One of the reasons I balk at saying ‘I love you’ is because when it’s not true any more, it’s as if I lied. There is some sappy ‘love is forever’ behind that thought. Even though I’m not sappy.
I’m reading the writings of a woman who was in love with a man who said he loved her. Then he broke up with her. The details are complicated and not relevant to my thoughts: what resonates for me is her overwhelming hurt and confusion over how he could love her, and then not.
“You said you loved me last week, how can you not love me now?”
The words “I love you” carry a heft and a gravitas that few others can match.
In the pain over the fact that whatever he feels for her isn’t going to keep them together, she is questioning what was real and what wasn’t because she can’t conceive of the idea that he was in love with her and suddenly now he’s not. If she can’t believe that’s true, then the only other possibility is that he never felt it, that the times he said it were a lie.
I’m honestly not sure which is worse: to believe that love can just disappear quickly and without apparent reason, or to believe that all the times you heard it were a lie.
But I understand the hurt and anguish in it if you are one who weighs those words carefully and with some trepidation and who then trusts in them as a golden truth.
Maybe the truth is that a genuine and sincere ‘I love you’ can only exist for a moment and in that moment, it’s the truest thing that ever existed or will ever exist, full of all the depth and meaning that a heart can conceive of, pure and clear and powerful.
And then the moment passes and it slips away.
And then you strive for the next moment that feels just like that one and you are inspired to say it again.
And in the best most holy of cases, those moments are strung together like Christmas lights and they all turn on in unison and stretch across what looks like forever.
But then maybe one day you strive for the next moment and it never arrives. And if you say ‘I love you’ then, you are playing a historical audio reel for yourself and for them, casting back into the archives to dig it up and dust it off and it falls out of your mouth pretending to be fresh and new instead of ashy and long dead.
Love can slip away. It often does. I know that.
And sometimes you can look back and say ‘I thought it was love, but it wasn’t’ which is a terrible trick of the heart, both for you and for them.
I foolishly think I should say ‘I love you’ only if I can guarantee it as if it’s some ironclad agreement that I am signing in triplicate with my own blood. I know it’s ridiculous. I know that. But I can’t bear the idea that I gave that to someone and then later took it back as if I’m some untrustworthy liar sneaking in and stealing back the most precious thing I’ve ever given them.
“Oh that old thing. Sorry, that was a mistake. Ha ha.”
Do I feel love? I do, of course. And if my partner doesn’t feel all of the weight I throw behind the intensity of emotion I aim at him, he is long dead and I am involved with a corpse. But I won’t say it unless I feel like we have ‘forever’ in our grasp. Perhaps unrealistic, but still true enough.
If I say it, I’m not taking it back.