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.
I rarely take it back. I have people I used to be involved with romantically that kinda circle the outskirts of my life from time to time, checking in, being friendly. Or at least I suppose that’s what they’re doing, it might be far more complicated or nefarious but it hurts my brain to over suspect people. One of them I have spent the last few days with, hanging out, talking, checking in via email/phone whatever. He has a difficult time this time of year and I know that so…I check in. I used to say “I love you”. I used to be romantically involved. I’m not any longer and I no longer say it but I have certainly never taken it back. I did love him in that time and that love, those emotions, they still exist although they have changed, morphed into something different and less raw. It is the only way I could bear to have him in my life, he is too destructive otherwise.
But I never took it back and I never will. It was what it was and now it has changed but that change does not invalidate what went before.
Ahh, you make a great distinction here.
I meant taking back as in saying ‘it was true before, but now it’s not’ as opposed to saying ‘it was never true’ which I think is more where you were heading.
I think I was really unclear on that now that I’m reading back (ugh, I hate that!).
Because I think of ‘I love you’ as floating there in perpetuity, when I talk about my fear of ‘taking it back’, I’m picturing plucking it out of existence at THAT point in time, not unravelling everything that came before.
In thinking more about this, it’s clearer to say this:
For me, if it doesn’t last forever, it wasn’t love.
It’s erroneous and destructive thinking, but there it is. So love exists forever and if it doesn’t, it clearly wasn’t love.
So when I say ‘plucking it out of existence at THAT point in time’, because of the way I think about it, I AM in essence negating what came before. Not in an ‘I didn’t mean it’ kind of way but in an ‘if it didn’t last forever, how could it really have been love?’ kind of way.
So maybe the distinction ISN’T clear in my mind and that’s why it isn’t clear in my writing.
Thank you for making me think about it some more.
I think you’re a bit like my husband. I asked him once why he didn’t talk about any of his ex girlfriends when we met. He gave me the oddest look and said “There were none. I met girls I was friends with and whose company I enjoyed but I knew I was never going to marry them so what was the point of going further?”. And I replied, baffled ” But I’m your girlfriend. ” and he said “Exactly.” We were married a year later and have been together fifteen years as of tomorrow.
It wasn’t that he didn’t find anyone else interesting or care about them. He did it’s just that until that thread that bound them and attracted him was strong enough to be “love” which to him meant “forever” there was simply no purpose in moving beyond the casual.
Someone asked me once why I loved him (in a nice way, they were letting me babble about my sweetie) and I was stumped. That’s not how I work. I finally came up with “I guess I love him because he’s him and well, I’m me and once I knew him it didn’t seem like there could be any other outcome.”.
Even between two people who love each other there can be such different views on it and what it means. Ultimately, what likely matters is whose gonna show up at your birthday with a gift of your favorite wine, warm funny socks and a promise of forever when they look at you.
What a lovely comment about your relationship, thank you so much for it *smile*.
I’m a bit the other way compared with our husband, though. It’s not that I didn’t love the ones who didn’t last forever, it’s that I love them STILL. Even if the relationship didn’t work out. So it feels like I spoke a truth when I said it.
A Christmas present arrived today from the first man I ever loved some 25 years ago, and it melts my heart. There is still a thread of that love we had that connects us. And I adore that.
For me, love is a promise. It may change, grow, go through cycles of bloom and then return to seed. It can be born, nourished, and encouraged to grow.
It can wither.
It can die.
It is a living entity. To say the words out loud is not something I’ve done often or well. Show, not tell. Truth is in action.
Those I’ve loved, I *still* love. But loving someone and being in love with them… Two different concepts, no? And neither necessarily equates to coupledom, to Togetherness.
The one I was smart enough not to marry, and the one I was brave enough to meet at the end of the aisle… I love them both. And I’ve experienced being IN LOVE them both. The one who fractured my heart, who walked away without a word… Yes, I loved him. I still do. And I love the one who came after, who – in his sweet and lovely way – kisses the scars his predecessor left behind and makes me thankful for the pain, because without it there would be no Us.
Will any relationship last forever?
It’s a beautiful ideal, however impractical.
But love? Real love? The promise I make… Once it’s given, it simply IS. And for me, that promise is forever.
Just as people change as they mature, and become different versions of themselves over time, so too does love. I refuse to take it back.
Thank you so much for this.
This resonates: YES.
Of the (very few) people I have said ‘I love you’ to, I love them still. I still say it to them. Even if the form of that love has changed, it is a thread that is still unbroken between us. I consider that kind of thing ‘worthy’ of the words.
And it seems to me that unless I feel like that can and will happen, I can’t say it.
