doesn’t stop the love.

    1. I am sure upbringing has to be in there somewhere. I blame my parents for *everything*!!

      “Love isn’t a promise to me, it’s not a till death do we part kind of thing to me. Love is an emotion I feel towards a person. Once I feel it, I say it.”

      I’d guess that this is more common. It makes sense. You feel it, you say it. I just can’t do it when I’m not SURE.

      I think I have given the words too much weight in many ways, but it’s how I feel, so it is what it is.

      “But then, I don’t “take back” love. I may end a relationship for various reasons, but it doesn’t stop the love.”

      I still love those who I have said it to, and they are still in my life in some way, even though the love has changed. I feel happy about that. That seems right to me.

      Ferns

  13. Romantic love? A feeling that you will sacrifice almost anything not too lose your sex partner? It is a great topic. I do not feel that I can do it justice, especilly not in a comment.

    It could hardly exist much back in the day. Then its main place was in illicit sex. Why? Because marriages were arranged for convenience, wealth and control. They were bound to be. Dad may say that you may not marry below your wealth and rank – if you marry her then Dad may cut off your inheritance – then Dad is controlling. Still Dad may not mind much if you just sleep with her on the sly but marry some one suitable.

    Our rebell fight for more  freedom is also our fight for love.

    And what do we see? Popular music and dance needs to suit our mood for more freedom. Pop music and dance is kind of rebellious and free. Its roots include Celtic and black tribal mood and beat. At least simple communities were a bit less controlled than “civillisation”.

    Satan

      1. So sorry Ferns,

        I’m not writing the whole history of love.

        But I’m making one point.

        I’m talking about folk who were descended from simple communities. I mean communities who were not so civilised or not civilised so early and so were at least a bit more carefree.

        “…it became customary in the Netherlands much earlier than elsewhere for young people to choose their own spouses…”

        That’s what Mr. Google says. I use this for an example. The people of the Netherlands and your people Ferns, the Dutch people, are of the Netherlands. They realised a bit more personal freedom than other people elsewhere? Is that true Ferns?

        Again:

        “…it became customary in the Netherlands much earlier than elsewhere for young people to choose their own spouses…”

        Has that inherited personal freedom anything to do with the history of love?

        Satan

        1. I am not sure if our fight for freedoms is a fight for love as much as a fight for rights.

          And I don’t know about the Dutch. I was born in Australia, and I get the impression that the Dutch are actually much more ‘civilised’ than us (that is, bound by more social rules, albeit different ones). I do think that they have a more casual attitude to many things to do with sex (an impression only from casual experiences and their more liberal laws), but how that relates to how they view love (if they can be considered as a cultural homogeny) is a mystery.

          Ferns

        2. Satan says that the freedom to be with the one you love is very much to do with love.

          “…it became customary in the Netherlands much earlier than elsewhere for young people to choose their own spouses…”

          Yes the Dutch are a mix of peoples. Satan still stands by his comments. Long ago what we call the Netherlands were settled by tribes called Celts. I am sure that their women were not free to choose their own husbands. But their women were still much freer than Roman women. Romans conquered and settled part of the Netherlands. The Celts soon copied the Roman ways. Next the Netherlands were conquered and settled by Germanic tribes. Again I’m sure their women were not free to choose their own husbands either. But again their women were still much freer than Roman women. This time your mostly Celtic peoples in the Netherlands copied the Germanic ways. People often tend to copy their rulers. So this Germanic tribal root does help to explain Dutch ways a lot. I notice for instance that Dutch is a Germanic language.

          Satan

  14. The irony of the timeliness of this post does not escape me. I have very recently had this struggle of these words and the messages they convey. We agreed not to fall in love, yet when I hold myself back, it feels disingenous to us both.
    I’ve always loved deep, never afraid to proclaim it and always carried a piece when it was over. This is different and I am struggling.
    Thanks for sharing…and making me see a different side.

    1. Oh no, ‘agreeing not to fall in love’ seems to me to be an impossibility in terms of making an agreement about a relationship. If it’s working well, I can understand why you might struggle to keep that sort of bargain.

      It seems to me that the truth of those agreements often ends up being to never *say* that you have fallen in love (something I, obviously, wouldn’t have too much trouble with… heh).

      I do hope it works out for you both.

      Ferns

  15. Between two good people the words “I love you” feel too good even when just tongue in cheek, the wine or the heat of the sex. Please try to have fun with the words. When you fall in love the words will not be tired. The words always scrub up new. See I’ll prove it.

    I love you

    Satan

    PS:

    Keep on your guard with school boys.

    S.

    1. Ahh see Satan… as trustworthy as you are, I just don’t believe you… What do you MEAN by that?

      You see how this works?

      Or doesn’t?

      Ferns

      1. What do I mean by I love you? I mean I love you of course! That and I’m trying to amuse you. That and I’m reaching out for a response from you. That and I’m in two minds about if you want to feel more at ease with the words. That and to me, I love you can be a fun thing to say and much happier than I hate you. That and its a bit like saying:

        I trust you,

        Satan

        1. That and also when ever I hear “Thou Shalt Not” a part of me always says “Go Ahead”. Be a Devil. I have no idea why that is. Some women say they love you and try to get you to love them just so they can muck you about. That’s not you. And I’m nothing like that either. I do say the words with some guilt. They are powerful. When someone says to me “I love you” I feel my heart start to turn into jelly. Its still good though.

          Satan

      2. Ahh, Satan, but ‘I love you’ is too important a phrase for amusement or to replace other words.

        I am not really concerned about the way I use the words, though. I want to conserve their power for me, and that will change if I use them more, say them too easily. I do know that’s not the norm, but I am not sure I want to change it because it fits who I am.

        Ferns

  16. Just noticed that I had too much wine when I was here earlier especilly as I was trying to spell “civillisation”…

    S.

  17. You say it in so many ways, beautifully, speaking the words then confirms the apparent. Not to deny the risk felt. It should be not guessed, but known already in both direction, never said lightly, but said when the time is right or lost.

    1. I see you got that avatar working now! Hello there! *smile*

      I have no problem showing love that I feel, and I often feel it strongly in waves well before the point where I trust it enough to say it out loud. I expect (and hope) that my last felt completely loved and adored, even if I never said it.

      Ferns

  18. This is actually something I too have felt for a long time. Since the day when I was in college and someone said basically the same thing to me about saying “I love you”. I tread lightly with those words because I know how people can take them and run away with them. If I say I love you, it means I really do and I don’t have expectations that you will go all bonkers about it.

    Thank you for your blog. I am just now exploring it after being guided here by someone on tumbr (thank you Mistress Sussanna).

    1. “I tread lightly with those words because I know how people can take them and run away with them.”

      Yes that’s a big one for me too.

      And I’m delighted that Mistress Sussanna pointed you here. Welcome!

      Ferns

  19. I am sure that if he went to put himself out there enough to draw it upon Your back knowing how You are about the issue then he felt Your love..and not feeling love back is far more sad then to not hear the words. The worst feeling in the world is to love someone who does not love you back, not to not hear it.

    brattyboi

    1. *smile* I think you make a great point.

      What I felt for him was strong, passionate, all-encompassing and I demonstrated that constantly and effusively in different ways. I have no doubt he felt it.

      Ferns

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