Spoonbill and I recently had a conversation about when you should say “I love you” in a relationship. There are probably more opinions on this topic than there are definitions of the word itself. And for the record, dictionary.com lists 27 definitions of the word love. I won’t type them all here because that would be tedious and unnecessary. Instead I will provide you with my own rambling thoughts on the subject. (Which may also be tedious and unnecessary but I’m going to labour under the happy delusion that everything I write is fascinating and wonderful instead).
Love Defined by Ibis
1. to really really like something, experience delight and joy as a result of it and be ready for more of it at all times: I love banana bread
2. to feel a strong affection towards your friends and family: I love Spoonbill
3. to feel passionate about someone that you are committed to having a long-term relationship with, during which time their happiness will be as equally important to you as your own: I love Mr. Smart-and-Sexy (note: imaginary character…does not currently exist for me)
Let’s take the above as our working definition of love. Yes, I only defined love as a verb and left out definitions as a noun and the delightful collection of idioms and mysterious “verb phrases” that dictionary.com included. (“Love up” made the list and apparently means to hug and cuddle! I shall be using this on someone as soon as possible. Ex. It’s raining and I’m watching Pride and Prejudice for the millionth time. Please come over and love me up. Bring ice cream.) But I digress.
Spoonbill told me that when you say “I love you” in a relationship, you are talking about definition number three. And when you say it, it represents your relationship reaching a certain plateau. She doesn’t believe that you can un-love someone when you are talking about definition number three. (Spoonbill, please feel free to correct me here if any parts of my interpretation of our conversation need redefining in a “Love Defined by Spoonbill” post). Other people use timelines as their rule of thumb to determine when it should be said. Six months, eight months, one year. But the general idea on this side of the spectrum is: do NOT fuck around when you’re saying “I love you” to your significant other. Love is serious business.
I understand and respect this opinion. Love is serious business indeed. The overwhelming majority of the posts on this blog are written about the pursuit of love or the loss of love or the frustrations of love and so on. When it comes to definition number three, I also do not fuck around.
But when saying “I love you” to a significant other, I am notorious for dropping the L-bomb way early. Another person makes me feel a rush of happiness/pleasure/sheer unadulterated joy and I want, nay – need, to express it. And thus far, I have not found another way to adequately describe what I am feeling to the other person. I’ve tried: I really really really like you, you make me unbelievably happy, you are indescribably wonderful, I am having the greatest time with you, you’re the cookies to my clods, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That just doesn’t cut it.
For example, I tried as hard as I could to suppress my urge to say “I love you” for as long as possible when I was dating Jack, because I understood that he was in the serious business camp when it came to I-love-yous and I wanted to respect that. But I didn’t last very long. We probably started dating in November, let’s say I wanted to say it by December and by February I had cracked and said it. He balked and didn’t reciprocate the sentiment until a week or so later. (On Valentine’s Day. Which I personally thought was kind of lame. A little spontaneity feels more genuine to me. And by then, I don’t think I was even concerned about him saying it back or not. I was just so relieved that I had finally said it to him.) In the time leading up to me saying it, I was an emotional wreck. After we had sex I would lie there with him wanting to say it so badly, knowing that I had to bite my tongue. This would make me feel so frustrated that I would start to tear up and then of course he would say something like, “Oh my god what’s wrong? What have I done to make you cry?” And I’d always say, “Nothing at all, I’m really happy and these tears are absolutely nothing to worry about.” And he would say, “Ok but it is really upsetting to see you on the verge of tears after every time we have sex.” And I would say, “Ok let’s stop talking about it and just have sex again.” Lather, rinse, repeat.
As an entertaining sidebar, I’d love to share with you some more tragic poetry written by yours truly during this emotionally fraught time in my life:
You ask why I’m crying
I’ve never been at a loss
to express what I feel.
I’m so overwhelmed
that it’s frightening. It’s real.
They form in my heart,
they die on my lips,
I trace the words on your skin
with my fingertips.
But that’s just not enough!
Still it’s far too soon.
If I say the words now
I fear that I’ll ruin
the potential we have
for soul mates to grow.
Deny me the rush.
It’s much better slow.
But I must have an outlet
or I fear I may die.
So there’s nothing to do
but lay here and cry.
I hope the recounting of my poetic undertakings is as entertaining for everyone else as it is for me. Or perhaps you are reading this and getting that uncomfortable squeamish feeling that you experience when you witness someone doing something unbelievably embarrassing and awkward and you quietly pray for lightning to strike them suddenly and put them out of their misery, thus ending your agony as witness. I’m ok with it if it’s the latter. After years of hiding journals of poetry from everyone I’ve decided that it’s better to share them. They are nowhere near the perfect and tender genius of say, Tanya Davis, but they were fuelled by all the honesty and passion I experienced at the time, and what more can I ask from a poem?
When my relationship with Jack ended, one of my takeaways was that treating the words “I love you” with reverence was not going to be my thing. It didn’t change the outcome of the relationship and it didn’t mean that I never stopped loving Jack (because I did, eventually). All it really did was make me miserable and deny me the sincere happiness to be had by honestly expressing myself in a moment of rapture. So now I just say “I love you” when I feel it.
The caveat is that when I say it, I do not mean definition number three. I might be so head over heels for the person that I *think* I mean definition number three, but I do not. How could I possibly mean definition number three when I have known the person for what is very likely only a short period of time? (To clarify, it is usually something like one or two months, not one or two days). What I really mean when I joyously declare “I love you” is “I love you like I love banana bread!”
I mean definition number one.
This might seem terribly careless and cruel and perhaps it is if the person on the receiving end of these words is in the serious business camp of love. But I have tried doing it the other way and all it accomplished was embarrassing tears post-coitus and some emotionally fraught poetry with a lazy rhyming scheme. To be fair, when my partners say to me “I love you” early on in a relationship, I assume they also mean they love me like they love banana bread.
And if I ever say it and I mean definition number three, I like to believe that both my love and I will understand what is really being said. No dictionary needed.