My last submissive is no longer in my life. I never said it to him. I think I was right not to even though I wonder if he wasn’t one of the most significant relationships of my life. Regardless, I feel as if the thread is broken not because I feel less, but because… I don’t even know why. It wasn’t strong enough to call it love, and when I say that I don’t mean the feeling, I mean that it wasn’t strong enough for us to fight to keep that thread intact.
My first love from 25 years ago is still in touch with me, with sweetness and care. He just told me that he sent me Christmas presents and a card to my family. It was love, it still is. The thread between us will be there forever.
To me, that thread is what ‘real love’ looks like.
I envy those who genuinely love freely and completely without reservation and then drift away because for them love is this moment and that one and they throw themselves into it with everything they have.
I can throw many things into a relationship that are strong and powerful and intense, but I can’t call it love until it feels like that thread is made of titanium fibres.
Yes, yes and yes! Great piece and I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment. The people that we love are pieces to the whole of a bigger puzzle that is ourselves. When it is given, that piece is forever there. We may need to go out and find more pieces to be whole, but that doesn’t diminish what was there before, it is cumulative.
Ahh, I agree and disagree.
There are ‘people that we love’.
And there are ‘people to whom we say ‘I love you”.
For me, the first is a much bigger group than the second.
Interesting thoughts. Thank you for sharing, I never thought about it this way before.
As you lay it out, I am feeling like it is too idealistic to fit my experience, since I have never felt it in this “durable” way. But that may be because I don’t see a strong qualitative demarcation between the variety of people I love?
For me, love has always seemed to be shades of grey, if you will. I love people at a variety of levels, some as a sister, some as a friend, some as a really good friend, some as a lover, some as one to marry or live with. And, it feels like they could potentially shift “love levels”, if I and that person were to want to change the relationship.
Maybe the way to say it is to say that the difference between these ways of loving has never been clear to me, at least in terms of the label “love”. It seems more related to the people involved and the relationship they create. It is not some independent thing that happens. Certainly I feel a stronger attraction to some than others, but it seems that more than attraction is needed for me to say I love you. But I am not sure what all is needed…
Somewhat related, I think, I have never felt that there is only one true love for me. Rather it seems there are many potential partners if the other person wanted to explore a relationship. Perhaps like the way trust develops? Not sure, I need to think more about that too.
I guess I view “love” or “I love you” as a slippery concept, that it can change as the two people change, it can be nurtured, and it can slip away. And that there are many people that I can find I love, but that will depend on them as well as me, either of which could change over time, and either of which could work to make it so, or not.
Perhaps different people feel differently about love, like different personality types (say Meyers-Briggs) look at the world differently?
There is a lot to think about, I think I will be pondering this for a while…
“Perhaps different people feel differently about love, like different personality types (say Meyers-Briggs) look at the world differently?”
Absolutely they do. And it MEANS different things to different people.
Those who say it easily and often and mean it with everything they have to give, but who can then can let it go without too much trouble will struggle to communicate well with those who say it rarely and only if it has permanence because they each experience it in a very different way.
And I am excluding non-romantic love from all of this. That’s a different animal.
Love… Is there a more difficult “thing” to understand, explain, discuss? I wasn’t sure how I would explain what I’m thinking so I looked up the “types of love”. It seems we cannot even agree on how many types of love there are. I saw “experts” that said there are 3 or 4 or 10 types of love. I’ve heard it described as a biological response, a chemical response, an emotional response, a responsibility and as a choice.
For me it can be the most exciting, calming, confusing and miserable feeling I can have. I don’t fall out of love, the love changes. I never understood how people can go from love to hate. I was married for 13 years and my ex-wife came out as being lesbian. Was I hurt? Yes! Did I hate? No. Do I still love her? Yes, but not in the same way. She is still the mother of my children. She is still one of my best friends.
I apologize, I’m rambling. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t say “I love you” easily but I don’t wait until I know it will last forever. Forever is a long time. If I wait until I know it will last forever, I will wait forever because something can always happen that makes things change.
Oddly, I can understand how love can turn to hate. I think intensity of emotion can change direction and still be as intense (thin line and all that).
When you said ‘I don’t fall out of love, the love changes’, then say ‘I don’t wait until I know it will last forever’, it seems contradictory.
If you don’t fall out of love, even if the love changes, then it lasts forever, no?
Pardon my piggy-backing on this conversation…
Love/Hate seem, to me, heads and tails of the same coin. The currency being Intense Emotion. Whether you love someone or hate them, the fact remains that you are emotionally vested.
So I don’t believe that love is the opposite is hate, or vice versa. The opposite of love *and* hate, is indifference.
Edit: opposite OF hate
You are right, what I said is contradictory. What I meant is I don’t wait until I know the romantic, passionate love will last forever.
Thanks for keeping me clear.
Exactly Ferns too often I love you means as much as “oh hi” these days
And I’m always baffled by people who say it thoughtlessly. And by ‘thoughtlessly’, I mean that I hear all the time ‘ha ha I said ‘I love you’ to the pizza guy before I hung up because I always say that to my partner’: it can so easily become a mindless (meaningless) habit.
I love at the drop of a hat. I love everyone and everything. I love animals. I love friends. I love lovers with every inch of me. I love too hard and much too deep for my own good.
I do make distinctions in love. There are levels of love–even in my constant deep swoon, there are levels. There are depths and differences and lines that I draw with weak toes in wet sand.
I am extremely careful in romantic relationships not to say those all important three little words too soon, or with too much emotion, unless I really feel them. I would say I never take it back, but if someone wounds me deep enough, my heart turns to ice as quick as a flash and that person is dead to me. It doesn’t matter how deeply I once felt, they don’t exist to me.
I have been excused of lying about loving someone before, because I realized I didn’t love them as much as they loved me. Love is tricky that way–if someone “loves you more” than it can get very hairy, very fast (although I despise this concept of articulating some kind of quantification of love–I wrote rather recently about relationship collateral, and it offends me to my marrow).
On the other side of the coin… I am forever the hypocrite. I don’t want anyone to tell me they love me unless they can commit that part of themselves to me in some way. It’s unfair and callous… but I fear so much… abandonment… losing people… having love stolen away from me–I struggled for a *very* long time to understand that I am worthy of the love someone can give me, but still I shudder when people tell me they love me, because… well. It’s a failing of no one but myself, I just wonder if anyone will be able to love me enough? It sounds selfish, but I have quite the gaping hole that needs filling. I don’t expect a person to fill that hole for me. Part of that empty space is my own responsibility. But still I am… reserved with saying these words, and nervous about hearing them as well from a romantic partner.
Such a thought provoking post, Ferns. :)
Bloody hell. Accused, not excused. Sigh. Long nails, touch screen “smart phones,” and idiot autocorrect.
Such great thoughts, thank you for them.
The hypocritical aspect of it is fascinating to me.
I know that because of the way I view it, I am really reluctant to hear it from partners because ‘don’t say that shit unless you MEAN it in the way I do’. I’ve heard it too many times when it meant something else even though they may have been perfectly sincere in their own hearts.
And if someone says it, it’s really hard to give them a steely look and say, “What do you MEAN?” *laugh*.
Which also raises the issue of negating someone’s feelings which is pretty much a dick move. It’s tricky space to navigate.
Going off to read your piece about relationship collateral.
(okay, I couldn’t find that piece: do you mind sharing a link please?)
“If it wasn’t forever, it wasn’t love.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Sometimes people say it too soon. You’re kinda supposed to say it at some point (women like to hear it.) I was married to two women I didn’t love (and who didn’t love me), and we must have said it at some point. Pro forma.
With my one true love (now that I know what that is) it will be forever. (A thought she might react to with skepticism.) I’m home, we are one. But we took our time. We didn’t kiss until well over a year after meeting, and the L word came a bit after that. We had to learn each other.
People think of love as an emotional, intuitive, impulsive thing. I’m not like that; for me (and I think for her), it is of the mind. We don’t reason or will ourselves to it, but we understand it. For it to stop, a fundamental part of who I am would have to change. And I’m too old for that.
Thank you for that, and I’m so glad you’ve found her (and she, you).
I DO think of love as emotional AND intuitive, but not impulsive. If that wasn’t the case, my rational brain could logically find a good match and decide to be in love with him. Voila: done! :P.
It’s difficult because we all want and need to be loved. So when we have love “taken away” or it vanishes for whatever reasons then it also brings along a lot of other feelings such as anger, doubt, etc. So it’s not just the feeling of love being gone but the overwhelming flood of all the other feelings that replace it too.
I will say I love you to particular people. Such as particular friends. However, I KNOW with those people that even if something happens we are no longer friends or something I really do still love them and wish them well. I don’t take it away. It stays with me.
I told Darksoul I would always love her. Part of me wishes I would never have put it the way I had because it cost me so much. However, it’s still true to this day. I do still love her, despite everything. A part of me always will.
I also believe there are different “levels” of love (for lack of better word). However, that’s not the point of your post.
I do think you should mean it when you say it because it’s not something that’s given or taken lightly. Yes, I also believe it can vanish or one day someone realizes they were wrong. The heart is tricky that way. However, as ironclad as it should be I think that if you honestly feel it you should say it because the other person “who should know you love them” may need to hear it anyways.